Monday, August 19, 2019

DML Testimonies from Uganda and Ethiopia

Every quarter, our implementing partners send us reports of the work that has gone on relating to Discipling Marketplace Leaders in their specific region or country.  Some of those numbers tell us that in the first half of 2019, more than 1100 pastors in eight countries were taken through the DML workshop and more than 500 businesses were trained to do their work as an act of worship, as well as other basic business skills.

Included in the report that we receive quarterly is a testimony or two from either a church pastor or a businessperson about how this ministry is impacting their life.

I would like to share two stories with you this week:  one from Uganda and one from Ethiopia.

From Uganda, this story comes from Pastor Henry Obondo:

After the Business as Mission class taught at the Africa Theological Seminary in Tororo, Pastor
Henry organized a training in his church (Divine Destiny Church).  According to Pastor Henry, learning that Jesus was a businessman and that work was a holy calling had a great impact on the church.  The congregation had a change of perspective and are now challenging themselves to invite God in their daily routines, as well as carrying out their work in a godly way.

Pastor Henry recounts the story of a widow in his church who used to beg for money to take care of her children.  After learning that work is a good and holy thing, she became more committed and zealous in her business, selling traditional pots, because she saw it as partnering with God.  Today she can buy school supplies for her children and is in a better position to even financially support the work of God in her church.

Silverfish
Another testimony from this church relates to two women, whose husbands were drunks.  These women had quit their jobs because of criticisms that the work they were doing was "carnal" rather than serving God.  After attending the DML training, these women took back their jobs selling "silverfish."  Today they are sharing the gospel at their jobs, supporting their families without stress and they are even able to contribute to the church.

Pastor Henry also expressed his excitement at the way DML is empowering his members.  He testified of how he had always given money to his church members for business investment, but they just kept experiencing losses.  Now, with the training DML is providing, these members are being empowered to do business profitably, for the glory of God.

Ethiopia - How good customer service and setting the right boundaries are impacting businesses.

Taju Lila is a businessman who lives in a town called Mizan Tepi, which is about 700 km from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.  He is one of the DML trainers in that town.  He has given this testimony:
"Before this DML training, I had been providing services to many people daily.  And because my business was in the capital city of that administrative zone, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people.  At first, I had more customers than any other businessperson in that area.  But the way I handled fellow Christians and people with good behavior versus the way I dealt with others, was completely different.  I did favors for the people I loved and ignored those I did not love.
 "My competitor was a Muslim merchant whose shop was close to mine.  He did not have as much capital as me, and when he started he had very few customers.  But he treated all of his customers with great courtesy and always had a smile for them.  After five years, his business had grown five times bigger than my own.  Today he is a wealthy and well-respected businessman in the city.  In the meantime, my business was declining.
"When I began taking the DML training, I began to compare myself to that Muslim man.  All of a sudden, I realized that my problem was in customer handling.  My weak customer service approach made me unsuccessful in business.  People even told me that I used to discriminate between Christian and non-Christian customers.  Of course, I didn't consider myself a servant of all customers.  But after attending this training, my attitude on customer relations was absolutely challenged and changed.  I started to see every customer with a different perspective - as equal and deserving of the same excellent service.  This has made me competent, successful, and created an opportunity to meet many customers and share Christ with them.  Also, this training helped me to teach, challenge, and help other Christian businesspeople to have better business practices.  I am grateful to God for DML and I want to thank God for providing me with this golden chance."
Our goal is that we do our work as unto the Lord, with the purpose of helping people flourish - all people, not just the ones we like.  I love that this businessperson caught on to that and is realizing the fruit of "loving his neighbor" in terms of being able to build relationships and share his faith.  May we all do our work as an act of worship this week and help people to flourish wherever we serve!

Morning Dedication

In all I do this day, 
In all I think and say
Father, be with me all the way.

In all my work and all my deeds,
In all I learn,
In all my needs,
Christ, go before me,
The One who leads.

In all my work as I do my best,
In all that puts me to the test, 
Spirit, help, and grant me rest.

(David Adam, "Power Lines")

Monday, August 12, 2019

Jesus, First-born Son and Second Father

August 9 would have been the 65th birthday of my late husband, Bob Reed.  It's been almost ten years since his death, and it's difficult to not wonder what life would have been like for me, for Hannah, for Noah, and for many others, had he not left so soon.  But lately, I've been thinking about his death in light of the life of Jesus and the death of his own earthly father.

Mark 6:3 says, "He's just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon.  And his sisters live here among us."

Joseph is not mentioned in this verse.  The last we hear of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was when Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem at the age of twelve.  After that, Scripture is silent about what happened to him.  Many speculate that Joseph died shortly after he is last mentioned.

I wonder how old Jesus was when he lost his father.  I think of Hannah and Noah who lost their father at the tender ages of 15 and 14.  Was Jesus around the same age as them?

He was the oldest son with quite a number of siblings.  In North America, that doesn't have much meaning, but the rest of the world still understands what that means.  It means you are responsible for your mother and siblings.  In Nigeria, the oldest son is called the "second father."  If Jesus was the oldest, and let's guess he might have been 15 by the time of Joseph's death, there were at least four brothers and maybe an equal number of sisters younger than him.  That is quite a number of mouths to feed, and I'm sure he shared that responsibility with his mother.

The way that he was likely to do raise the money to care for the family would have been through the family business, the carpentry shop. By the time Joseph died, I would speculate that Jesus was well-versed in the family business.  He would have understood the craft, having grown in "wisdom and stature."  He would have probably learned how to not hit his thumb with a hammer and how to pull splinters from his hands.  He would have learned the art of supply and demand.  He would have learned customer service.  He would have learned how to deal with the competition. He would have understood sales.  He may have had to repossess a table or two from those who didn't complete payment.  As "second father," he would have had to teach his younger brothers the trade as well.

I've wondered why Jesus waited to start his ministry at the age of 30.  Could it be that he was waiting until his younger siblings were all independent and cared for? Is it possible that the wedding of Cana (where his mother played the role of the host) was possibly his last sister and the turning of water into wine a celebration of the successful launching of all his siblings, freeing him to launch his ministry?

With all this wondering, I then understand better the significance of Jesus on the cross, looking down on his mother.  In one of his final acts, he cares for his mother by asking for John to carry on for him, as a son.  What a close relationship Jesus must have had with his mother - losing Joseph, raising the other children, struggling with a family business...the relationship with the oldest son in this context must have been very close indeed.

It makes me think of the day after Bob died with new wonder.  I will never forget that day, as Noah told me, "Mom, I think it's time we move on."  I've chuckled at this comment over the years, asking if it would be okay if I at least had 48 hours.  But as I've considered Jesus and the relationship he had with his mother, this comment from Noah has taken on much more significance to me. This was not a statement of insensitivity - rather it showed his desire to step in to be a caretaker and help his mom -  to try to get her to stop crying.  I had to fight to NOT let him take care of me.  I wanted him to still be a "normal" teenager (whatever that means).  But that instinct was there in him and showed up consistently over the years.

When I think of Noah's instinct, it makes me even more keenly aware of the emotions at the cross between Jesus and Mary.  It makes me choke up if I let it.

But more than anything, it makes the passage from Hebrews 4 all the more significant.  We have a High Priest who understands our troubles.  He understands what my children went through in losing a father.  He understands having to raise and provide for children - his siblings.  He understands working with his hands and running a small business.  He understands the depth of relationships between a parent and child.

So we can come boldly to His throne.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!
Hebrews 4: 14-16 (NLT)   So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Brief Health Update

Just a brief blog today. I am thankful to report that I was released on Saturday after eight days in the hospital.  I was admitted on July 27 with malaria and a fever of 104 F (40C) and then developed pneumonia while there.  Once they cleared those two up, I had a fever that remained at around 103 F and migraines that continued for the entire stay.  They conducted many, many more tests and found that I had another parasite happily multiplying in my body, as well as another bacterial infection.  In the end, I had five diagnoses given:  three primary and two secondary.  The three primary infections seemed to have all come from my last trip to Nigeria.  I had wonderful care and am thankful for the doctors (my primary doctor on the floor was Nigerian, which was a God-send!) and nurses who diligently cared for me, not to mention my husband, children, and family.

This is the second time I had malaria in about four months, in a year that has had a number of illnesses.  While I can talk about finitude and rest and while I can talk about protocols for prevention of malaria and infections related to food/water-borne diseases, my children and loved ones have let me know in no uncertain terms that there seems to be a systems issue here:  my body is reacting to the stress in my life and my immune system is not behaving as well as it should.  So I need to take this under further consideration.

In the meantime, as fever raged in my body over those days, I reminded of how many of our brothers and sisters in many countries do not have access to the health care that I was blessed to have.  While this was a very expensive malaria for me in the end, it resulted in a number of findings that will allow me to be healthier moving forward.

I will continue treatment over the next couple of weeks but should be able to steadily return to work.  Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Africa is leading the world in plastic bag bans



In Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we teach that every Christian should have a quadruple bottom line:  social, economic, environmental, and missional. All four are important.  But the one that is often the most difficult for people to understand is the environmental bottom line.

Thomas Aquinas said, "Any error about creation also leads to an error about God."

We forget how intimate the relationship between God and the Earth is, and how it has been entrusted to us to "work and care" for it (Genesis 2:15).

About two years ago, when I landed in Kenya, everyone on the plane was warned not to take plastic bags off the plane and into the country, as those bags would attract a fine of $38,000 USD and four years in jail.  Quite an incentive to lose those bags!  It was amazing to see the plastic bags flying out of the carry-on bags.  We waded through knee-deep piles of plastic bag waste as we disembarked.  I was so proud of Kenya.



As of June 1, Tanzania has also started a plastic bag ban.  There are now 38 countries in Africa that have banned plastic bags.  Africa is leading the world in plastic bag bans (according to Quartz Africa).

Rwanda is looking to be the first plastic-free country.  They started their plastic bag ban in 2008, and Kigali is said to be Africa's cleanest city.  Kenya talks about how much cleaner the country is without plastic bags blowing around.

About 40% of solid waste in Africa is burned, which ends up in toxic pollution, causing asthma, heart disease, and other long-term medical issues.  Of the nine billion tonnes of plastic ever produced, only 9% has been recycled.  By 2050, if things do not change, there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter (according to the UN Environment Programme).

Ghana, which now claims to have Africa's fastest-growing economy, struggles with frequent floods because of the plastic bags which clog up sewers and gutters.

Governments are paying attention to these challenges and there is a growing movement towards getting rid of single-use plastic, especially.  Bans on plastic straws and plastic cutlery are joining the banning of plastic bags in some places.

The higher the income and rate of urbanization, the greater the amount of solid waste that is produced.  On average, in high-income countries (for example, the US), it is 4.6 pounds per day per person (or 2.2 kg).  Less than one-quarter of that amount is recycled.  The rest ends up in landfills.


However, with China no longer buying the recycling from the US, much of the recycling from the US is also ending up in the landfill.

How I wish that the US would also ban plastic bags and take significant steps toward reducing the use of single-use plastic.

If you are concerned about this for yourself, take an assessment of how much solid waste you are producing every day and try to reduce it.  Take a careful look at single-use plastic especially (plastic wrap, straws, chip or snack bags, candy wrappers, etc) and see if there are alternatives.

Additionally, I have signed a petition for Michigan to ban plastic bags.  If you google your own city, state, or country, you will also find actions that you can join.

Let's join Africa in creating a healthier community and world for future generations!

Monday, July 15, 2019

What pain do you want in your life?

I read an article the other day that said too many of us are asking the wrong question, which is "What do you want out of life?"

The author stated that everyone wants to be happy, have a great family, and a job they love.  That is not new and it is not unique.  The bigger question he stated is what pain do you want in your life?  What are you willing to struggle for?  Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

It's an interesting thought.  The truth is that:
  • To achieve what we want requires pain.  
  • To be in a relationship means inevitably going through hurt feelings, emotional drama, and tough conversations.  
  • To be in good shape physically means watching what you eat, exercising, sweat, soreness and hunger pangs.  
  • To have a job you love takes a risk, repeated failures, education, experience (often from the ground up) and hard work. 
So what determines your success is not what you enjoy, but rather what pain you are willing to sustain. You can't have a pain-free life.  It really is the more difficult question.

Too often we want the reward and not the struggle.  We want the result and not the process.  We want the victory but not the fight.

When you can answer the question, "What pain do you want in your life?" then you can actually make progress in achieving your real goals. 

Shortly after reading this article, I was dealing with a dilemma regarding the DML and someone asked me what I wanted out of the situation in an ideal world.  I thought for a few minutes and answered that I thought the better question was what pain I was willing to put up with.  That completely changed the conversation to be more productive and helped us to really weigh the pros and cons.  We were able to move beyond the ideal to the real.

It's true that this is not a happy question. I tend to be somewhat of a realist though, so it works for me.

I have returned from a good and productive trip to Nigeria.  I now will be home for a month (which feels like a nice long stretch - first whole month home this year!) before heading to Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania.  There are many programmatic things that need to get done as we continue to grow and learn, so the month will be busy but at least I will not be living out of a suitcase.  Thank you for your continued prayers!

Yet another exciting group picture - wish there were more exciting shots, but this is what we do!


Monday, July 8, 2019

Extreme Poverty in Nigeria

We are currently in Nigeria, where we have finished workshops in both Ilorian and in Igbaja.

In one part of our workshops, we ask the participants to answer the following questions:  Which institution do we look to primarily for alleviating poverty?  What about for promoting peace?

In most places, the two most common answers we hear are government and church.  Usually in that order.

Except, sadly, in Nigeria.  Government doesn't even enter the conversation.

And for good reason.

Our colleague from Kaduna had a kidnapping in his community just this past week.  Men came into the community in the night, shot guns in the air to scare everyone into hiding, kidnapped someone, and then left.  He was receiving calls from people, suspecting that he had been kidnapped.  His wife and children had to flee to the church for safety.  He has two doctorates and could be a prime suspect for kidnapping.  He believes that the reason for the many kidnappings in Nigeria is due to the high unemployment and the lack of effectiveness of the government to make business more conducive for the average citizen.  Nigeria ranks as 145 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business overall, and 183 out of 190 countries for being able to trade across borders.  In a country of 200 million (currently - expected to double by 2050) that presents a real problem.

At another point in our workshop, I point out that in 1980, 52% of the world was considered to be living in extreme poverty.  Then I ask, do you think that number is higher or lower today?  Most people (from other countries) tell us that the number of people in extreme poverty has decreased.

Except, sadly, in Nigeria.

And for good reason.

The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has actually gone down to 25%, which is great!  But in Nigeria, it has increased from 51 million to 86 million.  Nigeria actually took the number one spot for highest number of people in extreme poverty in the world (passing India last year).

The reason that the number of people in extreme poverty dropped so significantly was not because of the work of non-profits or the Millennium Development Goals, but rather because of business.  China reduced the number of people in poverty from 756 million to 25 million primarily through manufacturing.  India decreased the number of people in poverty from 338 million to 218 million primarily through the service industry.

We tried to comfort Nigerians by saying that it's not that things have gotten SO much worse here that they are now holding the less than prestigious spot of #1 for people in extreme poverty but RATHER because China and India are doing so much better.  It is little comfort, and the truth is that the number has increased by 35 million.

We keep repeating that we need to be CREATING JOB MAKERS, not just job seekers.  The Church can have an impact on this.  By 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populous nation in the world (passing the US).  One in four people will by African by the year 2050, and by the year 2100, one in three people will be African.  But we need to make sure that Africans will own the companies, businesses and resources that will allow people to flourish (rather than foreigners)!  This trend of the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty CAN be changed.

One other fact about Africa that is interesting is that the median age in most countries is below twenty years of age.  This is promising in terms of a labor force (median age in Europe is 40 years and median age in the US is 35 years) but it also means that jobs need to be created and those businesses creating those jobs should be owned by Africans.




Please join us in this work if you feel led - prayers, words of encouragement, and support are all needed!  We are working in five of the ten countries listed for having the highest extreme poverty in Africa, and we are seeing results in increased income and jobs being created.  For more information, go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

On Rest and Escape (by Hannah Reed)

I (Renita) just had a delightful nine days, starting with celebrating the graduation of my daughter Hannah with her Masters in Social Work (MSW) and then on to a one week vacation in Arizona with Michael, my mom, Hannah, Noah, Noah's girlfriend Hannah. To say it was needed and beautiful would be an understatement. I was home for just three hours from Arizon before heading back to the airport to Nigeria.

Hannah volunteered to write this blog from her perspective on these last couple of weeks, so here it is from her in her own words, written as we returned from AZ:

I officially graduated with my Masters in Social Work on June 21st.  It will, I’m sure, feel great at some point to not have any classes to attend or homework to complete. However, on June 21, though I was happy and relieved, I was too tired to feel much of the real sense of relief and excitement that I imagine I should have felt based on how much it took out of me to get here. 

Over the past six months or so, and even more in the past month, people have asked what I plan to do now that I have attained this long-term goal.  My answer has varied but recently has been more consistent: Nothing.  At least, nothing different in the short term.  I plan to continue to be at my same job, not worrying about job applications or frantically studying for my licensing exam, and just allow myself to enjoy being where I am.  No immediate plans for change.  Changes will come- and when they do, I want to be ready for them.  

My answer to “what’s next?” has also recently included “Vacation”.  

Attending graduate school for the past few years, both to get certified as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor and as a masters level social worker (both of which require additional tests in order to be licensed) has been a privilege and something that I am very grateful for.  I recognize that I am privileged to be where I am and to have received the level of education I have been able to receive.  It has also drained me of energy.  I love social work but I also tend to want to give 100% to everything, and so when I have a class, work, church work, and an internship that I am trying to give 100% to, something (most things) loses out and I lose energy.  I thought that without class or an internship, I would have more of a shot to give more to the things that are left.  More time for friends, time to be creative and energetic at work with my clients, time to develop good, solid relationships with coworkers, time for my church community.  But I realized, coming up on May and June, that I had very little left to give.  I couldn’t recharge myself by escaping into a tv show or a book- I never wanted to leave those forms of escape and was immediately tired upon re-entering the “real world”.  Little things gave me anxiety.  Big things gave me more anxiety.  I was exhausted, lacking in joy, resentful of my responsibilities, but unable to say no to them due to feelings of guilt. I was burned out.  And felt guilty for being so, because each different thing that I had committed to and was passionate for wasn’t getting 100% from me, so how could any of them understand that I was burned out? Despite all the rational reasons for why I shouldn’t be burned out, I was still burned out.  I eventually acknowledged the guilt and the exhaustion, stopped trying to fight them or explain them away, and began to long for a break.  

Thankfully, one was planned right after the day I graduated.  I was able to leave Grand Rapids, get a whole week off of work (which I don’t think I have ever taken before, and am incredibly grateful for the job and boss that I have), and go to Arizona with my family.  

I love Arizona- it is one of my favorite places and the beauty here is breathtaking.  I spent a week not looking at email, barely able to access the internet as we were in the mountains where internet reception was spotty, and just be.  We did a lot and saw a lot.  There were good moments, great moments, and okay moments, but I didn’t worry about homework, or feel guilty about missing work, or anxious about not being a part of this meeting or that meeting.  I was able to both rest and escape, existing in the moment and in the mountains of Arizona.  

Escaping is something that I try to do too often in ineffective ways - I turn on the tv, open a book, try to drown out real life with something different and contrived.  Sometimes that is just enough of a break to help my brain feel rested.  But it is not the real rest that I need.  In Arizona, I climbed up rocky slopes, ran down paths of the Grand Canyon, stood on the edge of cliffs, felt the wind rushing through my hair and the sun warming me from head to toe.  I was not cold (which is unusual for me) and had no headaches (two years post-concussion headaches are a constant companion still). I have not had a week as free from headaches as this week in recent memory.  My body was active, but my mind was at rest.  I had escaped, in a way, from my everyday real life, but not from the real world.  I found rest and joy and escape.  

As soon as I get back on Sunday, I will go to a meeting at church.  Then, on Monday, work starts again as normal.  The difference between now and a week ago is that I do not feel like crying at the prospect of either of these things; I do not feel angry or resentful towards my responsibilities or guilty about feeling resentful, as I would have without the rest I have received.

Real rest for me comes not just in escaping to a contrived world on a page or a screen - both have their place, but neither last very long.  Real rest comes in being outside, experiencing the joys of Creation, hiking and walking and even zip lining.  It comes from exerting energy in a new way.  I needed rest.  I still need rest.  I won’t look for a new job yet - I love my job, and hope to stay there a while.  At some point, I will find a job that fits my degree, but waiting a while to make sure I have recaptured my energy and passion is important.  I am grateful for this past week, for my family who shared it with me, and for the friends and coworkers who have supported me through all the ups and downs of graduate school.  

One journey is at its end; the celebration for its ending is also at its end.  Now, I begin a period of rest and re-discovering who I am underneath the stress of this past journey, before I gear up for the next one.



I enjoyed taking pictures on this trip as well - I took more than 900 shots!

Antelope Canyon, on the Navaho Reservation - incredible beauty.  

Noah strikes a pose in the amazing Antelope Canyon

Enjoying time with my brother, Noah, and his girlfriend!
Mom and Michael taking in the si

My Oma, who joined us in ziplining at the Grand Canyon at the age of (almost) 83!  Happy Birthday, Oma!

On top of the Hoover Dam - I did say I love to feel the wind in my hair, right?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Work as Worship Retreat(s)

I am back home after what felt like a very long month in East and West Africa.  I am thankful for safe travel and for the many events that took place.  One such event is the one I describe here:

Discipling Marketplace Leaders has partnered with RightNow Media, who produces the Work as Worship Retreat, in order to bring this opportunity to Africa.  These are hosted like the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), if you are familiar with those, with recorded speakers from the actual live event in February, as well as local speakers.

We invited our DML country partners to host these retreats in their given contexts, and four of our partners were able to do so (for some of our partners it was not an option as the retreat is only in English).  In Nigeria, they were able to host three events (Abuja, Kaduna, and Jos).  In Cameroon, they were able to host two events (both in Yaounde) with more scheduled.  In Kenya, they will be holding theirs at the end of June.  And in Ghana, they were able to hold three (one in Sandema, one in Tamale, and one in Accra).  I was able to help organize the one in Accra, which was fun for me.  It was good to be a part of this maiden edition!

We made sure that after each speaker there was time for discussion, which was very important to allow the message to settle in better.  Hearing the discussions about how to do our work as an act of worship, in very practical ways, was inspiring for many.  Talking about what that looks like in our various contexts, with our various challenges, was helpful.  People reported being encouraged, some rededicated their lives to Christ, some dedicated their work to the Lord, and there was good talk about next steps as well.

So many view worship as the songs that we sing on a church service.  Remembering that worship is so much broader than that is critical.  When we actively remember that the focus of our work is not on ourselves but rather to glorify God, and to help customers and employees flourish, it can change so much.

As this was our first year, we are thankful to have been able to hold nine such events and pray that next year there may be even more.
The organizing team for the Work as Worship Retreat, Accra

Fanny, me, and Sister Afia:  Three women passionate about getting this message out!

Our local speaker was Rev. Thelma Odonko, who worked as the head of an insurance agency for 24 years.  She was interviewed by Sister Afia, and shared about the challenges of integrating faith and work in her environment.  She gave very practical ways of how to do this and encouraged many people.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Our brother in Christ, Steve Kennedy

Dear Friends,

On Thursday, our Discipling Marketplace Leaders brother, Steve Kennedy from the UK, fell and hit his head.  There was significant brain damage and yesterday Steve passed from this life into the next.

Our hearts are broken by this.  Steve was an intercessor and was coordinating our prayer effort for the DML movement across Africa.  He just recently was with me teaching in Tanzania.  Last November he was with us in Ghana where he met the entire DML team and had been leading this team in monthly prayer calls.  He joined us for our weekly prayer calls in the US and he has been such a blessing to our team.  We were planning a prayer retreat for the team for early next year.

He breathed a breath of fresh air into us with his perspective of God and his faith.

And now he is gone.  Just like that.  He leaves a wife and two daughters, as well as the DML team (and many others!) and we are mourning.

Yesterday, as the DML team in Ghana was holding a Work as Worship retreat, we spent time in Psalm 90.  Verse twelve tells us this:  Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.  I can hear Steve's voice saying, "Amen, amen" to this.  He would want us to use his death for the good of the Lord in some way.  When we see how Steve lived, and we see the brevity of life, we need to be shaken from any complacency and seek to work and live with an eternal purpose.  We grow in wisdom when we are able to focus and recognize what is important in this world and what is not.

On my phone, I have a note from my recent trip with Steve where we shared more with each other about our stories and testimonies.  Steve told me that I need to write a book about my life and then gave me the title:  And God Meant It for Good.  He said that was a theme in my story.  Maybe someday that will come to pass.

I am thankful for this friendship with Steve that was too short.  But I look forward to seeing how God may use this for good.  Please pray for Steve's family and our team at this time.

Steve teaching in Tanzania

He loved taking selfies!  (with James Kamau)


Monday, May 27, 2019

When a Colleague is Kidnapped

When we landed in Cameroon, on May 16, we learned that one of our colleagues had been kidnapped recently and had been released the day before.  This past Monday we had a chance to sit down with her and hear her story.  I was given permission to share it, but because of continued insecurity, I will not share her name or any other relevant details that can be traced.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, the businesses in the Northwest part of Cameroon have been forced to close their businesses every Monday as a sign of protest.  Those days are now called "Ghost town" days as it has escalated with the fighting in the last six months - those days are sometimes extended to three days if there is an additional need of protest.  The military is trying to squash the rebellion, and so anyone seen out on Ghost town days is in danger of being killed.

It was one of these Ghost town days when Esther heard a knock at her door at six am.  She was alone in the house with her fourteen-year-old daughter and she immediately knew that this would not be good news.  She peeked out the window and saw the young men out there with their guns.  She asked what they wanted and they told her to come out of the house.  She came out and they immediately demanded her phone and informed her that she needed to come with them.  She tried to protest but they insisted.  She was allowed to get dressed, and she informed her daughter to call her father (her husband) who was working in a different city.  She told her that everything would be fine and left with the young men.  Esther had just been released from the hospital a couple of days before and was still weak from her illness, but she was told that they would have to hike into the bush to reach the motorcycles that would carry them to their military base.  They hiked and hiked.  At one point she was crawling because she was so weak.  And it was dangerous.  They had to hide several times because it was a Ghost town day and the military would act if they were seen.

They finally made it to the motorcycles and Esther was blindfolded so that she could not see where they were going.  When they finally arrived, she was taken to the "women's cell" where she was alone.  She heard men in the men's cell, who were being taken out into the yard and tortured.

When they finally came to her, they told her that she had to pay two million CFA (about $4000) in order to secure her safe release as they wanted to buy another of the large guns that they had (they showed her which gun they wanted).  After a long series of negotiations, they settled on 500,000 CFA ($1000) and let her go with the promise that she would pay by Friday.

They blindfolded her again, drove her out a ways and then released her.  She had no idea where she was.  She was weak, it was dangerous to be out alone, and she had no idea where to go.  She started walking and finally saw a house with a woman, who waved at her to get down.  Military trucks rolled by several moments later.  She was able to get to the house where she hid for a couple of hours before heading out again.

When she finally made it home, she found the house full of people who were very sure that they would never see her again.  They were very relieved to see her.

Two days later, her husband went to pay 100,000 CFA to the kidnappers in an attempt to negotiate again.  They took the money but kidnapped him.  They held him until Esther paid the 500,000 CFA.

Thankfully, he too was released unharmed.  For many, the story does not end as well.

I have heard story after story that is similar to this, and worse.  This is how the resistance is funding their part of the war.  They are kidnapping their own people and holding them for ransom.  On the other hand, we hear that the military is committing atrocities to try to squash this, and blaming the resistance for some of these.  People in this area are being killed on both sides.

I spoke at a workshop on Friday in Yaounde (the capital city and outside of this area of conflict) and my co-presenter was from this area.  When we finished at the end of the day, he looked at me and said, "Well, back to the war-zone."

What do we say to this?  How do we even pray?  We believe that there is a legitimate complaint of injustice toward the 20% Anglophones and there has been no movement toward reconciliation.  To their credit, the resistance has tried to resolve this peacefully through protests for a couple of years now.  But the last year has seen an escalation, and it is being met with escalation.

While we can't solve the conflict, what we would like to do as Discipling Marketplace Leaders, is to establish a benevolence fund that can be used to stand with our ministry partners in the countries where we are working.  We can't protect Esther or her family, nor can we erase the trauma, but we can stand with her as the body of Christ through prayer and offsetting the financial hit she took from this ransom payment.

If you would like to contribute to this fund, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org/donate, and select DML from the dropdown box.  In the comment section, write "benevolence."

Thank you for helping DML make a difference!

The view from my room: a beautiful, peaceful sunset over Yaounde. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

"I was involved in a fatal motor accident."

This is not an opening line that you often hear in a story.  Archbishop Ayoub Mwakang'ata of the Full Victory Gospel Ministries dropped this line on us while giving us his testimony in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.  I thought to myself that since Swahili is the first language for many in Tanzania, that maybe he misspoke.

But then he told his story:
Bishop (center) with Pastor Anthony (right) and wife (left)

He had been serving in the military for about twenty years and was on public transportation (a matatu - a bus/van) in Iringa when the van blew a tire.  The driver lost control of the vehicle and swerved left, killing two pedestrians.  It then swerved right, killing three more pedestrians.  It then rolled and passengers were thrown from the van.  Bishop Mwakang'ata was one of those who was thrown from the van.  But then the van hit a tree, and unfortunately, it rolled backward, on top of the Bishop.  He was declared dead at the scene.

Six hours later he was in a drawer at the morgue.  One of the doctors at the hospital recognized his name from the list of those deceased and asked if he could see him.  Upon opening the drawer, they saw that he was face-down.  When they turned him over to be face up, he groaned in pain.
He was alive!

They rushed him to ICU and miraculously five days later, he walked out of the hospital.  He had several broken bones, a contusion in his skull (for which he later had to go to South Africa for treatment of a brain injury), and other injuries, but most of all he had a new lease on life.
As he told us his story, he let us know that he had received his BA (Born Again) in 1985.  The accident happened in 1999 and he retired from the military shortly thereafter (following 35 years of service).  That was when he started a Christian newspaper as well as the Full Victory Gospel Ministries.  While Dr. Mwakang'ata has his Ph.D. in Finance, he spends his time in discipleship. 

We had the privilege to spend two days with various bishops and pastors from his church, which is pursues going deep rather than wide.  We had the opportunity to hear the encouraging story of one of his pastors, who attended a DML workshop two years ago and how it has changed his life.  I don't have the bandwidth to upload the video of his testimony but in short, he started a business as a result of the training with only seven dollars, which then grew to seven hundred dollars, and this week he is signing a contract for $7000 dollars.

He has also taken the youth in his church through my book, Financial Freedom For Families, and the youth brainstormed together on starting a business.  They have started a spice business and apparently are doing very well!

We are starting to hear more and more of these stories of people who have made changes in their life and a year or two later are seeing the fruit.  We thank God for this!

A very bright and sharp youth, involved with the spice business.  She has good marketing skills!

Sometimes we have to get a bit creative with technology:  we needed two projectors - one for English and one for Swahili.  But there was only one good place to project, so we ended up projecting the English on the floor by our feet.  This was so that the person doing the Swahili projection knew when to transition to the next slide for the English.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Uganda: Pentecostal Assemblies of God

I am so thankful to share that my passport with visa arrived on Tuesday morning in time for me to catch my flight to Uganda on Tuesday afternoon!  Thanks to all of you who prayed!

We are already in Tanzania, after a very successful and exciting workshop in Uganda with the Council of Bishops of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God.  This growing denomination of 6000 churches has already been doing some significant work on economic development through a unique development arm of their church called "Church and Community Methodology Process," which seeks to have every local church completely engaged with the community that it is in for a holistic approach.  The partnership with Discipling Marketplace Leaders seems a very natural connection with them and their bishop, Simon Peter, is a gifted leader who knows how to structure and organize for impacts.  

We were also blessed to give each bishop, as well as each manager of the development arm, an Africa Study Bible.  

Tomorrow we begin a training in Dar Es Salaam, and on Thursday we fly to Cameroon to start a busy program there.  We covet your prayers!

The Presiding Bishop (left) and his Deputy (right) along with Dr. Walker and myself and the Africa Study Bible.

Thanks to all who helped with the purchase of the Africa Study Bibles!

Monday, May 6, 2019

How do you define success?

Yoseph is a 38-year-old Ethiopian man, who is married with three beautiful daughters.  Yoseph owns his own home, has a number of rental units, and owns his own car (which is a big deal in Ethiopia as the government adds a 260% tax on any car brought into the country in order to discourage people from owning cars and keep the roads less congested).

Yoseph has created two positions for himself in the Kale Heywet Church, a denomination of 10,000 churches with close to 10 million members.  The first was the Campus Ministry Director, ministering to Kale Heywet Christians on many campuses across Ethiopia.  This ministry is now fully integrated into the church, and they have 11 regional fulltime campus ministers across the country.

The second is the Business as Mission Director for the Kale Heywet Church.  He proposed this position in 2009, but it didn’t become a reality until 2017.

Yoseph is an entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurs are quite easy to recognize.  If you spend any time with them at all, and you are a safe person to them, you will hear multiple ideas from them about this, that, and the other.  They are generally able to pull it off.  But they also may not stay long in one place.  Their calling, their role, is to start something new, get it going, and let other people run it.

From all perspectives, Yoseph is a successful person.

But it didn't come easily.  He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Yoseph is the second of eleven children and was born into a very poor family.  He tells the story of all eleven of them having to sleep on one mattress on the floor, with only one blanket.  He would often wake up cold, as his older brother would have wrapped the blanket around him to keep others from pulling it off.  When I visited his home, he showed me his daughters’ bedroom, each of whom has three blankets.  That was intentional.  His children would not go cold at night like he did.

But despite the poverty, Yoseph was taught how to pray by his father.  His father would often wake him at 3 am and tell him it is time to pray.  And they would spend several hours in prayer together.

At the age of 18, Yoseph identified seven points of success that he strives to live by.  He teaches these to many others.  He is a charismatic and effective teacher/preacher – people hang on his every word.  This is what he wrote at such a young age, showing wisdom beyond his years.  He wrote the first phrase, the points after the dash is what I captured in his explanations.

Seven points of true success  (by Yoseph Bekele, at age 18)

  1. Having a healthy relationship with God.
  2. Having a healthy relationship with self – many times we live in conflict as we can’t live what we believe; self-control is a challenge.
  3. Having a good relationship with others - being salt and light for others is success.
  4. Living in proper relationship with Creation – stewardship; give room for health, cleanliness, etc.
  5. Getting our basic necessities – being a good provider; enough resources for us and to share with others; having capacity; getting what we need is success.
  6. Sharing what we have – giving is success; sharing time, treasure, talents – many things; we are created to give.
  7. Living and dying for the glory of God; our legacy is for the glory of God; starting with God and finishing with God (to live is Christ and to die is gain).
He also wrote the following on how to identify your gifts and talents. As I read it, I think about the eight years he waited for the Business as Mission position, and how it fits into his gifts and talents.  He was willing to wait, to work without pay, and he is hearing a great amount of confirmation of his giftings in this area.

How to identify your gifts and talents (by Yoseph Bekele) 

  1. Attraction – What areas are you attracted to?
  2. Burden – What do you have a burden for?
  3. Capacity – How has your capacity been developed through education, experience, etc?
  4. Inner voice – What is the Holy Spirit whispering to you?
  5. Other’s testimony – What do others say you have a gifting for?
  6. Commitment – Are you committed to do it even without incentive (pay)?
  7. Patience – Even if it takes many years, do you have the patience to see it come to be?
  8. Outcome – Does your work shows results and success?
  9. Happiness/Joy – When working in this area, does it bring you joy and happiness?
Please keep Yoseph in your prayers as he drives all over and preaches at many different churches!  
The recent training of trainers in Addis Ababa - Yoseph is building a team that has the capacity to be change agents in the Kale Heywet Church across Ethiopia!
I would also like your prayers as the Cameroon embassy has decided to give me a hard time regarding my visa.  I am supposed to leave on Tuesday for Tanzania but I don't have my passport back yet and can't get them to answer the phone or respond to emails.  So I'm in the dark as to whether I can leave on Tuesday.  Thanks for your prayers!