Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Luxury of "Shelter in Place"

I know that the past few weeks have been a hardship for many of us, as we have been confined to our home.  It's been difficult to change the routine of our lives in the light of the threat of COVID-19.

But as I watch what has been unfolding in Europe and the US, I can't help but imagine what the same unfolding will look like in Africa.  For most of us in North America, our "shelter in place" is really a luxury, comparatively speaking.

Most people in the countries where we work in Africa can't work from home as the technology infrastructure is not there.

Most people that we work with in Africa are working each day for their daily bread.  They don't have savings built up for emergencies.  They are often not on salary where they can get enough pay to stock up on items.

As the markets are shut down, many do not have any source of income and a limited supply of food.  Many are saying that "we will die of starvation before COVID-19."

There is no unemployment insurance.
There is no aid package going out to help each citizen financially.
There are no food banks.

And then we look at the medical infrastructure in many African countries.  Mali has one ventilator for every one million people, for a total of twenty in the entire nation.  Kenya, a country of 50 million people, has a total of 550 ICU beds.  Many nations in Africa have no isolation wards.  And this says nothing about the ability to even give the COVID-19 tests.

In general, African nations have much fewer weapons at their disposal for fighting this virus.

Many countries, like Burkina Faso and Cameroon, have hundreds of thousands of people in Internally Displaced Persons camps where there is no opportunity for "shelter in place."  [The pictures in this blog are from homes where our DML teams have already delivered food.  You can see that the shelters are not ones that are secure from a virus.

Many African nations have gone into lock-down.  In Uganda, we hear of the police "caning" some people into compliance.  In Kenya, police are clubbing people into compliance, as well as using tear gas and other violent measures.  In some countries, there are reports of people being shot for not complying.  One journalist wrote that "it is evident that COVID-19 will be spread more by the actions of the police than by those who have contravened the curfew."

The reality is that people need food, water, and sanitation.  Maybe they will stay indoors for the first day or two, but then as hunger sets in, they will move out.

It is reported that China waited too long to act.  It certainly seems that the US waited too long to act.  We don't want to make that same mistake in Africa.  Africa has been the victim of way too many crisis.  We need to be proactive and help people get the food they need, while they are unable to work, so that they can stay safely in their home.  This disease knows no boundaries.  And we can't believe that this is "someone else's problem, somewhere else."

Please join us to help with this.  I know that there are many places you could help in other parts of the world, but the focus of DML is Africa.  Since Wednesday of last week, we have raised $15,000 toward the $30,000 match drive.  We have already given $10,000 to our partners in Africa and, in faith, we plan to send another $50,000 early this week.  We simply can't wait for all the funding to arrive. Some of the errors in Europe and the US were not acting quick enough.  Africa can't afford that mistake.  To give, please click here.  You will find instructions there for how to give online or by check.

And if you are not financially affected by "shelter in place" - if your salary remains the same or you are able to collect unemployment insurance - please prayerfully consider donating the federal funds from the stimulus package to families in Africa.  It may save lives.  Many lives.

Let me end with the words from one of our partners who just sent me this message:
We know that COVID-19 is a global pandemic and we are praying about it all the time.  However, third world countries like ours are facing the gravest trial of their time.  Whether we have complete or partial lock down, life is not the same anymore.  
Over 80% of our work force is in the informal sector, what we call "jua kali."  Jua kali literally means "hot sun."  In reality, the work in the hot sun with minimal shelter at times.  These jua kali people are usually causal workers, which means they d not have job protection, social security and sustainable regular income.  Most of these get paid on a daily or weekly basis.  With the directive to stay at home, it means many families have no food and other essential supplies.  We don't have food pantries to rely on.  Those who are owners of micro and small businesses, who sell in small shops, kiosks, and open markets, can no longer sell.  It only means they too have tough times in feeding their families.  It is so difficult for too many people who live hand to mouth every single day.  Those who have formal jobs are few, and many companies are laying them off as they cannot afford to pay people who are not working as these companies shut down.
DML has many people in all of these categories and some may die, not of the virus, but of hunger and stress.  If this virus takes off in our population, it will be terrible because some residences don't even have running water to wash their hands...not to mention no soap!  And how about our ill equipped health facilities?  Last one person suspected that he had COVID-19 and went to a nearby hospital and all the medical personnel ran away literally since they didn't have the simple protective gear to come close to the suspect.
Please, please pray for the virus to die in Africa and other parts of the world.
A few more pictures of the food that we have started giving away.  Please help us get to the $30,000 match this week!

Monday, March 23, 2020

United Church of Zambia

It seems strange to write about anything other than Covid-19, but my guess is that we are all seeing enough news about that to satisfy our need for information.  So let me go back to what we were doing before this turned most of us into home-bound people.

Our last stop on this past visit was in Zambia.  We were invited by the United Church of Zambia, after meeting them through a visit in Malawi last year with World Renew.  The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) is the largest Protestant church in Zambia, with churches in all ten provinces throughout the country.  It was formed in 1965 through the combination of a number of different churches, mainly Presbyterian and Methodist.  There are just over 1000 UCZ churches with 3 million members across the country.

Zambia is a country of about 18 million people.  It achieved independence from the UK in 1964, and the first president was a socialist who held his position until 1991. At that time, Zambia became a multi-party country and moved toward democracy.  Zambia is officially a Christian nation, as declared in their constitution in 1996.  Approximately 75% of the population is Protestant and 20% is Catholic.

Compared to the geographic size of Burundi, where we had just come from, Zambia is 27 times larger than Burundi, but the population is not even double the population of Burundi (11 million).  (To contrast, Zambia is 5 times larger than Michigan.) There is much land that is unused and lots of space for growth.

We were privileged to meet with the Synod Bishop of the UCZ, as well as two of the bishops from two provinces.  They seemed to resonate with the message of DML and the need for this in their denomination.  Our workshop was done at the denomination's Agricultural College, where we had a number of students in attendance.  It was good to have youth present and wrestle with the call to view farming as a good and holy thing, as it continues to be the thing to do when you have "failed" at getting the government or other "white-collar" jobs.

About twelve of the students sang for us each time a break was over and it was amazing the sound and volume that they produced with twelve of them and no microphones.  The UCZ service that we attended in Lusaka (of about 2000 members) had six choirs that involved hundreds of men, women, youth, and children.  It was beautiful, fun, lively, and interactive.

We pray that the seeds that were sown on our visit there will not be lost in the Covid-19 pandemic, but we also trust that God remains on the throne and is working in and through His people!  We continue to watch Africa, which seems to be much more proactive with much fewer cases so far.  We pray that the governments and people continue to be wise, and that the number of cases may stay lower.  They are heading toward their "winter" now so that may also cause more cases to emerge.

Please enjoy this song from the small choir which blessed us each day.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Ten Years Later: Missing Bob

The background on my laptop is this picture:


This was taken at the Grand Canyon last June, 2019.  On the left is Hannah, now 26, in the middle is Noah, now 25, and on the right is Noah's girlfriend, Hannah.  

How I love these faces.  How they make me smile each time I look at this picture.  Their personality shines through.  

It was ten years ago this week, on March 20, 2010, when Hannah was 16 and Noah was 15, that our husband and father, Robert Allen Reed, was taken from us so suddenly.  I relive that day often.

How much he has missed in seeing his children grow and mature.

How much they have missed in having the words of wisdom, love, and encouragement from their earthly father.  

What would he say to each of us today if he could?  What we would each say to him?  

There is not a day that goes by that he is not mentioned or missed.  Not a single day.  And there is so much more to come...so much more that will be missed by him.  And that continues to be heart-breaking.

While death can lose some of it's sting with time, the hole made by that person's premature departure is never filled.  

I still talk with him in my mind.  I get angry with him now and then for leaving too soon.  Every now and then, I tell him that he better be advocating on behalf of his children to God - that he better not be enjoying heaven so much that he forgets about us down here.  I miss his quick retorts, the mischievous look in his eye, his passion for justice, and his love of God.

Update on Hannah:  Hannah is living in Grand Rapids and has been working with a very effective program in treating children with autism.  However, now that she has her MSW she is looking for opportunities that will allow her to become a licensed social worker, which requires 4000 hours of supervision.  She has been interviewing and we are praying that she will find additional work that is a satisfying as the work she has been doing, fitting within her gifting and calling.  She has also been dating a young man, Matt Koster, from Grand Rapids for a short time as well, who seems to be a very good fit for her!  (What would Bob ask Matt as the protective father he was of his little girl?  I've tried to play that role but could never do it like Bob!)  We are thankful to God for the blessings in Hannah's life.

Update on Noah:  Noah is still working as a background investigator in Washington DC.  He has been promoted a few times and is completing his fourth year there.  He has been dating his girlfriend Hannah Birmingham for five years.  (What would Bob ask Hannah as he sought to get to know his son's girlfriend?)  Hannah works with International Justice Ministries in DC as well.  They are considering going for their Masters together at some point.  They are also a very good fit for each other and we are thankful to God for her as well!

I told my kids when they were young that they "weren't allowed" to get married until they were 27 (like I could really stop them!).  I said that so that they would really know themselves and know whom to choose for a lifetime partner.  I'm thankful that so far they have listened!  (Even though they remind me that I was 21 when I married their dad!  That's when "do what I say and not what I do" comes in handy!)

As for me, I made it home on Saturday after a busy three weeks in Cameroon, Burundi, and Zambia.  Due to the international travel (including a 17 hour flight from Addis to Chicago with a few hundred people from all over the world where social distancing is impossible), I am self-isolating for 14 days.  I'm assuming it is nothing but want to err on the side of caution.  The BAM conference in Thailand at the end of April has been cancelled, as well as a workshop we were to do in Germany.  The next trip to Africa is also up in the air depending on how things go regarding the virus in the US and Africa.  So far Africa seems to be fairing the best of any continent, but that could change. 

What would Bob say about this virus?  I don't know, but I believe he would agree with what C.S. Lewis wrote:


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Burundi: The Switzerland of Africa

It was my first time in Burundi.  We had been invited by ICM Burundi a number of times over the
years but had resisted due to political instability and the high level of poverty.  The combination of those two scenarios make it very difficult for a business to succeed.  But the invitations continued to come and with several years of more political stability, we agreed to go.

I found out quickly why Burundi is called the Switzerland of Africa.  It is a small but beautiful mountainous country.  The pictures (of course) cannot capture it.  The climate is perfect (60s at night, 70s during the days).  And it is lush with green everywhere, and a long rainy season that allows for a long agricultural season.

And the eleven million people make good use of the land.  It was amazing how much farming is being done, up and down hillsides and moutainsides, in a great variety of crops and a great variety of size plots (everyone seems to own a farm).  Burundi may have a per capita income of only $290/year but they are food sufficient and produce large amounts of food (they are cash poor, however).  It was beautiful to see.  Only 13% of the population lives in urban areas, so when we drove to Ngozi (from Bujumbura, about 1.5 hours by car) we passed through beautiful village after beautiful village.

There are a few unique things that we saw while here:
  • In the US, steering wheels are on the left and we drive on the right.  In Kenya, steering wheels are on the right and they drive on the left.  In Burundi, steering wheels are on the right and they
    drive on the right.  This was confusing for us as it seems unsafe - for example, when you want to pass on a two-lane road, you can't see until you are fully in the other lane.  The reason that we were given was that cars with the steering wheels on the right are MUCH less expensive.  To quote one Burundian, "If we had to buy cars with steering wheels on the left, there would be very few cars on the road."
  • We left for the airport at 6 am on Saturday morning.  We expected the streets to be quiet.  And there were very few cars on the road...but that was because there were hundreds of people
    jogging.  That is the day that most people go running for exercise (including the president!) and businesses are not to open before 10 am.  On every road, both sides, people running alone, in small groups, and in big groups.  Our driver told us, "It's the only day they don't have to be at work early."  My comment was that in the US, we would use that time to sleep in, not get up at 5:30 am to run!  Very impressive to see.
  • In most rural parts of Africa that I have seen, the number of motorcycle taxis continues to increase, making it difficult to cross a street or turn onto a side street.  But in Burundi, the
    bicycles significantly out numbered the motorcycles.  People hauling incredibly heavy loads on bicycles and having to go up and down the mountainous terrain.  
But there is no doubt that there is a lot of poverty here.  It's been a long time since I've seen so many adults and children walking without shoes.  If the per capita income is $25/month, you can imagine that this becomes a luxury as well as so many other things.

Our host, the director of ICM Burundi, stayed in a refugee camp for fourteen years (from the age of 12-26) in Tanzania before being able to move back to Burundi.  When he returned he set up a ministry of evangelism (based on what he learned from ICM Tanzania) which he determined would be self-sufficient.  He ran a tailoring shop and several of his colleagues who also went to Bible school also set up businesses, which then funded the evangelism work that they did each weekend.  He told us, "I don't want to be an employee on earth.  If I am fully paid on earth, then I am not depositing anything in heaven."  He volunetters for ICM Burundi, and his family is supported by the small shop that his wife runs.  Unfortunately, the shop was closed while we were there, as his wife was having their third child.

We had a very good time with about 50 pastors and church leaders and were able to take our time over three full days to really delve into scriptures and debate the call to work and God's view of wealth and poverty.  We left with an agreement to work in Burundi as we saw great potential - the population is set to double in the next thirty years and the climate to grow and expand from small farms to agribusiness and other businesses are immense.

A beautiful country.  A beautiful people.  A beautiful faith of the people we met.  An amazing God.

This man found a creative way to take his heavy load up the mountain!
Every now and then I need to put a picture of me in to let you know I was really there!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

"I don't like going to church," said the Pastor

This week's blog is written by my colleague, Dr. Phillip Walker.

Yaounde, Cameroon:

He stood up in the meeting and shared how he has stopped looking forward to going to church on Sunday.  He shared that he felt something was missing.  Church seemed locked into a way of operating that felt dry and not relevant to real life.  He also shared that he was frustrated with the local Bible School.  It seemed that the curriculum the school used was simply the same one everyone else was using and did not have much new to add.  After the first day of training with Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML), he said he had learned more in six hours than he had learned in the past six years.

His remarks were encouraging to us as facilitators of the message of DML.  I remarked to one of the other participants that I hoped his pastor was not in the group.  The man next to me smiled, and said,  "He is the pastor.  He is also a professor at the Bible School."

Later I learned from him that he currently teaches at four different Bible schools in Cameroon, but is hoping to launch a school built around discipling the students to be disciple-makers.  Later, when we met with participants from several Bible Schools, they all affirmed that they were looking for something that would help them address the issues faced by the churches in Cameroon. 

They all felt that the DML training was part of the piece that was missing which can move churches and Bible schools from the theoretical to the applicable, from purveyors of knowledge to catalysts of application.

As we travel around Africa teaching DML, we hear many stories of a holy dissatisfaction with the way the church is operating.  Far too many churches are more like theaters where church programs are more about entertaining than equipping.  The emphasis is on getting people into the church, rather than sending equipped disciples into the marketplace.  In most places where we go, the Holy Spirit has already been turning the ground over, preparing people for the message of engagement with doing "work as worship."  

Churches and leaders are looking for a way to become relevant to a new generation, staying true to the Word and equipping them for fulfilling the Great Commission.  (Note:  the median age in Africa is 17 years old.  A young generation!)  When we talk about the greatest untapped resource for the Great Commission being the people in the pew and how their workplaces are their parishes, it resonates and excites.

We have more open doors than we have time to teach.  Please pray for us as we move from Cameroon to Burundi, and then from Burundi to Zambia.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Knowing what I know, what will I do?

On the plane to Cameroon this weekend, I read a book called Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber. It is one of about twenty books that I have stacked on my desk, mostly gifts from my thoughtful husband who picks up any and every book he can find for me on the subject matter. As I read so many books like this, I honestly didn't expect many more new things to be revealed.  But I was pleasantly surprised.

He asks this key question throughout the book:  Knowing what I know, what will I do?

He takes a close at Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi official, who maintained that all he was doing was his job, following the rules, obeying commands.  He didn't kill a single Jew, nor did he give orders for Jews to be killed.  He asked, "How can that be wrong?  I simply did my duty."  Yet it was concluded that he saw enough to be fully informed and therefore he was morally responsible.

He contrasts that story with the founder of International Justice Missions, Gary Haugen, who was working for the US government with the Department of Justice when he was sent to Rwanda following the genocide in 1994.  What he saw upset him to the point that he had to take action and IJM was born.  It now advocates for justice and addresses many legal issues in many countries in the world.  He could have helped Rwanda and left that country, feeling satisfied, and continuing to work for the Department of Justice.  But instead, he left a good-paying job to start IJM where he would have to raise a lot of money, and where his life and the lives of the lawyers that work for IJM are threatened and (some have been) taken.

Two men witnessing a genocide.  Two very different responses.  It begs the question:

Knowing what I know, what will I do?

Or, once you see what is going on in the world, can you still love the world?  Can we know and love the world at the same time?

It is the most difficult dilemma facing every human being to figure out what you will do with what you know.  In large part, it is what makes us human.

The Good Samaritan is an example of this need to love our neighbor by paying attention to the details that matter the most.  But Garber suggests paraphrasing from Walker Percy, "The Man who got all A's and still flunked life" for a new title of the Good Samaritan parable.  The lawyer who was asking the question was obeying the law but not morally serious about the question.  Justice is about following the letter of the law whereas righteousness is about doing what is right regardless of the law.  You can get all A's and completely miss the point.

Garber says,
Good societies anywhere require people with a similar sense of calling, folk who see into the messes and horrors and complexities of human history and decide to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.
I see things that you don't see.  I see messes and horrors and complexities.  There are people beaten down on the path I take and I have to decide when to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.

You see things that I don't see.  You see messes and horrors and complexities.  There are people beaten down on the path you take and you have to decide when to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.

I don't know how you respond to what you see.  I don't know how you struggle to "do with what you know."  I know how I struggle.  Yet I believe that there is much more going on than what we hear about in the news.  I get glimpses of it daily from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, glimpses that are beautiful and encouraging.  Heroes who are loving their neighbors by paying attention to the details that matter most.

But I believe there could be even more going on if each person was encouraged and equipped to be a change agent in their specific circumstances.  How many of us say "I can't" or "I don't know how to start" or "Someone else can do it better" or "I'm just...".  How many of us are indifferent, living in a climate of "whatever" and "to each his own" or "I don't have time."

Each of us has a piece of knowledge of this world that is different from another.  Our unique personalities and upbringings and cultures all play into that.  And as Christians, we all have been made in the image of God, given gifts and talents, and have the same Holy Spirit.

The call is to do something.  Eichmann did nothing.  We can't all be like Gary Haugen, but we can figure out how to do something with what we know.

This question is good enough by itself and I want to stop here.  But there is more that we need to consider with this question and that will be a future blog.

May you have good and deep considerations this day on this question:  Knowing what I know, what will I do?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Environmental Racism and Environmental Missions

Despite the growth and busyness of Discipling Marketplace Leaders, I continue to try to find time to plug away at my dissertation.  Thankfully the subject matter is very much tied to my work, passion, and ministry, so as I read...and read...and read...and read...I continue to find ways to insert what I'm learning into the ministry.

The terms "environmental racism" and "environmental missions" are two terms that I have recently run across and have resonated deeply with me.

But before I get into those, let me back up a bit.

In the year 2000, sociologist Kurt Alan ver Beek declared that religion was "a development taboo."  In his research, he found that development organizations, including Christian ones, consciously and deliberately avoided the topic of religion, faith, spirituality in their work, saying it wasn't a "development focus."  Ten years later, that narrative changed significantly mostly because earlier research that declared that religion would decrease in importance in the world was found to be wrong.  Religion was found to be "persistent" and had actually increased in importance worldwide.
The second reason that development has turned to include faith-based organizations (FBOs) is that major donors and NGOs began seeing that their way of doing development wasn't working.  The inclusion of faith in development has significantly increased since that time.  Today as much as 50% of all health and education services given in Sub-Saharan Africa are from faith-based organizations!

And this shouldn't be too much of a surprise to us as Christians.  Medical missions and missions for Christian education is something we hear a lot about.

Which is what brings me then to the title of this blog - Environmental Missions.  We don't hear much about this.  And it is often because we don't hear about the first part of the title - environmental racism.

What is environmental racism?  Research is showing an increase of toxic dumping by governments and corporations in communities that disproportionately negatively impact minorities.  The amount of shipping of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries has significantly increased, in large part because regulations tend to be expensive and more intense in developed countries, making it cheaper to pack up and send to developing countries.  Rev. Dr. Chavis defined environmental racism as this:
"Racial discrimination in environmental policy-making.  It is racial discrimination in the enforcement of regulations and laws.  It is racial discrimination in the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and the siting of polluting industries.  It is racial discrimination in the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color.  And, it is racial discrimination in the history of excluding people of color from the mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commission, and regulatory bodies."
Environmental missions is a response to this that is growing in some churches and faiths. Bringing the gospel addresses both physical and spiritual needs, and environmental issues negatively impact many of the poor around the world.

The Lausanne Commission addressed this in 2012 and formulated the Jamaica Call to Action.  I encourage you to read the whole call to action if this subject matter is of interest to you (http://lwccn.com/about/jamaica-call-to-action/).

In their study, they came to two main conclusions:
1.  Creation care is indeed a 'gospel issue within the lordship of Christ."  Informed and inspirted by our sutdy of the Scripture - the original intent, plan, and command to care for creation, the resuurection narratives, and the profound truth that in Christ all things have been reconciled to God - we reaffirm that creation care is an issue that must be included in our response to the gospel, proclaiming and acting upon the good news of what God has done and will complete for the salvation of the world.  This is not only biblically justified, but an integral part of our mission and an expression of our worship to God for his wonderful plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, our ministry of reconciliation is a matter of great joy and hope and we would care for creation even if it were not in crisis.
2.  We are faced with a crisis that is pressing, urgent, and that must be resolved in our generation.  Many of the world's poorest people, ecosystems, and species of flora and fauna are being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part.  We can no longer afford complacency and endless debate.  Love for God, our neighbors, and the wider creation, as well as our passion for justice, compel us to "urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility."
Environmental missions.  It used to be that missions was for pastors and evangelists.  Then it grew to include doctors, nurses, and teachers.  Recently the Church has begun to recognize the need for business people to be on mission and the need for their expertise in poor communities.  And now those who are passionate about creation care are also being recognized.

And it should be no surprise.  We are all on mission, whatever our gifts, passion, or talents, God can use us to help the world flourish.  Christopher Wright says this:
"It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission - God's mission." 

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Plague of Locusts in East Africa

Over history, there are times when solitary locusts undergo what the BBC calls a "Jekyll and Hyde" transformation and become very sociable, forming huge flying swarms.  Of course, we remember the plague that God sent to Egypt when Moses was seeking to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.  But the chart below from the FAO shows that this type of plague is not uncommon.

These plagues can have up to 10 million (10,000,000) locusts and can cover 120 miles (200 km) in a day, eating enough crops which would comparatively feed 2500 people for a year.  The last swarm in West Africa cost 2.5 billion in harvest losses in the years 2003-2005.
The worst swarms in decades are now crossing the Horn of Africa, causing significant damage in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.  They eat 1.8 million tons of vegetation over 135 miles (350 km) every day, affecting more than 20 million people.

The FAO said that this swarm is breeding so fast, it could grow 500 times by June.  There are efforts being made to spray chemicals but the area is so large that the cost is prohibitive (and also has other side effects).

Please pray for East Africa and for swift responses by the UN and others involved in emergency aid to combat this issue.  Please pray for the smallholder farmer, the families that will be impacted both in terms of food and income.

Monday, February 3, 2020

"Teaching a man to fish" does NOT go far enough.

For years, many people have used the Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."

The first sentence is clear and true.  If you give a man a fish, his hunger will be alleviated for that day.  The next day he will be hungry again.

For years, I've been hedging on the second sentence.  To help me hedge, I've added a third sentence:  For a man to eat for a lifetime, he needs more than knowhow, he needs access to the pond, a fishing net, and other resources.

But I think I'm to the point of saying flat-out that the second sentence is not complete and we should probably stop saying it because it is misleading.

Groups run training courses all over in developing countries on soap-making, tie and dye, baking, etc. But that does not mean that they will eat for a lifetime.

I would say this:  Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach him to fish, help him develop his capacity, connect him to networks, and he MAY eat for a lifetime.

I returned from Kenya last week where I had spent time with business people who have been trained and given loans through DML.  While I heard good success and growth stories, I also heard plenty of stories of frustration, sin, and corruption.

Most of the time, we want to tell and hear the good stories - the stories that make us feel like we are making a difference and that the world is becoming a better place.  But anyone who has been involved in development knows the stories are not always good.  And we need to hear the good with the bad.  We need to know the struggles that people go through and understand reality from their perspective.  We need to have our hearts broken because of the sin in this world that is not only outside the church but inside the church.  And we need to let those messages shape how we work and move tomorrow.  Those experiences become part of the wisdom of moving people towards being able to eat independently for a lifetime.

Some stories that I heard went like this:
  • A widow received a loan but her son was in the hospital at the time.  She asked her pastor to take the loan money and buy her goods for her.  He instead spent it on himself.  He admitted this and said he would pay it back but never paid a dime back, leaving this woman responsible to pay the loan (and ultimately leave his church).  Today she is selling bananas, making $1.50 every two days, struggling to survive.  Heartbreaking.  
  • A businessman (carpenter) took a loan but rather than use it in business (as he had been trained), he used it to pay the back rent owed on his shop, the back rent owed on his house, his children's school fees which were in arrears, as well as other debts.  He is living from loan to loan, juggling quite a number of loans at one time, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and living hand to mouth.  He doesn't see a way out and can't get out from the pressure of people coming to him, constantly looking for their money.  He is in bondage - a slave to those whom he owes.  The Bible warns about this and that is why we spend time teaching about not using loans for consumption.  We prayed for wisdom and freedom for this man.
  • Death threats, lawsuit threats, lack of transparency and accountability among the leaders of the groups that we lent to, and other ugly stories.  We expect things to be different among Christians but we are also very well aware that people do not become perfect when they give their lives to Christ and the church is made up of 100% sinful people.  How we need constant discipleship on how to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the Marketplace!
Our teams are working hard to help the churches build in the necessary best practices to help their members be successful.  But it is not a simple fix or a direct line to success.  The path is often circular (with two steps forward, one step back) and is almost never simple.

While there are occasional needs to give a man a fish, it can ultimately strip a person of dignity and self-worth.  While there are needs to teach a man to fish, the number of training programs in developing countries is high, as are the sky-rocketing numbers of people graduating from universities across Africa.  What we don't have are groups who are helping people to do business as Marketplace Ministers, with ongoing discipleship, creating jobs for those who need work.  We need job makers not job seekers, but jobs who are designed to allow the image of God to be revealed in each person.

It's not fast.  It's not always pretty.  But it is necessary.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Feedmills and Water and Cows, Oh My!

It was a week of intensive learning about livestock - from feed to health, to genetics, to farm management.  It was great!

Narok County is unlike any other part of Kenya, according to people we met with this week.  It is made up of the Masai Tribe, who have a rich tradition and culture with deep roots in raising beef cattle.  Many own 50+ acres of land and could have up to 400 cows.  We had some very good meetings and are being to see how the work of DML, through the church in Narok County, could work towards a holistic plan toward a quadruple bottom line.

It was also a week of lots and lots of water.  The rains should have stopped a while ago but it rained almost every day we were there.  The last night it rained a lot and we were driving on a dirt road that stretched about 30 kilometers.  On the way in, it took us about 2.5 hours to drive that distance.  On the way out, after all the rain, it took us 3.5 hours.  We only got stuck three times and had the fun of driving over a bridge that was underwater (see picture).
The Masai Mara is an incredibly beautiful land as well and is very well known for its amazing animals.  We were blessed to be able to see some of them this past week as well.

This week I will be making visits with our Kenya DML team to a number of churches that we have been working with over the years and look forward to catching up with some people I haven't seen in a long time.
Beautiful people, beautiful land, beautiful culture, and beautiful traditions.

A creative God, infinite yet detailed, global yet personal, merciful yet just.
So blessed to be known by Him and loved by Him!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Business Missions: Livestock Feed and Value Addition

I'm in Kenya this week with Paul Soper, CFO of DML, and an old friend, Malcolm DeKryger from DeMotte IN.  Malcolm is the President and CEO of Belstra Milling and Fair Oaks Pig Adventure, as well as a number of other agribusinesses.  We will be taking a look at the challenges relating to livestock feed around several parts of Kenya.  The conversation around a trip like this started during a phone call in September of 2019 and was then confirmed by a visit that Malcolm had in October with one of the Kenyan governors asking for assistance in this specific field.  We quickly felt
like God was confirming this track.  This week will be looking at the demand for livestock feed, the current feed producers, and the potential gaps in the market relating to the value chain in producing healthy meat.  We will be meeting with this Governor and the livestock farmers in his county who do not have good access to feed.  We will also be meeting with one of our key partners in Kenya through the Anglican Church and discuss challenges for their livestock farmers for their members as well.

I'm excited about this because for the last five years, I have been focused on helping the church understand the importance of business in the Kingdom of God and developing tools to help them be able to disciple their members to do their work as an act of worship.  But my real passion is seeing business owners equipped and released to do the work that helps people flourish, use their gifting in a way that is reflective of the Image of God, and to find real joy in doing meaningful work.

As we begin to round a corner of churches and denominations understanding it, there are a number of businesspeople who have said to me, "Now it's time to continue developing tools to help business owners thrive!"  Malcolm is one of those people who has said this to me.

This year we are launching a new part of our ministry called "Business Ambassadors."  For years, typical missions has involved those of a theological background or those willing to paint/build.  But what many parts of Africa need for sustainable poverty alleviation is technology transfer - learning from other entrepreneurs and business people - access to information about new technologies that can help their business grow, and possibly leapfrog some technologies to get to those that can really develop capacity in this growing world.

These business ambassadors will be representing Christ by mentoring and teaching business owners in their specific area of expertise.  They will come for a week and be able to go deep in mentoring with two businesses and then provide a workshop for a much larger group in the area.

We believe it's time that business people take on business missions and we believe that through our network of churches and denominations, this can be done in a way that will be mutually beneficial and respectful, with the goal of fulfilling Genesis 1:28.

If you might be interested in being a business ambassador, please email us at info@disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.  We appreciate your prayers for God's leading as we explore this important topic this week!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Guest Blog: The Power of Church and BAM Partnerships

Happy New Year to all! We are so grateful for the gift of life that allows us to see this new day, this new week, this new month, this new year, and this new decade!  Our prayer is that in this year and in this decade, Christ may be high and lifted up, with His Church reclaiming all aspects of this earth for Him!

And thanks to many of you, we not only met our financial goal for December, and therefore for 2019, but surpassed it, which allows us to move forward with our plans for 2020!  We are grateful for your partnership and humbled by the opportunity to continue to join God in this work in 2020!

In November Dr. Walker and I had the opportunity to write an article for the Global Business as Mission movement.  We have received feedback from several new parts of the world based on this writing and I thought I would share it here as well.  We continue to see the hand of God as this ministry moves forward and takes root in churches and denominations, with the goal of it becoming part of the DNA of the church!


Discipling Marketplace Leaders: The Power of Church and BAM Partnerships


by Renita Reed-Thomson and Dr. Phil Walker

A Kenyan pastor approached us following our workshop and said, “Church begins on Monday. Sunday is ‘garage/maintenance time’ to prepare for that.” The lightbulb had gone on. It is the lightbulb that reminds pastors and church leaders that the Church gathers on Sunday for the purpose of being equipped to be scattered on Monday, shining the light of Christ everywhere they go. Unfortunately, the Global Church tends to be inward focused, defining itself as a building or by programs, rather than the people. While the majority of adult members in our churches spend the majority of their time in their workplace, we do not disciple them to the purpose of doing their work as an act of worship. Discipling Marketplace Leaders is seeking to remedy this as it brings the work of Business as Mission into the Church.

Finding Common Ground

In 2012 Dr. Phil Walker (President and co-founder of International Christian Ministries) was conducting a leadership seminar in Accra, Ghana. Renita Reed-Thomson (Regional Director for a BAM ministry) was attending the seminar with her team. At the break, she began sharing with Phil about the challenges of the BAM movement. While successful in helping Christian business owners grow in their ability to operate successful businesses, she was concerned about their spiritual journey (Deuteronomy 8:18). It was easy to see financial growth, but hard to know if they were growing in their walk with the Lord. Phil discussed his frustration with the local church and its inability to substantially impact the community by empowering members to be light and leaven in the community. Phil invited Renita to Kitale, Kenya, to teach a course on Church-based Business as Mission at ICM’s Africa Theological Seminary.
Over the initial months of teaching pastors, Renita saw a dramatic change in their perspective regarding business and work. Teaching business as a calling, supported theologically, pastors shifted from business as a “necessary evil,” to business as calling, contributing to fulfilling the Great Commitment of Genesis 1:28. Renita shared with other BAM practitioners about integrating BAM formally with the church. They said BAM and the local church could not find common ground for working together. Some stated that the church is “too difficult” to work with and therefore should be side-stepped. Renita decided on a research project to test whether the faith and work movement was possible within the local church. From 2013-2015, Renita conducted an 18-month research study, in three cities with six churches and 260 businesses. 

The Fruit of Working Together

The results were dramatic in outcomes. The local church, business owners, and businesses benefited from working together. The local church showed numerical and financial growth, the local business showed growth in profit and sales, and the business owner showed growth in household income and spiritual growth.
Additionally, these other key findings were noted:
1. Church-based BAM training enables the BAM movement opportunity to be part of the DNA of the local church, like a women’s or youth ministry. Church history has seen several iterations seeking integration between faith and work. Unfortunately, these had limited success due to limited connection to the church, where there are opportunities for ongoing discipleship, encouragement, and equipping.
2. In Church-based BAM, business owners are encouraged by their pastor to see and understand their businesses as part of God’s plan and mission. This affirmation brought tears to some during their commissioning as marketplace ministers. They were recognized as part of the mission of God and not merely an ATM for church projects. Failure of the local church gathered to see the importance of the church scattered is to lose their most strategic members placed where they can have considerable impact. The symbiotic relationship between Christian businesspeople and the local church is critical for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
3. BAM provides the local pastor and church with the practical application of theology. Most pastors are taught informally that work is a necessary evil and that calling is about leaving the marketplace and becoming a “full time” Christian worker. When pastors understand this fallacy, their eyes are opened to the potential of business as core to effectively living out the Christian life.  Evangelism moves from a program to “life on life” experience.

Paradigms Shifting

Since they first met and discussed their frustrations, Renita has built a training curriculum around the concept of Church-based Business as Mission and ministry. Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) was the product of holy discontent. In DML, Pastors go through a two-day workshop. At the conclusion, they are asked to institute a “business month” into their church calendar.  Ministry is set up in the local church to support workers in the workplace. Training is provided, along with Bible studies related to the integration between work and faith.
In 2018, Phil stepped down as President of ICM in order to help Renita implement a new model of church involvement. Renita sees DML as an answer to her frustration of not knowing if the people she trained under the traditional BAM model were growing in their faith.  Phil saw the connection with Christians in business as the vital link for both discipleship and light, leaven, and salt in the community.
The process of moving to Church-based Business as Mission (CBBAM) has not been simple nor easy. There have been challenges, as well as opportunities. The single most significant barrier to the introduction of CBBAM is the absence of a theological framework that pastors and their church leaders can understand and accept. There is a paradigm shift needed that moves from “church as building” to “people as the Church.” The paradigm shift needs energy, focus, commitment, and determination. In 2018, DML discovered that working with denominations is much more efficient and effective. Currently, DML is working in six denominations to roll out DML in more than 20,000 churches. DML has launched in nine countries in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Fulfilling the Potential of Church-BAM Partnership

In 2004, the Lausanne Occasional Paper on BAM gave two recommendations for Business as Mission in the ‘BAM Manifesto’. The first was for the Church to identify, affirm, pray for, commission, and release businesspeople. The second was for the business people to accept this affirmation. It is still the most straightforward presentation of what and how BAM should be done to fulfill the great potential that can come between the local church and Marketplace Ministers.
The dichotomy between BAM and the local church needs to end. There is too much at stake. The BAM movement could be and should be the catalyst for a second reformation, which empowers every member to be a minister in their work and business.
Two people met by “chance,” both frustrated from different angles. God turned frustration into opportunity as thousands of churches across Africa introduce Church-based Business as Mission. The DML model keeps the local church central to discipling nations, and work as central to combatting poverty while carrying the message of reconciliation to the nations.
For more information, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org.