Tuesday, May 28, 2024

How the World Gives

I've been engaged in connecting Christians to global ministry opportunities for 27 years and have learned a lot along the way.  You'll notice I didn't say, "I've been engaged in fund-raising for 27 years," as that term connotes a singular direction of getting money from people for ministry.  I've learned, with God's help, that my work is to tell the story of what He is doing and invite people to participate.  That type of partnership goes both ways and is a much healthier approach.  DML has been blessed with many loyal donors who not only believe in the vision but also seek to live it out in their own lives - what a blessing!

Over the years, as I've sought to grow in wisdom in this subject matter, I have become curious about how the world gives.  This is in part because DML is currently trying to help our implementing partner ministries find connections with Christians in their local community who can also partner in this work.  And what I'm learning is fascinating (maybe just to me...I know not everyone loves statistics!).

So let me share some facts that I read from the websites cited below:

  • 72% of the world's population supports others. I've helped people with their budgeting in many warm cultures, and found that often upwards of 40% of their budget goes to helping family members, parents, the poor, and more!
  • Religious people have a higher giving index.  However religious giving is less than it was during the Great Depression when giving was at 3.3%.  
  • Jews outgive every other religious group for generosity.  Muslims are required to give 2.5% of their wealth.  Christians currently give 2.5% in the US, which is 7x the amount given by European counterparts and 2x the amount given by Canadians.  (As a Canadian, I'm a little surprised at this!  Canadians are known to be generous people!)
  • The US gave $471 billion to charities in the year 2020.  Only 20% of that comes from companies; 80% from individuals.
  • Of this, 41% goes to congregations, 3% goes to religious charities, and 27% goes to groups with no religious ties.  In total, 73% of all giving is connected to religion.  There are 25 churches for every Starbucks in the US, showing the strength of religious philanthropy in numbers.
  • Immigrants give more than nationals.
  • In the US, those making less than $50,000 a year give more in relation to total income than those in all other income ranges except the highest earners.  Those who make between $100,000-$500,000 are the least charitable in relation to gross income.
  • The least likely reason for people to give is for a tax break.
  • 84% of Millennials give; 59% of Gen X give; and 72% of Baby Boomers give.

[80+ Charitable Giving Statistics & Demographics (2023) (definefinancial.com)Less God, Less Giving? (philanthropyroundtable.org)World Giving Index 2023 | CAF (cafonline.org)]

The report on the Great Commission (written about last week) shows that the additional information that the same small amount of money that is given to global missions is also lost to ecclesiastical crime.  That's a difficult number to accept. 

The often-overlooked statistic (in a world of "should" and "ought") is that generosity is linked to life satisfaction. It's what we were made to do - blessed to be a blessing!

Recently a donor shared with me how things have changed of late in terms of giving.  She relayed that growing up, she saw her grandparents and parents give out of the meager amounts that they had.  Today people seem to give out of their abundance but it is rarely sacrificial.  We talked about how sometimes we need to ask ourselves not "how much are we giving" but "how much are we keeping?"  [This reminds me of a not-so-great parenting moment I had when Hannah and Noah were about 10 and 8 years old.  I walked into the room as they were talking about the lottery winnings of 10 million dollars that the TV had advertised.  Hannah proudly said, "Mommy, if I win 10 million dollars, I'm going to give 9 million to the poor!"  Rather than thanking her for her generous heart and spirit, I instinctively responded, "Why do you need one million dollars for yourself?"  Case in point.  Not my best parenting moment, but it speaks to the question of how much should we keep? (Something that I had struggling with at that time in my work with the poor, and poor Hannah got the brunt of it!)]

Some of the challenges inherent in giving stems from our motivation.  Does it come from a "should?"  Does it come from a tradition or habit?  Or does it come from "blessed to be a blessing," an understanding that Christ's love compels us as we have been loved much (2 Cor. 5).  Does it come out of fellowship in the body of Christ?

The reality is that with finance, there are often strings attached.  This is even seen in New Testament times as Paul sometimes didn't want money from some people/places because of the expectation of recompense.  If we give to control, boast, or make strategic statements, control is not given to the Holy Spirit.

And so the struggle of how to give and how to be generous continues.  Our generosity goes beyond our treasure but also to our time and talent.  The struggle is real, as these statistics suggest.  But generosity does lead to life satisfaction.  True happiness comes from being involved in something greater than ourselves - as Christians we know this...but science is also catching on.  It's how we were created.  

At DML, we are looking for partners not donors.  Champions of the idea that work can and should be an act of worship.  This opportunity is global and has nothing to do with poverty.  But it can alleviate poverty.  And it can bring flourishing at a global level.  If you are interested in learning more, please email me!

Monday, May 20, 2024

State of the Great Commission Report: Exciting and Troubling

The Lausanne Commission released the State of the Great Commission Report about two weeks ago.  This paper has more than 150 authors, written over several years.  The timing of this report is in preparation for Lausanne 4, the meeting that will be held in Seoul in September.  While you can watch the entire presentation here, I thought I would highlight a few key takeaways.  

(I apologize - this are a lot of graphs in this post and I'm told that not everyone loves graphs - something I don't understand as a visual learner!)

The first graph titled the "Regional Christian Population" shows that the highest percentage of Christians was in Europe in 1900; the majority of Christians are now in Africa.  There are not a lot of surprises in this graph, but it's always interesting to look at the changes over 120 years relating to geography and Christianity.  This graph doesn't show gender info, but Christianity is made up of more females than males, therefore the average Christian today is an African female.

The second graph titled "Missionary Activity" shows that the US both receives the highest number of missionaries AND sends out the highest number of missionaries. What an interesting position for the US!

The third graph titled "Global Christianity" is rather sorry-looking, showing that the percentage of Christians in the world has not changed in 120 years.  While the number of Christians has increased with the population, the overall percentage has stayed the same.  This graph generates a lot of questions relating to what is working and what is not working, relating to fulfilling the Great Commission.

This leads to the graph titled the "Great Commission," relating to how Christians view this mandate, in terms of being prepared to share, and viewing it as essential or optional.  More Christians say they are not prepared to share and that sharing is optional. Another graph (not pictured here) shows that most Christians report that they are not discipled in the Great Commission Mandate, which may be the reason for people not feeling prepared to share.

This then leads to my favorite graph (in light of DML) entitled, "Call to Discipleship."  This graph asks the question, "In your context, when a person becomes a new believer in Christ, do you feel they are then adequately discipled in the following areas?"

The first area is "Biblical and Theological Understanding."  Most say they do limited discipleship (yellow circles).  

The next is "Christian Integration with Profession." This relates to the work that DML does, which is why it is interesting to us.  Surprisingly, most say that they do limited discipleship (I would have expected that percentage to be lower), but a significant percentage say they do no discipleship as it relates to the workplace.

This graph is important for two reasons.  The first is that it is SO exciting that this question is even being asked!  That tells me that the many ministries engaged in faith/work integration are raising awareness that this is a growing need and opportunity for the global church.  The second reason this is important is that we believe this graph is going to open more demands for workplace discipleship resources for the church.  And DML has been preparing for such a time as this!

DML continues to experience this growing demand (so far this year we have started in Benin, Malawi, Sierra Leone, South Africa, as well as some South Asian countries which will remain unnamed), but there are a few more things that we need to get done in preparation for the exposure that will come through the Lausanne 4 conference in Seoul!  

We are thankful for many partners who continue to join us through prayer, encouragement, financial support, and giving of time and talent!  We believe these requests will increase, as the global church begins to recognize the significant potential of fulfilling the Great Commission by releasing every person to be the church every day of the week!

We hope that you will join us as we seek to see the Great Commitment, Great Commandment, and Great Commission lived out in every workplace!  Please continue to pray for this message and for the work of the Global Church to be salt, light, and leaven in every place and space.

Monday, May 13, 2024

After Apartheid

There's no other way to say it - for me, it's uncomfortable to be white, Dutch, and reformed when in South
Africa.  Especially in a city like Cape Town, where excessive and obvious wealth is still held by many whites, and so much congestion and poverty is lived out by people of color.  As in many places where racism exists, these two drastically different situations are often divided by just a highway or a train track.  On one side are incredibly beautiful mansions - on the other side are clutters of iron-sheet houses, practically on top of each other, each with a TV dish on the top.  One way to escape the despair of poverty, I would guess.

I taught at a black church in an area where many people of color were forced to live during apartheid.  It is a place marked by drug addiction and alcoholism.  I was the only white person at this church and, while that is the case for most places I go in Africa, I was particularly self-conscious of it in this church.

Yet, I was met with grace and warmth. It was quite surprising. During my few days there, relationships grew and stories were shared.  I was humbled by their acceptance.  I was not taken on tours of the beautiful nature surrounding this city, but rather the tragic history of the ugliness of apartheid. I grew increasingly angry during this time but found that my hosts were not. Given that it has only been thirty years since apartheid ended, I wondered how this could be.  

There is no simple answer for this, but one point of significance seems to be that South Africa is a country where the majority are people of color.  When apartheid ended, people of color took control of the government and quickly worked toward economic empowerment for black-owned businesses, restoration of land claims, and more.  

The young woman in the picture with me has a degree in conservation and had never heard creation care taught within a church building before!  She was super excited and can't wait to help churches create plans to promote stewardship of the environment, to the glory of God!

A rainbow could be seen over a vineyard as I left Cape Town.  Thankful to God for His presence in all places! 

Monday, May 6, 2024

From Sierra Leone to Cape Town: Quite the change!

Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa, which is known as one of the most beautiful cities in Africa.  After three weeks of limited electricity, connectivity, running water, and road challenges, I arrived in Cape Town with two suitcases that were full of water due to the downpour in Kenya.  But amazingly, I arrived at my hotel room to meet a washer/dryer - the first time I've ever had that in a hotel room! - and I was definitely in need of it!  I thank God for this provision! 

But back to Sierra Leone, this was my first official trip to Sierra Leone.  Having lived in Liberia for several years, there were a couple of times that I "dipped my toe" in the land of Sierra Leone when doing some work near the border.  I thought that I knew what Sierra Leone was like - I made some assumptions that it was similar to Liberia, and it is in some ways, but in many ways, it is not.

The biggest difference (from my limited perspective) is that Sierra Leone is about 77% Muslim and only 22% Christian, compared to Liberia which is majority Christian.  Sierra Leone is also more economically depressed than Liberia in terms of average income, which was a surprise to me.  For some reason, I always thought it was stronger than Liberia.  But driving through Sierra Leone last week was eye-opening to a significant level of poverty, coupled with a significant lack of access to stable electricity.  

So I moved from a heavy heart for Cameroon to a heavy heart for Sierra Leone.  In my conversations with Sierra Leoneans, there seemed to be a lack of "hope in the heart" for positive change anytime soon.  And, as is typical in many nations where we work, the answer for change seems always to be perceived as lying only in the hands of the government leaders.  [While it's true that the government wields power, seeing them as the only change agent often leaves us feeling like victims, as government behavior is often outside of our control.  Instead, we need to ask "what is in our hand" (i.e. what can WE do) especially as Christians, made in the image of God with the capacity to work and bring flourishing to a nation.]

As we drove through the country, I saw acre after acre of unused land.  I saw many, many mango trees, ripe with fruit, yet many mangoes were rotting on the ground.  

I saw latent potential, yet undeveloped and released, amongst people who seem to think that there is nothing "in their hand."

But then we spent two days with the leaders of the Wesleyan Church of Sierra Leone.  There is a high degree of transparency and accountability within this church.  There is an openness and eagerness to look again at the structure of the church and examine if some methodologies could be changed.  The bishop is a humble servant, willing to listen, dialogue, and discuss how to bring positive change in discipleship within the denomination.  

We are excited to work with the Wesleyan Church as they implement workplace ministries in their local assemblies and begin to help those without hope to see that they are a miracle, made in the image of God, with the potential to be the answer to someone else's prayer through their work!

PS - You may have seen that we have a matching grant campaign for scholarships going on for the last four weeks and we are close to reaching the end of this campaign.  We can't over-emphasize the potential for change that can come as pastors and church leaders who hear the message of "work as worship," revealing the God of Business and the need for discipleship in the workplace.  These scholarships allow pastors, church leaders, businessmen, and businesswomen to see their individual purpose, and the purpose of the church, with new eyes.  We have an incredible opportunity in a $20,000 matching grant for scholarships and wish to invite you to join this effort and see your gift doubled!  These funds will impact many church leaders and will allow us to continue to promote the message that our work matters to God.  If you have already given, we thank you!  If you would like to give, please click here.  

Thank you for your continued partnership!  This work can't be done without you!

Monday, April 29, 2024

Ghost Town in Cameroon

Greetings from Sierra Leone, where we are presenting the DML Basic Business Training to businessmen and women, as well as church leaders and pastors, from the Wesleyan Church.  I’m joined by Dr. Gaga, DML team leader from Nigeria and Rev. Lisa Travis from Liberia, who started this work in Sierra Leone last year.  We thank God for this open door!

But my heart is heavy from my time in Cameroon and as news channels are not covering what is happening, I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned and invite us to continue to pray for those suffering in this region.  

As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, about 20% (or 6 million) of the Cameroon population are considered Anglophone (English speaking) while the other 80% are French-speaking.  They are mostly in the northwestern part of the country, next to Nigeria. Anglophones have long complained that they do not receive the same benefits as the French-speaking population and are often overlooked by the government. In 2017, a civil crisis began when a portion of the Anglophone community decided they wanted to separate, call themselves by a new name, have a new flag, new currency, etc.  Since that time, there has been conflict in the northwest.  

In my limited understanding, it seems that most of the country has simply ignored what is happening.  The government has tried several interventions but there has not been a serious effort to put an end to this – they simply seem to be waiting for this group to implode.  And those bearing the brunt of the cost are the citizens living in this part of Cameroon.

It is these citizens who are being kidnapped by this group wanting independence, to fund their side of the fighting.  When you are kidnapped, you must pay a “liberty tax” or face other members of your family or employees being kidnapped.  Those kidnapped are beaten and molested.  I’m told that just in this last month, more than $500,000 was received in the form of “liberty tax,” as tracked by mobile money transactions.

Every Monday, for years now, this part of the country has mandatory “ghost town days” in which no one is allowed to open their business or work.  Schools are closed and government buildings are also closed.  If you open for business, your place will be burned down.  At any time, other days can be declared a “ghost town” day for whatever reason is deemed appropriate.  For example, this past Thursday and for the next three Thursdays, “ghost town” is in place due to the death of one of their generals.

Let me relay some stories to you, shared by the DML trainers from that area:
  • One man shared that his father died in that area in February.  But because he is Anglophone and had left the area, he is considered a traitor and would be killed if he returned.  Therefore, he was not able to attend his own father’s funeral.
  • One woman shared that her father’s house was burned down a few months ago.  The reason was that he gave her in marriage to a Francophone.  These soldiers happen to respect this man, and so they allowed him and his loved ones to get out of his house before setting it on fire.
  • A woman who runs a school reported that before this crisis, no one could enter the school grounds in police/guard uniforms with guns, as that created stress for the children.  Now there are guards with guns on every school campus.  This has an impact on the children and their sense of security.
  • A woman who was kidnapped watched as twelve others were beaten in front of her. This was her second time being kidnapped.  The first time she was gone for two weeks.  This time, it was about 15 hours.  She had to pay two million francs (about $3,500) as a "liberty tax" or risk having five of her employees kidnapped.  But they also took her car and used it to transport others who were kidnapped.  That car can now be identified as a “rebel” car, which puts her at risk for driving it.  She is still sorting out what to do.
And I could go on.  If you leave this area, you are a traitor and will not be able to return to your home, family, or land.  If you stay, you are at risk of kidnapping and are paralyzed economically.  What to do?

Please pray for the millions of citizens affected daily by this, for years now.  There must be some resolution, but it is difficult to see.  At this point, we are praying for confusion in that camp, as there seems to be a struggle for who is leading this group.  We also pray for wisdom for the citizens who live there in terms of how they could organize protests.  And lastly, we pray for the government to have compassion for those who are suffering and enter into a serious engagement to put an end to this.

With all this, it was reported to me that there is an improvement between French and English-speaking citizens in the rest of the country, as many Anglophones have fled and resettled among the Francophones.  There is also a growing interest amongst French-speaking citizens to learn English and that has led to greater acceptance.

God is sovereign and He is at work in every place and space.  Please pray that His people may become aware of what He is doing and how to join Him.

(Pictured here - DML Cameroon team leaders)

Monday, April 22, 2024

Divine Dimensions: A 3-D Approach to Discipleship

Greetings from Cameroon!  This past week has been very full with DML foundational workshops, Economic of Hope workshops, meetings with the Full Gospel Church and the Body of Christ Church, as well as planning for the launch of BAM Cameroon.  The week culminated in seven hours of church services yesterday at two different churches, which included the commissioning of new marketplace ministers.

As we dialogue with churches and pastors who are so passionate about the Great Commission, I continue to gain new insights into the message that God has invited us to share.  This past week, one pastor said, “I now realize that I have been keeping my people in captivity.  I have held them back from being part of the priesthood of believers.”  Another said, “I have not been a coach to my members for how they can be ambassadors for Christ outside the building.  I have been too focused on my programs and not on how God can use them.”

As the DML Cameroon team processed these comments, we realized that the call to make disciples is three-dimensional.  When we focus only on developing our personal relationship with God, it is one dimensional (vertical) – me and God, and the impact does not go further.  In this case, we are often waiting for heaven.  When we focus on bringing in the Great Commandment, and integrate our faith into how we relate with those around us, it becomes two-dimensional.  Now we have both vertical and horizontal integration of faith and the people around us.  But it is still flat.  When we bring in the third Great Directive of God, the Great Commitment of Genesis 1 and 2, we seek to bring about the Kingdom of God and the flourishing of ALL things – all of creation, all creatures, all of humanity.  Now it is three-dimensional.  That is when it comes to life.

For many, Christianity has been flat – it has not come off the page.  It has not seen the impact in nation-building, in transformation.  We have repeated the problem that Israel faced – being nations WITH priests rather than being nations OF priests.

When we equip every member to be the church in every place and space, we begin to experience the fullness that God intended from the very beginning. 

We serve a 3-D God who invites not only humanity to worship Him, but all of creation! Let's join Him by helping all of creation to glorify God!