Monday, January 30, 2023

From Joy to Lament...Hearing to doing...

From Burkina Faso to Cote d'Ivoire, we are now on the last leg of this four-country journey in Francophone West Africa.  

We have heard joyful testimonies of work turning into worship.

We have heard the surprise and amazement from those realizing for the first time that they have been called to work and that it is a good thing!

We have heard the lament and pain from those working in positions where there is little joy to be found, surrounded by ethical challenges with pressure from all sides.

We have received affirmation from new ministries and denominations who feel that God is calling them to join in this work.

We have heard the frustration of those who are trying to get the paradigm of the "church as building" to shift to the "church as people," but realizing that it can be a long and sometimes slow process.  We are creatures of habit.  We like to do activities.  We don't necessarily like discipleship. 

We continue to be convinced that God is doing something in His Church.  People are longing to know that their lives and their work have relevance and meaning beyond a paycheck.  They desire to know that the God they are serving sees them as part of His solution - not part of a problem.

Ecole Biblique de Koubri, Burkina Faso

Discussing integrity with the shareholders of the Avodah (Work as Worship) Poultry Farm in Burkina Faso.  Most of the shareholders are professionals who are diversifying their income streams.  It was great to be outside of the city, teaching in the open air.

Great discussion with these professionals working in many different sectors.  The challenges of doing work as worship in difficult environments is real, and we continue to pray for strength!  We hold on to the knowledge that greater is He that is in me, than He that is in the world!

Monday, January 23, 2023

What is in your hand?

We are now in Cameroon, teaching the DML Economics of Hope course to some key DML leaders from both Anglophone and Francophone areas.  Cameroon is in its sixth year of civil war between the Anglophone and Francophone regions.  The government refuses to negotiate, calling the Anglophones "terrorists" and the citizens on the Anglophone region (20% of the population) continue to have significant struggles.  Hundreds of thousands are in Internally Displace Persons camps, or have fled to neighboring countries, or shelter in place in fear.  The weariness of a six-year conflict can be seen in the faces.  Those I met in 2017 from that area are fatigued, stressed, and losing hope. 

[The only "good" thing that I have heard come out of this so far is that the Ambazonian fighters (as they are called) are requiring everyone in that area to "strike" on Monday in protest of the situation.  If one dared to open their business, it would be torched.  No one dares to go outside on Mondays, and parents have said that the whole family is under the same roof for an entire day which has caused them to grow closer!]

It's a good time to teach the Economics of Hope.  Hope is critical to finding a way forward for everyone.  We get up, we work, we take action because we have hope that there can be a result from our efforts.  My experience in working with people in poverty for 25 years is that there is often a significant loss of hope in the heart.  Our goal is first to affirm everyone's primary calling, including that of Jesus (John 12:27-28), which is to glorify God.  By affirming this, we begin to lift our eyes from our current situation to something much bigger.  Then we move to how to glorify God - we understand God to be a working, creative God who has given us the call as image bearers to work and be creative as well (Genesis 1:28 and 2:15).  We study how economics works - government, education, and the church are there to support those in business, but primarily wealth creation (which is the opposite of poverty alleviation) are going to come from businesses.  

We need to ask, "What is in our hand?"  We find this type of question many times in the Bible.

It is the question that Elisha asked the poor widow.  In 2 Kings 4:1-7, Elisha asks, "What do you have in your house?"  Then he tells her to go and leverage her relationships with neighbors for jars. He started with her oil and her relationships. 

In Mark 6, we read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with a few loaves and fishes.  But his first statements to the disciples, when they raised the issue of people being hungry, was, "You give them something to eat."  They protested.  Then Jesus said, "How many loaves do you have?  Go and see."  He didn't try to solve the problem FOR them.  He tried to solve the problem WITH them.

The difference between "for" and "with" is where we spend a lot of time.  "Shut up and listen" is what we need to do!

Much of poverty alleviation is building capacity.  Breaking down poverty relating not just economics, but relational poverty, educational poverty, spiritual poverty, social poverty, and more.  Social poverty is a very large factor of poverty in Africa, as entire genders, tribes, or people groups are not given equal/fair access to the very things that will allow them to develop their own capacity.  

And so, we emphasize that the opposite of poverty is NOT wealth.  It is justice.  As justice is being sought, we need to work on helping every person see their own capacity, as image bearers of a working, creative God.  

On Tuesday, we leave for Burkina Faso.  We ask for your prayers for both Cameroon and Burkina Faso, where so many people are dealing with conflicts in these countries.  May God heal our lands!

Monday, January 16, 2023

Francophone and Anglophone African Countries

During this current Discipling Marketplace Leaders trip in West and Central Africa, we will be in four francophone (French-speaking) countries:  Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Cote d'Ivoire.  While I learned a bit of French growing up in Canada, there is always extra stress when you are in places that speak very little English.  We have to have all of our materials translated (and updated as we are always seeking to improve them), projectors projecting in both languages, translators, and more.

But of course, there are other differences beyond language.  One of the differences has to do with the impact of colonization in these two areas.  When working in Anglophone (English) Africa, we hear less and less talk about the impact of colonization (most of which ended in the 1960s).  But in Francophone Africa, I still seem to hear a lot of references to the impact of colonization which seems to still be felt directly today.  

I have placed a map of the countries that colonized Africa as of 1939 (also knowns as the "Scramble for Africa), and the major color in West and Central Africa is purple, which is France.  

There seems to be good reason for the different realities today based on the country of colonization.  France seemed to make an effort toward full assimilation, colonizing not only the economic resources of a country but also the culture.  France desired to change the colonies at a much deeper level, from faith to dress to food and more.

English colonists tended to give much more freedom as long as English law was followed and loyalty was given to the King.  

From those with whom I speak in Francophone Africa, this has had an impact on work and jobs.  In Francophone Africa, because of the lack of freedom, people seem to be more risk-averse and less inclined to start a business.  Also because of the lack of independence, success was found in finding work at an existing business and not working for oneself.  There was a stifling of creativity, of flourishing, and of thriving.  

This is not to say that things were perfect in countries colonized by the British, but it is one difference that seems to have trickled on through the generations!

Francophone Africa also complains that it has been neglected by the evangelical world.  This is largely due to the low percent of Protestantism in colonizing countries of France and Belgium.  Francophone Africa has been through (and continues to go through) significant violence in the past decades, with a great expansion of Islam as well.  

There is therefore great opportunity and great need.  As the Lausanne Movement writes, "The future of the Church in the French-speaking world depends upon the Church in French-speaking Africa." 

That is why DML has hired French speaking leaders like Dr. Sublime and Rachel Mabiala as our African coordinators.  

That is why DML is focused on growing in and through Francophone Africa.  

And that is why we covet your prayers so that we can continue to equip and empower the French-speaking Church.

During this visit we hope to connect with Campus Crusade for Christ in Togo and Cameroon, and with the Assemblies of God in Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire.  Both are very influential ministries with the potential to carry the message of work as worship far and wide in the church gathered and scattered.

Monday, January 9, 2023

New Year, New DML Team Members, New Opportunities!

As we start a new year, there are new friends and opportunities that we would like to share with you as well!

At the end of this week, we leave for West Africa where we continue our work in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Cote d'Ivoire, but we will also introduce Discipling Marketplace Leaders to a new country through Life Ministries Togo (Campus Crusade for Christ).  Togo is a small country in West Africa, neighboring Ghana and Benin.  Togo has a population of eight million, approximately 48% of whom are Christian, and the official language is French.  [This means that this upcoming trip will be four French countries.]  The economy in Togo depends mostly on agriculture, growing coffee, cocoa beans, and peanuts.

This year also sees some new members of the Discipling Marketplace Leaders team, whom I would like to introduce to you at this time.

Brenda DenHouten joins us as our Community Outreach Coordinator.  She lives in Grand Rapids MI and has many years of experience in working with nonprofits in communications, program and staff development, and development.  She worked for many years with Resonate Global Mission and also worked internationally with a nonprofit in South Africa. She is passionate about building the church and seeing the flourishing of people around the world.  We are thankful that she has joined the US DML team!

Dr. Sublime and Rachel Mabiala join us as our Africa Team Coordinators.  Sublime is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rachel is from Detroit, Michigan and they currently live in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. They met at Fuller Theological Seminary where both were studying Missiology and International Development. Sublime has his PhD in International Development and Rachel is finishing her Doctorate in Business Administration.  Their passion in their mission was to bring economic development to the local church and then they learned about DML!  We couldn't ask for a couple that is more equipped to join in this ministry, bridging between theology and business!

Lastly, 2023 sees some new initiatives for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  We are excited to launch a new research project in Burundi, to study the impact of DML on youth over a five-year period.  Secondly, we will be focused on digitizing DML in 2023, moving toward more social media and video spots instead of written documents.  Lastly, while we focus on digitizing, we also want to focus on making sure that DML materials are available easier for oral learners.

Thanks to you, we were able to meet our challenge match at the end of last year and now we look forward to getting to work in 2023.  Thank you for being part of this team!

Monday, January 2, 2023

Finding Shalom: Nothing Secular in 2023

Happy New Year, dear brothers and sisters in Christ!  I am trusting that you, like me, have been reflecting on 2022 and translating those reflections into some anticipations for 2023.  Like any good SWOT analysis, there were strengths that need continued growth, weaknesses that need to be addressed, opportunities that need to be prioritized and pursued, and threats that need to be mitigated.  These reflections are both personal as well as for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

During the Christmas break, I had the opportunity to read a new book by R. Paul Stevens, called The Kingdom of God in Working Clothes, which is an excellent book (highly recommend!).  If you have read this blog before, you have heard me mention the "sacred/secular divide" many times, relating to the chasm that exists in how we view the world.  

But Stevens makes the statement that there is nothing secular.  He says that everything was created sacred in Genesis one and two.  Therefore, there is only sacred or desecrated.  Nothing is secular.  He says, "This world was created to be a temple for the presence and purpose of God...what was once one and whole has become divided and separated."  The Oxford definition of "desecrate" is to "treat something sacred with violent disrespect."  Stevens then reminds us that "integration as a Christian task, Apostolic mission, and a divinely given mandate to find everything in all creation unified under Christ, is simply to live and work sacramentally...finding God in everyday the everydayness of work, worker, and workplace."

This restoration of sacredness, this pursuit of wholeness, will bring us to finding shalom.  Shalom is full restoration or a fullness/completeness of all things.  For us, at Discipling Marketplace Leaders, that means a restoration of our call to work.  It means recognizing that there is nothing secular in our spheres of influence - there is only sacred and that which has been desecrated.  

And we get to be part of bringing shalom.  We are invited AND equipped AND mandated to do this.  How exciting!

May God bless you in 2023 as you seek to bring integration to what has been separated, restoring sacredness into every place and space.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Advent in Burkina Faso: Volunteer Army

Advent is a time of waiting.  Waiting in a time of darkness, a time of longing.  We see a picture of that in Burkina Faso.

Discipling Marketplace Leaders has two very strong leaders in Burkina Faso, a land-locked nation in West Africa, with a population of 21.5 million, one of the ten poorest countries in the world. This country has had a difficult year, to put it mildly.  January saw a coup d'├ętat with an army general taking over from the elected president due to slow-to-no progress fighting the continued terrorism by a jihadi insurgency which has caused the country to lose close to 40% of their land.  This terrorist fight has been ongoing since 2015.

Unfortunately, this particular army general didn't have much success either, and was overthrown in a second coup d'├ętat in September, just three months ago, by another military leader.  Both coups were relatively peaceful, which is quite something.

But this particular army leader has done something different, acknowledging that the army of Burkina Faso does not have the resources or manpower to be successful against the terrorists, and therefore called for volunteer army at the beginning of November.  They were hoping to have 50,000 civilians join but received 90,000 civilians sign up to join the fight.  I'm told they are young men and women, middle aged men and women, and older men and women, from age 18 to 77 years of age.  They were to receive fourteen days of training and then sent out.

Just pause and think about that for a minute.  What would it take for a civilian to respond to such a call for service?  What level of frustration, anger, sadness, despair would cause 90,000 people to put their own lives at risk after just 14 days of training?  It tells you that the frustration and pain run very deep.  

Our DML prayer team has been praying in earnest for Burkina Faso in this last week.  I keep imagining an 18-year-old young woman who signed up under protest from her parents.  She went in with lots of passion and energy, and now may be wondering what she got herself into, especially as she sees people who signed up with her killed in the line of battle.  She is out there in a strange place, so far out of her comfort zone, maybe wishing she had never signed up.  But abandonment is not an option, and so she presses on, wiping tears from her eyes as she feels overwhelmed but what she is doing.  

Oh Lord, how we need you as the Prince of Peace.

This week on of our leaders shared that his home village is being taken over by the terrorists and needs to be evacuated - all 35,000 people that live there.  They were trying to move them as fast as possible to Ouagadougou, the capital.  He was able to get his parents and family out, but then comes the additional challenge of housing and feeding.  More than 1.7 million people have been internally displaced in Burkina Faso due to this ongoing terrorism.

While I wonder at times how to celebrate Christmas in the midst of so much pain, I'm reminded that we are in the season of Advent, a time of waiting.  This waiting happens in the context of darkness, as the need for Jesus is recognized and longed for.  The world wants us to think that Christmas is all about lights and food and gifts, but that was not the environment in which Christ entered.  And at this time, it's okay to sit in lament and ask, "How long, Lord?  Will you forget [them] forever?  How long will you hide your face...?" (Psalm 13)

Please join us in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Burkina Faso, that their voice of longing may be heard by the Prince of Peace and that 2023 may be a year where the citizens of Burkina Faso may return to a time of flourishing, able to do what God has given for them to do.