Monday, June 28, 2010

Why not me?

One of the books that was recommended to me over and over again after Bob's death is called a Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, written by a man who lost his wife, mother, and daughter in a car accident, in which he and his other three children survived. While I found this book difficult to read in the first few weeks, since then I have read it several times and have found it very helpful. One of the chapters is entitled, Why not me?

Too often, when something bad happens, we wonder, "why me?" I have certainly spent some time there, wondering why Bob was taken. However, as I have alluded to in several blog entries, living in Africa doesn't allow me to stay in that place very long. "Why not me?" seems to be a more much appropriate question. With all the suffering in the world, with all the wars and killings, natural disasters, accidents, not to mention sickness, divorce, unemployment, and so many other tragedies and difficulties, who am I to think that I can go through life without loss?

The fact that I lost Bob unexpectedly at a young age (although he certainly met or exceeded the life expectancy of people in most West African countries) hardly qualifies me for coming to know a side of life that the most people around the world know far better. I still have a life of relative comfort. My children are healthy, will finish high school and go to college. I am still American, white, employed, well loved, and part of a community that has lavished me with support.

What I like about this chapter is that the author goes on to state that he wasn't so sure that he deserved having those loved ones in the first place. He says, "Perhaps I didn't deserve their death; but I did not deserve their presence in my life either. On the face of it, living in a perfectly fair world appeals to me. But deeper reflection makes me wonder. In such a world I might never experience tragedy; but neither would I experience grace, especially as the grace God gave me in the form of the three wonderful people whom I lost...The problem of expecting to live in a perfectly fair world is that there is no grace in that world, for grace is grace only when it is undeserved" (pg. 126-127). A fair world is a scary thought. Who would dare to want to live there, knowing their sinful selves?

Thank God for mercy (not getting what we deserve). Thank God for grace (getting what we don't deserve).

I know that at the age of 21, when we got married, I didn't know who I was, who God was, and certainly not who Bob was. The fact that we had a good marriage, were able to have two healthy children, were united in following multiple calls from God to do radical things like moving with two small children to the inner-city, losing a solid job to send our children to a closing school, moving to Liberia, then to Ghana...cannot be attributed to my good sense. What a cause for celebration!!

Now, don't get me wrong. I still feel sorry for myself and get angry and wonder how I'll go on. But deep inside I know there is this truth.

I am now in Liberia and will be traveling to Cote d'Ivoire on Wednesday. The day I left Ghana we celebrated the first SME graduation with Hopeline Institute. The picture of the group is below. I was also able to watch the game between Ghana and the US on Saturday and celebrated with West Africa (and actually all of Africa) the success of the Black Stars into the Quarter Finals of the Fifa World Cup. Go Ghana!

On Thursday, we traveled to a new county office in Grand Cape Mount County - we are now in six counties! This is a picture of the building as well as the new jeep that LEAD was given by USADF. We thank God for His provision and the partners that allow for this progress to take place.

The purpose of the trip was to get some uninterrupted meeting time with Allen (in white), the National Director for LEAD and Moses, the Finance Officer (in yellow), as well as to deliver a new safe to this county office. In this picture, the Education Coordinator is being given the passcode, while the Program Manager has the key. Many safety nets are put in place when working with money.
After the training on how to use the safe, the Grand Cape Mount staff present Allen with a gift of a chicken. Yum!

Monday, June 21, 2010

One Teaspoon of Feces per Day

(Warning: you may not want to read this over breakfast:-).

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am working with Hopeline Institute which serves the greater Accra area. In addition to business development, Hopeline also does community development and focuses specifically on heath issues in a large number of villages and communities. I was invited to attend their Health and Sanitation training on Thursday where 24 community leaders had gathered from different villages to learn about how to teach about heath within their village; I had been asked to share information about the Sawyer Water Filter, a filter that can last a lifetime and is very simple to use.

While there, I had the opportunity to hear the Community Health speaker from the government talk about hygiene and sanitation. She stated (correctly, in my opinion) that so many people want to improve the health of people in developing countries but often that ends up only looking like water, water, and more water. While she acknowledged that clean water is very important, she pointed out that when it does not go along with hygiene and sanitation education, there may be no point. If a family has a filter, or water tablets, or a bore hole, but doesn't know how to keep the containers from getting contaminated (i.e. dipping a drinking cup into the bucket), the clean water doesn't really matter. Additionally, if a family doesn't have proper bathroom facilities, the same diseases being avoided through clean water will still present problems.

The speaker then went on to give two statements that go everyone's attention: "The average Ghanaian eats on average one teaspoon of feces every day." The second statement was, "The reason why some people don't use latrines is because they believe it is taboo to poo-poo - no, we are adults here - to shit on another person's shit. They would rather go anywhere than use a latrine." Well she certainly got my attention. Maybe that is why I've seen so many abandoned latrines.

She then went on to explain how it is that feces are consumed with what she called her "F" diagram, which looks roughly like the diagram above.

The problem of course with sanitation and hygiene is that it's difficult to get excited about it or to show results. Counting wells that are drilled or filters that are given out is tangible; teaching hygiene is more nebulous. Here are some pictures of open sewage in the area.

Children playing alongside dirty running water, surrounded by trash is something that happens all to often. The speaker mentioned that often rural villages are much cleaner than the urban sprawl areas where fewer people take responsibility for living conditions.

Open sewers running through heavily populated residential areas. These sewers often overflow during the rainy season.

An open sewer in Accra.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day 2010

Today is Father's Day as well as the three month anniversary of Bob's death. Hannah and Noah have been blessed to have had a father who loved them deeply. Who Bob was to them continues in them every day. I found an audio tape that we made for Father's Day in 1999 and decided to combine that with some video in our celebration of Robert Allen Reed as a great father.

We love and miss you!

Monday, June 14, 2010

When God is Silent

Weather: The rainy season has definitely arrived in Ghana, with rain falling fairly regularly and the temperature about ten degrees cooler, around 85 F for the high, with humidity around 75%. Makes for more comfortable evenings and sleeping. This morning was a cool 78 F which of course meant I needed a blanket during the night.

This week has had its highs and lows: Hannah and Noah made it safely to Grand Rapids and have begun to spend some fun time with friends; I'm dealing with some lonely times in Accra but trying to figure who Renita is by herself; I had an enjoyable Sunday with some friends and then drove through some serious post-Ghana win traffic, right after they won their game at the Fifa 2010 World Cup. I enjoyed driving through that traffic more than the game - it was great watching everyone celebrate, sing, dance, and be unified together. Pictures are below.

Underlying all these changes and events, continues to be grief. Next week Sunday is Father's Day as well as the third month anniversary of Bob's death. Hannah wrote the following in the airport on the way to Grand Rapids, which she agreed that I could share with you:

Bad stuff happens. It happens to everyone, in varying degrees and in different situations. We have all experienced crisis. Many times, a response of ours is to question God. And many times we find that God is silent. After the earthquake in Haiti, I had questions about God’s love and justice. For most bad occurrences, I could usually find a satisfactory conclusion that allowed God to remain good in my mind, despite how bad the situation was. For example, the situation could test a person’s faith, make them a stronger person, allow them to touch lives with a story, or things like that. However, after the huge earthquake in Haiti killed thousands and destroyed the homes of so many, it was a lot harder for me to find the good in the situation. I prayed about it, wondered, and was very confused. God didn’t provide me with writing on the wall, or a page in the Bible that randomly appeared to appease my curiosity. But as time went on and the incident faded from the front of my mind, I stopped searching for a reason and settled into the idea that I would never know and would just trust God’s goodness through this storm in Haiti.

It’s funny how when something happens to you personally, the questions take on so much more power then when something happens that is so far away. When Daddy died, the questions that began forming were absolutely overwhelming. I didn’t understand where God was when Dad was sick, didn’t understand why He would allow such a strong, smart, kind man to die when there was still so much good that could be done with his life. I didn’t understand why God would allow my family and me to hurt so badly. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t see the good in such situations as this.

And God was silent. I couldn’t hear Him. He didn’t give me a logical answer, didn’t write on my wall, and didn’t give me an epiphany. He felt distant, and I felt abandoned and alone in my grief, with just my family around me. The all powerful God that I served and loved was gone. I felt that there was a wall up, one that I couldn’t demolish and didn’t have the energy to climb, that separated me from God and His love. I was frustrated and angry about His silence and about the peace of mind that eluded me. It didn’t seem fair or right or just or loving or any of the things that God promised to be and give to us as children that He professed to love. It felt so hopeless. There was no way out of this ditch that I was in, no one could help me, and I surely couldn’t do it. So I stayed in the ditch. Even when the ditch didn’t seem so deep, I had become used to the darkness and didn’t want to move.

Thankfully though, God gave me the will to move, to begin to scale the ditch and work myself out of the hole that I was in. I am not out yet. I don’t know when I will be out. Each day I take slowly, sometimes I make progress and other days I regress deeper. I have begun to accept that I will probably never know why my Dad died. I will never know why innocent babies die of illness before having a chance to live. I will never know why innocent people die in a natural disaster that could never have been predicted. I won’t know. I can hypothesize to keep myself sane, but the knowledge will have to wait until I meet my Father- both earthly and heavenly- and ask him the questions I have. It is frustrating and hard, and some days I just wish I could curl up in the ditch, not exert any effort, and not attempt to move on in my grieving. But I also realize that this is my own stubbornness and elephant and devils that tell me the opposite of what I need. There’s a lot more I could say here, I could go on and on about my feelings and emotions regarding God and suffering and grief, but I think I’ll stop now before I write a book.

Yesterday (June 6), in church, I ran across a verse in 1 Peter 1:6-9. It says “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by the fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Bad things happen, often to the ‘good’ and ‘innocent’. I think the point is we are fallen, and this world sucks (excuse my language, but this is true). It doesn’t seem just that people die to test our faith, and most of us would testify that joy is NOT the immediate response. But when we look back on trials, we can hopefully see that God was working even when He appeared absent. We may not see it for a long time, but the point of faith is not that it is made easy all the time, but that when it gets hard, it endures. If our faith wasn’t tested through trials, it would be almost nonexistent and easily destroyed. Suffering seriously sucks, but I couldn’t live without it.

Kevin Prince-Boateng (right) and Asamoah Gyan celebrate the penalty shot
that gave Ghana the victory over Serbia (picture from the Associated Press). Driving through Madina, the streets were packed with people celebrating and cheering...

...and wearing fun celebrative Ghanaian colors.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What Do You Do?

How many times do we hear that question in our life? How many times growing up do we think about ways in which we would like to answer that question? Recently, I have heard a new word thrown into it when the question is directed to me: What exactly do you do?

I love what I do so writing about it is easy. The problem is that it is so intertwined with what I believe that I will have to work at not preaching as I describeJ.

The short answer to this question is business development. I write “business consultant” on my immigration cards as I travel from country to country. The actual title for my position is West African Regional Facilitator for Partners Worldwide. What does this mean? Well, to understand that you need to know a little bit about Partners Worldwide ( The mission of Partners Worldwide is “Business as ministry for a world without poverty.” The vision is to “encourage, equip, and connect business and professional people in global partnerships that grow enterprises and create sustainable jobs, transforming the lives of all involved.” This is where I imagine people thinking, “That sounds good, but what does that really mean? What exactly do you do?”

Here is an image that illustrates the work. The foundation of this structure is the belief that God is the Maker and Creator of business. The first enterprise was the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve were the managers (God is always the owner). God’s plan included setting up a working enterprise – in this case a farming business, an environmental exploration business, and a management firm, through which humanity’s needs would be met. And just as a reminder, this was set up before the fall! What would this world look like if we behaved in a way that showed that God is the owner and we are the managers. How would our ethics, our stewardship, our care for employees, customers, suppliers, and competitors change? What type of evangelism could take place if we viewed ourselves as evangelists in the workplace, a natural setting for people of all faiths to come together? You get the point – I am passionate about this and could go on about Business as Mission, a core component of why we do what we do. On this foundational belief, we build partnerships between groups of people in both the developing world and the developed world. Each country in which we work has a partner group, most of whom are from North America, for the purpose of mutual transformation and growth.

These two groups then join together to work through the four pillars of the actual work: training for small and medium size entrepreneurs, teaching business as mission and all key components of running an effective business; mentoring which is done through a tiered approach using local, regional, and international mentors; advocacy, working to right economic injustices by appealing to our Father in Haven through prayer but also governments, sectors, and other groups; and access to capital, making sure businesses have the access necessary to build their business, usually through loans that match the savings done by the business owner. The old adage is, “If you give someone a fish, they will eat for a day. If you teach them to fish, they will eat for a lifetime.” I like to add the question, “But what if they can’t get to the pond because the rich owners won’t let them pass? What if they can’t buy a fishing boat or fishing nets?” That is where access to capital plays an important role; doing it through loans instead of grants or gifts accomplishes the goal of allowing the individual to maintain their dignity by doing it themselves, as well as allowing for a loan fund to revolve, blessing people over and over again.

The goal of these four pillars is job creation which then will result in poverty alleviation.

So what I do exactly is work with our partners in Liberia (LEAD INC,, Cote d’Ivoire (ACLCP,, and Ghana (Hopeline Institute, in fulfilling the objectives in these areas and assessing the progress we make. Check out their websites if you want more info or to see video stories. And, of course, since each in-country group has a North American partner, I also work with folks from various states in the US, as well as individuals in Canada. I view my position as a bridge between two worlds, making it easier for people to walk across, to get to know each other, arching toward God as they pass. Much of my time is spent in meetings (mostly on the phone since I am in Ghana), writing reports, writing grants, and training. I spend about 50% of my time on Liberia, 20% on Ghana, 20% on Cote d’Ivoire, and 10% on Partners Worldwide, although on a week to week basis this changes based on need.

What I find so exciting about this ministry is the empowerment aspect that work provides. When people work, they can take care of their own children (lowering the number of social orphans in orphanages), pay their own school fees, medical treatment, buy food, clothing, etc. thereby significantly reducing the need for outside aid and dependency. Creates a healthier world.

By the way, if I may have a moment to brag, both of my children finished their school year on the honor roll. Noah’s grade point average is a 3.9, Hannah’s grade point average is a 4.0. This was despite missing two weeks of school in March for Bob’s funeral and fighting depression and exhaustion for the remainder of the school year. I couldn’t be prouder of them and I know Bob would be very proud of them as well. Here are some pictures from the awards ceremony and graduation.

They left last night for the US to spend some well deserved rest time with family and friends. I miss them already. Hannah and some of her friends from school: next to her, Wylee from Cote d'Ivoire; Sonya from Ethiopia; Elisamuel from Puerto Rico, and Daichi from Japan.
Noah and his good friend, Armand from South Africa; in the middle is Olivia Korum, Hannah's good friend who just graduated.

Award ceremony at the school - Hannah receiving the Distinguished Christian High School Student award for outstanding achievement in Academics, Leadership and Christian Service.

The American International School of Accra High School Graduation 2010. Only three graduates - Hannah is at the podium reading one of the biographies of the graduates. On the right is the principal, the Minister of Education, and other dignitaries.