Monday, September 27, 2010

Mom Story #2: A Peculiar person, Rick Slager

One of the things that I enjoy about my job is the opportunity to meet people from so many different places and backgrounds.  I was telling my mom about one of these persons this summer and she encouraged me to write a blog about him as it may be inspirational to others.  So, here is Mom Story #2.

Rick Slager is a business man from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  He grew up on a dairy farm until his early teens and has lived in Wisconsin all his life.  He and his wife, Dawn, have been married for 20 years (they actually share the same anniversary as Bob and I - October 20, 1990:-).  Dawn is a teacher.  They have two beautiful daughters, Sadie and Ella.

When I met Rick, about a year ago, he owned three businesses, with sales of over $500,000 annually.  He describes himself as an entrepreneur at heart.  In 2001 Rick had the opportunity to travel on a short-term mission trip to Senegal with a group of strangers from North Carolina.  He has since been to Senegal ten times, to the DR Congo once, and has decided to sell all of his businesses and go into ministry full time.  That's right - you read it correctly - sell all his businesses and go into ministry full-time.  And yes, he and Dawn are still happily married. I'm excited to announce that he had decided to work with Partners Worldwide, specifically in West Africa, to do agriculture development, specifically as it relates to appropriate affordable technology for small scale farmers.  His program is called the Rural Empowerment Initiative and he will be first working with Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire, and then hopes to add Ghana and Senegal.  You can read about Rick's work and story at

What makes people like Rick do radical things like this?  I think the only answer can be God.  But it also takes a courageous person to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  1 Peter 2: 9 says that we are a "peculiar people" (Ok, I know, some versions say "chosen people" but I kind of like "peculiar".  Pastor Dave often reminded us of how peculiar we are!)  Rick gave his life to Christ only fourteen years ago - his time before that was not easy but I'll let him tell that story.  Since he gave himself to Christ, it seems to me that his life has been an exciting roller coaster ride leading him places that he probably never imagined he would go. 

Here are two cartoons that Rick had up on his blog that seem to represent some of the call on his life.  I thought I'd share them with you:   

 Rick and his family have decided to leave the big picture results up to God and to step forward in faith to see what one person (family) can do and let God handle the rest.  Rick will be at the Partners Worldwide conference on October 7 & 8 (for more info on that, go to in Grand Rapids.  He hopes that his story will encourage other people to "get out of the boat."  I encourage you to get in touch with him if you are trying to figure out what the water is like.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Six months today since March 20, 2010

My Dear,

Today is the sixth month anniversary of your death. 

Man.  Six months...death.  Those words just don't seem right.  How can it be at the same time so unreal and yet so real?  How can it still feel like you are coming back and yet its been six months without hearing your voice or seeing your face?  And still it feels like these last six months have been an eternity.  Many people told me it would take three-six months before I felt somewhat normal.  And for the most part they are right.  Of course, they also add it won't ever really feel normal again, and that feels right as well.

When people ask how I'm doing, I'm not really sure what to say - especially because it ranges from day to day, sometimes hour to hour.  The range is from depression, to anger, to loneliness, to feeling overwhelmed, to feeling normal.  I have stopped trying to take care of you, which is good, and I now feel like I have to be in the business of surviving. That means putting some things away that are visual, painful reminders of your absence - like your toothbrush and your shoes.

I'm not having coffee outside as often as I did the first few months after your death.  I think I'm avoiding it.  I haven't really accepted "Jesus as my husband" yet.  I'm just not ready to, I guess.  It seems so serious - not playful or light at all.  When you and I had coffee every morning, the routine varied (one of the things I loved about you - you were anti-routine:-).  We would read the Bible, or pray, or talk about parenting, or debate poverty or other issues, or talk about the dogs, or talk about our days or whatever.  When I imagine having coffee with Jesus as my husband, I imagine the conversation to go like this:
 Renita:  So, Jesus, what does your day look like?
Jesus:  Well, today is like any other day:  millions or prayers to listen to, thousands of operations and accidents to attend, four births every second, two deaths every second......of the 146, 357 deaths today, only one-third will enter heaven.  Peter and John are covering a good portion of those but there are some I want to welcome personally.  
Suddenly my day looks pretty un-noteworthy.

I know - He would be focused on me and would care about my day and the issues...but I still miss you and want you as my husband.  I miss the dialogue, the banter, the audible responses, and the ability to process the oodles of issues that arise every day.

The kids and I miss you especially at night when we do our devotions and get into various debates.  Last night they were debating NeoMarxism versus Secular Humanism versus Cosmic Humanism and other 'isms' as well.  Noah was wishing that he was a Cosmic Humanist so that he wouldn't have to do homework as writing on paper would be injuring a god:-).  [That kid really has your mind and your sense of humor!]  You know me - by 10 pm I'm ready to sleep so getting into heavy debates at that time of evening is not my forte.  You loved those debates and the kids missing having those debates with you. 

Time moves on so slowly on a daily basis and so quickly when looking back.  Know that we miss you.  And we love you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eid ul-Fitr

Friday was a National Holiday in Ghana and in many countries around the world with a high Muslim population.  The Muslim population in Ghana is around 15%.  The name of the holiday is Eid ul-Fitr, which is Arabic for "festivity concluding the fast", and marks the end of Ramadan.  Ramadan is a thirty day fast from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn to sunset that Muslims partake in for the purpose of learning about patience, humility, and spirituality. During this time, Muslims ask for forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.  Charity and prayer are important parts of this time.

As Hannah and Noah did not have school on Friday, we decided to attend the Eid prayers at the Madina Central Mosque, not too far from our place.  [I use the term "we" loosely - if you remember in an earlier blog, I wanted this next year to be a year of learning more about Ghana.  The kids agreed, in theory.  Actually going out of our comfort zone is another issue.  But after some negotiation, they agreed to get up early on their day off from school to attend these prayers, and they were both good sports about it.]  We arrived at 8 am, when we were told the prayers were supposed to start, but only a handful of people were there.  We passed through a long line of people waiting to receive alms and then sat down to wait and do some people watching. After some time passed, people began to stream in - women were on the side of the building that we were on, while the men went to the other side.

Everyone was dressed in beautiful clothes and the women all wore a white head wrap.  The stream of people after a while was amazing and I was surprised how many Muslims were in this area of Greater Accra, especially when I found out that there was another Mosque, just down the road that was full also.  After a while it suddenly got very quiet and the prayers began.  The prayer time was actually quite short and immediately after that people began to break their fast.

It was a good experience, especially as we have been intentionally learning more about Islam over the last few weeks - a good number of students at Hannah and Noah's school are Muslim, as are business owners with whom I work.  I appreciate their discipline and desire to serve God.  There is very little I know about the Qur'an and I think it's important that we become knowledgeable about it.  John 10:16 says, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." 
Noah went on his own to the men's side, as he didn't want to stay with all the women - and then had to fight the flow of humans to make it back to us. 
Hannah and I both wore a head wrap (even though we didn't have white - thankfully there were some who also weren't wearing white) as a sign of respect for their beliefs.

 By the way, today is the 82nd birthday of Bob's mom, Lucille Mosher.  Happy Birthday!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The First Enterprise: The Garden of Eden

If I haven't told you before, I will tell you now: I have a great mom. I describe her as a saint but if I told you why, it would make her blush. She is one of the most gracious, loving, generous, and forgiving persons I know, who loves her Lord and Savior. My father has serious dementia now, with about a 30 second short-term memory and she is giving him full-time care, which is not an easy task.

Ever since I moved to Africa, our communication has actually improved. We talk every week for about an hour. When I'm in Michigan, we talk less. Weird. Anyway, she challenged me the other week to write more in the blog about the actual work that I do. She said that when we spent time at the cottage over the summer, I told her numerous stories that helped her learn more about the work and she thought it would be good for me to relate those stories in the blog. So, I'm being obedient to my wise mother and will tell some stories.

One of the things that I have done over the years is to teach and help create a curriculum for Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs). This twelve week class is designed to help SMEs create their business plan, a road map for growth, with the end goal being job creation for poverty reduction. As we go through the class, we break their business down into four components as shown in this image:We spend a few weeks discussing the foundation of their business, which relates to sound foundational business decisions that must be made regarding business operations. This includes Business as Mission (BAM), Cultural Worldview versus Biblical Worldview, Business Ethics, and their Mission and Goals. The next few weeks discuss the walls of their business, which has to do with separating themselves from their business, establishing boundaries with family and friends, and handling personnel and management issues. The following few weeks are spent making sure that the business is welcoming to customers by making the windows and doors attractive, which involves customer service, marketing and pricing. And last but not least, we deal with the roof, which if not secure or leaking in any way, can spoil the whole business, dealing specifically with book-keeping, income statements, and balance sheets.

Liberia has taught this class several dozen times to thousands of business owners. Ghana is in the process right now of teaching their second class to about 40 SMEs. Last week, I taught the class on Business as Mission and today I will share with you a story that I usually give.

A little background first: We predominantly work with Christian businesses, although the class is open to all. (We let people know that we are unapologetically Christian, with Biblically based materials, and they can chose to come or not. There are several Muslims in this current class, but most are Christian.) Many Christian business people around the world do not feel affirmed by the church in their calling. They are often viewed as having the ability to give financially, but not a lot of other gifts that can contribute to Kingdom work. We try to turn that idea upside down in a number of ways, and one of the ways that I start the dialogue is by re-framing the story of the Garden of Eden. Pastor Sam Reeves always encouraged us to put on our "spiritual imagination" which I do for this story - hopefully no one will take issue with some creative license. [It's interactive when I am teaching, so I will modify it a little for this context.]

Once upon a time, a long time ago, God decided to establish an enterprise. He called it the Garden of Eden. This enterprise had three purposes according to Genesis 1: 28-30, 2:15: 1. agriculture, both crop production and animal husbandry ("be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth; I give you every seed-bearing plant"), 2. environmental stewardship ("work it and take care of it"), and 3. a management firm ("subdue the earth; rule over it"). He then appointed Adam to be the manager of this enterprise; God was (is) the owner. He recognized that Adam needed a helper and, not wanting to burn out His only employee, Eve was created. This business was declared "good" by the Creator, and remember, this was before the fall. (Implication is that work is good; business is good; the new earth will have similar work for us!) As a responsible owner, He checked in very closely with his managers every evening to see how things were going.

Unfortunately, corruption entered in. (Side note: Many West Africans believe that African leaders are the only ones who are corrupt. Corruption goes back to the very beginning and has infiltrated all people groups - some are just better at hiding it than others.) As managers, Adam and Eve were allowed to have access to the entire company, except for one area. Being the "responsible" managers that they were, they thought that maybe they could help the Owner run it better if they had access to everything. So they put their hand where they shouldn't. Thankfully, the Owner was attentive and immediately knew that His managers had failed Him. Being a God of Justice, He couldn't allow these managers to remain and they suffered the consequences. Even though the management has changed, as has the original location, the business is still operating, although the consequences of those first corrupt managers are still felt to this day.

The moral of the story? There are several:
  • God created business. God believes work and creativity and productivity and management is good! There are numerous business persons in the Bible whom God used to do His Kingdom work - not in spite of their business but often because of their business!
  • Running a business is difficult - especially when you have human beings working for you. Owners must be diligent in their duties, both in protecting their employees from being overworked and also in checking in regularly to encourage and to make sure things are handled correctly.
  • God is the Owner of all business and all work; we are at best the managers. How would this world look if businesses actually operated that way? Or even just the Christian businesses?
We do a BAM devotion every week - there are some great Bible passages about business that really seem to turn our current perception of business on its head. I love seeing the light-bulbs go off with these entrepreneurs as suddenly they recognize that their business can be a mission, a calling, something of and from God.

And now for your "awwwwww" moment, a brief video that Hannah shot of the puppies. Note Jack, the father, getting to know his children and appearing somewhat nervous about it.