Monday, February 28, 2011

Africa's Marketplace Revolution

Banner in front of Monrovia City Hall
Weather:  We have had two great rainstorms recently which were a pleasant surprise in hot February.  Temperatures continue to be in the low 90s during the day with humidity around 70%.

LEAD's 4th Conference - formerly a national conference, now an international conference with eight different countries represented, took place at the Monrovia City Hall on February 18-19, 2011.

Commissioning to be Marketplace Ministers
Our goal is to reclaim the already redeemed marketplace for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom on this earth.  Three hundred business people gather to learn, to network, to debate, to dialogue, to question.  The place hums with conversation and greetings.  The business persons are commissioned to become Marketplace Ministers, pledging to view their business as a ministry, as a mission, with God as the owner.  Hands are raised, prayers are said, tears are shed.

Conference Registration
We are informed that the six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.  This is Africa's time!  We spend time talking about how to do agribusiness instead of subsistence farming; how to engage in food processing, the next step in the value chain; we debate business ethics; we ponder new topics like how to creatively deal with the refuse of food processing in a way that is beneficial, or the necessity of micro-insurance for small business owners.  Our speakers are from Liberia, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, the US, and Canada.  In some ways it's a small picture of heaven.

One of the workshop sessions.
People have asked me how I thought the conference went.  It may be that I am pretty worn out and not able to be objective yet, but in hindsight, I wonder if maybe the title of the conference was used too loosely.  In light of the revolutions going on in so many countries these days, are we really ready for a revolution?  What does "Africa's Marketplace Revolution" really mean?

People are dying for a change in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya.  Are we ready for that?

Behind the scenes at the conference, contracts that had been made with LEAD over the previous months to make the conference happen are continually broken - from the venue, to the speakers, to the hotels, to the caterer - broken words from government officials and business people alike.   Guests coming to Liberia complain about accommodations, food, and inconveniences.
Exhibit Tables where Ghanaians show their processing busines
In the afternoon on the first day of conference, we hear loud voices outside, as a demonstration takes place against Ghanaians due to some violence that has broken out at the Liberia Refuge camp in Ghana.  We have twenty Ghanaians inside at our conference who are now nervous about being in Liberia.  Arguments between Ghanaians and Liberians take place in the foyer as our conference continues behind closed doors.  We rush to put out one fire after another.  While we preach it, we are being tested in it.  Are we ready for a revolution?  Seriously?

It's exhausting to fight the system, the powers that be, people and their human nature, and bureaucracy.  It's much easier to give in, pay the bribe, forget about the broken word, write it off as "people trying to survive" or human nature.

I know what you may be thinking.  And yes, the conference really did go well.  It was exciting and there were beautiful moments of fresh dialogue and new relationships formed.  And I do have hope.

Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old street vendor in Tunisia.
But a revolution?  Were those just words used in a hope for passion?

On the other hand, the whole revolution in northern Africa started in Tunisia with one man, a street vendor selling fruit, Mohamad Bouazizi.  His goods were confiscated as he endured the harassment and abuse of government officials.  He had just taken $200 US worth of credit to buy these goods and didn't have money to bribe the police.  Out of desperation and as an act of protest, he set himself on fire in front of a government building. 

Mr Bouazizi in the hospital before he died.
The conference is not the end of the story.  We pray that it is only the beginning.  As we see from our brothers and sisters in so many countries, a revolution is serious business.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit to take root.

Please pray with us.

Puppy update:  All dogs are doing well.  Noah is holding his favorite dog, whom he named "Moose".  Don't ask me why.
Their eyes are all open now and they are just beginning to be able to walk.