Monday, December 31, 2012

Let Your Life Speak

As often happens at the end of a year, I find myself reflecting on the events of 2012...therefore this post is more reflective than typical..and without pictures!

My dear friend, Mary Vermeer, sent me a book last week.  It is called, Let Your Life Speak (Listening for the Voice of Vocation) by Parker Palmer.  On the first page is the poem, "Ask Me" by William Stafford (bold added):
Some time when the river is ice ask me 
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether 
what I have done is my life.  Others 
have come in their slow way into 
my thought, and some have tried to help 
or to hurt: ask me what difference 
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait.  We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
Ask me whether what I have done is my life.   This is quite a provocative statement and it comes at the end of 2012, a year of great internal, soul-searching wrestling for me.  The author says this about that statement:
[The poet's words] remind me of moments when it is clear - if I have eyes to see - that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me...What am I meant to do?  Who am I meant to be?
The author then explains that he ran across this old Quaker statement,"Let your life speak."  At first he believed that the quote meant to let your actions speak for what you believe in - your truths and values.  But as he grew older he came to realize something different:
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent...I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live - but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.  
The great thing is that when we stop and listen, we can't help but hear our Creator.  When we stop and listen, we can't help but know who we are and whose we are.  When we stop and listen, we hear what truths, values, and standards we already embody through Christ, not of our own decision.  When we stop and listen, we can't help but find our place and our calling.   It is IN us and WILL speak...when we stop and listen.

But stopping to listen is difficult.  It takes time.  It takes discipline.  It takes courage.  It can be painful as you hear things about yourself that you don't want to hear; as you begin to understand that your true self does not line up with how our ego tries to identify ourselves.  Is the life that we are living the life that we were called to live?  That can truly be a scary question...especially if you have a hunch that the answer is no.

This past year I took a leave of absence to stop and listen, and to do some wrestling.  I faced some ugly truths about myself (and probably ignored as many as I faced!).  In hindsight, I believe that this year held more personal growth for me than any other year in my life.  I had to make many decisions by myself, about myself; many of decisions centered around the core of who I am.  It is great, at the end of the year, to hold a book that summarizes many of my experiences in the past year.

Later in the book, May Sarton is quoted, saying
Now I become myself.  
It's taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces...
How true that is - and to some degree, how sad it is that it takes so long!  I, too, can say that I have been shaken and dissolved, and have worn other people's faces.  I believe I am now finding my own.  What a long time it takes to become the person one has always been!  The author goes on to say,
"Vocation is not a goal to be achieved, but rather a gift to be received...It comes from a voice "in here" calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original self-hood given me at birth by God.  It is a strange gift, this birthright gift of self.  Accepting it turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else. " 
That thought is beautiful - a gift to be received, not a goal to be achieved.  What we are, who God has called us to be, is inside of us.  We were created with it!  It doesn't have to be a goal that we pass or fail, but rather a quiet unleashing of ourselves.

I don't think that the answer to the question, "Ask me whether what I have done is my life" is something that can be answered once.  It's an ongoing question, because life moves and changes.  We have to keep listening to the Holy Spirit, check our ego at the door every single day, and course correct as we battle between our flesh and the Spirit. What I answer today, may not be relevant tomorrow.

And so, as we move into a new year, dear friends, I pray that you too will consider the question and find joy in either the answer or in the journey toward finding the answer!  My thanks to many of you who were involved in my wrestling this past year - those who listened and prayed, those who advised and counseled, those who poked and prodded!  You know who you are...and you are very dear to my heart!

God bless you in  2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Reeds!

Dear Family and Friends,

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, it is such a great joy to  know that the greatest gift ever has already been given - a gift that cannot be topped with all the creativity, thoughtfulness, and money in the world!  Some Liberians will greet you at this time of year, saying "My Christmas on you,"or "Where my Christmas?" and it is so great to know that our Christmas is on Jesus and is a free gift already given, available for everyone!  So, we wish you joy and peace this Christmas, as you rest in the knowledge that we are forgiven, loved, delighted in, pursued, and desired by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

2012 has been a year of gifts and blessings for our small family and we want to give honor and praise to our God and Father at this time:

Noah:  This was quite a year for Noah!  Starting in February, where he served in the Model United Nations and realized that this is a passion of his - to do foreign service work, specifically in the area of policy and law.  In May, he had the chance to travel to Barcelona, Spain with his senior class, and then in June, he graduated, with honors, from high school, serving as Salutatorian.  Praise God!  

He then had a great summer working for Spring Hill Camps, where he grew in leadership, faith, and confidence.  It was a great experience, and though the pay was not much, he is considering doing it again next summer.  

And then, of course, in late August, he moved into the dorms at Calvin and began his freshman year, studying International Relations.  I like to say that he took to it like a fish to water, having no problem at all settling into the social scene and navigating his way to independence.  What a joy, for a mother who travels a lot, to know that her youngest is safe, secure, and happy!

Hannah:  Hannah started this year off with a quick trip to Ghana over Christmas break.  When she greeted us, part of her hair was dyed dark blue...when she left it was completely braided! She completed her freshman year at Calvin, worked at the Calvin Library over the summer, and started her sophomore year this fall.  Hannah is studying Social Work, with a minor in French and Psychology.  She is loving the classes relating to her field!  

However, she has been dealing with exhaustion for about two years now, which is wearing her down.  Being exhausted all the time has impacts on social relationships, academics, and self-esteem.  We have been studying emotional reasons, physical reasons (including obscure African illnesses!), and spiritual reasons, and have not come up with an answer yet.  It's been a very difficult time for Hannah, and difficult for me to watch her struggle with this and not be able to find an answer.  We are praying that an answer will be found in 2013.  

Renita:  This year started with many unknowns about my future, knowing that looming ahead of me was the completion of my work in Ghana in June, and then empty nest directly following that in August.  It was quite the roller coaster ride of emotions and struggle from January until August, when I finally made a decision to make the move from Partners Worldwide to International Christian Ministries, including moving from West Africa to East Africa.  I believe that this move will be a good fit for my passion and my gifts.  I leave on January 20 for Kitale, Kenya.

Additionally, I became a home-owner again!  While the work of rehabbing a home has been longer and much more time-consuming than originally thought, it has been so worth it.  Having my children home for Christmas, with our own space, able to have friends over (which they have taken full advantage of!), the ability to get pictures out of storage (since 2005), to have our own kitchen to bake and cook in, and to have our own rooms again, has been a great blessing.  I am so thankful for David Graf (and his wife Paula!) for his incredible work on the house - he helped make this house into a home and has put in countless hours, creativity, and love!  Others have helped as well - Janette and Dale VanderVeen and Bob Schuyler, to name a few, for whom I am also thankful!

This Friday, the 28th, will be my last day at Partners Worldwide.  I have learned so much during my seven years with them and will miss many relationships in this great team!  I believe that we will continue to partner together in some way in my new work in Kenya but want to take this moment to thank God for them!
Partners Worldwide Team

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Funeral of Dea Lieu

I returned from our trip to Côte d'Ivoire this past Wednesday, where I had the privilege of attending Dea Lieu's funeral.  I traveled with Ron Rynders and Cal Cleveringa, two members of this partnership's Global Business Affiliate, who have known Dea for many years and were of great assistance to him during his illness.  In addition, Tom Corson, the Director of SIFAT (Serving In Faith and Technology) also joined us for the trip - SIFAT was the first organization that Dea came to know when he first came to the US in 2004.

Ron described this funeral as the most cathartic funeral that he has ever attended.  I agree - significant events like this (and weddings) are much more emotive in West Africa than in North America.  Wailing and crying are not only appropriate, but expected.  There is something very freeing in that.  The funeral process begins with the moving of the body from the morgue to the home, which happens the day before the funeral.  There is then a wake, or some call it a Christian Vigil, which takes place during the night - a time for prayer and sharing, watching over the body, until laying it to rest the next day.  The next morning is the funeral service and then the burial.

Here are some pictures which will allow you to share in this experience to some degree.

Dea's body moved from the morgue.  Many people gathered for this, while the choir sang and led in worship. 
Dea's truck was used to transport the coffin from the morgue to his house.  People followed behind on foot.
At the morgue - the children holding and comforting each other.
At Dea's house - Behind his casket was the verse from 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Two guards stood by Dea's casket during the entire wake.

This man gave his life to Christ the morning after the wake, stating that hearing the testimony of Dea, recorded in June upon his return to Côte d'Ivoire, convinced him.
Several of the one thousand people, waiting for the funeral to begin, after being up all night from the wake.
(Center) Dea's father, who gave his life to Christ several years ago.
It was not all sad though.  When singing a song about God being our refuge, everyone got up to dance, including us, much to the crowd's delight!
The transport of people going from the funeral to the burial site.
On Dea's farm, where he was buried.  Choir in the background.
At the graveside.  I had the privilege of holding Charlotte's hand and supporting her physically at this difficult time.
Dea was buried on his farm.
All these people needed to be fed - not just once, but for several days.  So much cooking was constantly going on behind the house.
This was just a portion of the firewood needed to cook for all the people at the wake and the funeral!
Charlotte, and her oldest son Désiré-Michel, were given a print out of Question and Answer #1 from the Heidelberg Catechism, translated into French.
The group from Iowa, who supported this partnership over the years, gave me a copy of the Q & A #1 of the Heidelberg Catechism when Bob died - it now hangs in my living room.  This statement of faith, which now Charlotte holds as well, has brought comfort to so many people over the years.  If you are not familiar with it, I have copied it below. 

Q. What is your only comfort
   in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Hopeline's Trade Fair

Last week, Hopeline Institute held their first trade fair.  This two day event featured the micro, small, and medium size entrepreneurs who are members of Hopeline, as well as some aspiring new members-to-be!  In total, there were forty-six businesses who exhibited their products, ranging from manufacturing, to retail, to services, to agriculture!  A total of 218 persons visited the first day and 335 people visited the second day, for a total of 553 people.  A secondary objective was to tell the story of the work of Hopeline Institute and to encourage more entrepreneurs to be Marketplace Ministers.  Many people signed up for the next training and so that objective was met as well.  The Hopeline team kept me feeling very involved even though I was thousands of miles away - they Skyped me on for the opening ceremonies and then called me with updates throughout the day.  One of the big draws was the raffle at the end of day two.  Hopeline was able to get eleven great gifts donated for that - including a domestic flight, a laptop, office furniture, massage, dinner for two, etc!

What a great team!  Congrats, Hopeline!  May this be the first of many to come!

The flyer that went out - entry fee was 1 Gh cedi, which makes it look like one cent.
The opening gate
Rev. Tutu at the ribbon cutting, with Fanny by his side.
The grand opening...if you look closely you will see me, even though I was in Michigan!  (I'm on the laptop being carried and watched via Skype at 4 am!)
Some of the 45 tables exhibiting at the Trade Fair.
Before the opening...but the beautiful set up and creativity of Hopeline.
The draw for the raffle...
The happy winner of the laptop.

The winner of a "Mother Care" basket.
Each night they met with the exhibitors to talk about what went well and what can be done next time.  They all look pretty tired!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dea Lieu - January 1, 1960 - November 20, 2012: "To see with their eyes, the beauty of the gospel."

On Tuesday, November 20, we received the very sad news of the passing of our friend and colleague, Dea Lieu.

As you may remember, Dea was the affiliate manager for the partnership in Côte d'Ivoire, called ACLCP (or the "Association of Christians Against Poverty" in English).  After fleeing to Grand Rapids during their civil war, Dea found himself at Dordt College, where he graduated with a degree in agriculture and missions.  He returned to Côte d'Ivoire in 2007, after being away from his family for four years and immediately put his education to work, with the formation of ACLCP, designed to reach subsistence farmers in the 18 Mountains Region. While at Dordt, Dea had been diagnosed with a kidney condition and on my visits to Danané, I observed him paying careful attention to what he ate and drank to take care of his kidneys.  In 2010, Dea came to the US for the Partners Worldwide conference and paid a routine visit to the doctor to have a check up.  At that check-up, Dea was informed that his kidneys were shutting down and that without dialysis or a kidney transplant, he would have about six months to live.
The Board of ACLCP

Dea's amazing Global Business Affiliate (GBA) in Iowa immediately rallied and strived to do the impossible:  to raise the funds necessary to get Dea on dialysis, find a live donor for a kidney transplant, and raise enough funds to keep Dea on anti-rejection medication in the future.  This was not an easy decision, as Dea did not have insurance, so they were looking at having to raise approximately $500,000 USD.  Being the faithful servants that they are, they began to pray, and God began to provide.  Dea ended up qualifying for a certain type of insurance...funds came in to cover the out-of-pocket costs and future meds...and a live donor was found from within the GBA - a faithful group of only five persons, yet a donor found from within!  What an amazing God.

Dea, his wife Charlottte, and myself after a Board meeting in Danané.
Dea had the surgery in January and healed very quickly.  In June, he was released to return to his home, after being gone for 20 months.  He spent the first couple of months being reunited with his family and working on his farm, and then got back to work with ACLCP.  I saw him just about four weeks ago, when he made a brief visit to Liberia where we were working at the time (due to the border being closed, I wasn't able to get across...but Dea found a way to get to me!).  Approximately ten days before his death, he came down with a fever, which developed into a fungal pneumonia.  The drugs that he needed were not in Abidjan and had to be flown in from India.  Being immunocompromised (because of the anti-rejection drugs for the kidney), his body was not able to fight this pneumonia, and he passed away on Tuesday morning.

I spent a couple hours that evening via Skype with the GBA in Iowa, wondering how they were doing with this - having worked so hard to help save Dea's live just a short time before.  And, no surprise to me, I found them weeping yet praising God for His Sovereignty.  They all declared that this is not the end of the road for this work and for this ministry.  Two members of that team (Ron Rynders and Cal Cleveringa) and myself will be traveling to Côte d'Ivoire for the funeral in about a week.  Please pray with us for Charlotte and her five children:  Désiré-Michel, Jean Louis, Fabien, Ange, and Armande.

Below is a brief video made by the Iowa GBA as they were seeking funding for the kidney transplant.  You will enjoy hearing Dea's voice and vision.  I especially like hearing his vision for the church in the brief clip after the credits roll:  "...the beauty and proof of the gospel needs to be lived out; we want as a church to be out with people so that they see with their eyes the beauty of the gospel."

Amen, Dea!
Dea enjoying the fruit of God's beautiful creation, which he thoroughly enjoyed!
Front row (left to right):  Fabien, Armande, Ange, and niece; Middle row:  Dea, Charlotte, Desiré-Michel; Last row:  Jean Louis

Monday, November 19, 2012

Marketplace Revolution 2012

So much has happened in the last few weeks!  Shortly after getting back from West Africa, I was joined by my colleagues from the countries I had just visited.  It was great to be hosted by them, and then to turn right around and be a host to them!  We toured Grand Rapids, Chicago, Wisconsin (Fond du Lac and Friesland), and Indiana (DeMotte), in just two short weeks!  We attended the Partners Worldwide Marketplace Revolution 2012 at Willow Creek in Chicago, visited the Shedd Aquarium, took an architectural tour of downtown Chicago, visited Rick Slager's farm in Fond du Lac WI, visited Alsum Farm and Produce in Friesland WI, participated in two days of Vision 2020 with Partners, and concluded the visit with Belstra Milling Co in DeMotte IN.  Lots of driving, lots of great conversations and debates, lots of planning, ideas, and dreams...and lots of laughs!

Here are a few pictures that capture the essence of the last couple of weeks:
Allen Gweh and Moses Davies from Liberia watching the US election results the day after arriving....I guess it wasn't too exciting...but in their defense, they were jet lagged!
The Ghana delegation visited the Shedd Aquarium.  Here is Juliet, her husband Nana Yaw, and baby Nhyi, on the Chicago Skyline.  It was amazing to be at the Shedd and see God's amazing creativity in creating some many beautiful (and not so beautiful) creatures!
A few of us went on an architecture tour of Chicago with Dr. Lynn White from Trinity College.  This was one of my favorite buildings as it was such a surprise!  With the cool architecture and design, who would have guessed it is a prison!  Dennis Atta-Peters was only the second of two guests for the tour guide to EVER guess that it was a prison! 
A quick trip to Wisconsin allowed the Liberia and Ghana delegation to visit with Rick Slager and his "Produce with Purpose farm", as well with Larry Alsum to see his amazing food processing factory!  A truckload of seed potatoes are on their way to both Liberia and Ghana as we speak!
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending the week with the Partnership Managers from around the world with Partners Worldwide, going over the training material.  It was a great group, with representatives from India, Romania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, Liberia, and the US! 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Week 5 in Liberia: If you give a mouse a cookie...

The well-known children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, came to my mind frequently during my last week in Liberia.  If you aren't familiar with it, it goes like this:  If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to want some milk to go with it, then a straw to go in the milk, then a napkin to wipe his face, a mirror to check for a milk mustache, which will lead him to notice he needs a haircut...and so on.  One of our favorite children's books.

As you know we started the animal husbandry portion of LEAD's research farm with pigs about a year ago.  However, if you give a farm a pig, it's going to need some feed (actually, a lot of feed!  Pigs need about five pounds of feed per day if they are to grow and not just maintain their weight!) - feed that is balanced with starch, protein, vitamins and minerals.  If you feed the pig, there will be opportunities to use the manure for crop production.  If you succeed with growing many pigs, you will need to have a market.  If you overflow the market, you will need to have a processing plant...and so on. 
Todd teaching about forage peanut - this patch was started from 11 seeds!

During that week in Liberia, I was joined by three guests:  Todd DeKryger, Malcolm DeKryger, and Kayla Casavant.  Todd is a micro-biologist, with a specialization in intergrated pest management and crop production.  He visited LEAD last year and has been active this past year in the research farm development.  Todd spent time training farmers on crop production for pigs.  For the first time we were able to bring the farmers to the farm, separate them into two groups and they could each spend time on the field, getting hands on, practical learning, instead of classroom learning. 

Malcolm in a teaching moment.
Todd brought along his brother, Malcolm, who is a large pig farmer in Indiana (400,000 hogs per year!) and specialist in swine nutrition.  As LEAD has developed it's pig farm over the past year, our need for Malcolm's expertise has been great and we are so happy that he was able to join this team.  Malcolm spent time with the pig farmers, learning about what food is available and creating "recipes" based on local, affordable feed availability for pig feed.  One specific thing that LEAD will begin processing is palm kernels through three machines:  a cracker, separator, and press.  These machines will produce palm oil, which will be sold to help sustain the operations of the farm, and the by-product will be used to feed the pigs, as it is rich in protein.  These palm kernel cakes will also be available for all LEAD pig farmers in the area.

Malcolm, Allen, Todd, and Kayla
A third guest for the week was Kayla Casavant, who is the new Partnership Manager for Liberia.  She will be starting her work in January and will be stationed in Liberia for two years.  Kayla has spent the last two years in Senegal, working with business development there, and we are blessed to have her join this team!

I am now back in the US and this week will welcome many of my colleagues from West Africa.  Partners Worldwide is having their international conference at Willow Creek on November 8 and 9 (  Allen Gweh and Moses Davies from LEAD will be arriving on Monday and will be here for a month;  Fanny Atta-Peters (and her husband Dennis), Juliet (and husband Nana Yaw and son Nhyi), as well as about 8 business owners from Hopeline Institute in Ghana will begin arriving on Tuesday, staying for about two weeks.  It will be great to be a host to them after they have been such great hosts to us!   

Palm kernel separator - one of three machines needed.
Amos, a pig farmer (right) sharing with Malcolm and Philip (farm manager)
Rice fields in Nimba County from one of our co-ops

The roads aren't much better in Liberia as it is the end of the rainy season...
...but they are better than in Côte d'Ivoire.  Kind of glad now that I didn't make the drive to Danané!