Monday, January 30, 2012

A Word from Yers Trooly, part II

Weather:  As I write this on a Saturday morning, it is 84F (feels like 92F) with 74% humidity (dew point at 78%).  It is still hazy with dust and a visibility of 3.1 miles, so better than a few weeks ago, but still not clear.  I think the image to the left is helpful as it shows the amount of dust per hectare.

Back in September, I shared a portion of Bob's writings on spiritual disciplines (click here to read Part I).  The first three that he wrote about were the Discipline of Sacrifice, Suffering, and Silence.  Below is the balance three disciplines - the Discipline of Simplicity, Sorrow and Slowness.  In re-reading these, the Discipline of Lament jumped out at me, especially during this time when many guests come to visit our work and want to "get their hands dirty" on their trip.  Learning to lament - to take time to cry out to God for the brokenness of this world - is important.  Taking time to be in the moment, to lament, without rushing to fix or find a solution, is difficult to do.  I think West Africans are better at lamenting than North Americans, as indicated by the wailing surrounding a person's death.  Lamenting allows us approach a situation with more humility, and as Bob points out, allows transformation to go from the bottom up, instead of the top down.  Reading this again makes me miss his wisdom, yet I'm thankful that we still have his voice in his writings.  I don't know what his purpose was in writing this document, other than to journal in some way his own spiritual journey.  I hope it is a blessing to you as it has been to me.

The Discipline of Simplicity
( 1 John 2.15-17, Ex 20.4) The tradition of a consciously more simple lifestyle is found in Anabaptists like the Mennonites, the Brethren or the Amish, and also in the Society of Friends (Quakers) At its best, simplicity not about being natural, close to the earth or even “green”.  The discipline of simplicity is about humility, about not being driven by our egos or consumer culture, and instead caring for and loving our families, communities, and other people above all else.  In a complex, options-laden culture, adopting a discipline of simplicity could mean a regular activity which removes us from distraction, or it may mean different material choices—certainly fewer choices in general--  or it could mean choices that reduce complicating distractions from our lives—like television, the internet or the busy-ness of all that “needs” to be done .

The decision to live more simply (and as with all disciplines, we are really talking about living increasingly simply because becoming simple is a life-long process) is really a hedge against that which would distract us in order to live as we are intended.  Simply allows us to see the distraction coming, allows us to prepare to rebuff it. God warns against attachment to the world around us, against aligning ourselves to idols, but this must mean more than merely being against idolatry, materialism, or consumerism, or more that merely not being distracted.  Living simply means that we actively pursue a lifestyle that allows for more peace, more contemplation, more centering, and ultimately more love.   God directs us to avoid the pursuit of money and stuff, because pursuing it distracts us from our real reason for existence – caring for others and for what God has given us.

The Discipline of Sorrow (Lament)
(Jer 31.15, Rom 12.15) I’m afraid this one came not from God whispering to my soul, but from my reading.  It comes from the book Reconciling All Things by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.  Chapter 5 is actually titled “The Discipline of Lament,” and I think their thoughts on this are terrific.  The message is clear and powerful: Christians, especially American Christians, need to come purposefully expose themselves to the suffering of a broken world, and once exposed, we need to weep.  Katongole/Rice write: “The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the call to see and encounter the rupture of this world so truthfully that we are literally slowed down.  We are called to a space where any action is too easy, too fast, too shallow—a space where the right response can only be a desperate cry directed to God. “  Lament “refuses to spiritualize, explain away, ignore or deny the depth and truth of suffering in this world.”  And like the voice of Rachel in Ramah, Lament “refuses to be consoled.” 

When we discipline ourselves to intentionally expose ourselves to enter into the brokenness, pain and mourning of others, we begin to understand it from their perspective.  Again, from Reconciling All Things:  “Lament slows reconciliation down because it sees the challenge of transformation not from the top but from the margins - indeed from the bottom.  Lament teaches us to see the world from the standpoint of murder in Ramah, exile in Babylon, crucifixion outside Jerusalem, mass graves in Rwanda...- even from a place as small as a long marriage falling apart while both husband and wife feel powerless to stop it.  Transformation looks very different from the bottom.  The more global reconciliation becomes, the more self-assured it is.  The more local, the more slow and fragile.”  Here, words of Jeremiah recall the insult of dealing superficially with brokenness:  "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.  ‘Peace, peace, they say, ‘when there is no peace.'”

The Discipline of Slowness
(Ecc 7.8,9; Jas 1:19) In a way, this discipline is a bit harder to ferret out, because it is tied up in silence, simplicity and sorrow.  It is a call to be more careful, more deliberate, and less casual with the way we live our faith.  It is a call to, as my Liberian brothers always say, “Take time.” This discipline reminds us that we are in a war, and to allow ourselves to become indifferent or haphazard could lead to spiritual disaster and wreckage.   One of my favorite phrases, in fact my life’s motto is “pay attention.”  It means take nothing for granted, keep your eyes and ears open.   Paying attention is harder the faster one travels.  On the road of life, the fast mover misses more of all the lessons about the journey than the slow mover.  And of course, there are no shortcuts to sanctification anyway.  Moving slower allows us a chance to understand the nature of the spiritual epic swirling around us.
Bob's coffee mug, used daily during our coffee time.

Our culture, of course, is addicted to fast.  Our culture teaches us that patience is for suckers and that slow and deliberate is the same as boring and uncool.  And nothing is worse in America than being boring and uncool.   Ultimately, and like all disciplines, going slow is about love.  One more quote from our friends Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, in Reconciling All Things:  "A friend of ours recounted an experience he had while working with an international group of Christian missionaries on a plan to combat poverty.  During the meeting, one participant suggested it might be helpful to invite some poor people into the process to help the group think more deeply about how to lift people out of poverty.  Another participant quickly disagreed.  "That would just slow us down," he said.  He was exactly right.  But maybe slowing down is what we need.”    

Moving slow gives us a better chance to assess each other’s needs, share each other’s load, and walk together.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Story in Pictures

Every time I write a blog that describes both life and work in West Africa, I am very aware of how limited these descriptions are.  Words are great, but pictures can be so much more effective.  So after last week's wordy update, I decided to put together a brief slideshow of random pictures that capture some of the essence of life, work, and relationships in West Africa.  I wish I could capture the sounds, smells, and full experience, but this will have to do for now. 

The underpinning of  the work of Partners Worldwide, and the teaching of Business as Mission, comes from Colossians 3:17:  "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  I hope in these pictures you get a glimpse of people doing all sorts of things with the idea that God is the Owner and they are the managers.

I also love African a-Capella gospel music and put the pictures to a song from the Soweto Gospel Choir.  I have become very accustomed to listening to gospel music in languages that I don't understand but can appreciate the worship in it.  So don't worry if you don't understand the words  - just enjoy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 2012 Update

The sun, obscured by dust.
Weather:  Harmattan Winds are still here - dust continues to fill the air, causing people to cough, have breathing issues, sinus issues, eye problems, electronic equipment break downs, etc.  Temperatures are in the mid80s, with humidity at 78% and dewpoint at 68%.  Visibility is at 0.6 miles, if that gives you a sense of how heavy the dust cover is - the sky is actually clear (most places have a visibility of 10 miles under a clear sky).  It looks like it is cloudy but it is just dust.  Rain would be great to clean some things off and remove some of the dust from the air, but we haven't seen rain for weeks. 

Reed Family:  It's been almost a month since I wrote last - the holidays were a little more difficult for me than expected, so I took some time off from writing the blog.  The last time I wrote, Hannah had just arrived in Ghana and it was great to have her home.  She caught up on sleep, spent some time with her friends here, went on a youth retreat with the church, and hung out with Noah and I.  On her last day here, we decided to have her hair braided, West African style, which she hadn't done in all of our time here.  So after six painful hours with six young women at work, she got on a plane and headed home.

Noah turned 17 today (January 16) - so very hard to believe - and has pretty much reached the six foot mark - also hard to believe.  He continues to do well in school, is busy applying for scholarships for Calvin College, and had his very first job interview today for a summer job.   One of the applications for scholarships wanted him to identify one goal that would define him, which caused for some great conversations and further identification of his gifts, passions, and talents.  At this point, he is looking at foreign service work, with a potential career in the United Nations or for the US government.  He hopes to study political science, international relations, and other related fields.  I think that is a great fit for him and am pleased to think that his experience in West Africa over the past seven years will have impacted his future in a positive way.

My work continues to go well, but not without its struggles.  Below is a brief report on each of our partnerships:

Nigeria:  As you have probably seen on the news, there have been two issues plaguing Nigeria - the Boko Haram, a Muslim group who wants Shiria law in place, has been attaching various churches and Christians.  A state of emergency has been put in place for three different states, including the Plateau State where our partnership is located.  The Christian Coalition in Nigeria has declared that if the government is not able to protect them, they will protect themselves.  Secondly, on January 1st, the government removed a gas subsidy, causing the price of gas to double.  Nigerians view this as the only benefit that the average person receives from being such an oil rich land, and therefore are angry it was taken away, despite promises that the money will be funneled into social programs.  There have been country-wide strikes for the past five days, causing airports, roads, banks, schools, etc, to be shut down.  Our partners report that the informal sector continues to function and they feel relatively free to move around, but we do ask for prayers for peace as the government negotiates with the union leaders.

Ghana: In the basic business principle class that we offer our SME (small and medium entrepreneurs) members, we teach very basic book-keeping for about six of the thirty-six hour class.  It's a good start with simple skills but for businesses that really want to grow, it doesn't go deep enough.  This past week, Dr. Lynn White from Trinity Christian College in Chicago, came to teach thirty of our high impact entrepreneurs accounting.  Twenty-five hours of double entry journaling and ledgers, adjusting entries, closing entries, trial balances, and post-closing trial balances.  It was great!!  Not only did our SME members learn a lot, but the Hopeline staff also benefited from this.  

We looked specifically for our members who could handle higher level math and had access to a laptop.  Everyone was given excel documents as well as paper copies of the material and they had a great time learning this new language together and learning how the computer can do much of the work for them.  Each day ended with some level of frustration for the business owners but it was amazing how much people understood by the end of the week.  I believe this will have a great impact on their businesses.  Our thanks to Dr. White and Trinity College!

Dea and Amy, in the hospital, before surgery.
Côte d'Ivoire:  Dea Lieu, the director of our partnership in Danané, came to the Partners Worldwide Conference in Michigan, in October 2010.  During his visit he went for a routine visit to the doctor, only to discover that his kidneys were failing.  He was told he would have six months to live without dialysis and needed a kidney transplant.  His Global Business Affiliate (GBA - every Partners Worldwide group has one), based in Sioux Center, Iowa, sprang into action.  As an Ivorian, and not an American, he could not go on the regular kidney transplant list for a cadaver, but would have to find a live donor.  Funds had to be secured for an operation that would cost upwards of $500,000 including anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life at around $1000/month.  Showing a persistence and diligence that was nothing short of miraculous, this GBA was able to find insurance to cover most of the cost, raise over $100,000 for the various tests, medications, as well as anti-rejection medications for the next five years, as well as find numerous people who were willing to be tested to be a match for a kidney donation.  But then two more miracles happened:  the third person tested was Amy VanderBerg, one of the members out of a group of six in the GBA, and she was a match.  Normally, they say, a match is found around the 30th person, not the 3rd.  Plus, to have a match come from within this group illustrates the depth of partnership and commitment of this GBA to the work in Côte d'Ivoire and to Dea.  Amy is a wife and mother of two small children and wants this gift to be seen as one from God, not from her, so praise God!!  The surgery took place last week and went very well.  Both Amy and Dea are back home - Dea's kidney is working well and fifteen months after arriving in the US, he is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel for when he can return home to his wife and children.  The second miracle comes from Côte d'Ivoire:  Dea has been praying for his parents to come to Christ for some time.  About two years ago, his father became a Christian.  Last week, his mother gave her life to Christ, stating that if a woman in the United States was willing to lay down her life for her son because of her faith, then she too wanted to follow that same God.  It may be some time yet before Dea is able to return to his work, but we are hoping it will be before the end of 2012. 

Liberia:  Today is the inauguration ceremony for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  Thirty heads of state will be there to celebrate this day with the country.  The highest priority for 2012 is the high number of unemployed and uneducated youth, with an emphasis on vocational and technical training. This vibrant, strong 72 year old woman will serve this country for another six years, Lord willing, and bring it further down the road of peace and development.  The work with LEAD continues to go well.  I am planning to return to Liberia in February to do an intensive week of training with the staff, reviewing policies and procedures, the business curriculum, as well as spending time reviewing Business as a Mission and why we do what we do.