Monday, September 24, 2012

Update from West Africa

Tonight I am leaving for five weeks in five countries in Africa:  Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, and Liberia. It will be a pretty intense trip but I am very much looking forward to getting back.  Dana Boals, the Director of Global Partnerships from Partners Worldwide, will be joining me for the last three countries.  Here is a brief update of some of what has been going on over the past weeks.

The week before last was filled with Regional Facilitator meetings for Partners Worldwide.  In the picture (back row, left to right), we have Rudy (North America), me (West Africa), Martin (East Africa), Michael (Asia); front row, Tinashe (Southern Africa), Dave (Caribbean), and Bob (Latin America).  This is a very fun, thoughtful, and creative group and it has been fun to work with them!

The late president, John Atta-Mills
On July 24, President John Atta Mills of Ghana suddenly passed away.  The country mourned the loss of his leadership.  This is an election year for Ghana and President Mills was going to run for his second term.  Leadership smoothly passed to his vice-president, John Dramani Mahama who will also run in the election on December 7.  There have been some interesting challenges that have taken place in the country recently:  electricity, which was always unstable - going off usually once per day, sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes for ten hours - has gotten worse.  Additionally, a new policy came out that the banks are no longer to give US dollars, even if you have a US dollar account.  This puts a hardship on business members who travel and need US dollars to do business, forcing them to exchange their money to the Ghana cedi, and then exchange it back at a ForEx Bureau for US dollars, causing them a loss in the exchange. 

Hopeline Institute was approved for a Global Fund loan from Partners Worldwide in the amount of $150,000 USD for their high-impact entrepreneurs.  This is very exciting!  As the truly efficient team that they are, they received the funds on August 24 and had them all disbursed by August 31!  We thank God for this opportunity for business people in Accra to have a loan at a much more affordable rate and pray that God will bless these business owners.   Hopeline has also recently completed an intensive training for mushroom farmers and hopes to invest in those farmers who are baggers (seed developers), growers, and retailers.  As a lover of mushrooms, I'm very happy about this!  Both of the interns have left Ghana.  Emily Daher finished her year of service and returned to the States last week.  We thank God for her hard work and excellent service, and wish her God's blessings on her next endeavor!  Kim VandenAkker also returned to be with her boyfriend, Patrick, as it was recently discovered that he has bone cancer.  She hopes to return to Ghana to finish her internship, but we ask for your prayers for healing for Patrick.

LEAD, Liberia:  LEAD continues to do well and make progress on their goals.  The research farm has now been able to give out pig loans to farmers - nineteen piglets to nine farmers.  I will be traveling to Liberia at the end of October with Malcolm DeKryger, a pig farmer from Indiana, who will be advising and training LEAD farmers on best practices in pig raising.  Todd DeKryger, the integrated pest management expert who traveled with us last year to Liberia, will be joining us as well, and will be addressing crop farmers on raising feed for the pigs.  We are producing a high quality maize, moringa, and are starting to process palm nuts for pig feed.  In June, LEAD was able to give out $45,000 US in loans to about 150 farmers, who are in 15 cooperatives.  This is really exciting as we begin to see Liberia produce more and more of its own food!  We are still looking to build a training center on the research farm to be able to research new crops for Liberia and train farmers in best practices.  [If you missed the summer mailing that we did for that and still want to help out, please go to, and click on the link for the Farmer Field School.  We still have a long way to go to satisfy that need and keep farmers moving forward!]

ACLCP, Côte d'Ivoire:  The last time I wrote, I shared that Dea Lieu, the Director of ACLCP was able to return home after a successful kidney transplant in the US.  He has been hard at work, reconnecting with family, church, and friends, and is re-establishing the work of ACLCP after his nearly two year absence.  I will be joining them in mid-October to do some board training and address some organizational development issues.  However, as there have been conflicts between border towns of Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, the border is currently closed to people (goods can pass through).  Since I usually drive from Monrovia to Danané, this presents a problem.  Please pray with me for favor from the embassy and those at the border to let us through!

PCEN, Nigeria:  I will also be spending several days in Nigeria, doing a training of trainers on our business training material. We will be going to the East Kambari Area (EKA) in order to see the work of Water Wins, one of our partners involved in well drilling, business development, and community development.  We are thankful that Jos reports quiet for the past couple of weeks and pray that the peace continues. We learned that the largest Nigerian airline (on which we booked our tickets) was grounded this past week, so we pray that we can make it in!

The blog may be quiet for a bit but I will update when I can!

Monday, September 17, 2012


Last week was a stressful week.  The announcement that I was leaving Partners Worldwide and going to a new organization and a new part of Africa became very real for me, as well as for people who know and care about me.  I spent three days in regional planning meetings following the announcement, which felt surreal at best.
Bob's tree

By the time Sunday came, I had reached my limit of stress and needed to get away.  So, I decided to go spend some time with a loved one who is so very missed at this time.  I drove up to Bliss, MI (near Mackinaw City - right by Wilderness State Park) to be with Bob - or at least his remains.  We planted a red maple tree where we buried his ashes, so I spread out my blanket and lay beside that tree for a couple of hours.  (At this point, it is still "beside" the tree instead of "under" as it's not that big yet!)

And we talked.  Well, I talked.  And talked.  He did what he is good at - he listened.  At least, the wind listened.  I miss his wisdom.  I miss his discernment.  I miss his decisiveness.  I miss his intensity.  I miss his faith.  I miss his faith in me.  I miss his intense brown eyes looking into mine - checking in with how I'm really doing.  I miss holding his hand while we drive.  I miss being in that part of the world with him.  I miss the proximity of having someone nearby to talk about the mundane and the important.  And there have been some pretty important things going on in my life lately.

My view from beside the tree.
Some people have asked me what Bob would think of the house....or about my decision to move to Kenya...or to go to a whole new organization.  I wish I knew.  I can guess.  I can only guess.  I think he would think that the house is plain and like a box...but that it has good potential.  He would have hated all the work that has to be done on the house.  He would have loved to live in Kenya.  He believed in me and my ability to make things happen so I think he would have been okay with the change, but I don't know what he would think about International Christian Ministries or the concept of working with a seminary.

One thing about Bob is that he believed in me and what God is doing in and through me.  And he also reminded me often that there was very few things in his life that he felt called by God to do - God just didn't speak to him that clearly.  But, once he decided to do something, he was to do it as if called by God. 

Sturgeon Bay - one of our favorite beaches.
And that is what I now need to do.  Time has moved on.  This week it will be 2.5 years since Bob's death.  Both kids are in college and on their own.  I decided to buy this house.  I decided to move to a new ministry with a new position.  And now I must trust that God will work out for good the decisions that this child made, following prayer and consultation.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's Kitale, Kenya!

(title written in the style of our last move:  see

Last week I referred to changes and mentioned that there would be a follow up with more changes in this week's blog post.  In addition to buying a home and moving, as well as adjusting to an empty nest, I decided to also change my employment and accept a position on the other side of Africa.  It's definitely a new day!

After much prayer and consultation, I have decided to formally leave Partners Worldwide at the end of this year and begin working with a ministry called International Christian Ministries (   I will be living in Kitale, Kenya, close to the Uganda border, and will be teaching at the Africa Theological Seminary for portions of the year, and then out in the field for other portions of the year, helping churches begin Business as Mission (BAM) groups.

Having been with Partners Worldwide since 2005, this was not an easy decision.  As I had been mentioning in previous blogs, the last eight months have been a pretty intense soul searching and transitional time for me.  My time in Ghana ended in June - where was I to go next?  The ministry that we started in Ghana was a joint ministry with Bob and now I am alone; the kids are happily adjusting to Calvin College - what do I do?  

As I look back over the last year, I can begin to see how God has worked in and through these questions.  Since this blog is a bit like a journal for me, allow me to take some time to write out the highlights:
  • During my silent retreat last summer (2011), I spent time with the passage from Ephesians 3:16-21.  The words "in the church" from verses 20-21 began to jump out at me:  "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen"  (emphasis mine).  I began thinking about the work that I was doing in light of the church.  We were teaching Business as Mission (BAM) and commissioning Marketplace Ministers to reclaim the marketplace for Christ, but what did we know about the actual effect on the church?  What were business people doing following the commissioning?  What type of on-going support and encouragement were they receiving?  Was Jesus getting the glory in the work that we were doing?   Was the church being built? We try to follow up with people, hear great stories, but it is difficult to get a real sense of impact on the church.
  • Earlier this year, I began wondering about whether or not this idea of working with small and medium size entrepreneurs (SMEs) was having the "trickle down" effect that we were hoping for in terms job creation and fair wages, or whether the SMEs were increasing their profit for the owner's good.  How do we hold business owners accountable for what they are doing with their increased profit, which was a direct result of our training, mentoring, advocacy, and access to capital?  I remember talking to a colleague from East Africa and stating that this unknown made me want to go back to working with the poorest of the poor - the micro-entrepreneurs.  He reminded of what I already knew - that the SMEs are the foundation of the economy and that real change could best be affected through them.  He stated that what we needed to do was not abandon this group but try to figure out how to hold them accountable, disciple, and encourage them.  As I pondered that over the next few weeks, I realized that the only institution that would be able to do that naturally is the church.  
  • In May, I attended a conference in Accra put on by ICM.  [I had been aware of ICM's work for several years, as Rev. Tutu (the head of ICM Ghana) had been commissioning our Marketplace Ministers for several years and was starting ICM in Liberia.]  The conference was called "Structuring for Excellence" and addressed organizational development as well as leadership development.  At the time, I had been considering various opportunities for service in different locations of the world, but nothing was really speaking to me.  I spoke briefly to Dr. Walker after the conference and the words that struck me were his encouragement for me to move toward my passion.  I went home considering those words and wondering about my passion.  Over the next few days, I refined what I was passionate about and I believe God began to reveal to me a new way of doing this work through the church.
Dr. Walker had encouraged me to stay in touch with him following the conference, as they were particularly interested in Business as Mission for the church leaders with whom they work.  Once conversation led to another, and they proposed that I begin to teach Business as Mission, as well as Community Development, at the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS), located in Kitale, Kenya.   They have other branches in Africa (Burundi, Tanzania, DRC) as well, but Kenya would be the best place to start.   

From their website:  ATS is a non-denominational, post-secondary institution of higher learning whose founders and staff are passionately and faithfully committed to train, equip, and empower Christian Leaders already involved in Ministry.  Therefore, ATS train leaders “in ministry” and not “for Ministry”! It is for this reason that all ATS study programs are designed on in-service model around Block Courses to allow our students to continue serving in their primary ministries as they pursue further studies. ( 

The outline of this position would be that I would teach at the seminary for five weeks, and then go out on the field for three months to help roll out BAM groups in various churches.  I will want to continue to partner with Partners Worldwide in some way as I believe the Partners Worldwide model is excellent and can be especially dynamic within the context of a church, whose leaders embrace Marketplace Ministers as the foot soldiers for the church.  I will still be raising my own support with ICM but no longer for a whole region, so that will provide some fundraising relief.

I will be visiting Kitale during the last week of September and from there will go to West Africa for four weeks.  I will then wrap up my work with West Africa during November and December, and make the move to Kitale, Kenya in January.  I appreciate your prayers during these transition times!  I will keep you posted!

ICM exists to equip African Leaders to solve African problems with God's solutions.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Summer has flown by and so has my leave of absence.  Two months goes by amazingly quick, especially when you pack in visiting family, silent retreat, vacation, dedicated sabbatical time, and, oh yeah, buying a home that needs a ton of work!  I have been so blessed to have this time - time to take care of business with family, myself, with God, and with my kids.  I'm thankful to Partners Worldwide for allowing me to take this leave of absence, to the widow's group who helped me financially (as this time was unpaid and they recognized my need for this time), and for many of you who advised me and prayed for me before and during this time.   There were many changes that took place during these two months, some of which I will discuss this week, and some next week.

The "Before" picture
After...not quite done yet but getting there!
One of the major changes was buying a house.  Some of you  have asked me why I bought a house if I am going back to Africa.  The short answer is that it is time for us to have a permanent home again.  We moved three times in the last three months.  Noah said to me, "Mom, I can't remember a time when we didn't have to be out of a house by a certain date."  The longer answer also includes the fact that both Hannah and Noah are at Calvin, and need a home during Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, Spring break, the summer, and other holidays.  While my sister and brother-in-law have been gracious in opening up their home time and again, it's time for us to have our own space, especially with two Reeds in GR.  Both Hannah and Noah will also have the option to live at home (off-campus) beginning their junior year, which will save them money.  Not to mention the fact that everyone has been telling me that this is the time to buy - despite the fact that it needs a lot of work, we got a good deal on this house (of course, I hear Bob saying, "You get what you pay for:-).  Although when I first bought it, I was focused on it being a home only for the next few years while the kids are in college, that perspective has changed as the house has become a home.  In fact, Hannah said the other day, "Mom, can we stop referring to this house as a temporary home for the next few years and keep it permanently?"  We all need and want a home base.  And when all the work is done, I believe it will be a great home.  (If you look closely, you will see new windows, siding, new driveway, fencing, door and stoop...and that is just the outside!)
Noah being Batman on a jetski!

Another major change has been the empty nest - which, to be honest, just happened a few days ago, and I'm still processing it.  While it's true that being apart is not foreign to us because of our traveling, it's very different when the separation is more permanent.  For me, the idea of not having someone to talk to at the end of the day, or to look forward to seeing in the short-term, definitely takes an adjustment.  I believe that God has been preparing me for this loneliness over the past couple of years, but it doesn't change the impact of the new reality.  [Side note:  Contrary to some people's beliefs, I am not in Grand Rapids to settle down and find a new husband:-).  In fact, I still consider myself married and have NO desire to get into a relationship.  So for those of you who are lovingly praying for me to find a new spouse or subtly introducing me to single persons, please know that this is not on my radar at all.  I would love to write more on this at some time, in terms of the decision making process for this, but that is not for this blog entry.  I will be heading back to Africa permanently again in January.]

Noah giving character awards to camp kids.
Noah is very ready for college and had an amazing summer, working for the Spring Hill Day camp.  They do an excellent job, not only with the youth, but also in developing their counselors as Christian leaders.  He loved the experience and may want to do it again next year, despite the low pay
Hannah helping Noah in his dorm.

Hannah has also moved back into Calvin as she is serving as a "Barnabas" on her floor (something like the floor chaplain).  Both Hannah and Noah are in Noordewier-VanderWerp, where Bob used to be the Resident Director.  Hannah has promised to keep an eye on her little brother.

On Tuesday, I head back to work at Partners Worldwide.  I need to quickly catch up on two months of missed work and then in three short weeks (September 24), I will be leaving for Africa for five weeks, to visit five countries:  Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, and Liberia.  I will be back at the beginning of November, probably accompanied by a number of my West African colleagues who will be traveling to Chicago for the Partners Worldwide conference on November 8 and 9.  

More updates next week!