Sunday, April 28, 2013

BAM Congress, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The view of Chiang Mai from my hotel room.
The Business as Mission (BAM) Congress just ended on Sunday afternoon.  Three days with 525 BAM people from 41 nations.  It was a great experience. The Congress was more theoretical as it relates to BAM - best practices, lessons learned, impacts and assessments, research, advocacy, and like topics.  While there were many BAM business persons in attendance, there were also many people like myself, facilitating the growth of the BAM movement.  Immediately following the close of the BAM Congress began phase two, the Call2Business Trade Fair which will go until Tuesday. The Trade Fair will be more practical with more BAM business persons involved, sharing the challenges of operating a BAM business, networking, industry specific gatherings, and the like.

I was very disappointed by the small number of Africans present at the conference.  Part of reason was a logistical problem - registration for the conference was done online with credit cards, and many African nations do not yet use credit cards as it is a cash society.  But there also needs to be much more exposure in Africa to the BAM movement.  Since Africa is projected to become an economic world power in the next twenty years (with an annual growth rate projected at 6%, compared to 1.8% in the US), then we need to be equipping these leaders with Business as Mission principles and values.

These little vehicles are everywhere, along with the bicycles and carts.
I was not able to discover any other persons who are doing the work that I am doing in terms of engaging Church leadership in order to build up and affirm the calling of business members.  People continue to complain about how churches marginalize business persons, treating their work as less holy or viewing successful business persons as corrupt or greedy, yet no-one else seems to be addressing this, other than the International Christian Ministries.  The co-chair of the BAM Congress told me that I was pioneering this movement and they are eager to hear how it will go.  I still have to believe that there are others out there doing and maybe we don't know of them yet.  It would be great to have some company on this to talk through strategies and best practices.

Because the the large number of people from closed countries, we were not allowed to take pictures at the event, in order to protect those persons.  So I don't have pictures of the conference, but did take some pictures in Chiang Mai.
 Roxanne DeGraaf (Partners Worldwide staff, friend and former colleague) and I toured the old city of Chiang Mai.  It is home to over 300 temples - seemingly every 100 feet or so.  
Pretty amazing buildings.
 The inside of one of the temples.

One of the fun things we did one evening was to have a fish massage.  Yes.  A fish massage.  You sit for 15 or 30 minutes with your feet in these pools and the fish nibble at your feet.  It is supposed to make your feet very smooth!  I am here with Kent, from Colorado, and Vey, from California, both conference attendees as well.
 This is not something for the extremely ticklish person.  It feels like hundreds of little shocks going through your feet...or like your feet are falling asleep.  A couple of little shrieks got out of me...but it really was pretty cool.  I think this would catch on in the US!
Two of my favorite men, Lou Haveman (from Grand Rapids) and Daniel Jean-Louis (from Haiti).  Love these guys!

Because of flight issues, I will be in Chiang Mai until Friday, at which time I will then return to Kenya, arriving back in Kitale on Sunday.  Please join with me in prayer for the message of Business as Mission to spread throughout Africa!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Uganda...Nairobi...then Chiang Mai, Thailand

Proof that I was in Uganda...if you look closely at the small sign.
Last week was pretty busy with teachings, but also included a quick trip to Uganda as my ninety days in Kenya was running out and I needed to leave the country and re-enter again to renew my visa.  Not much of a visit and the Ugandans were clearly disappointed that I was going to see more of their beautiful country than just the border town of Busia.  But it makes the number of African countries I have visited fifteen...even though I'm not sure that a two hour visit should count as a full visit.

On Saturday I boarded a bus from Kitale to Nairobi.  The six hour trip took nine hours, passing a pretty significant accident involving three large trucks...causing diversions down and up steep banks...but in the end, a safe arrival in Nairobi.

Pastor Achola in front of his church.
I am here to spend a couple of days with one of the pastors from my first class at the Seminary. Pastor James Achola and his church, Grace World Harvest Center, is located in the second largest slums of Nairobi, called Mathare, home to approximately 500,000 people.  On Sunday morning, I attended his church, looking forward to hearing him bring the word...only to have that sinking feeling in your stomach as the worship leader invites the pastor welcome the speaker.  At that moment, I realized I was the speaker.  I had two minutes to prepare a message. 

I thought I had made it clear to the pastors in my class, since they heard me teach for such a length of time, that when I visit them I want to hear them speak.  Apparently, I wasn't clear enough.  All I could do was pray for the Holy Spirit to have His way...take a deep breath...and go up front.  The Lord did provide and the message actually went pretty well.  I was SO thankful for the necessity of a translator, as it gave me a few seconds each time to find my next words. 

I then spent the afternoon meeting with business owners from the church.  Pastor Achola had just completed a four week Bible Study with them on Business as Mission (part of his field assignment
Business Owners Bible Study group
for the class) and so they were primed and eager to begin Marketplace Ministry.  The only woman in the group came up to me afterwards and told me she was despairing and ready to quit her business, but that my words had encouraged her to keep trying and recognize God as the owner of her business.  Praise God for that.  Today I will visit her business, as well as a handful of others - as many as Nairobi traffic will allow in a day.

On Wednesday, I will fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Business as Mission Congress and Trade Fair.  I am looking forward to being surrounded with like-minded passionate people and to hear best practices as well as other models of BAM around the world.  I will have a chance to share what I am doing in Kenya, as well as serve as a coach for those looking to implement BAM in their context.  I will return to Kenya on May 4 and then will take a bus back to Kitale, arriving there on May 5.  Unfortunately, it is one day after the ATS graduation and I will have missed the occasion.  A number of my pastors from the first class are graduating and I hate to miss the celebration with them, but I was unable to get an earlier flight.

On Thursday, April 25, my dear daughter, Hannah, turns 20.  A significant milestone in her life.  While she is missing her father's voice and the distance of her mother, we are celebrating the gift of her life and thanking God for recent healing from her exhaustion. 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Praising God: First Quarter Stories and Report

April 21 marks my three month anniversary in Kenya.  I have met so many people that I have grown to love in a short period of time.  There have been many open doors and positive receptions to the idea of incorporating Business as Mission into churches, and working to reclaim the redeemed marketplace for Christ.  I am so thankful to God!

"Muzungu!  How are you?!"
Since arriving in Kenya, I have learned to respond to many different names.  The name that I hear the most as I travel around Western Kenya is "Muzungu!,"  followed by a very enunciated, "How are you?"  This is apparently how children are taught to address white people.  The second most common name I am called is, "Mwalimu," meaning "Teacher."  I think that one is easier for the adults than REnita.   I've been called "Pastor" a number of times, and have learned that the simple act of preaching a sermon in church will warrant the title of pastor.   And lastly, I have been called bishop twice...but I put a pretty quick stop to that. 

Mary's cabbage garden, which seems to be struggling.
I would like to introduce you to a couple of people that I have had the privilege of getting to know in Kitale.  The first is Mary.  Mary is a widow - her husband died about three years ago in a traffic accident.  Mary farms approximately three acres of maize, keeps some poultry, and grows some vegetables and fruit in a garden (kale, cabbage, bananas).  When I met her, the farmers were getting ready to plant, but Mary had not yet raised the funds necessary to do the second plowing of the land and the purchase of necessary fertilizer to provide the best yield from her land.  When I asked Mary what her average yield has been in the past, she told me that she averages approximately 15 ninety kilogram bags per acre (most farmers get between 20-30 bags; bigger farms are able to get 40 bags; and I've even heard of some getting 50 bags).  Mary's yield is very low...resulting in lower profit, if any at all.  When I explored a bit further with her, it was clear that Mary knew what she needed to do increase her yield; she just did not have the funds.  Harvesting only one time a year requires that farmers put aside the capital from their sales and not touch it until planting again, six months later.  This is very difficult to do, especially when the average income in this area is approximately $1.25/day.  The land could be farmed twice per year, but irrigation equipment would be needed.

Noel and her cows on her farm.
I then met Noel, also a widow and a farmer.  She was the second wife to a man who dies about ten years ago.  He had a large farm, but after his death, there was a lot of disputes between the first wife and her children.  Rather than go to court, Noel just kept giving the land away to appease the family members.  She is now left with ten acres.  She inter-crops maize and beans on five of the acres, and uses the other five acres for grazing for her ten cows.  She employs three full-time persons, and three casual laborers.  When I asked Noel what her average yield was per acre, she said she had no idea.  She further explained that she really didn't want to know.  She is afraid that if she finds out that she is operating at a loss, she will quit farming, and there is nothing else for her to do.  So she would rather not know.  Surprised, I pushed her a bit and asked her what she would think if she found out her yield was 15 bags per acre but her neighbor was getting 50 bags per acre.  She thought for a moment and said that she would want to figure out how to increase her yield as well. 

Noel's maize field, waiting for the second plowing.
These challenges are not unique to Mary or Noel.  Knowledge of basic business principles such as book-keeping and cost analysis is a real problem, but a solvable one.  Another of the key challenges facing business owners in warm cultures, including Kenya and West Africa, has to with boundaries.  Yesterday I worked with fifty business owners on this issue.  There tends to be no separation between the business owner and the business.  The warm culture emphasis community versus individualism; this means if you have and I need, you help - because tomorrow I may have and you will need, and I will help you.  While appreciating the rich aspects of this in a culture, it can be quite destructive to a business, especially when an owner begins to give away the capital of the business, rather than just the profit.  So we had a lively and rich discussion about whether businesses have relatives or friends.  Do businesses belong to a church (FYI, churches - members and pastors - tend to demand a lot from business members in the church)?  There was lots of disagreement and discussion regarding this issue.  One man insisted that businesses do belong to a church.  When I pointed out that at the service that morning, I didn't see a single business present, putting its tithe in the bucket...but I saw lots of business owners putting their tithe in; there was lots of laughter and finally agreement.  Business owners tend to be the biggest violators of boundaries within their business, as they tend to not separate their personal finances from the business finances.  We talked through how to manage their relationships with LOVE (limits, obligations, values and excellence), taking many references from Galatians 6.  The light-bulbs going off were almost visible, but at the same time, the sobering thought of actually applying these principles in their context was also palpable.  Implementing boundaries will cause strain in relationships, so we had to talk through strategies of how to achieve this.

Second class of pastors at ATS
The churches and pastors have been great supporters in the three classes that I am running with almost 160 students; they are affirming their business people in their calling, referring to them as ministers, joining in the classes, encouraging dialogues about praying for the city, and providing a safe place for business owners to talk through the regular challenges to business ethics that are faced

I believe that the call to Kenya and the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS) has been affirmed, and for that I am truly grateful.  What a joy to be able to join God in the work that He is already doing here.  But I know that when God called me, He did not call me alone.  He called me in the light of the body of Christ, as representatives of many of you who continue to pray and financially support this work.

Kerosene seller in Butere...a family business.
This ministry is facing a challenge, however, in terms of funding.  The start-up process of a new ministry is always expensive, especially as we work to bring a new concept or idea to people who will need some convincing, so the front end of a ministry always has a higher cost.  There is a potential to grow deep and wide - I am beginning to see a vision of twelve cities impacted throughout Kenya in the next two years.  But your continued partnership is needed.  This cannot be done without the body of Christ around the world joining together to reach the relatively hidden people group within the Marketplace.  If you are already giving, on behalf of the churches and business persons in Kenya, I thank you.  If you would like to join in this work in this way, you will find more information at, if you are in the US, or if you are in Canada; simply put "Marketplace Ministry" in the comment section of the donations box. 

I continued to feel honored and privileged that you join with me in the reading of this blog and I continue to seek your prayers for this work to go forward in the will of God.  To Him be the glory!

[Some of you have been following this work closely and with great curiosity as to its impact.  If you are interested in seeing my full quarterly report, with tables of activities, you are welcome to see it by clicking here.]

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A bicycle built for...

Bicycle loaded down with bananas many things!

Driving in Kenya takes a little getting used to.  Not only does one have to adjust to driving on the left side of the road, but there numerous other things to watch out for:  deep potholes, numerous speed bumps,  crazy bodaboda drivers (motorbike taxis), numerous pedestrians, aggressive matatus (minibuses), carts hauling many things, bicycles, cows (which are everywhere!), donkeys, goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, and the occasional monkey. Driving here is not for the faint of heart.
Female passengers tend to ride side-saddle.

Everyone needs to fit on the road...
Thankfully, I'm familiar with most of these from driving in West Africa, with the exception of three things:  driving on the left, many many more animals, and bicycles. 

While I drove to Butere last weekend, I decided to take a few shots while I drove to share with you - please note that these are not the best shots, because as I mentioned above, driving is a full time concentration job the shots were taken quickly through the windshield.  By the way, I have yet to see a female riding a bike or a motorcycle.  They ride as passengers...but not as drivers.  Gender equity on two wheels is needed!
Farm produce going to the market...
Napier grass for the cows...
...and more grass for the cows...
Bicycle taxis looking for passengers
Carrying lumber, bamboo, roof sheeting, even furniture is a common sight.
 A few weeks ago, while driving to Mt. Elgon, we passed through a large group of youth on their way to some event.  About a kilometer later, we heard banging on the roof, checked the rear view mirror and saw that a young man jumped off the vehicle.  The youth were so loud that we didn't hear this guy jump on our vehicle!  This picture is three young boys who decided to hitch a ride on the truck ahead of me. 
Another common sight is young boys watching their cows.  As most of the cows here graze all day long, the boys are assigned the task of following (or leading) them.  They seem to meet up together and have fun hanging out together on the side of the road as the cows graze. 
On my way to church Sunday morning...
To a very rural church on a dirt road...
...which reminds me of another challenge..about two inches of rain fell in one hour during church...we were literally a captive audience as no-one was leaving in that...then drove through the mud...or maybe slid through the mud is a better term...not unlike driving in snow!
 All in all, no danger of falling asleep at the wheel...and very thankful for traveling mercies every day!