Monday, July 29, 2013

Cost of Hunger in Africa

Interesting research has been released after a new study done by the World Food Programme showing the actual cost of hunger on a nation in terms of dollars due to lost productivity and the effects of malnutrition on employment.  This is an interesting measurement that seems to reinforce the work that we are doing through business development and economic growth.  As businesses grow, families can better feed their children for the long term, and the stronger the businesses, the stronger the long-term effects on a nation.  [Reminder:  Please join us this Sunday at Madison Square Church at 6 pm to hear Dr. Phil Walker and Rev. Stephen Mairori on the work of ICM in Africa, especially as it relates to information like this!]
[Article taken from:]

Uganda loses some US $899 million annually due to the effects of malnutrition. This is the alarming finding of a new study entitled The Cost of Hunger in Africa, which for the first time measures the economic burden of hunger on the continent. Uganda is the first of 12 countries in the region to announce its findings.

KAMPALA (Uganda) – Widespread malnutrition costs the central African nation of Uganda hundreds and millions of dollars each year in lost productivity, according to a new study. Read the news release

The Cost of Hunger in Africa study estimated that Uganda loses around $899 million per year -- around 5.6 per cent of its gross domestic product -- as a result of workers getting sick more often and being less productive because they lacked the right nutrition as children.

“These are extremely worrying findings,” said Prime Minister Amama Mbazi, whose government played a central role in the Uganda part of the study. He said that steady economic growth in Uganda in recent years was not enough to to address stunting and other costly impacts of a poor diet.
Uganda urgently needs to invest in nutrition-oriented measures and policies to ensure economic savings for the country and its families alike, the Prime Minister added.

Cost of Hunger
The findings in Uganda were the first to emerge from the Cost of Hunger in Africa report, a study carried out in 12 countries across the region with the support of the African Union Commission, a body which includes the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and WFP. 

According to the report, malnourished children dropping out or underperforming at school subtracts around $116 million from an economy in need of educated workers. Lower productivity in sectors such as agriculture cost Uganda another $201 million per year.

The country spends around $254 million per year treating cases of diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections linked to malnutrition. Enough children die each year of causes related to hunger to reduce Uganda’s labor force by some 3.8 per cent. That amounts to some 934 million working hours lost every year due to an absent workforce.

Critical nutrients
Uganda nonetheless has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, expanding by an average 5 per cent over the past three years. But economic progress hasn’t been sufficient to bring down high levels of malnutrition.

One in three Ugandan children suffer from stunting, a lifelong condition that results when children miss out on critical nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals while in the womb or in the first five years of life. People affected by stunting are more likely to suffer from illnesses, drop out of school, be less productive at work and live shorter lives.

To ascertain the economic impact of hunger on countries like Uganda, the authors of The Cost of Hunger in Africa report looked at data going back to 2009. Findings for Egypt, Ethiopia and Swaziland will be released in the coming weeks. 

Using a statistical methodology first pioneered in Latin America, the researchers will survey 12 African countries in total including Kenya, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Malawi, Botswana, Ghana and Mauritania.

Monday, July 22, 2013

An Invitation...and a Warning

On Sunday, August 4 at Madison Square Church at 6 pm, Rev. Stephen Mairori and Dr. Phil Walker from International Christian Ministries will be speaking and you are invited to attend!  Rev. Mairori will be bringing the message at the 6 pm service, and then Dr. Walker will be giving a presentation following a dessert time after the service.  I know it is summer and the evenings are warm and inviting to spend outdoors, but I hope that you will spend this evening with us! 

However, I must give a warning in addition to the invitation.  It was listening to Dr. Walker last year in May, when he spoke in Ghana, who caused me to leave Partners Worldwide, join a new ministry, and move across the continent of Africa, from West to East.  It was talking to Dr. Walker after his presentation who inspired me to embrace my vision and not fear it.  So...if you are in any way struggling with a vision and how to fulfill it, or considering work internationally, be fully warned that attending this "Dessert with the President" of ICM may actually result in you making some radical decisions!  God has used this man in mighty ways!

In all seriousness, Dr. Walker has become a mentor to me in the very short time that I have known him.  He speaks with great wisdom and experience, and I know that his presentation will be inspiring.  He recently taught in both Nigeria and Egypt and I so wished to be sitting in his class while he taught.

ICM has a vision for the African Leader and sees the role of Africa changing significantly in the next twenty years.  They have seminaries in a number of different countries, work alongside Walk Thru the Bible, the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, Equip, and the Purpose Driven Life.  Each country where they work is owned and run by nationals.  For example, while I live and work in Kenya, I am working for ICM Kenya, and Rev. Mairori is my boss.  If I would move to Burundi, I would then work for the ICM country director of Burundi.  This approach is so important and is one of the reasons why I appreciate the work of ICM.

So please join us!  Feel free to email me if you have any questions.  We will have some yummy desserts!

On a different note, last week I sent out an email informing most of you that I had been told by ICM that before I could book my ticket back to Kenya in early September, I would need to have 100% of my support pledged.  In the email I sent out, I asked for 20 people to pledge $100 per month for the next year; I also asked for church connections if your church might consider taking on a new missionary; and I asked for prayer.  I want to thank God with you that within five minutes I had two pledges of $100/month, and two people who committed to increase their monthly support, as well as two church suggestions!  Five minutes!  Within 48 hours, nine of the twenty people needed made the commitment.  Praise God!  So thank you for praying!  And for those of you who made a commitment to give, thank you!  Please continue to pray for the last eleven people to come forward and make this commitment.  As I said in that email, and continue to maintain, this is God's ministry that I am joining - not my ministry.  And He has the resources and knows the people to be involved in this work, not me.  

Our God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!  Amen!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Update on the Kids

A few of you asked for updates on the kids and so this blog is about them. 

Hannah just completed her second year at Calvin College and will be a junior this fall.  She is 20 years old, which is hard for me to believe.  She too wishes that she was still a teenager and frequently will lament the passing of time.  She is double majoring in Social Work and Psychology, and minoring in French.  She wasn't planning on majoring in Psych, but after taking one class, she fell in love with it.  A chip off the old block, I guess - her father of course, and I too was a Psych major at Calvin.  In fact, her first Psych class was taught by a professor that I had as well.  Strange. 

Hannah is working full-time at the Calvin library for the second summer in a row, and she also works there part-time during the year.  She will continue working there again this fall, as well as begin tutoring in French.  She is volunteering with Oakdale Neighbors, a community development organization here in Grand Rapids, which she enjoys.  She continues to struggle with exhaustion and we continue to try different ideas for relieving her of that.  Right now she is trying a gluten free diet, which in addition to being vegetarian, makes cooking for her very challenging!

Hannah will be taking a couple of weeks off at the end of the summer to take the train to Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) to visit a couple of friends.  One of those friends will then join her on the train back to Calvin.  Taking the train across the country should be beautiful.  (And I'm much happier with her taking the train instead of driving!)

Noah is 18 years old, just finished his freshman year at Calvin College, and will be a sophomore this fall.  (He skipped the first grade which is why he's a year younger than his peers.)  He adjusted very well to his independence and seemed to thrive with dorm life.  At this time he is planning on majoring in International Relations and minoring in French.  He doesn't have to declare his major until the end of this year, however, so the French minor might change.  He loves politics though and LOVES to debate.  He doesn't want to be a politician (for which this mother is thankful) but would love to end up in foreign service work.  His dream job would be to be an ambassador for the US somewhere in the world.  I'm rooting for Africa!

Noah is also working full-time at Calvin, on a building cleaning team.  For those of you who know Noah well, that was not a typo.  Yes, a cleaning team.  While I wouldn't say that he is enjoying the work, he is enjoying the fruit of his labor by earning money for his tuition.  Noah worked this job during the last school year as well and will more than likely continue in it this fall.  I keep telling him that should he decide to marry, his future wife will be blessed by his knowledge of cleaning, assuming that he will apply such knowledge!  Noah will also be serving as a Barnabas this fall on his dorm floor.  A Barnabas is someone who is the floor chaplain, so he will be running the Bible Studies and checking in spiritually with his floor-mates.  Hannah did this last year in her dorm and it was a great experience, so we hope the same will be true for Noah.  Noah also just got his drivers license, for which I am grateful.  Three drivers now in the family and no-one else to teach!

Yesterday we had a chance to visit Bob's parents in Lake City:
Hannah and her Grandpa.
Noah and his Grandma.
 I then wanted a few pictures of the two of them...and asked them to act like they loved each other. 
This is how they responded...
Getting warmer...
Awww....big brother and little sister...I mean...big sister and little brother.
Noah being all cool...
Hannah's face when she is about to make a smart remark.
PS - A point of clarification about last week's blog.  A few of you seemed a little confused and so I want to clarify two things:  one, Michael and I are NOT engaged.  That would be a bit quick.  The announcement was about our new relationship, in part because people were seeing us together and whispers were starting - so I thought I would clarify and tell the story.  Second, this does not change my work at this time.  I will still be heading back to Kenya in September and will be there until early June.  My work will continue as planned. 

Thanks to so many of you for your loving, thoughtful, and encouraging comments.  To say that last week's blog was a bit scary for me would be an understatement.  But so many of you, especially those who knew and loved Bob dearly, responded with great joy and excitement, echoing that Bob would want me to be happy.  So thank you, dear friends, for continuing this journey with me.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Surprised by Love

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may have noticed that I posted a relationship change last week.  Several of you responded with great surprise.  However, none of you are more surprised than me.

If you have been watching me over the past three years since Bob's death, you would have seen a number of postings relating to being content with being single and growing into the idea of Jesus as my husband.  One such posting had to do with why I still wore my wedding ring (and Bob's welded to it), posted here written in September 2011.  The other was much more recent, at the three year anniversary of Bob's death, as I acknowledged that for the past year, I had been working toward seeing Jesus as my husband, and had witnessed a number of responses from Him in that light.  That post can be seen here.

I truly believed that I would be single for the rest of my life - not out of resignation...not because I believed God "called" me to that...not even because I happen to live in Africa and having a relationship would be complicated.  I believed that I could be content and happy being single, fulfilling my calling while being single-minded and purposed.  The year 2012 was a significant year for me as I began to move out from under the cloud of grief and began to think through who Renita is.  Having gotten married at the young age of 21, to a man 14 years my senior, who happened to have strong opinions about things (no surprise to those of you who knew Bob!), I had a lot of figuring out to do of what I liked and who I am.  I had to look at many things again:  what type of food I like, what type of clothes I liked, since I bought a home during 2012 - what type of home furnishings I liked...and so on.  For the first 21 years of my life, I had my parents voice in my head.  The next 20 years had Bob's voice in my head.  Now it was just Renita.

I made many changes in 2012 - deciding to change organizations from Partners Worldwide to International Christian Ministries; changing from West Africa to East Africa; buying a house; and redefining myself.  In November I had a dream where I believed God revealed to me the reason for why Bob died the way he did - without any earthly explanation.  That seemed to be the final piece toward real peace that I needed to let go of the agony of Bob's death. 

As of February 2013, I told a few close friends that I was happier than I had been in years - even prior to Bob's death.  I had reached a deep level of joy, peace and contentment.  It felt great!  It is true that I struggled with loneliness in Kitale - being in a new country without knowing anyone.  But it was not a deep loneliness.  I knew it was just situational and would pass as I got to know people in Kenya.

However, with long evenings, no TV, and no one around in the house where I stay, I started checking in more regularly on Facebook to see what family and friends were up to.  I even began to develop some courage to post something every now and then.  These posting were always met with responses by people I knew and loved, so there was good reinforcement to check back.  I began to post some responses to posts here and there - not much, but a few times.  Enter Michael Thomson.

Michael is a member of my church - someone that I have known for some time, though not well at all; just as an acquaintance. He knew Bob better than he knew me - in fact he wrote a poem about Bob after his death.  I posted it on the blog shortly after Bob died - you can see it here.

In February of this year, Michael posted something on Facebook to which I responded.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  We began to communicate back and forth.  Once a week.  Then every few days.  Then every day.  I found myself experiencing feelings that I thought I wouldn't feel again. I was surprised, to say the least.  Michael was surprised as well.  Neither of us was looking to get into a relationship.  Both of us had committed to God to live into the life situation that we find ourselves in, learning to be content.  We certainly didn't expect this friendship, even as it developed, to turn into a relationship.  I was happy and content with Jesus as my husband.  My response to Jesus was, "Really?  I was committed to serving you as a single woman for the rest of my life.  I was content.  Now the 'cat is out of the bag' and I'm suddenly feeling alive again in ways that had been dead for years.  How do I get the cat back in the bag?"  I was no longer feeling content.  And I wasn't sure what to do about it.

Sharing this on the blog feels vulnerable.  But the truth is that this blog has witnessed my life over the past eight years - from Liberia, to Ghana, through the death of Bob and the ensuing grieving process, then to Kenya.  While sharing this feels vulnerable, it is no more vulnerable than what I have shared in the past.  Many of you have been faithful readers of the blog for many years, and I have appreciated your company on this journey thus far.  I feel it is only right to share this as well.

The tipping point for me where something switched from viewing Michael as potentially more than a friend came in an exchange in the beginning of April.  We were having a rather serious dialogue about friendship, Myers-Briggs types, and how we relate to people.  I've decided to share an excerpt of that exchange.

April 7
Renita Reed

People have perceptions of me based on what I do - and I'm just a normal person also trying to figure out how to make it - how to survive - some days doing it well, other days, not so much. I think at Madison Square Church, I've forgotten how to be real - and I wish I could get back to being real again.  I think when you wear this title of "missionary" and then "widow", it starts to take over who you are - and you start living into people's perception, even if it is only in your mind.

Michael Thomson
As for Madison...and not being real....I hope what I am going to say is real and not just my tired mind grasping at thin air...but how be you drop the titles of "missionary" and "widow" for "person" and / or "disciple". How be...if you are asked either before the church or in the church hall to talk about your life as a missionary, you let that slide or answer with...I can tell you what I am doing ...let me tell you what is happening and why I have made / am making some choices. Ask them about their "mission" be they nurses or janitors. As for "widow." will always be Bob's widow...but you are still Bob's friend....a sharer of some of Bob's memories and dreams. My point is...Bob is to you more than what makes you "widow." Perhaps even more importantly...and with NO diminutive intent towards Bob or what you had with Bob or what you have of Bob in your soul...but in Madison as in the world you are hardly only Bob's widow. You are Renita! You are Renita! You are Renita who has followed her own sense of where God was leading her into Africa after Bob...Renita who continues to care for and parent from afar and takes risks that make her friends quiver even if she doesn't. At Madison maybe because Bob was such the extrovert and a presence ... SOME may remember you mostly in his shadow. But I dare say, most or all would welcome Renita and her story since Bob in all its authenticity...I really do believe that. into your own place...and not merely as an echo of Bob at Madison. I know you do that in Africa...its your story "in the wind" now...
To be honest, this exchange scared me.  In some ways, I heard Bob's voice in this or at least a voice of encouragement such that I hadn't heard in a long, long time.  It scared me enough to contact some near and dear friends for advice and wisdom.  After debating whether to walk away from this new friendship a number of times out of fear, I was encouraged to explore it as possibly a gift from God.  Toward the end of April we had concluded that this was indeed heading toward a relationship.  At that time we emailed our pastors, who know us both very well, letting them know of our friendship and our desire to go on a date upon my return to Grand Rapids.  Both pastors responded so positively and enthusiastically - it was actually surprising and also affirming. During the worship portion of a church service while I was in Thailand in the beginning of May, I suddenly felt that it was time to take off my wedding rings.  I wept to take off the rings that I had been wearing for 23 years, that connected me still to Bob, and that had been a source of security since his death.  But I also knew that it was time.  Bob had told me that if he died before me, he would want me to marry again (I had told him the same).  I know that his deep love for me manifested itself for twenty years in wanting me to be happy.  I also know that now being in a relationship with another person does not negate or erase the love that I have for Bob, nor his ongoing presence in my life and my heart.

And so, there it is.  Michael and I have no idea where this is leading but have had many, many hours of deep discussion and prayer over this.  I happen to work in Africa.  Michael happens to work as an editor for Eerdman's in Grand Rapids.  Neither of us see our callings changing in the short term.  So this has become an act of faith for both of us.  We have seen a number of instances where it seemed God was the matchmaker and His hand involved in this.  And so, we trust Him to work out the details of living and working 7500 miles apart. 

When we posted our relationship status change on Facebook last week, we had so many nice responses from friends and loved ones.  Michael posted this in response, and I thought I would end this blog with his thought:

Thank you to our friends for your encouraging words. This moment is beyond wonderful! Renita and I truly feel blessed that our grief has been overtaken by joy. Not to say that grief disappears. Loss is loss. Yet in time of grief, in this relationship, we've found friendship, respect, and understanding. In this surprising but welcome moment in our lives, we've seen a work of God in bringing us together.

For you romantics out there, if you would like to read the poem that Michael wrote about me at the end of April, you may read it here.  And as you think of it, feel free to keep us in your prayers!