Monday, November 25, 2013

It Would Be Easier to Pray if I were Clear

On Wednesday morning, I left for a short silent retreat at Mt. Elgon National Park.  If you have read this blog for some time, you know that I try to take a silent retreat annually.  A silent retreat, as the name implies, is no talking, no reading (not even the Bible, except for one text), usually not even praying (although communication with God helps to center, as the prayers below indicate)...just quieting myself (usually through lots of journaling) and listening for the voice of God.  I often spend much time praying and not much time listening, so this is an intensive attempt to listen.  I had not had a chance yet this year to do this, but I was able to grab a couple of days last week.  I usually take about five days, as I need two days to empty myself before really being able to hear God's voice; I am then able to spend a couple of delightful, heavenly days in His presence, and then one day to adjust to being back on earth.  This time, however, I would have Wednesday to drive and settle in, Thursday as a full day of quiet, and then have to leave by Friday morning; so basically one full day.  Naturally, I was a bit nervous about whether or not I would be able to quiet myself quickly enough to hear Him.  And, often, as I try to hear or strain to be quiet, I can sometimes get noisier.  I found this prayer by Ted Loder to be helpful (from Guerrillas of Grace):
O Eternal One, it would be easier for me to pray if I were clear
and of a single mind and a pure heart;
Sitting upon a bluff within the park.
if I could be done hiding from myself and from you, 
even in my prayers,
But, I am who I am,
mixture of motives and excuses,
blur of memories,
quiver of hopes,
knot of fear,
tangle of confusion,
and restless with love, for love.

I wander somewhere between
gratitude and grievance,
wonder and routine,
high resolve and undone dreams,
This hawk circled and hovered over me several times.
generous impulses and unpaid bills.

Come, find me, Lord.

Be with me exactly as I am.
Help me find me, Lord.
Help me accept what I am,
so I can begin to be yours.

Make of me something small enough to snuggle,
young enough to question,
simple enough to giggle,
old enough to forget,
foolish enough to act for peace; 
skeptical enough to doubt the sufficiency of anything but you,
and attentive enough to listen as you call me out of the tomb of my timidity
into the chancy glory of my possibilities
and the power of your presence.
As I gave myself permission to just be me and to stop striving, I began to hear again.  The initial message, as it always is, is one of the delight of my Heavenly Father in me - His daughter, His child.  I begin to relax.  I'm reminded that James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." He meets us halfway - or oftentimes even more than halfway.  He doesn't need me to line things up a certain way or behave a certain way in order for Him to meet me.  He longs to meet with me, desires to be with me.

So now I get a bit bolder in my prayer.  Another prayer from Ted Loder (this one from My Heart in My Mouth), called "Crazed Into Awareness" summarizes where I am next during my retreat:

Come, Lord Jesus,
confront me as a prophet:
disturb my indifference,
expose my practiced phoniness,
shatter my brittle certainties,
deflate my arrogant sophistries
and craze my holy awareness
of my common humanity

Right outside the banda or house I stayed in.
and so of my bony, blood need

to love mercy,
do justly,
and walk humbly with You
       -and with myself,

trusting that whatever things it may be too late for
prayer is not one of them,
nor a chance,
nor change,
nor passion,
nor laughter,
nor starting yet again
to risk a way to be together
nor a wild, far-sighted claim
that this human stuff of yours
is stronger still than fail or time,
graced to share a Kingdom,
and spirited for you.
I love the line that says whatever it might be too late for - whatever I may have missed - it is not too late for prayer or another chance or starting again.  What a great God!

Lastly, as I prepare to leave, I have the audacity to ask God for a few things.  Again, Ted Loder's prayer, "We Dare to Ask" is helpful:

We ask only a few things more, O God,
The bluff I climbed after a 6K uphill hike to get here.
a few small, mustard-seed size, faithful, saving things:

to walk with you each moment
without plotting for tomorrow,
and so to really consider the birds of the air, 
the lilies of the field,
and find the treasures hidden in the round of the daily,

to learn by leaning into your Spirit
to be present to others without preoccupation,
to engage without having to win,
to disagree without being judgmental
to accept outcomes without despair,
If that gives you a perspective on the height.

to succeed or fail without misplacing hope,
to tune to the bracing hum of the stars,

to fathom enough
without dismissing fathomless mystery
of your creation
our brothers and sisters,
and the grace and mercy and power
of your embrace that holds close
each small one of us,
and everything all together;
in Jesus name,

In addition to the zebras, waterbucks, bushbucks, blue monkeys, baboons, colobus monkeys, duikers, and impalas, there are other animals at the park that are not as easy to find:  elephants, giraffes, leopards, and hyenas.

Anyone want to come for a silent retreat?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Poverty or Contentment?

I recently completed teaching another Business as Mission class at the African Theological Seminary, this time for the BA in Theology 2011 class.  It was a small, dynamic, and challenging group.  But again, I learned so much.  I was reminded of various types of poverty:  spiritual, financial, relational, mental, physical, and emotional; we discussed the challenges of the presumption of poverty only being financial.  We spent a lot of time discussing the inherent problems of aid and the damage it has done to the dignity of so many, stripping them of the belief in their ability to be creative, made in the image of God.

I recently read this story and thought it was a good word of caution about what NOT to do in business development - how not to presume that we "know" what is best for others:
Once, a powerful executive went on vacation - his first in fifteen years. As he was exploring a pier in a small coastal fishing village, a fisherman docked his boat. As the Fisherman lashed his boat to the pier, the Executive complimented him on the size and quality of his fish.
"How long did it take you to catch these fish?" the Executive asked.
"Only a little while," the Fisherman replied.
"Why don't you stay out longer and catch more?" the Executive asked.
"I have enough to support my family's needs," said the Fisherman.
"But," asked the Executive, "what do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Fisherman replied, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends. I have a full and busy life."
The Executive was flabbergasted. "I'm a Harvard MBA, and I can help you. You should spend more time fishing. With the proceeds, you could buy a bigger boat. A bigger boat would help you catch more fish, which you could sell to buy several boats. Eventually, you'd own an entire fleet.
"Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you could sell directly to the consumers, which would improve your margins. Eventually, you could open your own factory, so you'd control the product, the processing, and the distribution. Of course, you'd have to leave this village and move to the city so you could run your expanding enterprise."
The Fisherman was quiet for a moment, then asked, "How long would this take?"
"Fifteen, twenty years. Twenty-five, tops."
"Then what?"

The Executive laughed. "That's the best part. When the time is right, you'd take your company public and sell all of your stock. You'd make millions."
Poverty?  or Contentment?
"Millions? What would I do then?"
The Executive paused for a moment. "You could retire, sleep late, fish a little, play with your children, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll into the village each evening to sip wine and play the guitar.with your friends."
Shaking his head, the Executive bade the Fisherman farewell. Immediately after returning from vacation, the Executive resigned from his position.
(taken from Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman)

The problem with this story is that it doesn't recognize the purpose of business, which is to make goods that will allow individuals and communities to flourish, as well as the calling that is in each of us to use the resources that God has blessed the earth with to be such a blessing.  But I do appreciate the message: building up earthly possessions and losing relationships is not wise; being a workaholic is a form of idol worship.  I need to be careful in my work not to project my definition of "success" on others.

Last Tuesday, we completed the Training of Trainers with twenty pastors and business persons, who are now ready and equipped to take this work of Marketplace Ministry into their various churches and cities.   I love this group!  We had a total of 16 days together, five hours each day.  So we got to know each other well and had many good debates, discussions, prayer time, and laughter.  The class ended with the different groups presenting their business plan for their mock business to the "bank" (another group), requesting a loan.  That was a lot of fun as each trainer was able to create a business plan, and then wear the hat of the business owner and also the bank, assessing the business.  Please pray for these trainers as they go out to spread the word of Business as Mission and work to build capacity for businesses within their churches!
Group who developed an AgroVet business
Business facing off with the Bank and presenting their case.
On our way back from Kakamega last Sunday, this accident happened just before we got there.  That is a truck on top of a sugar cane tractor, which is upside down.
Same accident, different angle.  Thankfully, and amazingly, no one was injured.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Weddings and Babies

The Bride and Groom prayed for by Rev. Dr. Chemengich, of ATS
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to be in the "line" for the wedding of the chaplain of the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS), Livingstone Matunda and his beautiful bride, Drusila Kemunto.  While I have witnessed a number of African weddings, this was my first opportunity to be a participant.  I was honored that they asked.  Matunda had lost his wife about two years ago and over the past year, he and I became friends as we shared about grief and loss.  I was so happy for him and his new-found love and happiness, as are his four daughters who encouraged him to find someone.

This is only PART of the wedding party - there were 40 of us in total!
The pre-wedding experience was interesting though as I was also able to experience that "from the inside."  Weddings are definitely a community experience rather than an individual experience.  The entire ATS team formed the committee for the wedding and worked on logistics and budgets every week after our team meeting.  It was very interesting to watch that procedure.  It was a big challenge to raise the budget for the wedding as people are not necessarily invited but rather "show up."

The children's line for the wedding party.
So there was an estimated attendance at the reception for 500-600 people - a lot of people to feed.  We came up with 17 cars to be in a convoy as most people do not have transportation and we had to ferry them from ATS to the church and then back to ATS again for the reception.  During one meeting as the budget was being addressed, I heard the sound of a chain saw, and then heard a tree fall, and then the chain saw again.  I didn't think too much of it as there are businesses around and a forest.  But then the ATS deputy principal announced that the firewood for cooking the dinner was being donated by ATS in the form of a trees.  My eyes widened...I thought for a moment of the poor tree that was just cut down for this...but then celebrated with the rest of them for this provision and practical problem-solving. 

Dancing at the reception
A little fun during the photo shoot with the groom!
The day of the wedding was fun, long, and also interesting.  Aside from the fact that I got my dress that morning (and that the tailor had NOT done what we had asked and did a rather poor job), the wedding was to start at 9 am.  I had been told to hold this loosely and to expect that it might not start until 11 am.  By 11:15 am, all cars were decorated and we loaded up.  Next stop though was not the church but to pick up the bride and best lady.  We all pulled up there and parked.  And then waited.  And waited.  And waited.  By 12:30 we were informed that the aunts were refusing to release the bride until the groom pay a "release price" of 37,000 KSH (about $435 US).  The groom countered with 10,000 KSH.  I don't know how it actually was resolved - all I know is that at 12:45 the bride came out and we all piled back in our cars and drove to the church.

The ceremony started at just after 1 pm (four hours late), amidst a downpour (in my mind, as it rains EVERY afternoon, a good argument to start earlier!).  After standing in the rain waiting, the wedding party danced down the aisle two by two; the maids (us) then get back up to dance out again to line the path for the bride; the maids then get back out to dance again during the songs throughout the church.  The service last a couple of hours with a very long passionate message (including some traditional views of gender roles, such as "men are helpless in the home" and the role of the wife is to "organize the husband's life").  Then dancing on the way out of the service and again upon entering the reception.  Lots of dancing - sore thighs!  But I had fun with it.  It was a good time.  They were surprised to see a "mzungu" (white person) in the line up and especially to see a white woman dancing!

The other fun thing that happened was that there is a new baby in Kenya named Renita!  There is a couple in Kakamega who are both in my business training.  The father is a teacher and also runs a motorcycle part supply shop; the mother runs a hair salon.  They apparently liked me and my name and named their baby after me!  I got a chance to meet her last Sunday and hold her.  She is delightful. 
Baby Renita, looking at Big Renita, looking oh-so-thoughtful.
As far as I know, she is the fifth baby to be given my name, across three countries!  I kind of feel bad for them, as it is not an easy name for people to get.  Many people in Kenya are calling me "Renny" which is an interesting nick-name that I had not been given before!
The happy family with their two year old daughter, Marvel.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Shoes and Laces, by Jeff Bloem

Sammy and his wife in their shop
Jeff Bloem (Research Assistant intern with me in Kitale) wrote this story on one of our business clients in Kitale.  The story is well-written and I'm sure you will enjoy it.

Samuel Ondieki’s day starts early and ends late. At 6:00am, while it is still dark he opens his business, Ambassador General Shop, which provides household essentials and cooking products. The shop stays open until 10:00pm, serving customers in Kitale; a bustling agricultural town in Western Kenya well after the sun has set.

Sammy considers his business successful: the sales are profitable and he is usually able to sell whatever he stocks. Most importantly, he is able to provide for his wife and three children from the profits of the store.

The business is not perfect however. Admittedly, Sammy struggles with bookkeeping, specifically recording daily sales figures and purchasing records. It is this lack of recordkeeping that primarily hinders Sammy’s ability to strategically plan and invest for the future of his store.

The boundaries between Sammy’s business and Sammy’s personal life are blurred and also create a hurdle for the growth of his business. It is difficult to decipher the difference between Sammy’s home life and business life. Physically, he and his family live in a house adjoined to the back of the shop. Even when at home, Sammy is never far from his business. Economically, Sammy struggles to differentiate between which goods, profits, and materials are for the use of the business and which are for the use of his family.

In the eleven years Sammy has owned and operated Ambassador General Shop he has taken five loans, each for about $3,000. All were used to expand and grow the assets of his business, which is now staffed by three employees.

The history and reality of Sammy’s business point to the importance of viable access to capital and business training when it comes to business development as a means for poverty reduction.

The evidence is generally pessimistic when it comes to job or business training as a means of developing countries and communities, however. In terms of education and training the return is simply much higher when focusing on primary and secondary school aged children than training full-grown adults. Nonetheless the training of business men and women is almost ubiquitous in the operations of microfinance and other loan institutions throughout many developing countries.  

Ambassador General Shop
More and more experts are thinking the main constraint to growth is plain old capital. Many now believe that once most people have proper access to capital other necessities such as health, education, infrastructure, and government institutions become not so necessary. This idea is reinforced by recent reports in The EconomistThe New York Times MagazineNPR, and the radio shows Planet Money and This American Life that one-time cash grants are providing surprisingly positive results in the lives and businesses of the poor the world over. Surely Sammy would not be where he is today without access and support of capital infusions into his business.

But what then, is the significance of his struggles to keep complete records of his business and properly separate his family’s needs and his business’s stock? How does business training help Sammy, if at all?

Those who Run Together… 
Columbia University professor and blogger on aid and development, Chris Blattman explains the relationship between acquired skills and capital this way: “I used to think skills and capital were like right and left shoes: one’s not so useful without the other. Now I think of capital like the shoes and skills like the laces: if I have capital, I can jog a good pace, but I can’t really run unless I have the skills.” 

Sammy has been jogging with his business for the last eleven years. He provides for his family and is even able to slowly expand his business, but he doesn’t do it as fast or as well as he could. He needs business training to be able to really run.

Last spring Sammy received the training he needed. This, however, wasn’t the typical training seen by most business owners in developing countries. The training took place within his church. He didn’t just learn how to keep better records and separate his business initiatives from his family life; he learned that his work with his business was deeply spiritual and could be a way to worship and to serve God.

Furthermore, after the twelve-week training ended, his pastor was there to continually equip and encourage Sammy. Discipleship is the key to expanding and growing Sammy’s business so that he can better care for the poor and vulnerable, support the church, and influence the businesses and businesspeople around him.

The problem with having good shoes with good laces is that sometimes Sammy doesn’t feel like running. Surely anyone who has began a new year by purchasing new shoes or a gym membership understands that exercising more requires something additional outside of just having access to the equipment. To wake up everyday and operate a business efficiently and successfully takes inner-drive, self-sacrifice, and passion. The pain and agony that inevitably comes with hard work must be overcome by a sense of purpose, a calling, and encouragement from others.

In his book, The Social Animal, David Brooks writes about the importance of meaningful human interaction in the lives of humans. Without meaningful interaction between each other our accomplishments, no matter how extraordinary, will fail to bring fulfillment and purpose to our lives. Researchers call networks of meaningful interaction social capital. The lesson here is social capital is important and must not be overlooked when evaluating projects of development and business growth.

A runner doesn’t achieve his highest goals without constant coaching and teammates to run with. Likewise, Sammy’s business will not achieve it’s goals of serving God, caring for the poor, preserving the environment, and making a steady and healthy profit without consistent discipleship from his pastor and his fellow church members.

Sammy certificated and commissioned as a Marketplace Minister.

Discipleship for business growth and the Gospel message is now deeply routed in Sammy who has joined a “Training of Trainers” class and is becoming certified to teach other businesspeople the principles he has learned. He forms a key part of the Marketplace Ministry team at his church, the Friends Quaker Church in Kitale. In addition, Sammy is mentoring a business owner of a smaller business from his church while simultaneously being mentored by a businessperson of a larger business from his church.  

… Will Be Transformed
 Nicholas Wolterstorff observes the heartbeat of the Christian existence, which has been in place since the creation of the world. We gather on Sunday to engage in liturgy as a community of believers and then disperse from Monday through Saturday to go about our duties and responsibilities which we call work. This constant one-plus-six heartbeat has defined the Christian way of being in the world from age to age.

Wolterstorff goes on to define the meaning of this constant expanding and contracting as follows: “The church is to gather for the celebration of the liturgy, and when it is dispersed it is to practice and struggle for justice and to spread the word about its Lord”. The most central point Wolterstorff is making is that liturgy in the church is not authentic unless those same members of the church go and “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

Put in terms of the analogy already in use; liturgy and justice are not right and left shoes, rather liturgy is like the shoes and justice is like the laces. To engage only in liturgy, one could jog slowly and go to church every week. But to really run in the way God intended; those shoes need the laces of justice to become truly effective.

Sammy now has both shoes strapped on tight and he is ready to run. On his left foot he wears a shoe, this is the capital he is able to access in order to invest and grow his business. His left shoe is laced up tight with the laces of business training, which taught him to keep better records and construct secure boundaries between his business and his family. On his right foot he wears another shoe, this is liturgy—the actions of worship, confession, thanksgiving, praise, scripture reading, and preaching he receives every Sunday. This shoe is laced tight with his acts of justice from Monday through Saturday—caring for the widow, the orphan, the alien, and the poor while operating his business efficiently.

Put together Sammy is now able to run in the way God intended. Furthermore, he has a community of brothers and sisters running with him—there were forty other business people just like Sammy who also attended the business training class. They are able to support and ride the ups and downs of business and life together. They are able to discuss and debate the inevitable ethical dilemmas each will experience in the marketplace.

This transformation is what Bryant Myers writes about in his book, Walking with the Poor. The poor have a marred identity. Their understanding of who they are, their relationship with those around them, with the ground below them, and with God above them must be restored. (For matters of discussion, Myers also writes about the marred identity of the non-poor.) A rigorous and statistical evaluation of this program is currently in progress and will not have results until late next year, it seems however, at least anecdotally, that real transformation is happening in Western Kenya.  

With capital and training, liturgy and justice, Sammy and his fellow church members are able to grow their businesses and escape poverty all the while confident that they are fulfilling God’s call through their work and actions not just on Sunday but also Monday through Saturday.

-          Chris Blattman’s blog;; Dear Governments: Want to Help the Poor and Transform your Economy? Give People Cash; May, 2013
-          David Brooks; The Social Animal; Random House, New York; 2011
-          Bryant Myers; Walking with the Poor;
-          Nicholas Wolterstorff; Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church World; Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; 2011

[Jeff is the seventh intern that I have had and the first to quote sources in his story!!  I think research is a good role for him!]

Sammy joins me on Monday for the second session of the Training of Trainers, along with 29 other pastors and business persons who will be certificated as trainers by November 12.  It will be an intense class with a good size group that will give some challenges to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the material and able to teach it.  Please pray for us!