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 www.icmusa.org, if you are in the US, or www.icmcanada.org 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.]