Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Story...or rather...the Randomized Control Trial... of His Glory

Jeff Bloem has been working with the ICM Marketplace Ministry team as the research assistant in Kitale, Kenya since September of last year.  He will be with us until July of this year, after which he will return to the US and enter grad school in September.  I have worked with a number of interns over the years, all of whom have been unique in their own way.  Jeff, too, is unique and it has been a joy to work with him and get to know him.  Jeff lives and breathes economics.  Seriously.  All the time.  It's quite remarkable how much this guy reads and processes, and thinks and processes, and debates and processes, and processes and processes.  We almost never have a quiet car ride as we spend hours in the car each week driving from city to city to do this work.  It's been great fun and I've learned a lot from him. 

He wrote the article below about his reflections on his work here and it does a great job of defining the problem and explaining how our work is trying to address it.  Enjoy!
Mary's bakery is bustling. So much so, that Ushindi Snacks cannot keep up with the demand for it’s fresh baked goods. Her business has room to grow but seems trapped at its current level.

Mary (left) owner of Ushindi Snacks
Beatrice sells beans and grains by the cup. Her shop is small, consisting of seven or eight bags of beans and rice under a temporary structure of lopsided scraps of wood and plastic tarp. Her unnamed business doesn’t grow; she has sold her goods off of the same 4x6 table for the past eight years.

Edward manages a consulting and management business, aptly named Strategic Management Firm LTD. His business grows on a quarterly basis and his employees are encouraged and equipped to work creatively and productively.

These are just three of the sixty-three business owners who signed up for a basic business skills training organized by their church in Kakamega, an emerging city in Western Kenya. And here lies the inherent problem.

The problem is not that Mary has to turn down sales and profits on a daily basis. It is not that Beatrice’s tabletop business has been the same for the last eight years. It is not that Edward is perhaps one of only three business owners attending the training that may actually be realizing his or her gifts and expressing traits of entrepreneurship.

While those are all very real issues, they are tangential to the larger problem at hand. The problem is obvious, almost never understood, and until recently rarely acted upon. Mary, Beatrice, and Edward are all different from each other. Half of this seeming banal platitude goes without saying, while, unfortunately, the other half often goes unsaid.

This problem is only exacerbated by the all too clear fact that the other sixty-three business owners are all different from each other in the same way Mary, Beatrice, and Edward are different. 

Ushindi Snacks in full operations
They all have different desires, different needs, different skills, different knowledge, and different businesses. A singular story about one person from this training would be—depending on your purpose for reading the story, either: (a) interesting and entertaining, (b) informative but probably misleading, or (c) uninformative and completely useless.

Here’s the thing. Those tangential problems discussed above remain because the larger problem is rarely addressed. Over the past half century developed countries have spent about $6.5 Trillion to assist the developing world develop and grow. Most of this money has been guided by loose fitting macroeconomic trends, fun to read stories containing anecdotal evidence, and bleeding heart good intentions.

Invariably what happens is some of the loose fitting macroeconomic trends predict actual growth, some fun to read stories containing anecdotal evidence are true for whole populations, and some good intentions lead to beneficial outcomes.

The negative rub is recognized when experts have a hard time discerning what worked and what didn’t. Today we have experienced remarkable progress in terms of poverty reduction and development around the world, and very little knowledge as to why that progress actually occurred. Until recently, poverty eradication and development have been run like a business that doesn’t keep accounting records.

This is all changing. In recent years researchers have been making remarkable advancements to project evaluation. The major innovation: randomized controlled trials. The methodology is taken almost directly from the medical profession and drug testing.

Jeff interviewing Edward, gathering statistics before the project starts.
For example how do we know if giving textbooks away to schools in developing countries will help raise test scores and improve school attendance numbers? The logic checks out—free textbooks mean more students read, and more kids learn. There is undoubtedly a heart-warming story of a young student who, after receiving a free textbook, went on to become a doctor. But does reality align with the logic? Was the student who would later become a doctor simply an exceptional student? Beyond speculation, what was the actual impact of these free textbooks?

The way to test this is to identify double the number of schools the program has funds to support. Randomly select half of those schools to receive free textbooks, while leaving the other half with none. Then compare the test scores of these two groups of schools to see if the textbooks had any sort of recognizable impact.  [As it turns out, giving textbooks away for free doesn’t work—at least in Western Kenya, where this four-year study took place. (Read more about it here.)]

Randomized control trials provide great feedback for governments and organizations looking to solve any sort of social problem. The major roadblock is evaluations of this nature is that they are often expensive and always challenging to execute well. Studying human beings in real life is much more challenging than studying a medical drug in a controlled laboratory environment. Human behavior, achievement, and success are dependent on seemingly endless factors. The best randomized evaluations control for as many of these factors as possible, but to do this completely in a real world setting is extremely challenging. It is impossible to say, “Lets run 2008 over again and this time there is no global economic crisis.” 

Beatrice's cereal business
For the past six months and the next twelve months a randomized evaluation is occurring in Western Kenya on the impact of the International Christian Ministries (ICM) Marketplace Ministry on churches and business owners, utilizing the curriculum from Partners Worldwide. This business-training curriculum is used in many countries where Partners Worldwide operates. In all of these places an NGO or financial institution organizes the training. Earlier this year the question was raised: would the effects of this faith-based business-training be increased if it were presented in a church supported context? In short, what happens when we train business skills in a church with an affirming pastor and a supporting community of believers?

The results of the evaluation will not be complete until 2015, but initial effects seem to be intriguing. During a training session last week the question was asked, “how many priests or ministers are in this room?” One hand was raised; it was the actual pastor of the church. After a discussion on the Biblical foundation for work, a Godly perspective on wealth, and a missional understanding on God’s intentions for the tasks and responsibilities of His people from Monday through Saturday, the question was asked again. This time, with the understanding that their work in their businesses was just as spiritual as the church’s work on Sunday, everybody in the room raised their hand. Everybody identified themselves as a priest or minister in their own life and work.

The significance of this monumental attitudinal shift remains to be seen. Remember, this story is anecdotal; the facts, however true they may seem, may not necessarily be reliable. The most encouraging aspect of this whole story is that, in the face of their differences, Mary, Beatrice, Edward and all the other attendees of the class experienced something similar and behaved in a uniform manner. 

This is the kind of finding the final evaluation aims to discover, a uniform change across a diverse population. We will then know if training business people in a church works better than training them in a financial institution. We will begin to actually know what works and what doesn’t.  

The Bible tells the story of His glory. Part of the fulfillment of that story is being told through hundreds of stories in Western Kenya. It lacks charm and rhyme but this is a randomized control trial for His glory. 

Jeff Bloem is a Research Assistant working on this evaluation in partnership with International Christian Ministries and Partners Worldwide at the African Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya. Follow him on Twitter @JeffBloem or email him at 

Monday, March 24, 2014


I spent the last week in Nairobi, conducting a training of trainers for my former colleagues from Partners Worldwide.  It was a great joy to see old and dear friends from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Kenya, as well as develop some new relationships.  We worked long and hard all week to get through the material and then had some play time at the end of the week.  For the West Africans who are already doing the business training, this was a refresher with some additional new content; for the East African attendees the material was pretty new so they had the chance to learn the material afresh.  The goal is to get the African partnerships who are not yet doing training to start very soon, hopefully mentored by those who have done it for a while.  I was able to present the opportunity of bringing this work in and through the church and saw some potential synergy in this for an ongoing partnership between ICM and Partners Worldwide.  We'll see what God does with this!

My teaching schedule has been pretty nonstop since the beginning of March.  I have this next week without teaching, giving me the much needed opportunity to attend to a number of other important issues, and then I begin teaching another class on the 31st.  I'm thankful to God for the opportunities!

Enjoy some pictures of the week!
Not a great picture but two great people!  Allen Gweh, National Director of LEAD and Daniel Weetol from Liberia. Ever the comedian, Daniel kept us laughing all week.
The beautiful and talented Beatrice (left) from Hopeline Institute in Ghana.  This dedicated woman came to Kenya not only with her seven month old son, but also with her mother in tow so that she could attend classes and keep nursing her baby!
My dear friend, Fanny Atta-Peters, director of Hopeline Institute in Ghana.  We snuck away when we could to talk!  She is hoping to come to my wedding in June with her dear husband Dennis, my protective big brother!
Boadu, also from Ghana, also the entertainer in the group, as can be seen on the faces of Mary (Uganda) and Jackie (Grand Rapids).  We had some great debates together as a group and a lot of laughs.
The week ended with the "businesses" facing the "bank," both of whom took their jobs VERY seriously and did great jobs! 
Then off to have some fun.  Martin Mutuku scales the rock climbing wall with ease.
Two of my favorite people, Allen and Fanny, lounging on a Friday night.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Loss and Gain

March is a rough month - as it has been for the past four years.

March 20 is the day that Bob passed and this year marks the fourth anniversary.  There always seems to be a bit of a sense of disturbance in the atmosphere, if you will, when the calendar turns to March.
Bob's family, picture taken in 2005; Keith is in the front center.

To make things worse, this March started with processing the loss of Michael's father on February 27, and the loss of my father-in-law, Keith Mosher, on March 4. Both funerals took place on March 8, a mere 650 kilometers apart.  While I mourned not being able to be with my loved ones during a time of grief - both to comfort and to be comforted - I also recognized that even if I had been in North America, there is no way I could have been at both services.  I also knew that these type of events would happen.  It is a given when you live overseas that you wonder who will die in your absence.  We have been very blessed that since 2005 there have not been many family deaths. 

But logistics aside, losing loved ones is always significant and causes a lot of nostalgia and reflection. As I watched family videos on my computer during the funerals, while being so far away, I contemplated both loss and gain.  I contemplated the brevity of life and how quickly it changes.  I reflected on my life and remembered a poem that I had read some time back by Longfellow:  

Loss And Gain
Hannah and Noah with their Grandpa and Grandma.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.

I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

Said of this poem:  "The life of beloved poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is proof that good can come from sorrow and difficulty. He received great honors for his many successes, but—like all of us—he also knew his share of heartbreak and grief, including the tragic death of his wife. From the losses he suffered, however, Longfellow gained insight and strength that found voice in his poems. Longfellow's poetry lives on today not only for its rhyme and rhythm but because it expresses courage and optimism, even in the face of disappointment.  In his poem "Loss and Gain" Longfellow writes of regret, of longing, of the wisdom born of humility, and of the hope that can come when we have faith in the future."

Who shall dare to measure loss and gain in this wise?  Indeed.  Wise words.
Bob's mom and step-dad, Lucille and Keith, married 44 years.  While not Bob's biological father, Keith was a loving grandfather to Hannah and Noah, and I know he loved me very much as well.  
 So in memory of Bob, for those of you who knew him well and miss him too, let's play a little game called, "What's he saying."  Bob was very expressive...very, very expressive...and you could interpret a lot from his facial expressions.  So, looking at the pictures below, guess what he is saying:

#1:  Location:  Ghana.  This first one is easy.
#2:  Context:  We are in a hospital in Milan, Italy (Bob is the patient) and they just brought in the hospital food.  What does the look on his face mean?
#3  Context - Liberia:  A nightly ritual of helping children get jiggers out of their toes.  Bob has a needle in his hands and those are Enoch's feet.  What is he saying to him?

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Word from a Student

I am in the middle of another training of trainers for the Marketplace Ministry - we completed session one in February and are now in the middle of session two.  Session one focused predominantly on the theological foundation of Business as Mission (BAM); Session two focuses on basic business principles and how to teach the class.  There are fifteen students in Session 2 - twelve pastors from various parts of Kenya (four from ATS who were not in Session One as they had already taken the BAM class), one businesswoman who is a leader in her church in Kitale, and two NGO workers from Tanzania.

Session one started as one of my more challenging classes, with the pastors arguing more vigorously that we must be so careful in introducing business as mission to the church - that business as has been responsible for many bad thing in the world, from the creation of guns, to nuclear weapons, to cloning.  [These are pastors coming from more remote areas who have had varying degrees of theological training.] There was definitely a fear that this could be a slippery slope if we begin to affirm the call to business in the church.  I spent a couple of days on my toes, ready to cope with an argument at any time and found myself quite weary in the evenings.  As I pondered their reaction, I remembered that this is EXACTLY what I am here to do - to counter this belief with biblical support - to win the pastors to the understanding that business can be a calling so that they can affirm and support the majority of their members in their work. 

It reminded me of a quote that I use in my class from author Wayne Grudem, in Business As Mission:
“Who can enjoy being an evil materialist who works with evil money to earn evil profits by exploiting laborers and producing material goods that feed people’s evil greed and enhance their evil pride and sustain their evil inequality of possessions and feed their evil competitiveness?”
I imagine what the members of the collective churches had heard from their pastors about their work, and how that attitude serves to further the split between the "sacred" and the "secular."  Imagine what happens to a person who works in the manner as described above, viewed this way by many and eventually viewing themselves that way.  Imagine what happens to ethics and self-worth.  Gruden then continues by saying this: 
“But what if Christians could change their attitudes toward business, and what if Christians could begin to change the attitudes of the world toward business?  If attitudes toward business change in the ways I have described, then who could resist being a God-pleasing subduer of the earth who uses materials from God’s good creation and works with the God-given gift of money to earn morally good profits, and shows love to his neighbors by giving them jobs and by producing material goods that overcome world poverty, goods that enable people to glorify God for his goodness, that sustain just and fair differences in possessions, and that encourage morally good and beneficial competition.  What a great career that would be!  What a great way to give glory to God!”
One of the expectations of those who take my BAM class is to keep a daily journal to record what the Holy Spirit is whispering to them in this class and to give them a chance to process their thoughts.  
I was so surprised to see the below journal entry from one of the pastors who was giving me the hardest time in class.  (I later learned this man just loves to debate!)  Turns out he was not nearly as far away from believing in BAM as first thought.  In fact, he ended up with the highest grade in the class!  With his permission, I am sharing one of his journal entries:

A New Awakening For Business in the Marketplace to Change the World
The 7th of February came with a lot of enthusiasm and expectations.  It was a chilly morning as I woke up and had nothing else on my mind except making a trip to ICM (International Christian Ministries) in Kitale to attend an eight day class.  The class was to equip pastors and other businessmen in order to increase on their productivity. 

Upon our arrival, we were warmly received with ICM members of fraternity.  To my amazement, the class was a Training of Trainers by a Canadian volunteer by the name Renita Reed.

The facilitator took us via the central core in our role as pastors in the society and why ICM was established.  It tickled my mind as I came to the realization concerning the key role played by the Seminary in equipping and nurturing not only Church leaders but also the business men and women.  That is, to create an enabling environment to transform people in the society and marketplace socially, economically, spiritually, and environmentally.  I came to learn that there is a need to shift emphasis from poverty alleviation to empowerment.

It is important to merge the two meeting points that the church and the marketplace had earlier dispossessed; we need to change this initial presupposition.

Yet it is true that the Marketplace is always punctuated with people from all walks of life with some running businesses of all natures, while others posing as buyers, and while others are idlers.  To complicate the truth further, the Marketplace is alive every day, unlike the functions in our churches which normally open at certain or specific days of the week.  It is at the Marketplace that one can buy anything needed.

MARKETPLACE MINISTERS - A NECESSITY.  Men and women running businesses of all natures are drawn together from their mother churches but they are not well prepared to spearhead the spiritual aspect of it as their place of work. 

This therefore calls for a Christ Centered Business with an aim of reaching out to disciples of all nations.  This can only be realized if I, as a pastor, will encourage and give a green light to my fellow members to engage in this ministry of soul winning. 

In Luke 7: 31-35, Jesus described this generation as rebellious, stubborn, obstinate, and insensitive to the surrounding plight.  The shared insights rejuvenated my otherwise dominant inclination. Stressing also on the same, Mr. Alfred Rutto, on behalf of the principal of ICM, echoed our vitality of transforming the Marketplace via the training of her ministers.
A green light from the pastor.  That is key in this work.  I'm so thankful that this concept has been well received in this pastor's mind!

[The fun thing about Session 2 is that with the addition of the well-trained ATS pastors, I no longer need to be on my toes, as they are ready to jump in - now I just need to moderate the debate!]

And it's been a long time since someone has called me a Canadian!

Monday, March 3, 2014

It only takes a spark...

The entire group of Marketplace Ministries, with ICM reps in the front.
I remember in Liberia when it seemed the work was beginning to have a life on its own, owned by nationals.  I remember in Ghana when I recognized that the work was gathering a momentum of its own.  And yesterday, I recognized a similar situation in Kenya.

We had the Marketplace Ministers Commissioning in Kakamega yesterday.  Forty-one business owners, all members of the Deliverance Church, accepted the calling of doing their business as a mission and were anointed with oil by their pastor to go out and reclaim the redeemed Marketplace.  This group has already decided to organize themselves as a cooperative to begin working together, seeing each other as collaborators rather than competitors.  Over and over again we heard that the networking that is taking place in the church is so exciting, as they didn't know each other before.  Five members of the church are being trained as trainers and they announced yesterday that the next class would be starting soon - people began to register after the service.  They will also reach out to area churches in this next class.  So of the four activities that we do, the training is complete, the mentoring will begin in the next month, advocacy is beginning, and access to capital is an ongoing dialogue.
The group made t-shirts for the occasion, with the logo of the African Theological Seminary on the front, and "My Business My Mission" on the back.  They designed this themselves but a shout-out to Doug Seebeck for them choosing the title of your book for their motto!
The new entrepreneurial team at the church, who are also the officials of the new cooperative formed by the team.  Quite a gifted and dynamic group of leaders!
In Kitale, all four activities are vibrantly moving forward with great success.  The trainers that I trained in October are now in their 8th week of a new training with 50+ business owners.  These business owners are from 16 different churches in the Kitale area!  Commissioning services will take place in a number of these services, thereby engaging the pastors and leadership.  We will have a meeting at the end of March to organize a poultry cooperative in Kitale, and Humphrey (from Kakamega) will come to speak, as will representatives from the Ministry of Trade and Ministry of Cooperatives who are very interested in our work.  The Chiefs from the regions have been gathered together to assist in the recruitment activity.
Meet Humphrey, the leader of the Entrepreneur Team at the church, the head of a 3600 poultry farm association, the head of an NGO, the leader of the new cooperative formed by the  Marketplace Ministers, currently in the Training of Trainers to be the next teacher of this curriculum, not to mention the fact that he runs three businesses of his own, is married and has seven children.  This is one busy man and so very talented!  He will be coming to Kitale at the end of March to speak to the poultry farmers that we are gathering here, in an effort to help mobilize them toward working together.
The training in Eldoret just began on Saturday.  They will bring up the rear of this research project, with members from the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) and the Africa Inland Church (AIC).

This week I start the second session of training of trainers with the fifteen students.  Once they complete the training, they will continue to be mentored as they begin to push the idea of Business as Mission and Marketplace Ministry in their respective churches.

The Friends (Quakers) Church continues to push this strongly forward through their leadership.  The Deliverance Church is now talking about how to push this out through their denomination.  We hope that the same happens in the ACK and AIC.
Next to me is Alfred Kibairu, the ICM Marketplace Ministry Coordinator.  This man is the perfect mix of theology (he's a pastor) and business (he's an accountant).  He has been such a blessing to this team and I know that he will carry this work forward!
As I watch our little office humming with activity, and I hear conversations that skilled and knowledgeable Kenyan leaders are having about this ministry - conversations that convey ownership, I can only cast my eyes up and whisper thanks to God.  In many cases my role has been to connect the dots - to bring people together in a room to start the dialogue.  I continue to pray that our quick growth will continue to have deep roots and not grow beyond our capacity to do the work well.  But I am so thankful for the people that God has brought to join in His work.  And I'm convinced this work was in progress before I arrived in Kitale - I was able to join what He had already been doing.
After the service, we went out for lunch together.  This is Rev. Dr. Jackson Wambua, the senior pastor of the church. He was in the first class at the Africa Theological Seminary and was part of the catalyst for ATS being what it is today.  Behind him is a stork that showed up - it tried to invite itself for lunch.  Dr. Wambua gave it a bit of food and eventually it moved on.  Big bird though!