Monday, April 28, 2014

Carriers of Light

Yesterday was an amazing day.  We had the commissioning service and graduation for 34 Marketplace Ministers in Kitale.  It is always an exciting for me to see more Marketplace Ministers released and affirmed in what they are called to do.  This is probably the twentieth commissioning service I've been a part of and maybe the 40th graduation.  But I think this was the best yet.  I'm not sure if words and pictures can capture it - you really have to be there to experience it! - but I will try to describe why it was so meaningful to me.
First, this class was taught almost entirely by those who went through the first class in Kitale with me last Spring and have since gone through the Training of Trainers.  They worked together as a team to teach this class, with three different churches represented by the trainers.  That is a great accomplishment!  Second, this team wisely decided that if they want to reclaim the redeemed Marketplace, it needs many churches and denominations.  So they reserved half of the slots for Friends (Quakers) and the other half for other churches in Kitale.  Sixteen churches were represented in this class!  The word has gone out to all of these churches and the pastors are coming out to find out more about this new ministry - this word is spreading quite organically!  The commissionings are happening as much in possible in the home churches of the members so that it is the church that is sending these Marketplace Ministers out; the graduation was a separate event in the afternoon for all the graduates to come together and celebrate.

Pastor Jarius and wife at their home. He is also a sugar cane farmer.
Yesterday morning began with the commissioning service from the host church with Pastor Jairus Igunza, the General Secretary from the Friends (Quakers) North Annual Meeting (meaning he is important if you aren't familiar with their structure) gave a GREAT message to the Marketplace Ministers on being carriers of the light from Acts 13:47:
For this is what the Lord has commanded us:  "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."
and Isaiah 42:6-7
I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
The class singing "How Great Thou Art" in Swahili-beautiful.
Pastor Jarius brought a lantern, a candle, and another open kerosene type light with him to demonstrate how we are different and unique light bearers.  He pointed out that without the light, these instruments are useless, but how the light needs to be carried by something - meaning us.  He told the marketplace ministers that it doesn't what they are made of, but it is important that they shine. It was also pointed out that shining a light where there is already light doesn't do much.  But shining even a weak light where there is darkness can make a big difference.  The work of shining the light, of being the church, doesn't take place within the four walls of a church - the command is to "Go" to where there is darkness.
One graduate being hugged by her pastor....notice the smiles...

...and then receiving the certificate from me...again, notice the joy.
The commissioning was then followed a celebratory graduation.  All fourteen ministers were brought up front to congratulate their members as they received their certificate.  It was a beautiful picture of so many denominations working together and joining the Marketplace Ministry movement.  The joy, as evidenced by dancing and singing was very tangible.  The graduates were then lined up and were given "encouragement" (see the tinsel leis in picture above) in a time of great joy where all family and church members were able to join in the celebration and love on their loved ones for the work and diligence in this class.  One representative speaker for the class defined Graduates as this:

G - We are to be Godly in our business; 
R - We are to be Reliable in our business.
A - We will be Admired as in 1 Thessalonians 4: 11-12, winning the respect of people who observe us.
D - We need to be both Disciplined and Diligent in their work as Marketplace Ministers.

U - We will bring a greater Understanding to the Marketplace. 
A - We are Ambassadors of Christ in the Marketplace.
T - We need to work on Time Management!
E - We will be Excellent Servers, caring for the Environment, with an eye on Eternal Life
S - We will be Successful!


Monday, April 21, 2014

April 2014 Family Update

It is time for a family update.

Hannah is turning 21 years old this week, on April 25.  As with most parents, I think, it's hard to grasp that my oldest is 21 years old.  Hard to believe that she is that old and hard to believe that I am that old!

Hannah was a very independent child - I had prayed for a strong-willed child and God answers prayers!  Hard to believe given how sweet Hannah has turned out to be.  She walked by eight months, skipping crawling as it seemed beneath her; she knew all the letters of the alphabet by 21 months, and was reading by age three.  Her favorite phrase for a very long time was, "Who dat?"  When we would go out with her, she would point at every person and say, "Who dat?"  We gave up trying to explain to her that we didn't know everyone and just began to randomly name people.  "That's Joe, Mary, Peter, Julie."  When we asked her, "You tell us - who is that?"  She would say with great pleasure, "Boa."  Not sure how that became her favorite name but it was.  She almost never wanted our help with things - "Hannah do it" was another favorite phrase. And she always had to do it very well.

Hannah is now completing her junior year at Calvin College and will be a senior this fall.  She is double majoring in Psychology and Social Work, with a third major looming in French.  She hopes to take a semester after her senior year in France to complete that major.  Ever the high achiever!
She took a second job this past year, with all her spare time :), and now works at the library at Calvin as well as at the Q'dobe on 28th St.  She will continue working those two jobs this summer.  She lived at home this past year and managed the house with a couple of college students as roommates. We hope to get her a car soon to help her juggle her schedule.  She also just got her hair cut.  She had been trying to grow it long enough to be able to donate it, and she was successful!  You can see the before and after pictures.

Noah is 19 years old and is completing his second year at Calvin, going into his junior year in the fall.  Also hard to believe!  He is working on a major in International Relations with a minor in Economics.  He served as a Barnabas (floor chaplain) in his dorm this past year and really enjoyed it.
He seems to be a natural at counseling (wonder where he gets that from?) and decided to go for being a Resident Assistant (RA) next year.  He got it!  He will be a RA in Schultze Eldersveld, which if you are familiar with Calvin, will be a challenge for him coming from two years and a family history in Noordewier-VanderWerp! He loves wearing suits and yet also loves wearing jeans and black shirts.  He has been working as a dorm tech this past semester, leaving his job of cleaning the field-house with no regret!  He is still looking for a full-time summer job so email me if you have any ideas for him!  The challenge is that his RA position starts in the beginning of August so typical summer jobs won't work.  He too is driving now.

As for me, life has been very busy.  The pilot project is in full swing and growing rapidly.  I have been teaching a lot and working on my MBA in Sustainable Development every evening and any day off.  Planning a wedding (in 46 days) also takes a chunk of time, not to mention the fact that we are starting to work on having the basement finished for a bit more living space.  So lots going on!
Hannah was not the only one to get her hair cut.  Michael decided to cut his hair as well, which I was able to watch via Skype.  Here are a couple of pictures of how we typically see each other during the course of the week.  We are very thankful for how Skype lets us stay connected!  However, it is not seamless - with frequent power outages in Kitale, internet not working, delays, and other tech issues, we have learned our fair share of patience with communication.

This Easter weekend, I leave you with the words from the song, "How Deep the Father's Love for Us":  Why should I gain from his reward?  I cannot give an answer.  But this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom."  Amen!

Lastly, here is the video I made of Hannah for her high school graduation.  Seems fitting to show it again.  I love you, sweetie! Happy Birthday!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back

Kenya, like Ghana, is an interesting mix of progress and tradition.  Sometimes the progress you see is surprising.  Sometimes the traditional beliefs you see are surprising.

One example of amazing progress in Kenya is mobile money.  There have been 200 experiments with mobile money in the world and only four or five have been successful.  Kenya is one of them.  Kenya's system, called M-Pesa (pesa is money in Swahili) allows people to move money through their cell phones to pay loans, utility bills, send money to any other person who has a phone, and so on.  People "bank" their money with an M-Pesa dealer, and then use it when they need it.  Statistics tell us that 70% of the adult population in Kenya use M-Pesa and 25% of the GDP flows through this mobile money system!!!  There are 40,000 agents in Kenya working M-Pesa.  That is huge.  [In fact, we have a number of M-Pesa agents in our business programs.]

There are a couple of reasons why it succeeded in Kenya - in part because of low regulations by the government and also because of high fees in more formal sectors causing the demand for cheaper options.  Interestingly, the post-election violence in 2007 also caused for people to begin using this more and more as they tried to get money to family members.  Both Nigeria and India have tried to launch these networks but because of the regulations going through the banking industry instead of the phone industry, it has been much slower and more cumbersome.

Examples of its amazing helpfulness can be seen on a daily basis.  The other day I needed to hire someone to do something for me and he needed transport to bring him to Kitale, so I was able to send him money via the phone.  Another day I was driving somewhere and the passenger in the car asked me if I had money in my M-Pesa account.  She needed to send a payment for her business, had the cash in her hand to reimburse me, and I could send it to her person just by pressing a few keys.  Amazing.  And for those of us who deal with loans to help businesses grow, this technology makes things much easier.

In contrast to this amazing forward moving - forward thinking business development, we have an example of a tradition that makes the country feel much less developed.  The government recently passed a bill, which the president yet needs to sign, trying to bridge the gap between civil law (which allows a man to marry only one wife) and customary law (where multiple wives are allowed).  The new marriage law allows men to take as many wives as they want, but with the new provision that they no longer need to get prior approval from the first wife.  Apparently, the men complained, women weren't giving permission ( real shock there).  One male member of parliament is quoted as saying, "When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa."

To add insult to injury, plans to ban the payment of bride prices were struck down and women are only entitled to 30% of marital assets after death or divorce, provided she can prove that she contributed to the couple's wealth. 

Remarkable.  On the one hand, saying "Woo-hoo, Kenya!  Lead the world!"  On the other hand, hand over mouth, shaking my head, and lamenting for my Kenyan sisters.

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Brother's Keeper

Last week, I was driving back to the Africa Theological Seminary from the central business district of Kitale.  As I came around a bend in the road, I saw on my right a mass of people that had gathered.  It looked as if someone was being beaten.  People were running across the road to watch.  One man ran across the road and jumped right into the fray.  I looked to see if it was the result of an accident, as mob justice can sometimes kick in, but I didn't seen any evidence of an accident.

I felt sick.  Nauseated.  I wondered if I should stop.  I kept driving...

...Let me back up a bit.  One of my biggest fears of living in Africa is getting into a car accident.  I have heard horror stories of what has happened to expats who get into car accidents.  No matter who's fault it is, if you are an expat, it will be your fault.  And driving is a challenge with few traffic laws, pedestrians, bikers, motorbikes, cows, sheep, and goats all over the road. 

In Liberia, I bumped a pedestrian on a busy road with my side-view mirror, while going about 15 MPH.  A mob of sorts ensued. The police were right there.  They stood, watching, and as I found out later, hoping a fight would start so that they could fine and pocket the bribes.  Other times the police would say, "Call us when it's over and we will come and take a report - we aren't armed or equipped."

About two months ago, we were driving to Kakamega and came up on an accident that had just happened; it was a rural area.  A car had hit a motorcycle, which then hit two pedestrians.  The car fled, leaving three very bloody victims at the scene.  We took one injured person in the car with us and rushed to the hospital in the next town.  While there, the people who caused the accident showed up.  They acknowledged responsibility and said that they fled the scene because they were afraid of mob justice.  They watched from a distance, saw us pick up one of the victims and followed us to the hospital.

Back to the present...

As I continued driving, I was plagued with guilt.  Should I have stopped?  Could I have convinced anyone to stop the beating?  Could I have been able to make myself heard?  Would I have become a subject of attack as a white person, trying to interfere?  Should I go back?  I kept driving.  I began praying for the person. 

The next day, I heard that a man had been beaten in Kitale for stealing maize.  He had died during the night.

I felt sick again.  So very sick.  The man died. 

Martin Luther King Jr is quoted as saying, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Was this man's blood on my hands?

Another flashback to Liberia, and the many people who knocked on our gate, day and night, looking for help.  I remembered the one man who came for help because he was sick.  Our response was to recommend he go to the hospital as we were not doctors.  [This was after a stream of people and exhaustion on our part; we were grumpy that day and resentful of the requests.]  He died the next day.  We felt guilt for a long time after that.

I flashed back further to a time when I worked with severally emotionally impaired junior high students.  When they would get into a fight, I would often jump in the middle as I couldn't stand to see two people fighting.  I would get in trouble for this, as I was told that the emotional strain would be much higher if they hit their teacher than each other and that I should just stand by and watch.  

How do we decide when to get involved?  How do we decide when not to get involved?  I teach risk management - is there a percentage of risk that needs to be factored in?  If there was a fifty percent chance that I could have stopped that beating, should I have stopped?  What about ten percent?  How do we make decisions like this?

I thought about my kids and how they have already lost one parent.  I thought about Michael and our desire to spend many years together.  I imagined many people telling me I should not stop - that it would be unsafe for me.

I thought back to the number of times that people have told us not to do something that seemed illogical or unsafe at the time:
  • Don't move into the Madison-Hall area of Grand Rapids, where there is high crime and drugs...especially with two young children.
  • Don't move your children from Oakdale Christian to Jefferson Elementary Public, a school that is failing and slated for closing, where they will be the only white kids.
  • Don't lose your job at Calvin College over sending your kids to Jefferson - this is your livelihood, your career.
  • Don't move to post-war Liberia, where there is high crime and little rule of law....especially with your two children.
  • Don't stay in Africa after Bob's death.  Come home where you can be with family and friends and recover from your loss.
  • Don't move to Kenya by yourself.  Take a position in Grand Rapids.
  • Don't get remarried - it will threaten your ministry.
Hmmmm.  Apparently I'm not very good at listening to the advice of loved ones.

I am to love my neighbor as I love myself.  That means caring about his provision and protection.  I am my brother's keeper.

I don't know who that man was.  I don't know why he stole maize.  I do know that regardless of his sin, he did not receive justice that day.

As I processed this with Michael during the week, he reminded me though this is a horrible event, God has the final word.  God's justice and salvation story will have the final determination on this story, even as we don't know how that unfolded story looks.

And I can't assess ahead of time what to do in these situations when faced with danger.  I can only to do my best to love my neighbor and be his keeper one day at a time.  I know that part of loving my neighbor involves protecting myself for the sake of my children and Michael, as well as my work.

I will fail sometimes and sometimes I will get it right.  [In fact, as I wrote this post, I received an email from the US Embassy warning all Americans to stop travel to Kenya and those who reside in Kenya to assess their personal safety due to recent attacks from Al-Shabab.  I believe I am safe.  But if the attacks were to move closer to Kitale, at what point would I choose to leave?  Which neighbor do I choose to love in this case?]

I don't know if I failed in the instance of the man who stole maize.  But tomorrow I will try again.