Monday, October 27, 2014

To whom much is given...

I've been on the road a fair bit lately - driving to Kakamega, driving to Eldoret, and places in-between.  And I have to admit flashes of covetousness as I drive, something I have wrestled with since moving to Africa in 2005.  As I drive through quiet villages, and I see people sitting outside together, laughing and talking and having fellowship, I find myself coveting a quiet life.  I often wonder what it would be like to be them.  I wonder what it would be like to wake up and only have to care for your family - not responsible for raising support for ministries that many people rely on.  I wonder what it would be like to live in a village of family and friends, where you know each other and care about each other.  I wonder what it would be like to not have to rush here and there, seemingly always battling deadlines.  For example, I took an exam for a class on Wednesday and started a new class on Thursday.  I work most evenings until 9 pm, and still go to sleep knowing an endless list of things to do.  In part, it is my personality (I know!); but also, there is a lot going on for which I am responsible.

And I find myself coveting that lifestyle.  For a moment.

Almost always when those thoughts occur, I hear a verse very loudly in my head, "To whom much is given, much is required."

It makes me think of the parable of the talents in Matthew and Luke.  I'm sure you know it.  The three persons are given according to their abilities and are expected to use the talents in a way that will bring profit for the master.  When we talk about this parable in our class, it always seems a bit surprising to people when I point out that the reward of doing well - of making a profit - is not "Well done, good and faithful servant - come and put your feet up and relax."  It is, "Well done - you have been faithful with little and I will put you in charge of many things."  In fact in Luke, the reward is to be put in charge of ten or five cities.  There is a part of me that wants to say, "Really? That is the reward?"  I find running one organization stressful enough - managing ten cities sounds like punishment to me.  But if you have been given talents and gifts to manage and grow things, it makes sense that the giver of those gifts wants you to use them.

To whom much is given, much is required.

The truth is, I have been given much.  As much as I may grumble about frequent power outages, or no running water, or no kitchen to cook in, or being so far away from my husband and children, I know very, very well how blessed I am.  I was born and raised in a "developed" country, with parents who love me. I was able to get a good education.  I have good health care.  If I were to contract ebola or some other illness, I would be evacuated.  I can connect with my husband and children via Skype because I own a laptop and have access to internet. My children didn't wonder whether or not they could get a college education - they only wondered how much they would have to pay in loans. 

Would I want to trade my life for someone in the village?

The good news is that I don't have to answer that.  It doesn't matter.  My life is my life and I am called to use what I have been given for the benefit of my God and His Church.

I love Africa and the perspective that it continues to offer me.  And I know how much I need that perspective because it doesn't take much to slip into seeing the grass greener somewhere else.  I am thankful for the gifts and talents that God has given me, and how He has equipped me to use those gifts and talents to build His Church. So today, I focus on that and ask God to forgive my covetous nature!  Thank God for grace, forgiveness, and mercy!

Monday, October 20, 2014

10-20-90 to 10-20-14

Youthful Bob
Twenty-four years ago today, I married Robert Allen Reed, on a sunny autumn day at Madison Square Church.  I was 21 years old; Bob was 35 years old.  In many ways, I didn't know who I was or what I was doing - but God knew.  I believe our marriage was orchestrated by Him.

A lot of who I am today is because of the influence that Bob had in my life.  I know that I have heard many of you speak of the influence that Bob had on your life through counseling or his writing.  Imagine 19 years of time with him and you can imagine the influence.
Our last family picture in December 2009 (hasn't Noah changed?!).
Bob helped me discover my own faith. He affirmed my gifts and talents, and encouraged me to develop them.  He challenged my thoughts and my theology.  He taught me to argue in a healthy way.  He encouraged me to see conflict as a good and even healthy thing.   

Although he has now been gone for 4.5 years, he is not forgotten. If you ask my students, they will tell you that I refer to Bob every day when I teach.  I now have to clarify between "my husband" and "my late husband" but the impact that Bob had on my life and the majority of stories that I have to tell are of the time with Bob as my husband.

I don't ever want to forget him, our marriage, or the love we had.  There are three days per year where I will take the opportunity to share:  his birthday, our anniversary, and the day I said goodbye.  But every day I remember him in one way or another.  My heart aches for how much he has missed as our children continue to grow - and even more so for how much my children have missed in having their father witness their life and use his wise words to direct them.

As my friend recently wrote, grief does change us and we don't forget our loved ones, no matter how life may have changed in the years since their passing.  We are encouraged to reinvest in life and not stay stuck in grief.  I'm thankful to God that I have been able to do that, and have been able to continue to live into my calling and even accept a new calling.  

Until we meet again.
Bob, with Rev. Zar by his side.  I'm assuming they have connected in heaven.

Last picture taken of Bob on earth, in Nigeria, two days before he died.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Its Ghana! and Egypt!

If you've been hanging out with us long enough, you might remember way back in January 2009 that Bob wrote a post called, "Its Ghana!" (here), after the decision came for where God was leading us after Liberia.  It was the last post in the "Reeds In Liberia" blog, after which Bob developed the "Reeds In the Wind" blog.

As you know the pilot project in Kenya is drawing to a close and the work is moving forward very well by nationals in several parts of Kenya.  Our philosophy has always been to get out of the way once the work is strong enough to be continued by nationals, while giving support and encouragement as needed.  That strategy worked well in both Liberia and Ghana where the work continues with strength and relationships continue.  And now that time is drawing nigh in Kenya. 

As I have also mentioned, the pilot project was leading us to see if Church-based Business as Mission is something that will work to develop business leaders spiritually and economically, as well as build the church numerically and financially.  It is clear from the work in Kenya that the answer to this is an emphatic yes.  The final surveys have not yet been done and they will give us the actual statistics but all observations and narrative reports are positively conclusive.  Therefore the challenge now before us is to develop materials for the Global Church and begin to widen the work beyond Kenya. 

When I attended the International Council for ICM in Ghana last month, one of the agenda items was to determine which countries would be next.  There have been a number of requests from various African countries but our goal was to determine which countries had the partnership potential and infrastructure through ICM and our partners (like the Christian Reformed World Missions and Partners Worldwide Affiliates) to make this work effective.  An additional aspect we considered was to work in a country that is not considered "Christian" to see the response of the Church in such a context.  After considerations, conversations and consultation (and a lot of prayer), we have decided to start in Ghana and Egypt in 2015.

Rev. Philip Tutu (L) and Rev. Stephen Mairori (R)
Ghana has a strong ICM presence, with ICM Country Director Rev. Philip Tutu, who has been a friend and colleague since 2010.  Additionally, Hopeline Institute is the organization with which I worked for the three years we were in Ghana.  The director, Fanny Atta-Peters is a dear friend and colleague who has wanted Church-based Business as Mission in Ghana since the idea has been in its infancy.  This work is part of her desire, vision and on-going prayers.

Egypt is not one of the formal ICM countries but ICM has been doing work in Egypt for a number of years, through the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) and the Middle East Leadership Training Institute (MELTI).  The Christian Reformed World Missions is also doing work in Egypt through ETSC.  Egypt has been on my heart ever since the Business as Mission Congress in Thailand in which three Egyptian businessmen asked with earnestness for support and help in doing business as mission.  Additionally, Egypt would be a context very different from Kenya, Liberia, and Ghana, all of which are considered Christian countries. This would test this program in a different way; additionally, it will require this work to be translated into Arabic.

The goal will be to develop this program, (book, manual, and possibly video series) during the first few months of 2015 and then launch Discipling Marketplace Leaders in both Egypt and Ghana beginning in June.  I will continue to travel to Kenya as well, being there in both March and October of next year to teach at the seminary.

The big change is that no longer will I live in these countries for extended periods of time.  This work has to grow beyond me if we want to reach the Global Church.  It is not efficient for me to live for two-three years in each country. This is why it is important to develop materials that Church leaders can take and run with.  I will be based in Grand Rapids and travel out to teach and train Church leaders in the respective areas.

Please continue to pray for this work moving forwards.  Current funds are almost depleted and there are still a number of critical projects to complete this year.  We also need to grow our resources so that we can begin in these two new countries next year.  Please pray with us for God to send partners through the body of Christ who believe that reclaiming the marketplace is a valuable effort for building the Church and for poverty alleviation!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Congrats, Kenya! ... I think...(and some sad news)

In my Church-based Business as Mission ToT class, we take a close look at the economic situation in Africa as we discuss the gap between the rich and the poor and the role of the church in the reconciliation of that gap. On Monday, I asked my class the question, "From 1960-1990, the four countries in Asia that led the way in economic growth (called the Asian Tigers) were Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  What are the four Lions of Africa?  Most people come up with Nigeria and South Africa pretty quickly, but struggle to come up with Egypt and Algeria.  And since I am teaching a class to Kenyans, most students put Kenya on the list;  I have to tell them that I am sorry, but Kenya is not in the top four.

That was Monday. On Tuesday, BBC announced that Kenya had done some recalculations of their economy, using 2009 as the base year rather than 2001, and including the two areas of communications and property which were not previously included.  The result is that the Kenyan economy is 25% bigger than previously calculated, and it now moves up to the number four slot on the continent.  Additionally, Kenya is now considered a lower middle-income country.  The economic growth rate for Kenya went from 4.7% to 5.7%.  [Growth rate for the US is 1.9% in 2013.]

I got to announce to my class on Wednesday morning that I was wrong and they were right.  That brought cheers but also some sobering discussion.

Being considered a middle income country means that Kenya will not qualify for some assistance from the IMF or World Bank.  To be considered a middle income country, the per capital income per year has to be between $1045 and $12,746.  The per capita for Kenya is $1246, with poverty levels at 45.9% and life expectancy at 61 years.  That is just over $100 per month which is a very difficult income level to survive on.  Not to mention that the tax rate is 44%.  And the unemployment rate is 40%.

The change may increase foreign investor interest in Kenya, which is a good thing, but also can be problematic if foreign investment comes in the form of foreign ownership of local resources at the expense of Kenyans ability to own their own resources.  Foreign investment often means the resources are used, Kenyans are paid a minimum wage, and all the profits go back to the country of origin for the foreign investors.  

To some degree, this makes the work that we are doing a bit more urgent.  Because most people are raised to pursue employment in the formal sector and when they fail to do that they "have to" get into business, doing business is a sign of failure.  Furthermore, business is viewed as a dirty business and the belief is that to succeed, you must be corrupt.  That perception begins to change when we understand the God of business, the purpose of work, and the calling on each of us to "be fruitful and multiply" to fill the earth and help provide goods and services to allow the seven billion people on earth to flourish. 

Additionally, the barriers to do business in Kenya are immense.  In a study by the World Bank, Kenya ranks as 121 out of 185 countries for the ease of doing business (the US ranks as #4, Canada as #17; Singapore is #1).  As one of the trainers said this week, "The sustainability of the whole concept of Church-based Business as Mission lies in Advocacy - in fact, not just sustainability but mobilization and coordination as well."  They declared very loudly that we must develop a national voice, so that the small and medium size entrepreneur has representation as well as options to move ahead in this growing that they are not left behind.  We will have a meeting this week with a subcommittee to look more closely at that issue.  We have had several associations and cooperatives grow out of our work but each has been geared toward a specific industry.  Developing a national voice would be a bit of a different challenge.

So it's an exciting time and also a challenging time.  I believe the Church has a role to play in this.  I believe the Church doesn't stand aside and watch economies develop.  In fact, I'm writing a paper right now on the role of religion in economic development, and it is quite fascinating to study the role of the Church over the last one hundred years.

As a side note, and as a result of our own development, we are changing our name.  We are no longer the ICM Marketplace Ministry.  We are now "Discipling Marketplace Leaders:  Church-based Business as Mission."  This work is not about just training business people to do business better.  It is about the Church discipling business people to reclaim the redeemed marketplace; and as business people rediscover their calling and recognize that the work of the church is in their parish - their business - they in turn impact the marketplace.  It's not about business as usual.  It's about business as mission.
Postscript:  I just learned of the death of Rev. Augustine Zar from Liberia due to Ebola.  If you visited us in Liberia (and a number of you did) you met him.  He was the Principal of Christ's Friend Children's Academy as well as the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Thinkers Village.  [To read a story that Bob wrote about him, click here.] Rev. Zar wrote me a few weeks ago to tell me of his wife's death. They had nine children who are now orphans.  I can no longer pray with confidence for God to do something miraculous in Liberia.  I think His answer is that He will do it not supernaturally but rather through His people - His hands and feet - the body of Christ, His Church. But what to do?  Michael and I sent money for food, and specifically asked that some go to Rev. Zar's family for the funeral of Mary.  Seems a tepid response.  I have been tempted to go to Liberia myself but I don't have medical skills.  I could go and care for the patients, and help clean and bury, but is that a reasonable, rational response?  I've been told it is not.  Why is there not an urgent cry for volunteers to go and help?  Americans will be medically evacuated if they contract Ebola.  They will get treatment - we've seen this.  2 Chronicles 7:14 keeps going over and over in my head: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face....  God, show us what the Church should be doing regarding Ebola!
Rev. Zar is in the front row, next to me, in purple.