Monday, January 26, 2015


The Christian Reformed Church of East Africa near Kitale
Most countries have significant internal contrasts, with areas of great wealth and areas of great poverty, often in very close proximity to each other.

Recently I experienced such a set of contrasts but in two churches in Kenya.

One week I'm preaching in a church of about 100 people, including children.  It is a mud church, on someone's personal property.  It is in a rural area, surrounded by maize fields and cows pass by the windows regularly.  The service starts at 10 am and finishes around 1 pm.  The people all hang around after the service and share a meal together.

David Masai, a pastor of the CRCEA, also a trainer for CbBaM
The next week I preached three services in a church of about 6000 people, with choreographed dancers, elaborate sound systems and city folks.  I am told I have 20 minutes to preach for the first sermon, 30 minutes for the second service, and 40 minutes for the third service.  At 20 minutes during the first service, the pastor (a student at ATS) gets up to let me know time is up.  Time is managed to the minute.  People are herded out the back door, while a flood of people enter the front door, tightly managed by ushers, to allow the next service to start on time. 

AIC Fellowship Church in Eldoret
Back in the US I am struck by the contrasts in food compared to what I eat in Kenya.  There is a great website that shows what a week of groceries looks like around the world (To see it, go here):
  • In Cairo, Egypt, an average family spends $78/week on food.
  • In Ecuador, $32/week
  • In North Carolina, USA, $342/week
  • In China, $65/week
  • In Mexico, $189/week
  • Food for one week for a family in Ecuador
  • In Mali, $30/week
  • In Kuwait, $252/week
  • In Japan, $361/week
  • In Italy, $295/week
  • In India, $45/week
  • In Germany, $568/week
  • In Cuba, $64/week
  • In Canada, $392/week
  • In Sarajevo, $90/week
  • In Australia, $428/week 
Food for one week for a family in the US
What is interesting is how different the food is in each country - very processed versus very fresh. And I just learned last week that about 40% of the food grown in the US ends up in the landfill due to waste.  This is mostly because of the amount of food that we throw away in restaurants, institutions, and our own homes.

Lands of contrasts.  These are just two very small contrasts of course.  One could list thousands and thousands.  But it can feel overwhelming when changing between cultures.  I continue to get flashes and waves of the contrasts from day to day, and often find it difficult to articulate.

I will be dropping the blog to every other week for a period of time, especially while so much of my time is being consumed by writing the Discipling Marketplace Leaders book and manual.  I continue to appreciate your prayers for this process!

I could see these two children from my seat in the rural church.  They studied the back of my car for such a long time, pointing things out to each other.  It was very cute.

Monday, January 19, 2015

When Advocacy Works

On December 8, I wrote a blog about Pastor Moffat Weru and the fire he experienced in his business (click here to read the story).  A number of you replied with sympathy and prayers.  A few of you offered gifts or loans to help rebuild his business.  If you remember, Pastor Moffat had just graduated as a Marketplace Minister and was running a motorcycle parts shop when the shop two doors down from him caught fire.  The fire was spreading and in an effort to "help," community members broke down the doors of Pastor Moffat's shop and carried his goods out to "save them."  Unfortunately, most of those goods were then looted and the fire did not reach the interior of his shop.  Pastor Moffat had insurance but the insurance company denied his claim as the fire didn't reach his shop.  When he argued that they broke in and stole, the insurance company stated that because it was such a large crowd it was a political looting and therefore his insurance didn't cover that.  When Pastor Moffat pursued the security company, who also carries insurance on properties that they protect, they said they weren't responsible because the security guard was doing everything he could to stop the fire.

Shaking our heads over the injustice of it, we rallied to figure out how we could help Pastor Moffat.  But for just a few days we forgot that we had power that goes beyond that.  Power in the name of advocacy. 

Of the four activities that we do to help businesses develop, three are based on internal issues:  training, mentoring, and access to capital.  But anyone who has done a SWOT analysis, knows that there are both internal and external issues that face businesses (or churches or organizations), with the external issues taking the form of opportunities or threats.  That is where Advocacy comes in, the fourth activity that we do with businesses.  Often times businesses feel very much like the little fishes in these pictures, without much hope to come against the big system and make any changes.  Kenya ranks at 129/185 countries for the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank annual report (Doing Business 2014).  There are many threats to doing business, especially as it relates to the strength of the legal systems in a country as well as the cost and efficiency to business processes.

However, what advocacy does is help these "small fishes" figure out how to organize themselves to look like a big fish and exert a bit more power on the system.  I was first exposed to this idea when I worked with an organization called the Michigan Organizing Project and carried it over to my work with Partners Worldwide.  This visual image resonates with small business owners who often feel overwhelmed by the system and powerless as to their role in it.  The businesses in Kenya are doing a great job of seeing the potential of this and they have organized themselves into three centers, with three different cooperatives based on their geographical area.  Within these cooperatives, they are forming a number of subcooperatives as it relates to agriculture (both crops and animals), retail, services, manufacturing, and energy production.  Together, they have decided that the Discipling Marketplace Leaders office needs to form a National Forum under which they can all come together to address national issues.  We have formed a committee for this and are well on our way with these plans.

So now, back to the story with Pastor Moffat.  On the Friday before I left Kenya, we were to have an Advocacy committee meeting.  As I waited for people to arrive, the idea occurred to me (or can I say the Holy Spirit planted an idea?) that we should get involved with Pastor Moffat’s situation.  Here was a man who paid insurance and had a security firm who is insured for looting and both had denied him.  There was injustice here.  A secondary motivation for me was the knowledge that when it is difficult for people to believe in working together, it is necessary to have a “win” to help business members recognize the importance of standing together and uniting. 

During the meeting I brought up the idea that we should pursue this case with Discipling Marketplace Leaders, have a meeting with Pastor Moffat and the insurance company and security company, and remind them that we are advocating for our businesses to take insurance but if they won’t pay, what is the point?  We also talked about picketing the place with our businesses if we needed to.

I left Kitale on the Monday following this meeting and asked Pastor Alfred Kibairu to take the lead on this.  Kibairu met with Moffat, who had already admitted defeat and didn’t want to go back to them.  But Kibairu persuaded him to set up a meeting, and Kibairu accompanied him.  And it’s amazing how quickly a business can see sense when faced with a bit of pressure, backed by the power of numbers!   After a couple of meetings, the security firm closed shop and fled town. But the insurance agency agreed to pay!  Pastor Moffat had to round up his receipts and turn them in.  He lost about 850,000 KSH worth of goods (about $10,000 US) but was only insured for 650,000 KSH ($7600 US) and that is what he will receive.  He is thrilled!  Plus it’s a good lesson for him to increase his insurance and keep it for next time, this time including a policy for looting! 

We will now invite this insurance agency to speak to our businesses about the importance of insurance and (hopefully) offer them good deals, continuing to develop a relationship with DML that will be good all the way around!  We will tell this story to our businesses and encourage them to work together!

This week we will be going through loan applications from all three centers, totaling over $100,000 US in requests.  We have only $40,000 to loan out, given by several investors in the US who have loaned us the money for these businesses, so we have some tough decisions to make.  Pastor Moffat will be one of the ones receiving a loan, but please pray with us for discernment and wisdom for the rest!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Reflections on 2014

This is the first blog entry for 2015.  2014 was quite a year for me personally with my marriage to Michael and the blending of our two families.  We spent the week of Christmas merging our two houses to finally be under one roof.  2014 was a year of great joy and great changes.

Professionally it was also quite a year, with the work of Church-based Business as Mission growing by leaps and bounds, with the development of a plan to develop suitable materials to be rolled out to more countries in this coming year - starting in Ghana and Egypt.  This also includes a number of changes for me.

My children continue to change and grow:  Hannah turned 21 in 2014 and Noah will turn 20 in just a few weeks.  Hannah is a senior at Calvin; Noah is a junior.  Both continue to face life challenges and develop into the adults that God is calling them to be.  It is exciting yet scary to watch.

But most significant in this past year was what continues to happen around the world.
  • Ebola swept through West Africa reaping devastation and loss of life.  Countries that have experienced so devastation because of civil war and poverty were hit again with this terrible and terrifying disease. 
  • Boko Haram continued to wreak havoc in Nigeria.
  • Al Shabab continued to kill and terrorize in Kenya and Somalia.
  • The rise of IS and terrorist attacks in other parts of the Middle East drive fear into the hearts of many.
These are just a few of the things that remind us of how tenuous peace is and how fragile life is.  We are reminded of how far we are from being the creation that God intended.  Yet through the darkness we hear stories of grace and mercy, of perseverance and God's light shining through. 

Overall there continues to be a spirit of optimism in Africa that things are changing for the better and that Africa is indeed rising.  What will 2015 bring?  What entries will be made in this blog over the next 52 weeks?  What turmoil, grace, and creativity will the world see?

To help me find my center, I go back again to the book Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder, and to the prayer, "Help Me to Believe in Beginnings":

God of history and of my heart, so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
I've known death and birth; 
I've been brave and scared;
I've hurt, I've helped;
I've been honest, I've lied;
I've destroyed, I've created;
I've been with people, I've been lonely;
I've been loyal, I've betrayed;
I've decided, I've waffled;
I've laughed and I've cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history - and now another day begins.

O God, help me to believe in beginnings and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I've failed before.

Help me to make beginnings:
            To begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams,
                        Daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now;
            To begin forgiving that I may experience mercy;
            To begin questioning the unquestionable that I may know truth;
            To begin discipling that I may create beauty;
            To begin sacrificing that I may accomplish justice;
            To begin risking that I may make peace
            To begin loving that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning for others,
            To be a singer to the songless,
                        A storyteller to the aimless,
A befriender of the friendless;
To become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
Of assurance for the doubting,
Of reconciliation for the divided;
To become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
Of comfort for the sorrowing,
Of friendship for the forgotten;
To become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
Of sweetness for the soured
Of gentleness for the angry,
Of wholeness for the broken,
Of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
            To make a beginning,
To be a beginning,
So that I may not just grow old,
But grow new
Each day of this wild, amazing life
You call me to live
                        With the passion of Jesus Christ.

I can't control much of anything in the world.  I can control very little within my own circle of family and loved ones.  I have difficulty even controlling myself.  But if I can live into even a portion of these words in 2015, this year will be a success.  I wish you the passion of Jesus Christ and the belief in beginnings as well in 2015.