Monday, May 30, 2016

Carriers of Light

[Update -  Many of you have been kindly asking so two quick updates:  One, a number of you responded to my request for funds - thank you! But unfortunately the funds are not yet enough, so I have taken a pay-cut to get me through until I can get to some serious fundraising after my trip to Ghana in June.  Second, Noah did not find an apartment in DC but we learned a lot about the city!  He can't afford to have an apartment on his own and so will have to share with strangers.  Please pray with us that he will find a good room and good roommates!]

Carriers of Light:

One of the themes of our teaching in Discipling Marketplace Leaders is the need to be the light in the darkness of the Marketplace (business, government, education).  The Bible is full of references to us being called to be a carrier of the light of Christ:
  • Isaiah 42:6b-7 - 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.
  • Matthew 5:14 - You are the light of the world.
  • Matthew 5:16 - Let your light shine before others.
  • John 8:12 - He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.
  • Ephesians 5:8 - For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
  • Philippians 2:15 - shine as lights in this world. 
Unfortunately, many of us tend to leave our light in the church building in order to "survive" in the work world.  Some of this is because we haven't been discipled to purpose for how to be a light in the workplace.  Let me explain being discipled to purpose:  most of us are discipled as individuals - how to study the Bible, pray, etc; many of us are discipled to marriage and parenting by the church.  But most of us are not discipled to the workplace, where the majority of us spend the majority of our adult lives.  We end up compartmentalizing our faith into categories unless we are specifically discipled to purpose so that we can know how to apply it in our various contexts.  The result is that we tend to leave our light in the Church, which is already full of light and we don't bring that light into the Marketplace.  Even the smallest of light makes the darkness flee.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate:   only love can do that."

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of Daniel, who was troubled over and over with ethical challenges in the workplace.  If you remember, Daniel chose to leave his work in accounting as well as medical laboratories because of ethical challenges ( While Daniel showed great courage in standing for his principles, he also made the difficult decision of leaving those places of darkness.  What is unfortunate is that when he left those places, he took his light with him, leaving more darkness.

Let me share about a business person in a developing country who made the difficult decision to remain in a place of darkness and allow his light to shine.  [Again, I will change his name to protect his identity.]

Moses worked as a manager in a furniture company for fourteen years.  He was known as a manager who would not compromise his ethics.  At one point, his company gave him the opportunity to take an eight year loan to purchase a home.  He decided to pay it off in five years, and then continued to make payments to himself for the remaining three years to build up some savings.  On January 1st of his fifteenth year with the company, he was approached by an elder in his church who said that God prompted him to remind Moses of how Jacob had worked for Laban for fourteen years and then Jacob went out on his own.  Moses had felt a tug of leaving this business to start his own business
prior to this elder's visit, but the elder's comment confirmed this sense, and so Moses left that comfortable position to start his own business.  Moses began importing high quality office furniture from China, working primarily through contracts (also called "tenders") from various government offices, businesses, or institutions.  Businesses who work through contracts or tenders tend to be plagued with potential corruption, as the contract will often go to the one willing to bribe the people in charge of decision making.  Moses and his wife decided when opening this business that they would not pay bribes or receive bribes.

Moses shared with me, "Each bribe has two parties - a giver and a receiver.  If we all would stop being givers, what could the receivers do?"  This was not an easy decision for them.  Moses shared story after story of lost contracts because he was unwilling to pay bribes.  But over time, and because he insisted on selling high quality furniture, he began to be known as a business man with integrity whose products would outlast his competitors.  This has opened doors for him to have may conversations, especially with government officials (even those who are Christian) about doing work with integrity.  But one of the main things that has allowed him to keep his integrity is the fact that he and his family have decided to live below their means, so that they will always have the option of saying no to contracts that demand bribes.  Moses teaches "Family and Finance" in his church (something I did for years as well and find to be so important!) and he stresses how important it is to not increase your expenses as your income increases, but rather to be wise with savings so that you can follow God when He closes a door or tells you to go.  Moses told me, "My joy is not from money in my business but rather in the satisfaction of doing a job well."

Moses is an example of having the courage to be light in a dark place.  He is shining his light in his sphere of influence and is willing to sacrifice in order to be this light.

I like this quote from Michael Strassfeld: "Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space.  It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe.  It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished."

The beautiful thing about being a carrier of light is that God continues to be the giver of the light through the Holy Spirit.  Our job is not to leave this light in the church building, but allow it to shine in our workplace.  The Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry is designed to help churches and church leaders figure out how to do this through intentional discipling to purpose.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT) - You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the houses.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Noah and his girlfriend, Hannah.
On Saturday, my second and last-born child Noah, graduated from Calvin College with his BA in International Relations.  It's hard to believe that four years have passed since he graduated from the American International School of Accra.  It's even more difficult to believe that his dad missed not only his high school graduation but now his college graduation.  It underscores how long Bob has been gone and how much he has missed in his children's lives, and will continue to miss.  Noah's graduation hit me a lot harder than Hannah's and I think it is because for me it is the end of the "undergraduate" college era.  My kids are both fully launch-able, even as they are not yet fully launched.  I feel great sadness at both their longing and their need to hear the wisdom that their dad would have espoused to them over these important and formative years.  I long to see the look of pride on Bob's face as his kids graduate and begin to consider how to impact the world that he cared about with such passion.

Proud Mama with son
Noah has been blessed with a position in Washington DC as a background investigator for people seeking security clearance with the US government.  He will be working for CACI International, a contractor for the US Office for Personnel Management.  Because of this, he needs high security clearance and therefore many of his friends and family have been contacted by investigators doing thorough research into Noah and his acquaintances.  He has had to list out every foreign person that he knows, which for a kid with a Canadian mother and Canadian step-dad is many, not to mention his acquaintances from Liberia, Ghana, and a number of other countries where his high-school classmates have spread.  It makes for an interesting time of looking back over one's life, which has been very full, even at the young age of 21 years.  It has been quite a life thus far.

Today we leave for DC to look for an apartment for him and begin to navigate the new landscape (if you have any tips on how to find an affordable apartment, please let us know!).  While he has lived in more difficult environments, this is the first time he is heading out on his own.  Tough for me to see him go, even while I go all the time!

My prayer for Noah is from Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder:
In this moment,
draw me to yourself, Lord
and make me aware,
not so much of what I've given
as of all I have received
and so have yet to share. 
Send me forth in power and gladness
and with great courage
to live out in the world
what I pray and profess,
that, in sharing, 
I may do justice 
make peace,
grow in love,
enjoy myself, 
other people
and your world now,
and You forever.
Can you pick Noah out?  No?  Me neither, which is why I took binoculars with me.  Last year, I found out that I had been tracking the wrong girl instead of my daughter Hannah and I wasn't going to let that happen again.  They all laughed when I took out the binoculars but a number of them ended up borrowing them!
Hannah and my mom, and in the distance my sister Janette and husband Dale behind (note where the binoculars are) :)
Noah and his good friends
Grad friends cutting their cake together.
The Cake

Monday, May 16, 2016

Daring to be Daniel

Over the past twelve months I have visited business men and women in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  I have documented many stories of success, of inspiration, of challenges, and of failures. These stories fill my heart with joy, courage, sadness, anger, and love.  

I want to share one story with you but I will not identify the person or the country for this person's protection.  I wish I could say that what has happened to this young man is unique, but unfortunately this is a story that I hear all too often.  What is unique is what this young man has done with the challenges that he has faced in his short 27 years.  I hope you will be inspired, as I have been. I also ask that you will pray concerning the many and immense pressures that hundreds of thousands of Christians face regularly in the Marketplace.

I will call this young man Daniel, for reasons I will explain later.  I met Daniel at a business where he serves as a manager.  He had attended a workshop that we gave on Discipling Marketplace Leaders and had approached me during the break with pain on his face about how a Christian is to do business in a corrupt system.  He asked me to visit his business for a consultation.  As I find great joy in visiting and learning from business people in various contexts, I readily agreed.  As we settled in his office, I asked him to tell me a bit about himself.  And this is the story I heard.

Daniel grew up in a poor family, and was a sponsored child through Compassion International until the age of 21.  His family was Christian but he drifted away from God during his teenage years.  He worked hard in school, came back to God at the age of twenty, and was able to go to University where he obtained a degree in Accounting.  Upon graduation, Daniel went on a number of interviews, where he clearly told those interviewing him that if asked to change a number 3 to an 8, which is an unfortunate part of many developing countries with high corruption, that he would say no.  He didn't get a job for a while, and was eventually hired by a seed company involved in exporting and importing agricultural products, including seeds.  He watched with discomfort as his boss bribed officials to say that the seeds were a good quality.  When his boss filed for a leave to go to school, Daniel knew that he was next in line and would need to be the one paying the bribes.  At the time, Daniel was making about $24/month, while his boss was making $120/month.  Daniel decided the money was not worth the integrity violations and so when his boss left on his leave, Daniel quit as well.  The owner of the company was not pleased and called Daniel, asking for him to return.  Daniel made it very clear that he would not do anything unethical and would not return.  The boss then surprised Daniel by asking him to tutor his children for the next two weeks, as the owner and his wife traveled to China for business.  Daniel was reminded of the Bible story of Daniel who had to make a decision to forgive the King and continue to work with him, while maintaining his integrity, and so he said yes.  But he demanded $48 for those two weeks and demanded that he be paid ahead of time in cash.  Daniel was surprised when the owner said yes!

Daniel did this for some time but knew that he needed to get training to do a different work that wouldn't be as involved in corruption as accounting.  He was blessed to be able to go back to school for a degree in medical laboratory work. While in school, several classmates were won to Christ as they witnessed Daniel's testimony of not cheating on tests or assignments.  Daniel finished first in his class and was offered the position of head of the laboratory at a government hospital that was just opening.  It was there that Daniel saw again the trap of corruption.  He was encouraged, even by Christian supervisors, to buy lesser quality equipment, pad the invoices, and take shortcuts in setting up the lab.  Daniel refused and set up a first rate laboratory, despite a great deal of hardship in the process.  But then the orders came in from the doctors, requesting unnecessary tests in order to increase the profit, from patients who had to pay cash without insurance.  Daniel challenged the doctors but after some time couldn't stomach giving unnecessary tests to those who couldn't afford them and so he left that position.

He then contracted tuberculosis and was very sick for two years.  During that time, he prayed for God to end his life at least ten times, knowing that he would be going to a better place.  His days were filled with pain and his nights were filled with nightmares.  He thought it would never end.  What got him through this dark period was the gospel of John and the silence of Jesus and God the Father through Jesus' suffering.  Jesus knew who he was even in the silence.  Daniel said he realized that he did as well, so he could accept God's silence while he waited for healing.  Eventually the suffering decreased and he gradually began to heal.

He then met the owner of the business he is now in, who invited in to be his personal assistant for one month.  It went well, and another month was given.  Daniel is now the manager of the business, making about $100/month.  He is sharing his income by supporting ten children, just as he was supported.  He told me, "I don't give.  God is the only giver.  I simply share what God has given."

But he says that he knows he has not reached his destiny yet.  He said, "I know that someone somewhere is looking for me to show him or her Christ.  So I am waiting for God to show me the next move."

I was so blessed by Daniel's testimony.  I'm not sure how a 27 year old learned to keep his hand open before God as it relates to his time, treasure, and talents.  Too often, as we become aware of our time, treasure and talents, we tend to close our hand and hold on to them tightly.  But Daniel has learned that God is the giver of all three and therefore it is better for him to keep an open hand, so that God can keep pouring in.

My heart aches for the many Christians who do not have the courage to do as Daniel has done and for the many Christians who are not able to speak openly about the challenges and ethical compromises that they feel forced to make, especially if they have families to feed and school fees to pay.  We are to be a light in the darkness, but to be a light, we need to be discipled, equipped, encouraged, and lifted in prayer.  Please continue to be in prayer for the many other Daniels out there.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Out of the garbage heap...

Evangelical Theological College (ETC), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Greetings from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where it is surprisingly cool and wet!   Unfortunately, other parts of Ethiopia are experiencing a drought that is worse than the drought of 1984, with over ten million people affected.  Thankfully, important lessons were learned from that drought and there has been much work done to make sure people are getting food.

My impression of Addis Ababa is that it is unlike other African Capital cities that I have been in.  It seems more peaceful, more orderly, more regulated.  People actually obey traffic laws, queue for lines for taxi buses, don't talk on the phone while driving, and the city is quite clean with trash cans everywhere.  From the little I've seen in the short time I've been here, I'm impressed.  Unfortunately, there are people sleeping on the sidewalks everywhere you go, and the per capita income is one third of Kenya - at $550/year/person.  Ethiopia is the second most populated country in Africa yet one of the poorest.  However people are actively involved in business everywhere you go.  Ethiopian pastors are not bi-vocational for the most part, unlike Kenya and Ghana, but more like Egypt.  While Christians are the largest majority in Ethiopia, about 43% are Orthodox or Coptic Christians and 20% are Evangelical.  About 34% of Ethiopians are Muslims. 

Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) had the opportunity in this past week to present the ministry to pastors and business people at the Evangelical Theological College (ETC).  It was a blessing to meet and have these discussions in a new context and culture.  Many important connections have been made.

ETC has an interesting history.  During the period where Ethiopia was under a communist government (from 1974-1991) the Evangelical Church suffered the most and was essentially shut down.  The underground church grew rapidly, however there was no training of church leaders.  Some Christians approached one of the Christian NGOs who had been allowed to stay to do humanitarian work to ask whether they could train people in Christian leadership and theological education.  The NGO agreed and the first class was started with seventeen students.  Only one of the seventeen graduated.  But the desire for training and education continued, and when the communist government fell, the school asked the government (who owns all land) for a location that they could use.  They were offered the city garbage dump.  Undeterred, they accepted and sought to redeem that land.  As you can see from the pictures, they have done that very well.  On hot days, I'm told, the smell from the dump that still exists behind them can be strong, but they say it's a good reminder of how God redeems all of our lives from the stench of sin.
Beautiful flowers in bloom at ETC

It's no surprise that the business context of Ethiopia is different from the other countries involved with DML.  In many ways, Ethiopia reminds me more of Egypt than Kenya, the neighbor to the south.  Being a landlocked country presents certain challenges, as does high rates of poverty and high government control. It makes for some interesting challenges for businesses.  I learned that business owners who make a sale without a receipt can be jailed for three-six months.  Businesses pay 35% of their profit in tax (the customers pay 15% value added tax).  The government controls a good number of businesses, including all of the telecommunications. 

But the theme of mistrust and suspicion between the Church and the Marketplace is unfortunately consistent with our findings in other countries.  Business people articulated that they too feel only valued by their church for their financial ability to contribute to the ministry, and are not respected or valued for their work, gifts or talents.  They reported, and the pastors agreed, that business people are seen as unspiritual and, if successful, most likely corrupt.

Dr. Frew Tamrat, Director of Master programs at ETC,
addresses pastors and business people.
We challenged the pastors to disciple their members to the purpose for which most have been called, in being fruitful and multiplying the resources God has given to bless the world.  Our call to Christians is to work with a quadruple bottom line in mind, no matter where the workplace:  social, spiritual, economic, and environmental, and for all of us to see ourselves as disciple-makers in our very own sphere of influence.

This message was received very well, and I have been scheduled to teach for the MA program at the Evangelical Theological College next year (the earliest I could be back), and will begin to do the two day training at that time for pastors in Addis Ababa and hopefully in Awassa.

View from my window at the mission guest house in Addis Ababa

Monday, May 2, 2016

Prayerful Request

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Yesterday I looked at my personal support account at ICM (not the Kenya ministry account which some of you recently gave to), as I knew it was dropping, and saw that I had $21.77.  I have about $2200 in outstanding bills for the work in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana.  A bit of a problem, yes?  Despite having been in this predicament many times over the past nineteen years, I felt the familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I shared with Michael, who stated that he wavers between a feeling of panic when I tell him things like this and a head knowledge that knows that it will probably be okay.  I told him that the feeling is the same for me. 

The thing is that the work is not only going  very well, but the demand continues to increase while giving decreases.  Why might this be, is the question that I, as well as many others who have to raise their own support, ask.  I’ve been reading a book called The Great Evangelical Recession.  While I don’t agree with some of the things in the book, it does talk about an overall decline in giving that will continue over the next thirty years.  The younger generation is not as committed to church and to giving in general, while the generous older generation is growing into retirement age.  As I look at my consistent individual donors, many (if not most) are over the age of sixty.  This is a concern.  The book says at one point that the problem is not a lack of funds, but rather a lack of commitment due to the lack of discipling of the youth.  Only 6% of Evangelical Christians tithe, according to The Barna Group.  If Christians raised their giving to the Old Testament standard of giving 10%, there would be an additional $139 billion available per year. 

My bold request is this: 

  • I am looking for twelve people to prayerfully consider committing $100/month for the next year.
  • OR if you are personally not able to give or increase your giving, I am looking for new partner churches who would be willing to support the unique ministry that I am involved in, Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  The only way new churches come on board is by a closer and personal connection with a member or the mission committee.  Letters and calls from a stranger like me does not work.  So if you are able to help me make a connection and set up a meeting, that would also help this ministry go a long way.

After the very dark period of the burnout that I just came through, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that this ministry is God’s and not mine.  I believe that I am joining Him in His work to unleash the Church from the four walls of a building, into the four corners of the Marketplace.  So my encouragement is that you don’t consider this as a request from Renita, but rather from the Creator and Sustainer of our Faith, to join Him in the work that is happening across Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, and Ethiopia.

If you feel led to be one of the twelve, please email me and let me know.  If you are able to arrange a meeting with your church, the missions committee, or the pastor, please also let me know.  If you would like to meet with me to discuss this further, I would be happy to do so.  I will be following up this message with phone calls once I have returned to the US from Ethiopia. 

If you would like to financially assist with this work, please give through ICM at and include "20065" in the comment line; or through CRWM at (go to "missionaries" and find my name). 

Thank you for your prayerful consideration.
May God bless you.