Monday, June 27, 2016

An Inspirational Man

 (L to R) Dr. Walker, Fanny, and Rev. Asare
I returned yesterday from Ghana, having spent time doing Discipling Marketplace Leader conferences for about 140 pastors and church leaders in both Accra and the northern region of Ghana, in Tamale.  The Northern Region of Ghana is dominated by Muslims and is a region of greater poverty than the regions in the south.   Before I moved from Ghana in 2013, my colleague, Fanny Atta-Peters, and I had talked many times about the desire to work in the Northern Region of Ghana and had started some communication with pastors there.  It's great to see those conversations from years ago coming to pass now.
Cross in red brick at the top

One of the pastors with whom Fanny has been communicating is Rev. Johnson Asare, the owner of the Radach Hotel and Conference Center, a beautiful and successful business (  Each of the four towers in this hotel has the cross in the bricks as can be seen in the picture, and therefore the cross can be seen from almost any angle of the hotel.  This hotel and conference center is doing so well that Rev. Asare is building an eight story building directly behind it.  He has invested $1,000,000 USD of the company money into this new building and is looking for investors to help with the balance $4,000,000 USD to complete the building.  This is not a man with small visions and dreams!  He employs about 155 people at this hotel and conference center, and gathers them for morning devotions each day at 8 am.  We were privileged to join them on two different mornings.

Many women work on the construction site.
Rev. Asare is also the founder/director of Markaz Al-Bishara (Center of Good News) Ministries (  The tagline for this ministry is "using the business platform to nurture the Great Commission" and Rev. Asare's first words to us is that everything he and his employees do, from carpentry to room cleaning, is an act of worship.  Certainly we have found a brother in Christ who speaks the same language as us!  Approximately 90% of his ministry is funded by the hotel and conference center, which is very impressive!  Rev. Asare employs about a thousand more people indirectly through his many off-shoot projects, such as shea butter farming and processing, other micro-development projects, evangelism, and education projects.  His heart's desire is to reach Muslims for Christ.
The eight-story building, with two pools, being built.

He has been preaching about work as worship for about ten years but he says it has fallen on deaf ears.  He was very encouraged to hear us affirm what he believes and has been preaching; he told me after our first day of the conference that I had "stolen his heart" and referred to me afterward as "his professor."  High praise from such a successful man who could teach me so much!

The response from the Northern Region was very encouraging and at this time we are planning to hire someone for DML Ghana, through Hopeline Institute, to begin working with these pastors and churches, walking alongside them to start Marketplace Ministries in their churches.  Please pray with us for this ministry, especially as it relates to spreading the church in the marketplace in a heavily dominated Muslim area.  Please pray for Fanny as she looks for the right person who can speak effectively to both church leaders and business leaders alike, and for me as I look for the funds to help this ministry get started, with the goal of it being self-sufficient in three years.

Dr. Walker and Fanny promoting the DML workshop at Rev. Asare's Christian radio station which has two million listeners.
The conference center at the hotel.
Fanny and I in an intense planning meeting at the hotel.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Dear Ghana

I am in Ghana, preparing to do two two-day workshops for pastors - one in Accra and one in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana.  Altogether, we hope to present Discipling Marketplace Leaders to 150 pastors from many different denominations.

My old friends and colleagues at Hopeline Institute will be the implementing partner for this program.  They are so well qualified and connected to facilitate this work through the church.  It was out of my many conversations with Fanny Atta-Peters, the Founder and Director of Hopeline Institute who is so passionate about the Church, that the seed of DML began to grow.

But Ghana is hurting, my friends.  Ghana has been such a strong country in many ways for a long time, and has been the economic leader in West Africa for many years. When we lived in Ghana from 2009-2012, the Ghana Cedi exchange rate to the US dollar was about 1.5:1.  In about 2013, the Ghana Cedi crashed to 4:1.  This is significant as there is much importing and exporting in the country.  What used to cost a person 150 Gh Cedis, now would cost 400 Gh Cedis, even though salaries did not rise. Prices, however, went up on many, many things.  Electricity, which might turn on and off a dozen times a day when we lived here from 2009-2012, took a significant hit and went into a pattern of being on for twelve hours, off for twenty-four hours.  Most businesses can't run with limited electricity like that.  While electricity is now on again more regularly, the cost of electricity has gone up 200%. Interest rates at banks for loans continue to be around 37%, with informal loans reaching up to 60%.  Businesses are downsizing or closing and unemployment is rising.  The growth rate of the country has dropped to 3.2% while much of the rest of Africa enjoys a growth rate of 6%+.  The inflation rate for the country is 18.9%!

What is shocking is to see the report from the World Bank of the Ease of Doing Business.  In 2014, Ghana was at a solid 67 out of 180 countries.  In 2016, it has dropped to 114 out of 180 countries.  That is significant.  Very significant.  If you are interested in the numbers, I have included the graphs from 2014 and 2016 where it breaks down the issues.

And 2016:

Taxes have increased, trading across borders has become significantly more difficult, and the country is seen as more risky by investors because of this.

Ghana has elections scheduled for November of this year.  Whether or not a change in government will result in improvements for the country is the major question.

Please pray with us for this country, as well as for the Discipling Marketplace Leaders presentations this week.  Northern Ghana is dominated by Muslims but our Christian brothers and sisters are making every effort to grow churches there.  There are many challenges faced here by the church as well as by business people.  Please pray with us that the message of the need to disciple marketplace leaders can be heard by the pastors and church leaders, and that business people may feel supported and affirmed in their calling to do their business "as unto the Lord."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Where is your brother?"

Where is your brother?  Children making balloons...
Recently on the plane from Nairobi to Grand Rapids, I watched a documentary on Pope Francis.  This week I heard this quote from him:

"Where is your brother?   May this question from God spread through the city and our hearts, but above all may it enter the hearts of the Cains of today.  Where is your brother, the slave?  The brothers you are killing every day in the illegal factories and in the prostitution rings?"

We all know the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4 where Cain kills his brother Abel.  "The hearts of the Cains of today."  What a great statement. Who are the "Cains of today" to whom the Pope refers?  Could I be a "Cain"?  Where is my brother?  Or even more difficult, who is my brother?  Part of the problem today is that we don't know our brother and therefore we don't know how to love or even locate him.

Computer parts waste
This quote reminded me of an Eerdmans book I recently read called Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh.  He presents an interesting case about the dilemma of knowing our brother.  He points out that what complicates this problem in our society is consumerism (not greed).  Most people in our society are not overly attached to things, rather they are attached to the NEXT thing.  People do not cling to things, but rather easily discard them in pursuit of "new and improved."  If you think about it, and if you look at the photos of landfills full of dumped technology, there is more than an element of truth to this.  The next new computer, the next new smart phone, the next new gaming system, the next new TV or appliances that do this, that or the other, even while the ones we own still work, scream to us daily through advertising. This truth leads to significant challenges.

Cavanaugh says, "Consumerism isn't so much about having more as it is about having something else; that's why its not simply buying but shopping that is at the heart of consumerism.  This restlessness - the moving on to shop for something else, regardless of what one has just purchased - sets the spiritual tone for consumerism" (page 35).

Out with the old, in with the new: a TV graveyard
What happens with this type of consumerism is that there are issues of detachment in the West from production, as it has moved out of our countries, as well as then detachment from labor and laborers.  In the North America, we often don't see production anymore, nor those involved in production.  US companies have become marketers of what others produce (like Disney, various clothing lines, many technology products, etc).  As we see less and less of production, and our neighbors are not the ones we know and see working in factories, we lose the connection with our brother. So we consume and discard, with little knowledge of those working twelve hour days, seven days a week for thirty-five cents per hour, producing these products that we dispose of easily. 

For those caught in the trap of consumerism, pleasure doesn't come anymore in the possession of the product, but rather in its pursuit; pleasure comes not so much in the having, as in the wanting.  Once we have obtained an item, it brings desire to a temporary halt and the item loses some of its appeal.  The consumerist spirit is a restless spirit, typified by detachment, because desire must be constantly kept on the move.

"We shop.  They drop." Cavanaugh says.  Literally.  Stories are told about people being forced to work sixty days straight without a day off, twelve to sixteen hours a day for cents on the hour. 

What to do about this?  We all have to be consumers.  There is no way around that.  Knowing where all of our products come from and trying to get to know our brother in a factory 7000+ miles away is virtually impossible.

But we can change the way we allow the desire of pursuit of the next new and best thing disrupt our spiritual contentment.  We need to somehow equate our purchases with the people who made it, understanding that the purchase in and of itself brings us into relationship with others.  The relationships must be characterized by promoting the good of community with God and other people.

Discipling Marketplace Leaders seeks to affirm all workers in all walks of life, caring for them socially, environmentally, economically,  and spiritually, and having them do the same for others.  Our lives as Christians need to be about this quadruple bottom line - the way we live and the way we use our resources matters.  Where is my brother?  He may be far away and I may never know his name or his face, but I CAN care about him in the way I choose to live my life.