Monday, May 22, 2017

Inspiring People

The venues where we get to give trainings sometimes are amazing.  I'm not sure that we will ever be able to top giving a training on a boat on the Nile River in Egypt, but the view from the window of the church that we taught in this past week, in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, was pretty remarkable.  To simply say that Guatemala is a beautiful country would be a gross understatement. 

The time we spent there was very productive, with three different groups of people involved in several different types of trainings:  church leaders and pastors, NGO leaders, and business people. 

But even beyond the views and the beauty of God's creation, I love to hear and learn from God's people, with all of their complexities and uniqueness.  This week, I met a number of inspirational people, and would like to introduce you to two different men, all who came from families in absolute poverty, all of who made a decision at a young age to get themselves out of poverty.

Meet Pastor Santos, who decided at the age of eight that he was not going to live in the same poverty as his parents.  He was tired of not having shoes and sleeping on the floor.  Pastor Santos started with a corn mill business that he worked from 4 am - 9 am, and a coffee farm that he worked from 10 am - 2 pm.  Any profit that he made, he reinvested into his business and determined to live very simply to help his businesses to grow.  He grew his businesses to four machines for corn, and his coffee farm to the point where he was selling to big coffee exporters.  He bought land whenever he could and earned money through selling it. 

He saved money whenever he could.  He has four children:  two are doctors, one is a lawyer, and one is a systems engineer.  He instilled the importance of hard work and the importance of education in them.  Pastor Santos also felt called into the ministry at a later age, and when we met him, he was sitting next to the three story hotel that he built with his wife and children.  This hotel is going to help him into his retirement, and as he owns it debt free, he is able to help out people who come to town for various workshops and church gatherings with discounted rooms.  Why was Pastor Santos able to make a decision at the age of eight to move out of poverty?
Meet Antonio, one of twelve children, who also grow up in absolute poverty.  His father was a coffee farmer and, when giving his testimony, he shared that there was no reason that any of his brothers or sisters should have lived into adulthood.  He decided that he wouldn't live that way or raise his children in that depth of poverty.  Through extreme difficulties and struggles, he graduated from university as a teacher and began to see that his people needed access to capital.  He started a microfinance organization that now serves over 1500 members in a rural area of Guatemala, is running a school, and raising two beautiful children with his wife.  It hasn't been easy to run the microfinance organization, but Antonio says, "The success of the business was not because of the good customers but because of the bad customers.  I had to learn from them and develop policies and procedures that led to greater protection of the business."  Why was Antonio able to lift himself out of poverty and be such a sign of hope to many around him? 

One of the things we often talk about are how the rich and the poor need each other - the rich bring hope and the poor bring faith, and together love is created.  But sometimes the poor find a hope that is beyond human understanding given what they have seen; the rich are able to have a dependence on God which is beyond human understanding given their lack of perceived "need" of God.  These inspirational stories happen more often than we know but are so moving.

If I worshipped at this church, I would be so distracted by the view!
This group of business people have over 280 years of business experience between all of them!  There were some real entrepreneurs in that group!  It was a joy and a privilege to spend time with them. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Integration of Faith and Work in Guatemala

One of the joys of doing the work that we do is to meet like-minded people along the way.  A few months ago we were able to speak with the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics and recently they asked if they could do an interview on Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

So this week, while we were busy in long training days in Guatemala, we had the interview.  The text of it can be seen below, and I have put the pictures from our time in Guatemala throughout.  It is especially meaningful while doing this type of interview to be exposing pastors to this old yet forgotten Biblical truth.

Helping Churches Support Business and Transform Communities in West Africa


At IFWE we’re always looking for real-life examples of the integration of faith and work. What does it mean practically, day-by-day, to glorify God through our work and bring about flourishing? International Christian Ministries (ICM), through its Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) ministry, is doing just that by growing businesses and equipping churches to provide spiritual support to business owners. We recently spoke with Renita Reed of ICM about their work in Africa.

IFWE: What is the concept behind DLM’s church-based Business as Mission (BAM) program?

Renita Reed (RR): Since 2001, there have been many initiatives in and through the business as mission movement globally. Much of this work is done through nonprofits and has been theoretical, focusing on the theology of work. Some BAM work has been practical, working directly with businesses to help them develop a quadruple bottom line—addressing economic, social, environmental, and spiritual needs through their business.
The church-based Business as Mission program (or Discipling Marketplace Leaders) grew out of seeing the need for business people to have ongoing discipleship from the church to resist the business-as-usual pressures of the world. Also, when business as mission is church-based, pastors preach about it and incorporate the call to be the church very practically in our jobs.

IFWE: Who has most influenced the philosophy of the program—author, leader, ministry, etc.—and how?

RR: The business people of West Africa have most influenced the ministry, as well as the pastors of Kenya. It was through the work of business development in West Africa and feedback from business owners that ICM saw the need for ongoing discipleship and church engagement. When we began this work in Kenya, pastors at Africa Theological Seminary helped form and shape the message as they heard and were challenged by it. Several key pastors in Kenya, led by the Holy Spirit, have implemented BAM in creative and unique ways.

IFWE: Why is ICM focusing on Africa with its programs?

RR: ICM began in Kenya and grew to the surrounding countries, so it is natural that thirty years later our work continues mainly in Africa. We believe that the dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular” is a global issue, not one related to just Africa. So, we are taking DML where God is opening doors, which includes Central America. The message and methods are appropriate everywhere, including North America.

IFWE: The first step in the church-based Business as Mission program appears to be training pastors. Why do you need to start here?

RR: Prior to becoming the international coordinator of the DML ministry, I was involved in business development through a Christian NGO in Africa. I personally saw and experienced the frustration from the lack of support, equipping, and prayer for business owners from the church. According to Ephesians 4:12, the purpose of the church is to equip people for the works of service (ministry). We are discipled in our personal relationship with God; we are often discipled in our marital relationship, as well as how to be good parents. But very few churches seem to disciple people in how to be the church in their place of work. DML does that through church-based Business as Mission—by encouraging and equipping pastors first, discipleship of those in the marketplace becomes a natural part of what the church does.

IFWE: What are the two or three key ideas that help pastors understand the value of business?

RR: There are a number of paradigm shifts that we see pastors and church leaders make in our time together. The first shift is to understand that the purpose of the church is not only what happens in the four walls of the church building. Too often, pastors and church leaders expend more efforts to get people into church, rather than equipping people to be the church outside of it. The second major shift is for pastors to get a broader understanding of Genesis 1:28—that being “fruitful” and “multiplying” involves taking the resources of this earth and being creative (fruitful) and replicating (multiplying) for the flourishing of all people. After these shifts, we look at how God used business people to fulfill his purposes throughout the Old and New Testaments. This gives pastors a deeper appreciation for business people as God’s ambassadors to the community.

IFWE: You seem to be saying the thinking of the church has to change. What has been the problem in the church in general and in Africa specifically?

RR: A very apparent need is correcting the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular that is evident in the global church, and the tension that exists between pastors and those involved in the marketplace. We use the example that the church often acts like a cruise ship, where people come solely to get blessed and get good food, fellowship, and healing—rather
than a warship where people are equipped for battle, receive their orders, and are encouraged and prayed over for the fight. Pastors and marketplace Christians need to work together to help the church be effective on a much wider and broader scale.
The church in Africa has these same issues. In some ways, the African church is even more critical of business. Inequality and corruption seem to be more overt in the marketplace in parts of Africa than in other parts of the world. A church that is ministering to and equipping those in the marketplace will ultimately help resolve these starker systemic issues.

IFWE: What message do you have for IFWE readers (primarily in the States) learning about your program—how might you encourage or exhort us?

RR: Believers want to understand how their daily lives make a difference. If the church is to be a change agent, it must shift from being a subculture to being a kingdom counter-culture. Many pastors and church leaders need a major shift in understanding to better equip their congregations for serving the purposes of God in their community. But pastors and leaders also need practical tools for equipping people to live like Jesus as they fulfill their calling in their work. The church is the vehicle God gave us and it is the natural gathering place for people seeking God. The Business as Mission movement can and should embrace the church as the change agent Jesus created it to be.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Seeing the world a bit differently...

It's amazing to me that at the ripe old age of 48, there is still so much to learn.  Maybe I'm a bit slow...I don't know.
Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI

Last week I was invited by a dear friend to meet for lunch at the Meijer Gardens.  To be honest, in my heart I grumbled a bit.  I already have a difficult time carving out time for lunch, let alone add in a walk in a garden.  Plus I knew that Meijer Gardens is expensive and in twelve years of working in Africa, almost everything is weighed in terms of "is it stewardly in light of what the people I know and love have?"  But I hadn't seen this friend for a while, so I agreed to go.  As I pulled up and saw the packed-out parking lot, at $15/person, my heart became agitated, thinking of all the money spent to look at flowers.  Had I been there by myself (which wouldn't have happened of course), I would have cruised through that place in a few minutes, thought about how it was nice but definitely something for the middle to upper class people, and shook my head in a judgmental way at American consumerism.

But the friend I went with was the perfect partner for me that day.  As we entered one of the gardens, she stopped for quite some time to look at three very different plants that were placed in proximity to each other, and wondered out loud about why they decided to put those together.  She noted the differences in the leaves.  Trying to not check my watch, I joined her in wondering out loud.  But as that happened, I found myself beginning to relax.  I began to see through her eyes, and very soon, began to see through my own eyes.  I was struck by the creativity of man to take resources made by the Creator, to put them together in a way that could evoke wonder, allow for deep breaths, and slip out of the darkness of the world, into the beauty that I believe the Creator meant for us to enjoy.  I wondered whether people I know who love plants so much will be making gardens like this for us to enjoy in the new earth.  I realized that just because many can't enjoy this type of beauty, it doesn't make it bad for those who can.  I get so caught up in the tragedy of poverty sometimes that I miss the beauty that God created this world to be - a reflection of Himself.

Our view in Antigua
As I write this blog, I am in Antigua, Guatemala.  There is a volcano in front of me (!), flowers around me, birds singing.  Yesterday, Michael and I walked around the city and saw the ruins from four thousand years ago, the beauty of vegetables and fruit that were unknown to me, and a colorful and beautiful people busy with their work of being fruitful and multiplying.  They experience a natural beauty carved out by volcanoes all around, a lushness of vegetation, and a rich, long history.   We walked through a large outdoor market and while Antigua is a tourist area (declared a preserved city by UNESCO), there were very few tourists in there, which made me feel like we were enjoying some authentic Guatemalan life.  We have been blessed by a colleague to have a couple of days to enjoy Guatemalan culture before beginning two weeks of non-stop workshops.  It is very helpful to have this time before teaching to create a deeper understanding and passion for the people. 
Market in Antigua

We serve an amazingly creative God.  He created us in His image to be creative like Him.  He told us to be fruitful (creative) and multiply (the work part of it).  Some of us are more creative and some of us are better at multiplying (replicating the creations).  But He declared it good before the fall, and sin did not wash all of the good away.  His idea of the promised land, the land flowing in milk and honey (Deuteronomy 8), involved work and creativity.  But He also wants us to enjoy what we see and give praise to Him when we see it.

It seems I should know that by now.  It's very likely I will forget again as I get "too busy."  I love how God made me but also know that while my eyes are open to some things, they remain closed to others. 

Nance, a fruit of prehispanic Guatemala.
This week we begin trainings for pastors and church leaders in the ministry of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  We will then have a training for trainers (two from the US and a number of Guatemalans) who will take this material to other churches.  We will then spend time with successful business people who want to help with poverty alleviation to learn about "Asset-Based Community Development" so that the work of poverty alleviation can be done "with" people rather than "to" people.  Next week, we will travel to a different part of Guatemala and do a training with pastors and church leaders there, and then do a three day microbusiness training for a number of entrepreneurs from the churches.  Please pray for these days together, that the Holy Spirit may join us, and that the previous months of laying the foundation may produce solid opportunities to build and grow!
Vegetable that looks like corn, called "pacaya."

Overlooking Antigua

This is one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala.  We saw it smoking and belching.  We were able to roast marshmallows from the hot rocks.  It last erupted in 2014.

Beautiful mountains and volcanoes in the distance - Guatemala is a lovely country.