Monday, October 30, 2017

Knowledge without application is just information.

Some of the mantras that we repeat during our trainings are:  "Knowledge without application is just information."  "The Bible is about transformation, not just information."

It's so easy to do trainings and think that the number of people who sit through a training account for potential "impact."  But the training is just the beginning.  The application of the knowledge shared in the training is key.  But even that is not enough.  Through application, transformation can take place.  Transformation comes through the application of what has been taught and the lessons learned.

This is tough for us to understand.  Learning to apply knowledge takes time, practice, and sometimes an unlearning that has to happen first before we can even start the application.  Transformation takes even more time.  This waiting is tough.

Beautiful group of Trainers
We live in a "hot n now" world.  Immediate feedback.  Immediate results.  Immediate changes.  In the development world, it is even more pressing, as those being served are trapped in poverty and real challenges that can threaten survival.

But to change the marketplace where marketplace ministers are recognized, supported, equipped and encouraged by the church will not be quick.  To work with the Church to be counter-cultural rather than a sub-culture is like swimming upstream.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we had trainers from five different countries gather together for a Training of Trainer event  for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  While I love the dialogue, enjoy the debates, and can see the lightbulbs going on while we are together, the key outcome comes after they leave and begin to apply these concepts to their own life, their own work, their own church, and their own community.

And that is why I love to read the journals of the trainers.  What they write in private, at the end of the day, can inform me of what is going on inside, of what God is whispering to the person.  It's not unusual to see a correlation between someone's very thoughtful and deep journal writing and actual transformation that will take place as a result of our time together.

Below is an excerpt from one of the trainers from Ghana, who has just finished his MBA.  His faith came through so clearly throughout the week as did his passion for business.  He grew up in a very poor family and is so excited at seeing how his passion for business and his passion for his faith can be merged together to make a difference for people in similar circumstances.  He gave me permission to quote one part of his journal in this blog.  This was just one paragraph in 22 pages of a typed journal that came from his heart.  I love how he tied the Bible and economics together, especially for Christian business people:

Exam time for Trainers!
THE BIBLE DOES NOT PROVIDE INFORMATION: IT PROVIDES TRANSFORMATION: One important concept I have learnt from economics is that the importance of any resource is determined by it economic values and usefulness. The Bible is and must be very important to every marketplace minister. Newspapers, magazines and other books provides people with information concerning economic, political or business activities or other opportunities they can take advantage of. The readers are not bound to comply with the information these books provide. The Bible is different. 1st Timothy 3:16 clearly indicate that all scriptures are given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness. The market place can never be transformed unless market place leaders have read and solemnly studied the Bible and have been transformed by the inspiring message they have learnt. A marketplace leader cannot shy away from reading the Bible.

Trainers being silly
I like how he is seeing a different application of the Bible - from personal salvation to transformation within the Marketplace.

Because of this desire to see real impacts and outcomes, we are starting a new research study in Northern Ghana that will be four times the size of our initial research in Kenya.  We want to study to see whether the work that we are doing can lead to personal transformation, workplace transformation, as well as transformation in churches and communities.  It doesn't seem logical to me for us to continue to do this work without having statistical proof that there are real causal impacts that lead from information to application to transformation.  We ask for your prayers as we embark on this.  It won't be easy and it won't be cheap.  But neither is it cheap or easy to keep doing something and making assumptions about causal results which may be merely a result of a correlation. 

We want trainers, pastors, denominations, and business people to feel confident about this ministry as it is a big commitment of time.  We want donors and investors to also feel confident about this ministry, as it is a big commitment of talent and treasure.  But most of all, as we use the three resources that each of us are given (time, treasure, and talent), we want to be able to say before God that we there has been actual multiplication and transformation.

Update on Kenya:  Thank you for praying during this last week for Kenya.  The election on the 26th was marked by demonstrations, boycotts, arson, looting, and death.  Four counties postponed voting indefinitely due to insecurity.  Only one-third of registered voters showed up to vote.  The opposition has called for mass civil disobedience and has started what he is calling the "National Resistance Movement."  Continued prayers are still needed.  Kenyans are weary and the way forward is not clear. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Call for Prayers for Kenya (and Uganda)

May I ask for your prayers this week for Kenya?

The August 8th election in Kenya was overturned by the Supreme Court on September 1st.  This was a great surprise.  The re-election date was set for October 17.  However, in late September the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ruled that the changes that were needed would not be in place by the 17th and moved the election to October 26.  On October 10 the main opposition (Raila Odinga) to the incumbent (Uhuru Kenyatta) withdrew from the race, stating that the 12 irreducible minimums to undo the problems from the August election would not be met by the 26th.

The country was left wondering what to do, going back to the constitution for guidance.  On October 13, the IEBC decided to allow the other presidential candidates who had contested on August 8th to be added to the October 26th ballet.  On October 18, one of the members of the IEBC resigned from New York, citing death threats and the belief that the election can't be credible.  On October 19, the CEO of the IEBC took a three week leave (!!??).

There have been many protests in various parts of Kenya, resulting in more than 75 deaths.  Raila Odinga insists that there will be no election on the 26th and has announced that he will "deliver a way forward" on October 25 (which sounds rather ominous to me.  If you have a way forward, why wait to announce it?). His party has called for country wide protests on the 26th.

All of this has been so disruptive to the citizens of Kenya, to businesses, and to a general calm and peace in the process of democracy.

Written by a Kenyan friend on Facebook, "God, you are enough for Kenya and you are saving us from danger.  When we hear about the guns and deployment forces, when leaders speak threats to innocent Kenyans on media, we fret!  But you say in your holy word, "Fear not I am with you" 365 times.  David told Goliath, "You come to me with a sword and javelin but I come to you in the name of the Lord!"  It doesn't matter your tribe or position.  God will fight for us!  Lord, we pray you calm the storm in Kenya!"


While you are praying, please also pray for peace and democracy in Uganda.  President Museveni came into office in 1986.  At the time the country had a two term limit, so Museveni had the constitution amended so that he could run again.  Now he has run into another constitutional issue which says you cannot run for president if you are over the age of 75.  He is seeking to change the constitution again and protests are being had around the country regarding this issue.

Thank you for praying for these precious countries, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for God's will to be done.

I am in Ghana and have finished an exhausting month of trainings.  I leave on Monday and will be home on Tuesday, only to leave again in nine days, back to Ghana and then Nigeria.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Wife of Two Husbands

On Saturday, I met a man who told me that his father had 52 children.  I think that’s the highest number that I have heard from someone I’ve met in person.  This was from five different wives.  His own mother had eleven children, and she already has over one hundred grandchildren from those eleven children.  On Sunday, I talked with a man whose father had 38 children from four different wives.  He said they are planning a family reunion over Easter in their village, which may actually overtake the village in pure numbers!

Many times, when we do introductions in our classes and workshops, men in Africa will introduce themselves this way: “Praise the Lord.  My name is David and I am the husband of one wife.”  And then they go on.  Most people smile when this is said.  I usually introduce myself last and then go straight into teaching. 
This last time in Kenya, for the first time, I introduced myself this way.  “Good morning.  My name is Renita Reed-Thomson and I am the wife of two husbands.”  Everyone started to laugh.  And then I explained – first about my name and then about the fact that they would hear very clearly about two different husbands as I teach, as both have had an influence on who I am as well as on my ministry. 

A wife of two husbands.  That is what I am.  And there is no conflict in it.  Something can happen on a given day that makes me smile and think of Bob.  Something different occurs that makes me smile and think of Michael.  The heart has a capacity to hold both as beloved.  And the heart can learn, in time, to do that without anxiety, guilt, fear, or regret.
This Friday is October 20.  This would have been our 27th wedding anniversary.  We only made it to nineteen.  This Saturday, however, October 21, the same wedding dress that I wore 27 years ago will be used by a bride in Kitale, Kenya, by dear friends who had never formalized their marriage but want to do so now.  [I had preserved the dress and gave both of my wedding dresses to someone in Kitale who rents wedding dresses as a business.]  I was thrilled when I heard that and smiled at the date.  A love that continues.
Recently in Bakersfield CA, I met with a friend who had recently lost her beloved, and she shared a book with me called The Cure for Sorrow: A book of blessings for times of grief, by Jan Richardson.  I highly recommend it for those of you who are or who know of someone who is grieving.  It was written by a pastor who lost her husband and the only thing she knew how to do to get through the pain was to write blessings.  It’s amazing how when reading it my heart vividly remembers the hours, days, weeks, and months following Bob’s death…and it is important to remember.
I want to share one blessing with you from this book and pray that it will bless you as well.
Now, Beloved, We Live
Now, Beloved, we live
In a country 
that has no name

No ceremony 
for the vows
no liturgy for
how wedded,
no ritual for
our marriage
whose only shape
is this:

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Never not in
my bones.
never not in
my blood.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

without measure
given back
without reserve.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Mystery, all,
for which I see
no end but that

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Blessed, beloved,
in this country that has
no name.

I hold your heart
in my heart
that you hold.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shifting Paradigms

This week I have had the pleasure of teaching Church-based Business as Mission at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kitale, Kenya to the BA Theology Students.  Also present in the classroom were 23 trainers in training for Discipling Marketplace Leaders from Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.  One of the requirements for the students in this class is to journal their thoughts and reflections on a daily basis.  Hearing those journals is one of the highlights for me.

A senior pastor of a Deliverance Church in Kenya shared on the second day of class that paradigms were already shifting for him.  The day before we had discussed the role of business in the world, asking the questions:  "Who is the primary player in alleviating poverty?"  The answer came back, as it frequently does, as "the Church" or "Government." When asked, "Where does the Church get it's money to do ministry?"  The answer was "the members."  When asked, "Where do the members get their money?"  The answer is "Business."  When asked, "Where does Government get its money?"  Answer:  Taxes.  "Where do taxes come from?"  Answer:  Business.  But additionally, business provides a more long-term approach to poverty as businesses produce jobs, which produce salaries, which continue week after week, month after month, year after year AND allow for the creative ability of those made in the image of God to find fulfillment, which brings real happiness.

We then ask, "Who is the primary player in promoting peace?"  This particular pastor answered by saying, "We just completed a Development and Social Change class and the answer for that is the Church."  Question:  What happens in a country when people can't work and provide for their families?  (Unfortunately too many people in the room know too well that happens because of current political struggles.)  Answer:  People become angry and start demonstrating.  The answer is for the primary play for promoting peace is business.

This pastor then shared that in the development and social change class he had just been in that they had not once discussed the role that business plays in peace or poverty alleviation.  It was startling to him to recognize the huge role business plays and how the church leaves them out of the discussion at every turn.  He
went on to say that a further paradigm shift was the realization that businesses are problem solvers, and problems provide opportunities for creativity.

I love hearing the buzz of these discussions during breaks, as people challenge each other and debate this paradigms that are shifting.  Of course, the major shift is the realization that we were created for work and that work can be our act of worship.

It's not lost on us that we were able to bring this training of trainers together because of three generous business people who helped to sponsor it. We are thankful to God for business people who fulfill their calling every day to make this world a better place, to help people to flourish with their goods and services, and who preach to creation every day and help the creation reflect the image of its Creator!
Our International Team of Trainers

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Let's start at the very beginning...a very good place to start...

[A couple of updates: First, I'm currently in Uganda, about to start a two day training for pastors and church leaders in Kampala.  A number of you continue to ask about my health and I am thankful to say that I feel very healthy!  Secondly, we are so thankful to report that the match that was offered for the training of trainers was met and we are able to cover the costs of the fifteen trainers coming from five different countries to Kenya on Wednesday!  Thank you to all who gave financially and for those who pray diligently!  Oh...and if anyone was worried about me being bored, I wanted to let you know that I have started working on my Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Diplomacy. I am doing it primarily so that I will continue to have open doors to teach in seminaries and higher learning institutions, who require a Ph.D.  I burned out after my Masters, so please pray with me for wisdom and a healthy pace through this process!]

Growing up, I had very limited exposure to TV and movies (I saw my first movie in a theatre when I was fourteen - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).  Annually, however, we could expect to watch the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof at least once, usually around Christmas.  I know all the words of all the songs and they will occasionally pop into my head.

As I was heading out to the airport this past Friday, Michael put a book in my hands called The Economics of Neighborly Love by Tom Nelson.  I am so backed up in reading books right now (thanks to my loving husband's desire to bless me with many good books) but on my first flight I set aside my other books and started reading this one.  Very quickly, the song "Let's start at the very beginning..." from the Sound of Music began to go through my mind.

Tom Nelson was speaking my language...singing my tune...preaching to the choir...and when I read words that I am trying to teach, there is a sense of familiarity and home that warms the heart.

Starting at the very beginning, to me, means recognizing the incredible importance of our Great Commitment to God and this earth, found in Genesis 1 and 2.  You see, Michael gave me another book about a week ago and the author wrote that "Genesis 1-12 is all about the fall."  I stopped reading after that sentence.  That is NOT true and it completely undermines the purpose of man and of creation.  Too many people treat Genesis 1 and 2 as simply an introduction to the "real story" which, in their opinion, starts in Genesis 3; we forget that how God created man and creation was very good and that we were made to work.  Work became more complicated after the fall but work and creativity, like the image of our Creator, is what we were made to do.

Nelson spends time in Genesis 1 and 2, but I love what he did with the Good Samaritan, the parable that Jesus tells in response to the lawyer's question of "who is my neighbor" relating to the Great Commandment.  We often focus on the compassion that the good Samaritan showed but we neglect to speak of the necessity of economic capacity in the equation of being able to help a brother or sister who is hurting.  The truth in this story is that both were needed: compassion as well as economic capacity.  And where does all economic capacity come from?  From business.  The Good Samaritan was a business man.  But the hotel owner was also a business man.  Both had capacity and were willing to take risks in order to show compassion to the injured man.

Nelson says, "The Samaritan's economic capacity came from diligent labor and wise financial stewardship within an economic system where he added values to others.  If we are going to love our neighbor well, we must not only manage our financial resources well; we must also have ample financial resources to manage."

He then says this, "If we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration.  If we have capacity without compassion, we have human alienation.  If we have capacity and compassion, we have human transformation.  We have neighborly love."

Dallas Willard says this, "The task of Christian spokespersons, leaders, and professionals is to exemplify and teach foundational traits of the good life Jesus manifests.  But this must also include the more specific traits required in the public domain - industriousness, self-control, moderation, and responsibility for oneself and others.  That is the responsibility and posture of love.  The human drive to be self-supporting can be tied to a determination to be productive in order to bless others."

And that is what is too often missing in our teachings about Jesus and in our teachings in the institutional church.  Too many times pastors have told me, often with an air of confession, that they have frequently told new Christians to leave their jobs and join church work, rather than affirming and understanding the inherent goodness of work and the opportunities for being involved in human flourishing by doing work to the glory of God.  And that takes us back to Genesis 1 and 2 and our great commitment.

Our calling is not only about the Great Commission.  That was an add-on to our calling, after the fall.  Our calling is also about the Great Commandment, but we can't do that without being fruitful and multiplying, which is what we call the Great Commitment.

And Nelson pointed out a verse that I hadn't yet discovered.  We struggle with helping pastors to understand that to be "fruitful and multiply" goes beyond procreation.  But he goes back to the Hebrew language which points to the word "fruitful" in other parts of the Bible that primarily refer to the products of human labor.  He refers to Deuteronomy 28:4-5 which says, "The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock - the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.  Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed."  Being fruitful is so much broader than simply having babies!  Fruitfulness involves procreation but also productivity.

Andy Crouch, Executive Editor of Christianity Today says, "God made wheat. We make bread!  God made grapes.  We made wine!  Wheat is good.  Bread is very good!  Grapes are good, but wine is very good."  We make computer chips from sand.  We make furniture from trees.  A wealthy God designed us with that in mind.

Nelson says that "far too little has been written or taught to the rising generation of leaders about how religion and economics seamlessly intersect."  [This will be the subject of my dissertation, by the way!]  He calls the pastoral work that he was doing as a young pastor "malpractice" as he was spending most of his time equipping his members for where they spend the minority of their time, and not equipping them for where they spend the majority of their time.  He describes this as "an inconvenient truth" and states that this same malpractice that he accused himself of as "tragically common" throughout the church.

As we seek to spread this message in many different countries, cities, denominations, local churches, languages, and people groups, will you continue to pray with us that this message will take hold?  Will you pray with us that the work that we do from Monday-Saturday can be good and holy, done to the glory of God, to enable human flourishing and the loving of our neighbor?

To do that may mean that we have to start at the very beginning and let the good news of Genesis 1 and 2 wash over us and sink in, without rushing too quickly to Genesis 3...but as both Julie Andrews sings, and as our Creator says, the beginning is a very good place to start!