Sunday, December 31, 2017

Examining Our Life

Happy New Year to all!

It is during this time that many of us spend time reflecting on the past year and anticipating what may be coming in 2018.  I was sent the following blog and found it to be very helpful in framing the thought process, and so I thought today would be a good day to share it with you, in case you too may find it helpful.

From our family to yours, we wish you all a blessed year, filled with God's grace, mercy and peace!

The Great Annual Examen
Reflecting BACK on the past 12 months and anticipating the NEXT 12 months

400 years ago, Ignatius of Loyola crafted a genius way of prayer. His method helped a person reflect back upon their day and their life in terms of how one experienced God.  He developed a prayer called, The Daily Examen. It is both a challenging and comforting way to trace the movement of God in one’s life. After having spent a solid year in study, reflection and prayer using Ignatius’ method of prayer, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ignatius was a genius. I only wish now that I had known about this decades earlier. Never before, had anyone in the history of the church, shared such a bold new way of spending time with God, ourselves and our own hearts.  This Great Annual Examen is based on Ignatius’ way of reflection and prayer.

Ignatius developed a prayer called, the Daily Examen. It’s a method where we take the past 24 hours to think and pray through our day to raise the awareness of our own hearts of how God has moved within the past 24 hours. This method was something I made a commitment to do for one hour a day during every day of 2017. It’s been revolutionary. (At the bottom of this blog, I offer you a link to some resources that i recommend).  But I wanted something more as a review of our year–a way of thinking and praying through the past 12 months as a way of giving us a sort of GPS–a way to really see where we are right now on life’s journey and by God’s grace and help–to get to where we want to go!

As we all have our pro’s and con’s with New Year Resolutions, I wanted to see if I might develop what I want to call The Great Annual Examen. It’s a simple question and answer exercise where you work through some questions to help you reflect on the past year and anticipate the next year to come. It’s called the examen” because in this exercise we take an examination of how we’ve done” in life—on the journey and in different aspects. In some ways, many of us will admit that this past year has undone” us—we’ve felt spent, done or only surviving and perhaps barely surviving at that! However you reflect upon this past year, it’s my hope that you’ll have a GPS—a sort of marker that will help you discern where you are and how you are and where you want to go this next year.

It is a way of reviewing the past 12 months but in doing so, to allow ourselves to evaluate our life in 5 major categories: our physical health, our emotional health, our relational health, our vocational health, and our spiritual health. While every part of life is indeed spiritual, we may find it helpful to break down life into a few major categories. I’ve done this for you here and given you a final category of your spiritual life to help you reflect more in a focused way on you and God.
Sit with each category and work through the questions slowly. Slow is the key. This is not an exercise where the first response is the right response.” In fact, in thinking more deeply about each question, you will probably find that a longer look—and a lingering reflection will allow issues and concerns to rise that a quick response will simply negate.

Take a few days to do this rather than one sitting. Take the days between Christmas and the New Year for example. By looking back and gaining insight, we will not be so apt as to repeat the mistakes we made this past year.

Section 1: General Examination of My Life

These 10 questions will help prime the pump for you to be reflective and mindful of your past year
  1. What are the most important events that have happened to me or in me this past year?
  2. What are the greatest breakthroughs in any category of my life this past year? (physical, emotionally, relationally, vocationally, spiritually, with other people)
  3. What has been my greatest struggle in my life this past year?
  4. What has been my greatest and deepest loss this past year?
  5. What has been the area that has consumed my thinking, attention and focus this past year? (health, relationship, future, etc)
  6. Where have I felt most vulnerable in my life? (What area of your life do you feel the most naked, susceptible, and exposed?)
  7. Where I have I most experienced the presence of God this past year and why?
  8. In the past 12 months, where I have experienced the greatest sense of consolation (peace, happiness, contentment, shalom, serenity, beauty, etc).
  9. In the past 12 months, what area of my life has given me the most desolation (pre-occupation, distress, sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, brutality, etc)
  10. What ONE word would tend to sum up this past year?
Section Two: Five Categories of My Life

My physical health:
  1. List five words that describe my physical condition and well-being this past year.
  2. How many hours of sleep can I honestly say I get each night? (8 is recommended).
  3. What choices have you given attention to regarding your health this past 12 months?
  4. What specific goals do you want to achieve in the future 12 months (better blood pressure, weight management, exercise, etc)
My Emotional Health
  1. List five FEELINGS that you believe had dominated (positive or negative from your perspective) your life this past year:
  2. What were you doing; who were you doing this with and where were you physically when you believe you were the HAPPIEST this past year:
  3. What were you doing; who were you doing this with and where were you when you experienced the greatest feeling of SADNESS this past year:
  4. What area of your life gives you the greatest sense of internal stress?
  5. How do you feel about your emotional well-being this past year?

My Vocational Health
  1. List five words which best describe your job/vocation/career?
  2. This past year, have you lived to work or worked to live? Circle one or the other.
  3. Is your job right now giving you a sense of contentment and satisfaction? Why or why not?
  4. How are you feeling about your vocational journey:
  • I want to make a change this next year.
  • I want to continue as I am and just as I am.
  • I would like to use this next year to study and prepare for a vocational change.
  • I want to reassess and evaluate my vocational journey this next year.
  • I want to re-position myself in regard to my work this next year.

  • I believe I work ____________ hours a week. Next year, I would like to work ___________ hours a week. To do this, I will need to :
My Relational Health
  1. List the names of people who have been life-giving to you this past year:
  2. Give a letter grade to your over-all sense of having community—a sense of sharing life with a few other people. A-Excellent, B-Very good. C-Average D-Really lacking in friends
  3. If your life style and work schedule and present realities conducive to having the relationships you feel you both want and need. Explain more in a few sentences.
My Spiritual Health
  1. List five words that would describe your spiritual health: (distant, intimate, excellent, very poor, no time for God, etc)
  2. How would you describe your prayer life this past year?
  3. How do you feel about how you have worshipped this past year?
  4. Describe how you are feeling about your church experience:
  5. What feels lacking to you in terms of your relationship with God?
  6. How has your image of God changed or matured this past year?
  7. List five words that would characterize your image of God?
  8. How has your relationship with God been challenged this past year?
  9. What are the 3 most important spiritual take-a-ways from this past year that you never want to forget:
  10. Where was your deepest spiritual struggle—the place of the greatest wrestling with God or the place of your deepest lament?
  11. What people do you feel the most spiritually connected to in your life:
Prayer of Gratitude:

End your time of The Annual Great Examen in a time of prayer. Express your heart in gratitude for all the specific things, events, people, and growth you’ve experienced or witnessed. Be specific in your thanksgiving. Consider doing a Prayer of Gratitude using an acrostic of G-R-A-T-I-T-U-D-E. With each letter of GRATITUDE, express thanks for something specific. Example:  G- I am grateful for my sister G-loria.

Prayer for the Future Year:

Spend some moments asking for God’s blessing on the future 12 months. Consider praying the beautiful prayer of Thomas Merton:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Consider the Blessing by the Irish Priest, John O’Donohue. 
For Longing
Poem by John O’Donohue

blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.
may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.
may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.


Here is a link where I recommend the top books I believe are good for the soul to read; and I give several spiritual exercises including the Daily Examen for your consideration:  Here’s the Link for Resources

Developed by Stephen W. Smith,  President and Spiritual Director of Potter’s Inn (The Great Annual Examen is version 1:1, December 2017, All rights reserved and Copyrighted @2017. Stephen W. Smith  Links are provided for further reading and study and books recommended are found at the bottom of this document).


Monday, December 18, 2017

Boko Haram and the House of Rechab

Jeremiah 35 tells the story of the obedience of the Rechabites, who resisted assimilating the culture they were in for over two hundred years.  They were commended by God for their obedience and faithfulness to their father, Rechab, in abstaining from wine, from building houses, from sowing seeds, and from planting vineyards.  It wasn't that God was commending them from abstaining from wine or building houses, and certainly not from sowing seeds - God is clearly pro-house and pro-planting (and pro-wine, given the first miracle that Jesus performed).  God was commending them for their obedience, faithfulness, and steadfastness, despite the pressures around them.
The spread of Boko Haram in Nigeria

Recently, in Jos Nigeria, I met a man named David who has set up a ministry called the "House of Rechab" where internally displaced children from the villages where Boko Haram has attacked in various parts of Nigeria are being cared for.  He told me the story of how this work started.  He is a pastor and had been working with a missions organization when he felt God was calling him to open his home to children.  Very soon after hearing that call, a pastor from Northern Nigeria approached him to ask if he could take some children who had lost their homes - their parents had no place for them as they too were homeless because of Boko Haram.  Pastor David said he could take some, and the very next day 24 children showed up at his four bedroom home.  He and his wife took them in.  Two weeks later, 52 children came in one day, and the next day 130 children came.  (!!!  That seems so calm to write it that way.  I think I would have said, " can't take all of these children!!!)  He went from 24 children to 200 children in about 48 hours.  Many were brought by family members who had lost everything because of Boko Haram, asking him to keep their children until they could get re-established again.

Boko Haram is an Islamic terrorist sect, operating mostly in the northern part of Nigeria for the past six years.  Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have lost their homes because of Boko Haram, and many have found themselves in refugee camps in Cameroon or other neighboring countries, or in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Nigeria.  Life in these camps is challenging, to put it mildly, and finding a place for your children where they can have access to education, and also experience religious tolerance and peace, is critical for their health and development.  Many families avoid IDP camps or refuge camps, choosing instead to find a safe place for their children as they seek to re-establish themselves in another village or town.

Pastor David had learned about Discipling Marketplace Leaders following the two day workshop that was held in Jos this past July.  When I met with him a few weeks ago, he told me that God had been speaking to him about this concept of "work as worship" already and that is why it resonated with him so soundly.  He now has about 286 children and is in a much bigger facility (they grew to over 325 at one point but some children have been able to return to their families, which is their goal).  He has taken his church, which is also located at their facility, through the "Thirty Days in the Marketplace" and has challenged the older children (ages 16+) to start small businesses, giving them 1000-3000 Naira loans ($3-$9 US) to start doing something.  He told us that he has also encouraged his staff to do something in terms of running a business and not just rely on the small stipend they get from the ministry.  One staff member told us that Pastor David told him to start using his car for a taxi business when he finished his shift at the House of Rechab in the evenings, and now it has generated enough income for him to start a hair salon where he is employing one young man. 

We pulled in some of the older youth to ask them what they had learned from Thirty Days in the Marketplace, and it was amazing to hear their testimonies.  They talked about how work and business is a good thing; how Jesus was a carpenter; how the disciples worked; how Job was a successful business person; how they need to be producers and not just consumers; that success comes through prayer and hard work.  Clearly Pastor David is teaching them well!
Tomato greenhouse

We then walked around the property and could see the entrepreneurial side of Pastor David as well.  They have two greenhouses which are producing great amounts of tomatoes and cucumbers.  They have a vegetable stand where they are selling their produce.  They have fish ponds in development.  They are making liquid soap, bar soap, and detergents, which are also for sale.

For our next steps with them (as Discipling Marketplace Leaders), we will take the 45+ young adults at the House of Rechab, along with the thirty staff, through our microbusiness training, where they will learn key concepts about how to start and run a successful business.  Please pray with us for this training and for this ministry; please also pray about the challenges regarding Boko Haram in Nigeria, and for wisdom and justice on the part of the Nigeria government.

May we all act with the courage, the commitment, the steadfastness, and the faithfulness of the Rechabites, as well as this current group called the House of Rechab, in being obedient to our Lord!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Politically Correct

I've been writing this blog now for seven years (2010-2017).  Wow!  That means that I've been writing it two years longer than Bob (2005-2010).  That means that some of you have been following Reedsinthewind for twelve years!

Writing a blog on a weekly basis has been therapeutic for me in many ways.  I view it as a journal of sorts to help me process my experiences, my relationship to God and others, and the ministry in which I'm involved.  I usually write it over the weekend.  Many of you have said that you enjoy reading it Monday mornings as you get back into the office and into a work routine.  So for me that means that usually Friday night or Saturday morning, I am figuring out what to write and writing it; editing it Sunday evening, and then publishing Monday morning.

Sometimes ideas come easily.  Sometimes I have several ideas and I save them as drafts, to return to them later when ideas come a bit slower.  I try to write about my family, my faith, and my work.  But other times, it is difficult to know what to say.  I try to share about the ministry, its joys and challenges, but not bring the ever-present need for support which allows this ministry to continue.  I worry about wasting your time.  I worry about not taking enough time to write with clarity or with a depth that God might want me to use in such a forum.

But mostly I worry about misrepresenting Africa, its people, its beauty, its culture, and its struggles.  I have to be politically correct.  And I don't always like being politically correct.

There are stories that I could tell you that would keep you up at night.  There are stories that I could tell you that would make you worry about me and others who work in Africa.  There are stories that I could tell you that would break your heart about what so many people go through in various parts of Africa.  These are real stories.  These are difficult stories.  And these are stories that are revealed to me because of trust and friendship.

I want to share these stories so that you can pray.  I want to share these stories so you appreciate how good life is in North America (despite what seems like nonstop complaining that I hear).  But I'm afraid that if I share these stories, it will paint Africa with a brush and a stereotype that is not fair.

You see, while these stories are true, they also just tell one aspect of the story.  People tend to remember the negative and forget the positive.  We tend to repeat the dramatic and forget the mundane.  This is why the news is so full of the bad stories.  That is also why too many ministries manipulate people by telling the bad, sad, heart-tugging stories in order to get donations.  Too many ministries also exaggerate their accomplishments to also make you think your donation is going to make a huge difference.  And life doesn't work that way.

And so I ponder these things in my heart.  I bring them before the Lord.  And I vent my anger at injustice, pain, and sorrow to people close to me (mostly Michael, who gets an earful with each trip!).

So I want you to know that I work hard at being politically correct.  But it is a stretch and it is a struggle.  I don't always get it right.  But while I believe that the US has its issues, this is a very comfortable country comparatively speaking.  I would still rather live in sub-Saharan Africa than the US, because of the earthy reality of life that is not hidden behind closed doors.

As I wrote before, my family and I were able to enjoy Thanksgiving in Canada and did the touristy thing of visiting the CN Tower and the Ripley's Aquarium, which was very cool!  Here are some family pictures.

Hannah and Noah letting their hands get chewed by "cleaner shrimp."  Love the look on Hannah's face.
Noah's Hannah petting a bamboo shark.
My mom delighting in being with her grandkids.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Child Trafficking

[A number of you have written me about the matching grant for my support as to how long it goes and it will be available until the end of December. Thank you!]

I recently heard a news report on child trafficking in Haiti.  They said in this report that if you support an orphanage in Haiti, you are supporting child trafficking.  Click here for full news report.

Harsh statement.

As I think back to the orphanages that I have seen across Africa, I know there have been times when that term applies.  The taking of children from parents and bringing them to an orphanage, promising a better life, but not delivering on that promise, is unfortunately a common practice.  Parents who love their children, being pressured to give them up because of poverty.  I remember a family in Liberia who had beautiful twin girls, told of frequent visits from one particular orphanage director, trying to talk the parents into giving up their girls, telling the parents that they (the orphanage) could give the girls a better future than they could as parents.  Four out of five children in an orphanage in Haiti have at least one living parent.  I would guess the same is true in many parts of Africa.

Some (dare I say many?) orphanages then intentionally keep children in squalor to pull on the hearts of generous North Americans who can't resist helping a poor child. They intentionally keep conditions harsh, keep resources from the children, overcrowd rooms, in the hopes of getting more donations.  This is what leads to the label of trafficking.

Many are saying that orphanages should be banished around the world.  Orphanages are a relatively new phenomenon in Africa, where traditionally a child would be taken in by relatives if the parents died.

What is definitely true is that we need not just have a heart to help the poor...but we also need a mind to help the poor.  Putting children in institutions, away from their parents, makes no logical sense.  Helping parents to keep their children, to be able to afford to meet the needs of their children educationally, nutritionally, and medically, is where the concentration needs to be.

One of the things that we have begun to hammer with people is that the only institution that is at the root of poverty alleviation is business.  When people say that church or government is the primary player in terms of poverty alleviation, we ask, "Where do churches get money?  Where do governments get money?"  The answer always is from members/citizens, who get their money from business.  Business is involved in wealth creation.  Church and government are involved in wealth redistribution.

So we have become bolder at telling people to become wealth creators.  To not look to the church or government for relief, but to diversify their income streams by doing something, however small.  Too many people are graduating across Africa with degrees but there are no jobs.  As Poverty Cure says, we need to train job makers, not job takers.

So let's educate ourselves about orphanages.  Let's stop supporting the part industry that removes children from their parents.  And lets figure out how to help the poor in ways that will provide long-term sustainable changes.

In this Christmas season, have a heart for the poor.  But also have a mind for the poor.  Find ways that can help families to keep their children, the best and most loving choice for almost all children.