Sunday, January 28, 2018

No "Spoiler Alert" Needed

I'm told that there are people who like to read the last page of a book first, in order to know whether or not the book ends well.  I assume reason this is done is to ensure the book has a happy ending.  If the book has a sad ending, they will pass on the drama of reading the
whole thing.

That is definitely not me.  In fact, I frequently feel misunderstood by my family because I tend to want to watch movies that are based on real life - movies that describe the hardship and pain of life; and often these movies are frequently sad.  I started feeling badly about myself, because I would recommend a movie that I thought was beautiful and deep, troubling and thought-provoking, and people would react negatively to it, so I began to think that maybe there was something wrong with my choice of "entertainment."  How could my sad choices be entertaining?  Maybe I'm too dark.  "When I watch something, I just want to escape - I don't want to deal with reality," is the line I frequently hear.  I was sharing this with a friend, who is similar to me in personality, who said "our personality types don't like 'candy' for entertainment - we are truth seekers, seeking to understand people and human nature."  I happily accepted that assessment as part of how God has made me.

Which brings me to the story for this blog, which actually needs no spoiler alert.  EVERYONE knows the end of this story.  And that is part of the problem.  This particular story ends happily but because we know the ending, we miss out on the tension that is so crucial to the understanding of the story.

The story I am referring to is when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. We know the background of the story - the drama that is found in Abraham being asked to sacrifice a child that he has waited for his entire life; a child that was to be the beginning of the nations that would be Abraham's heritage; a child promised in such a dramatic fashion. We also know the ending to the story, but let's suspend that for a moment in light of a revelation that was new to me (maybe not new to you) and which dramatically changed the dynamics of this story.

How old was Isaac when Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice him? 

Almost every drawing or piece of art that has been made of this scene depicts Isaac as a child.  But when you read Jewish scholars and Christian theologians or commentators, you will see that almost all say that he was likely between the ages of 20-35 years old.


That changes the story for me.  Imagine now Isaac asking, "Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" as an adult.  Imagine him carrying the heavy wood and walking alongside his father,
conversing as they walked.  These were not child/daddy conversations, but adult to adult. 

But more than that, think of what these words mean: 
Genesis 22:9  "He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the alter..."

By this time, Abraham was likely to be around 125 years old, assuming that Isaac was 25 years old.  Could Abraham have bound Isaac without Isaac submitting to being bound?  Likely not. 

Can you imagine willingly allowing your father to bind you, lay you on an altar, and plan to set you on fire?  Can you imagine THAT conversation?  And yet, apparently Isaac was willing to be obedient, even unto death.

This story is as much about Abraham's faithfulness to God as it is about Isaac's submission to God. I had never caught that before.

We've all heard how this story harkens to the story of Jesus, carrying his cross, but it bears a much closer resemblance to the sacrifice of Jesus by God the Father when we understand Isaac's age.  This wasn't a child being duped by a father who didn't want to tell him what was going on until it was too late.  This was a young man willing to go toward his death.

Am I willing to be as obedient as Abraham? Am I willing to be as obedient as Isaac? Could I sacrifice this deep, to this level?

The happy ending, of course, is that God provided the lamb, both for Abraham, as well as for us.  The good news, in fact, is that Jesus died in our place.

The good news is that there is one more spoiler alert given to us by Jesus:
I, for one, am very grateful.

This week we are on the road in Nigeria, visiting various cities to meet with pastors and church leaders who have begun to implement Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  On Friday, I will leave Nigeria for Ghana where I will begin teaching at the Assemblies of God Bible College in Tamale, as well as engage with other trainings for businesses and enjoy meetings with the Hopeline Team.  I appreciate your prayers!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Update from Nigeria

Greetings from Abuja, Nigeria.  The Harmattan winds arrived in Abuja just before I did, bringing a constant look of fogginess, which is actually a very dry and dusty wind from the Sahara.  It's been 100F here during the days, which despite the dust in the air, is still preferable to me as compared to the freezing temperatures and snow in Michigan!

We just concluded a two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders, and we were excited to have two leaders from Cameroon join us as well.  Lord willing, we will start the work there in July as some of the tensions there seem to be calming down.  They were both very excited by the material and it especially struck a cord with Emeline, who is working on her PhD in Organizational Leadership and has felt called to this exact message for some time.  In fact she has written a book about this concept but felt she lacked the tools to make it practical.  We are looking forward to being with them to do a five day course with DAI Cameroon.

One of the hot topics during this particular two-day training seemed to be a resounding echo of conversations that we have had of late in the US as well, having to do with the growing sense of the irrelevancy of the Church especially by young adults.  While people love the idea of Discipling Marketplace Leaders, some are occasionally frustrated by the fact that we believe this work needs to be done through the church.  The church leaders in this workshop wondered about whether we would be willing to work with a new movement - a movement of people who are frustrated with the current institutional church and who are starting their own gatherings.  One pastor of such a church was in our midst.  He expressed that you can only try so long to change the mindset of the institutional church and its leaders before you finally give up and try to "be the change that you seek."  The frustration with the church is often the same - it is inward focused, focused on raising money, focused on programs, and existing as a sub-culture.

Dr. Walker described the challenge in a new way during this training.  He asked whether people would rather be Moses or Joshua?  Moses was involved in protecting and saving a people who were enslaved and beaten down.  Joshua was involved in taking a new generation, who had forty years to leave behind slavery, to be a people ready to conquer and take over a new land.  The miracles that God did through Moses in Egypt were many and revolved around God doing the miracles.  The miracles that God did for those entering the promised land were fewer and they revolved around the Israelites being involved with the miracles (i.e. walking around the wall).  Are our churches stuck in caring for people with a slavery mindset, who have been beaten down by the world?  We describe this as a "Come to Get" church.  Or are our churches preparing us to conquer lands and move into the Promised Land?  We describe this as a "Come to Go" church.

It was an interesting conversation.  We certainly agreed on a couple of things.  First, we need to continue to work with the existing church and sound a warning, as we are told to do in Ezekiel 33. But secondly, if God raises up a new movement, as has been done time and again throughout history, we need to be open to how the Holy Spirit moving.  It needs to be a both/and.

Please continue to pray for the Church in Nigeria.  I have been told that churches in the north are being denied the ability to renew their annual occupancy permits.  This seems to be an attempt to close down the church.  The Church definitely seems to be under persecution in some ways in some parts of Nigeria.  Thankfully, the church is more about buildings and while they may close the buildings, they can't stop the Church as the people of God!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Health and Productivity

Not long ago, the US Embassy in Kenya sent out a notification of a cholera outbreak in the country.  There have been 3000 cases with sixty deaths so far.   It made me think of a research paper that I wrote for one of my classes on the correlation between health and productivity.  We all know of organizations who do great work in addressing health issues around the world.  Two that come to mind immediately for me are Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Mercy Ships.

While we laud their work, there may be another motivation for us to address health, than simply for the sake of health.  There is a great deal of evidence that health and productivity, or the economic development of a nation, may be linked.  There is also a great deal of evidence that health and per capita income are linked.  Therefore, if the health of a person is increased, their income may be increased, which may lead to the income of an entire nation to be increased.  This is part of the reason why the Millennium Development Goals focused on health, and why the Sustainable Development Goals that I mentioned last week continue to focus on health.

As it relates to physical health, there have been great strides made around the world in the last fifty years.  According to the World Health Organization:
  •  In 1950, 280 of every 1000 children died before their fifth birthday; by 2002, that number has fallen to 120 per 1000 births in low-income countries, 37 in middle-income countries, and 7 in high income countries.   
  • Some important diseases have been largely controlled, eradicated or nearly eliminated, such as smallpox, rubella, and polio. 
  • There are 17,000 fewer children dying every day in 2012 than in 1990, however nearly 18,000 children still died every day in 2012.  There amounts to the loss of over six million children each year due to preventable diseases. 
  • Many children who survive suffer from malnutrition, malaria, and water borne diseases.   The efficiency cost of hunger is significant, as those who suffer feel weak, lacking in energy, are more susceptible to infection and other illnesses, and may have physical and cognitive impairment due to nutrient deficiencies.   
  • One study suggests that the elimination of undernourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa would raise the economic growth rate from 0.34-4.63 percentage points.  Another study showed that an increase in calories intake by employees increased productivity in a construction firm in Kenya and agricultural productivity in Sierra Leone.  Current evidence indicates that undernutrition is the underlying cause of death in an estimated 45% of all deaths among children under the age of five. Malnutrition or undernourishment can be tied to income.    
  • Malaria is another significant disease that affects the supply of labor due to the high death rate and the productivity of laborers to the point that economists suggest that the growth rate of a country may decrease by 0.23-1.3%.  
  • Malaria can be contracted almost regardless of income.  According to the World Health Organization, 3.2 billion people are at risk for contracting malaria; in 2013, 198 million cases occurred, and the disease killed approximately 584,000 people.   On average, malaria kills a child every minute.
  •  Tuberculosis is one of the world’s biggest infectious killers with an estimated nine million new cases in 2013, and an estimated 1.5 million deaths. 
  • Waterborne diseases kill two million children annually per year, and include such diseases as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and work infections, to name just a few.   Adults more typically survive these diseases but their productivity is impaired while sick.   Water borne diseases can very much be tied to income.
  • Child labor continues to be a widespread problem as well, which often results in physical stunting of children, as well as exposure to cruel and exploitative working conditions.   The International Labor Office (ILO) estimates that there are around 120 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are working fulltime, with another 130 million children working half time.These numbers do not include those children who work at home for their parents or guardians.  However simply banning child labor will not improve the situation, as many of the children survive from the meager wages that are earned.   Rather, raising the per capita income may result in a decrease in child labor and an increase in health.
There have been significant improvements in health however it is apparent that there remains a great deal of work to be done.   The impact of bad health on the human capital within a country is significant and can significantly impact a person’s personal income, a country’s productivity, and the national GDP.

This chart shows the correlation between health and income, and the effect on life, very well.

Development is sometimes referred to as a "headless heart" when it is done only based on
compassion without looking at the big picture.  This reminder of the importance of health on productivity, which then leads to the health of nations and its citizens, reminds us that people are the solution when given a fair and equal opportunity, such as health.

[Side note:  The other interesting thing that I read recently is that they continue to measure happiness of citizens in various nations, and have found that happiness levels off after people reach a certain income level (and it's not that high of an income level either).  This diplomat then said that countries make a mistake when they continue to make it their singular goal to see that their country continue to grow in wealth year after year...maybe the focus needs to be somewhere else...something to think about.]

Monday, January 8, 2018

Extreme Poverty Worldwide and in Sub-Saharan Africa

I wrote a few months ago that I have started my PhD in Sustainable Development and Diplomacy.  I have completed my first class, am well into my second class, and have started the research that will go toward my dissertation.

The study of Sustainable Development has been a source of interest for me for many years.  Many of you are familiar with the Millennium Development Goals that were set forward by the UN through the partnership of 189 countries in the year 2000 and which concluded in 2015.  There were eight key goals, which included halving extreme poverty, a goal that was reported to be accomplished.  Since then, a new initiative has started, called Sustainable Development Goals, which has 17 goals to be achieved by the year 2030.

The first of the Sustainable Development Goals is to "end extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere" (  It also seeks to ensure :social protection for poor and vulnerable people, to increase access to basic services, and to support those harmed by conflict and climate-related disasters."  This is a lofty goal and it would be amazing if it could be accomplished.  But we need to dig a bit deeper.

The UN site states that, in 2013, an estimated 767 million people lived below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day — down from 1.7 billion people in 1999. That figure reflects a decrease in the global poverty rate from 28 per cent in 1999 to 11 per cent in 2013. The most significant progress was seen in Eastern and SouthEastern Asia, where the rate declined from 35 per cent in 1999 to 3 per cent in 2013. In contrast, 42 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa continued to subsist in conditions of extreme poverty in 2013.

These results sound very impressive, and often when people are asked how these results were accomplished (which I have asked many times) the answer often is "through aid and development programs run by the UN or large international non-profits."  However, that is not the case.  Much of the recent reduction in extreme poverty was achieved NOT by aid programs but by business development and employment, specifically in India and China.  For China, much of it came in the form of manufacturing.  For India, much of it has come through the service industry.

This is very important for us to realize and bears repeating:  The massive reduction of those living in extreme poverty came because of business development and the creation of jobs.  

It is amazing what China and India have accomplished, as can be seen in the table below.  China went from 60% in extreme poverty to 4% and India went from 45% to 15%.  Wow!  Amazing!  Praise God!

Unfortunately, while the number of people globally who live in extreme poverty is reducing, it is still increasing in Sub-Saharan Africa as shown by this table:

Sub-Saharan Africa went from 276 million in extreme poverty to 389 million.  If you look at the percentages, it looks like there has been progress - 54% to 41%, but the actual number of people living in extreme poverty increased by 113 million people.  That is shocking and disheartening, and tells me the efforts we have made in business development are very small and not enough.

Next week Monday I leave for Nigeria, where the ministry of Discipling Marketplace Leaders is progressing in Abuja, Kaduna, Jos, and Lagos.  Yet Nigeria is one of the key countries struggling with an increase in poverty, which I referred to in a blog in November of last year.

Quartz Africa, which is a news website, says this:
Despite its vast oil riches and impressive economic growth, Nigeria has struggled to lift its people out of poverty over the past three decades.  That fact stands out in the World Bank's 2017 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals which shows that 35 million more Nigerians were living in extreme poverty in 2013 than in 1990.  The Atlas tracks the progress countries are making to meet 17 development goals set out by the United Nations, such as reducing economic inequality, the use of clean energy, and literacy rates.  Among the 10 most populous countries for which data is available, only Nigeria recorded an increase in the number of citizens who live in extreme poverty over the period of the study.  The Atlas defines "extreme poverty" as living on less than $1.90 a day. 

Can Nigeria reverse this trend?  What will it take for the most populous country in Africa, teeming with the potential for innovation and entrepreneurship, to make a difference not only for Nigerians but as a leader in Sub-Saharan Africa?

What will the next thirteen years bring for ending extreme poverty and which countries will take the lead and how?  What is the role of the global church in this?  What can you and I do as individuals, following our calling to compassion and having a mind and heart for the poor?

Please pray along with us over these next weeks as we seek to change the mindset about work and teach business skills that can help businesses grow to the next level.