Monday, June 25, 2018

"Do You Want Gold?"

Writing from Ghana airport this past Friday, waiting for our cancelled flight to Nigeria to be rescheduled, I felt tired yet energized.  It was a long week with teaching from Monday-Friday, 9 am-4pm.  We had two different groups of pastors and church leaders, about 80 in all:  one group came on Monday-Tuesday; one group came on Thursday-Friday.  Wednesday was a workshop with the Ghana Christian University faculty and staff, doing some dialogue about opportunities and challenges, including the opportunity to engage the concept of “Work as Worship” in their Development Management programs, Nursing programs, Theology programs, and others.

While we were praying together on Tuesday morning, Fanny (Founder and Director of Hopeline Institute) shared that she felt she heard God’s voice asking, “Do you want gold?  You have gold before you.”  She believed this was referring to the message of Discipling Marketplace Leaders and the very real need and opportunity to reach the Marketplace for Christ through the Church.  By Friday afternoon, Fanny had organized what she is calling the “DML Movement” made up of twelve key strategic leaders.  They will have their first meeting in a few weeks to strategize how to make this call to reclaim the redeemed Marketplace, through DML, a National Movement in Ghana.

As a Director of Hopeline Institute, Fanny oversees 44 staff persons in three different units:  Training, Projects, and Microfinance.  They are a great team of men and women who are striving to do their work as an act of worship unto the Lord.  God is using them to bless and encourage so many.  How does one start a movement?  There are probably many ways, but I believe that the Holy Spirit and Fanny are a good mix to do it!

As you may remember, DML started working with Hopeline in Ghana in 2016 in Tamale,  This past week, while I was teaching, my colleague Barbie Odom had the opportunity to travel to Tamale to visit some of the businesses who went through the DML business training and some of the pastors who have been guiding the DML ministry in their church. She was very encouraged by what she saw.  One of the business women who produces a local juice from beesap (hibiscus) shared with Barbie how her business has been growing over time and how DML has helped.  In the picture you see a coin balanced on her finger, and she shared that when she started, she was able to put one coin aside after another to save and increase the business; she has now risen to the level where she has labelled her bottles and has had good growth.
the Northern Region of Ghana.

Pastor Adams oversees a total of five churches in this rural area and is also a maize farmer and pig farmer.  He is pictured here with his five-year-old son in their maize field (which is struggling with the army worm), and that is one of his delightful pigs in the picture below.

Five more churches are about to begin the training for their business people in the northern part of Ghana, and now we pray this movement of God will pick up in Accra as well through this new team of people.
This week will have two days of training in Lagos (Monday-Tuesday), and then three days of training in Ibadan (Thursday-Saturday).  Please pray for strength and health for us (last week had a few health challenges), that the word of God may go out and that people may be inspired, through the Holy Spirit, to reclaim our relationship to creation and to work.
The second group of Pastors and Church leaders at GCU

Isn't this just the cutest picture?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Bird Strike

When an airborne bird hits an airplane it is called a "bird strike."  It is important to avoid a BASH (Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard) when flying.  These are real terms. It's a real thing.  Birds can crack a windshield of a plane.  Maybe you remember the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, where an airbus came down after being struck by a flock of birds.

Nothing that dramatic happened to me on my way to Ghana, thankfully.  But the plane I was supposed to take from Brussels to Accra had a bird strike when landing, which resulted in a two hour delay as that plane was damaged and then assessed, and then another two hour delay as a new plane was made ready (because the other was too damaged), and then another two hour delay as the crew was then close to being over their allowed hours on shift.

It's always interesting to be around a group of people who get bad news like that together.  Crowds tend to bond and do so quickly with bad news.  While they may spend eight hours in close proximity on a plane and never speak to each other, they will talk and shout and reason together when told of a delay.  There were many upset people, which is not unusual for a delay.  If you fly, you've probably seen it.

But then it became about Africa.  In Brussels, they have a special terminal for African flights.  You have to take a shuttle to get to it, as it is in a separate building.  From the anger I heard (I didn't do the research myself) that there are no water fountains in that terminal and that there is only one restaurant in that terminal.  And suddenly people were talking about the need to file complaints and work together to make changes.

I don't fully understand the Brussel airport because I usually fly Delta instead of United, but for this flight United was a lot cheaper.  I don't understand why they had signs up for "African flights" to go this way or that.  I didn't see those signs for Asian flights or South American flights, etc.  But in this day and age, you don't expect there to be such overt segregation, so I'm imagining (possibly naively) that there could be another reason for a separate terminal.  I don't want to jump to conclusions and judge.  But maybe there isn't another reason (I've also seen enough racism to know that it can still be so).

And so a bird strike turns into a discussion on racism.

And as I waited, it made me think about the impact of small things in our lives, and how they ripple out.

300 people inconvenienced by a bird.  If each person had one person waiting for them in Ghana, that is 600 people.  A number of people talked about the functions that they had to get to and were going to miss because of this delay.  So maybe 300 more people impacted.  Suddenly we are over 1000.  The people in Togo (where we were rerouted) were yelling when they boarded because of how they were inconvenienced, and then again the same for those being picked up in Accra, after we were dropped off.  And the ripples go out. Unintended consequences.  Collateral damage.

I think about the ripples in our lives from little things that happen.  Something said without thinking can cause emotional damage that can last for years.  A glance at a phone when driving that can take a person's life.  How quickly things can change and how frequently we have to deal with the impact of these ripples.

And it's amazing to me that my faith tells me that God is in control of my life and that He can work things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  All these details.  All these people.  From little ripples to crashing waves.

I don't believe in a God who eliminates waves or ripples.  I don't believe in a God who promises a cushy life with smooth sailing.  That life is coming.  It's called heaven.  For now, it's comfort enough to know that He can give strength and purpose as the waves crash over, or as the little ripples disturb the peace.

How I live through these ripples matters.  How I am a testimony in these ripples matter.

And so, a dead bird reminds me of the great God that I have the privilege to serve.  A dead bird reminds me of a great God who gives me purpose and peace.  And the dead bird reminds me to be careful of the ripples I make, the unintended consequences that I bring, and the collateral damage that I cause.

I'm sorry for the bird.  But it's death was not in vain.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Back to West Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon

On Thursday, I leave for West Africa.  It looks to be a busy trip as it will cover three countries in about four and a half weeks:  Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon.  Our teachings will cover all three of Discipling Marketplace Leaders audiences:  Christian universities/seminaries, Churches, and Businesses.  Our travelling team, who will meet our country teams in each place, will consist of Barbie Odom of Oklahoma, Dr. Walker of California, Rev. Johnson Asare of Nothern Ghana, and myself.  These trips take a great deal of planning and coordination with our in-country partners, and this trip has been in the works for about six months.  It is good to see it coming close.

Our time in Ghana will be primarily with Ghana Christian University, where we will do two two-day workshops with about 100 pastors and church leaders, and then also spend one whole day with the faculty and administrators of the university to help them know how to integrate the idea of "work as worship" into the various departments of the University (Nursing, Theology, Marketing, Management, Business, and Engineering).  We are privileged to have the President of the University very much on board with this - they had been trying to integrate business as mission into their setting but lacked the tools for how to do it.   We are excited to join them.

Our time in Nigeria will be in five different cities:  Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Kaduna, and Jos.  We will be conducting two different trainings for businesses (Jos and Ibadan), two two-day trainings for pastors and church leaders (Ibadan and Kaduna), an intro meeting with a new group in Abuja, and follow-up meetings with DML pastors in Lagos.  In addition, we will be teaching classes for the ECWA seminary in Abuja. We do ask for your prayers for safety as we travel from place to place, as the number of kidnappings for ransom in Nigeria continue to be on the rise due to economic hardships.  95% of the kidnappings are of Nigerians, and most of the time a ransom is paid, which fuels more kidnappings.

Our time in Cameroon will be our first foray into this country and we will be starting in the capital of Yaoundé.  We were to start in Cameroon in January but due to conflict there, it was advised that we wait until July.  We have been busy having our materials translated into French.  Cameroon was colonized by the British and the French, resulting in "French Cameroon" and "British Cameroon", although for a time before that the Germans were there, as well as the Portuguese.  French Cameroon became independent in 1961 but British Cameroon waffled between the choices of staying separate, joining Nigeria, or unifying with French Cameroon.  Cameroon became a one party state in 1966, and there has been ongoing clashes between different groups from time to time since then, with the most recent struggles being the English-speaking Cameroonians claiming oppression from the French-speaking Cameroonians.  In 1990, a multi-party system was established.  There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Cameroon, which continues to be a major producer of cocoa and coffee.

The religious affiliations of Cameroon can be seen in the graph.  Cameroon ranks at 153 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index, and 163 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank.  So there are lots of challenges, or as we like to say more appropriately, lots of opportunities in Cameroon.

We look forward to seeing what God will do in our travels as we seek to join Him in His work.  We covet your prayers!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Enduring Beyond the Elephant, by Hannah

The loss of a parent has far reaching consequences on a child, both emotional and physical.  Hannah was a very healthy child and teenager, up until Bob died.  I don't know if she would have had these challenges had Bob lived, but I do know that I am so proud of this young lady! 

Hannah volunteered to write this blog, so please hear from her:

In 2010, after Dad died, I wrote about how I felt as though there was an elephant weighing on me, constantly with me, and that elephant was Grief.  And, though the elephant would never truly go away, eventually I would become stronger and would be able to bear the elephant without feeling so bent, so broken, so lost and alone.

The last eight years have been full for me- full of times of light and laughter, but also a lot of darkness and at times, it felt as though my back was not only bearing the elephant of Grief, but also the weight of constant fatigue and depression, which then dragged me mentally into some places of deeply negative self-image and insecurity.  There have been moments where Mom has said she feels like she has “Old Hannah” back, the girl that Dad said was a girl who loved life and loved to laugh.  Those moments have been few and far between.

These years have seen me diagnosed with Hypersomnia in 2013, and then Hypothyroidism in 2016- two disorders that give the constant fatigue a name and I learned the power of giving a name to that which is harming you in order to defeat it.  The diagnosis of both of these disorders helped me beyond what I can express.  I felt more free to be me.  I still feel tired often, but no longer feel burdened by inescapable, unavoidable exhaustion.

2017 was a year of dizziness and headaches, a concussion, and general frustration.  This, thankfully, is less of an issue now- I am able to take medication for the daily migraines which caused the dizziness and headaches initially, and the symptoms of the concussion are pretty much all gone.  I am incredibly grateful for this, for my family who got me through some incredibly stressful experiences, and for a church family that kept praying for me and loving on me throughout the challenges of the last year and a half. 

Being made physically better, or at least making progress in so many areas, did a lot to make me feel better physically.  However, mentally, I was still struggling, and in ways of which I was not fully aware.  In 2016, I began isolating myself socially- for no real reason, other than I had graduated from Calvin and was happy to embrace my introverted side.  And I embraced it wholeheartedly.  The longest period I went without seeing anyone outside of work or church on Sundays was close to four months - and I thought I was perfectly happy with that.  I did not understand why my best friend, Grace, or my mom were a little uncomfortable with my contentment despite my lack of community and solid friendships.  
Hannah and Grace

I didn’t realize then what I realize now- I was deeply uncomfortable in my own skin, uncomfortable around people, and constantly feeling as though I needed to monitor myself nonstop in social settings in order to be socially accepted.  I had no confidence in myself and was incredibly hard on myself- or my mom would say, I was mean, brutal even, to myself, on a regular basis.  Being only in my own head lead to some dangerous self-talk.  I had gained weight in college, so I was constantly worried about food but unable to stop eating.  My self-confidence had never been great, and I was always worried about my weight, even when I was healthy, but at this point, I was overweight and very aware of how uncomfortable I was in my own skin.

Mom dubbed last year, 2017, the Year of Getting Hannah Healthy- both emotionally and physically.  A little ironic, as I was diagnosed with migraines and received a concussion in that year, but regardless, we took steps to see that I was becoming a healthy adult.  We didn’t know that the process would take us well into 2018 to see real progress being made, but that is the reality.  I regularly saw a counselor, who is amazing and who I still see often, and I joined Weight Watchers, which has been one of the most unexpectedly rewarding experiences of my life.  Unexpected because I was convinced that I was unable to lose weight, unable to stop gaining weight, and doomed to feel miserable in my own skin for the rest of my life.  I have been blessed by Weight Watchers both by losing 45 pounds and by totally changing by mindset when it comes to food, as well as when it comes to how I view myself.  I began to learn to love myself before I even saw a lot of weight loss because of a great leader at the meeting I attend and slowly but surely, I began to understand that I was worth the effort I was putting into the program.  It wasn’t to make the world accept me or love me; I wasn’t changing for anyone, I was doing it because I was worth it.  I was worth feeling good and happy with myself, no matter what the end result.

Counseling and Weight Watchers, plus the constant love and support of my family and friends, particularly my best friends Grace and Hannah, have gotten me through some dark and challenging years.  I have been blessed by being surrounded by those who love me, with a faith that has sustained me, and a God who has loved me even when I did not believe in His love quite enough to feel it for myself.  I have also been blessed by being born in America, where medical care and insurance are both available.  Being born white, and thus privileged, with two parents who were able to attend college and graduate school has helped as well, as both my mom and dad have helped me in this journey- my mom in her constant love, support, and ability to speak into my life, and my dad through the lessons of love and life he gave me before he died.  
Seeking the help I needed was essential to where I am today.  I received it from an incredible counselor, as well as from Weight Watchers, which was a less conventional source but totally transformative for me.  God works through so many ways, and I have been blessed.  In a year, I will be done with my Masters in Social Work.  I hope to continue to learn who I am, and continue on a much healthier path than I have ever been on.  I have been given so much, and I know that much will be required of me.  I often think of this verse from the Desert song by Hillsong United now: “This is my prayer in the harvest, when favor and providence flow; I know I’m filled to be emptied again, the seed I’ve received I will sow.”  I look with anxious anticipation for how God will use me, now that I am out of something of a desert and hopefully able to be nurtured to a healthy place out of which I can pour into others.