Tuesday, December 31, 2019

For Everything There is a Season

Today is a significant day.

Yes, it's New Year's Eve and a time when everyone reflects on the past year.
Yes, it's the last day of this decade and it's a time when we can reflect on the past ten years.

But for me, this day has more significance.  It is a day of recognizing seasons.

It is also a day of realizing, with some surprise, the significance of the number seven in my life.  Seven indicates the number of completeness in the Bible and I was startled to realize, upon reflection, the four distinct seasons of seven years that I have had in my life.

Today is the last day that Restorers, a non-profit in Grand Rapids that was partnered with five different churches to work with neighbors in the Madison-Hall community, is closing.  This is a ministry that I had a hand in starting when I was a deacon with Madison Square Church.  The late Norm Katerberg had the idea to buy the building at 1413 Madison and he donated it to Restorers.  The late Jane Lambers sat with me in that empty building, with two chairs and a table, wondering what God was going to call us to do.

I served as Executive Director of that ministry for seven years (1998-2005), and when I left it had nine employees, eleven programs, a robust partnership with neighbors and neighborhood churches, as well as the local public school.  It was a delightful, albeit challenging, seven years.  It served the community for 22 years and today it is closing its doors.

For everything, there is a season.

From Restorers, we moved to Liberia and then to Ghana.  I worked with Partners Worldwide for seven years (2005-2012).  While I lost Bob during that time, God was also doing some amazing things in me and with me.  I remember saying that I wasn't leaving Ghana because while Bob's call was done, I did not have the assurance that my call was also done.

In 2012, I met Dr. Walker from International Christian Ministries.  After a series of conversations about my frustration regarding the business as mission movement not working through the church and his frustration regarding the church not moving into the marketplace, I was invited to move to Kenya to see what God might have me do through pastors.

For everything, there is a season and in 2012, I realized that my season with Partners Worldwide was over.

Seven years ago, I went alone to Kenya to teach pastors at ICM's Africa Theological Seminary to teach them about business as mission.  I started with a class of twelve pastors.  We started a pilot project with one pastor and one church.  In seven years, we have grown to nine countries, working with 30,000 churches that have more than 12 million members.  

And now, today is the last day that Discipling Marketplace Leaders is housed under International Christian Ministries.  For seven years (2013-2019), ICM allowed DML to start, explore, expand, and grow.  In 2018, we recognized that it was time for DML to stand on its own.  To be honest, I fought that idea for some time because I know the responsibilities of running a stand-alone ministry.  It is more comfortable to be under ICM than to branch out.  But God was bringing more people who were saying with a louder voice that the time has come.

Little did I realize, until just recently, that seven years have passed again.

For everything, there is a season.

And as I do the math, I realize that Bob and I got married in 1990.  In 1997, we moved into the Madison-Hall neighborhood, which led to the starting of Restorers.  Another seven-year season.

Today, I am grateful to ICM for their partnership and we look forward to continuing to partner with them in 2020, as we begin to work with ICM Burundi (in addition to on-going work with ICM Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania).  I am uneasy about DML starting on its own, but I am thankful for new partners like Paul Soper, Emeline Nde, and our new board of directors who will help to guide this work.

But more than anything, I am grateful to my God and Father, who continues to guide and shape and move according to His seasons.  The fact that I have seen these distinct seasons of seven gives me goosebumps as it has the fingerprint of God on it.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time."

As you reflect on this past year and this past decade, I pray that you too see the fingerprint of God on your life.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Still Time to Give for 2019

Dear Friends,

We sent out an appeal at the beginning of December indicating that we are hoping to raise $50,000 this month to reach our budgeted donation goal of $340,000 and start the new year in a positive position.  To date, we have raised $41,000, which puts us $9,000 away from our goal yet.

We know that many of you will give yet in the last few days of December, so we want to remind you of this opportunity to join with us in the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  And we also want to remind you of what you "get" when you join us:
  • A church unleashed from the building to be the church every day of the week, in every sphere of influence (30,000 churches in nine countries, with more than 14 million members!)
  • Pastors who teach and disciple their members to work with a quadruple bottom line, making disciples, loving neighbors, being fruitful, and caring for the earth.
  • Christians who have a growing understanding that work is an act of worship; that worship goes beyond singing songs on Sunday to the use of time and talent as a way to worship God.
  • Christians doing their work with the goal of helping people (customers and employees) flourish, rather than having the primary goal of profit.
  • Poverty alleviation as businesses grow and wealth is increased, and job creation, which is so critical in Africa, as unemployment is so high.
And I could go on.  But I think these are amazing outcomes that can be transformational for the church to find its way back into the Marketplace!

Please consider joining us if you are not already doing so.  We believe that 2020 will be a year of even more open doors as God continues to call His people in His Global Church to be torchbearers for Him in every workplace!

To give directly to DML, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org/donate to give online or to see instructions on other ways of giving.
To give through Resonate (Canadians, please use this one!), please go to www.resonateglobalmission.org/donate, and select "Missionaries - Africa" and then select my name in the dropdown.
To give through ICM-USA, please go to www.icmusa.org/donate, and select Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

Thank you!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Blessed Christmas to All

It's been quite a year for the ministry of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  It's been a year of great growth and also of significant losses.  It's been a year of blessings and spiritual warfare.  It's been a year of both exceptional highs and lows.

For many of our African Implementing Partners, it's been the same.  There were economic growth and jobs created, but there were also currency exchange challenges, religious and ethnic challenges, and some natural disasters.  There were denominations who joined the DML movement and churches who became distracted and lost progress.

Additionally, the Global Church made some progress in key areas in this past year but struggled fundamentally in other ways that are deeply painful for the testimony of Christians.

Maybe each year feels this way.  We reflect and are thankful, while at the same time wondering what is changing?  What progress is being made?  How different are we today from the struggles of last year?  Ten years ago?  One hundred years ago?  One thousand years ago?

How long, Lord, will you tarry?

We make our plans for 2020.  We try to discern the voice of the Lord and His will.  We try not to get ahead but to listen for His voice.

There is much work to be done.  There is the opportunity for revival and reformation if we stay the course.

I remind myself every day to be thankful for life and to remember that all I have is today.  I remind myself each day that I am responsible to be obedient - I am not responsible for results.

I was reminded yesterday in church of how the "things of earth will grow strangely dim" when we turn our eyes upon Jesus.  We keep our eyes focused on Him.

And so, as we spend time in this season remembering this great gift we have been given, we are aware of not only how we receive this gift, but how this gift spurs us into action.  2 Corinthians 5:14 reminds us that Christ's love compels us - as we have been loved much, so we, in turn, love much. And so we strive to do this every day.  And we are joined with many on this path - not doing it perfectly but striving to do it well and putting one foot in front of the other every day.

Thank you for those who have modeled Christ's love to us and with us and through us, as you have prayed, encouraged, and supported this ministry in this past year.

From the DML family, we wish you a blessed Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Watch this brief video to learn more about DML!

In October, Emeline Nde (Deputy International Coordinator for DML) and I had the opportunity to travel to Kansas City to participate with the organization, Significant Matters (www.significantmatters.com).  The goal of this organization is to rethink the way churches look at missions for the 21st century, create sustainable solutions and create room for business-minded people who can help make that happen.  I highly recommend them if your church is looking at how to engage missions in a relevant and meaningful way.  

One of the ways in which they do this is to gather speakers who are doing new and innovative things in the way of missions and have them give a talk that is like a Ted talk - a fifteen-minute talk that explains and highlights the way that churches can be relevant in missions.  Discipling Marketplace Leaders was blessed with the opportunity to join them this year and talk about our work.  Our brief video is below and I would encourage you to watch if you have wondered about what, why, and how we are doing our work.

Thank you for watching!

Monday, December 9, 2019

As we grow, will you join us?

Dear Friends,

The song, "Look what the Lord has done" has been running through my mind in the last few weeks.  The year 2019 has brought its fair share of challenges and, praise the Lord, also its fair share of opportunities and joys!  When I reflect on the growth of the "work as worship" message in the church, and the seriousness with which a number of denominations are approaching this message, it fills me with thankfulness and joyfulness to our Father in Heaven. Enjoy seeing some of the numbers from the first three quarters of 2019!

With growth also comes growing pains.  As we continue to grow and expand, we recognized a year ago that it was time for DML to become its own 501c3.  ICM gave its blessing for this transition and we have been spending time developing a Board, branding, and the necessary infrastructure.  The good news is that we have been blessed with volunteers who help to reduce our administrative costs.  And the administrative costs we do incur are being covered by a donor so that 100% of your donations will go directly to the work in Africa!

We would humbly request your prayers as we go through these transitions, while at the same time we continue to share the message of DML and the method for church and business development.  Because of the growth of DML in this last year, we are facing a deficit and need to raise $50,000 in December.  Historically we have raised $25,000 during December, so we are hoping and praying that God's people will hear this request and respond.  Additionally, we will have more expenses in this next year as we expand the work of DML to Burkina Faso and Zambia.

To give to DML directly, please go to www.disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org/donate.  Again, no admin fee will be taken from these donations, however, you can also continue to give through Resonate (www.resonateglobalmission.org which has a 6% admin fee) or through ICM (www.icmusa.org/donate which has a 10% admin fee).  Instructions on how to donate stock or give by text can also be found on our website.

We are so thankful for each person who has sacrificed their time, treasure, and talents to help to grow this ministry so that the members of the Church can be released from the building to be the church every day of the week in the four corners of the marketplace.

In Christ,

Monday, December 2, 2019

How Much is Enough?

Following Thanksgiving and heading into Christmas, I have been pondering the question of how much is enough.  It was a recent introduction to a brother in Christ that stirred this question again in my mind.

Jim North picked us up from the airport in Kansas City, when Emeline Nde (Deputy Coordinator for DML) and I arrived there to record our SAT talk (similar to a Ted Talk but focussing on missions).  We chatted on the way to the hotel and I learned that Jim is a businessman and an entrepreneur at heart.  Over the next few days, I got to know Jim and his wife a bit better, but it was only just before we were all heading back out to the airport that I learned something significant about Jim's story.
Jim and Dawn North

We were having our last lunch together as a group, and Jim stood up and asked if he could share something.  What he shared captured my heart and I asked him to write it up for me to share with you.  It is inspiring and has caused me to have a number of similar conversations with others since then.  I hope you will be inspired as well.  We need more people like Jim North who have the courage to say, "Enough."

How Much is Enough?

Like many folks, some years back my wife and I began to consider our post-retirement financial needs.  Although our plan was not extremely detailed, we had some idea how much we would need in retirement savings to augment social security and a small pension to meet our needs throughout a normal life expectancy.  We felt we were on track to meet those financial objectives when a somewhat routine investment and set of business circumstances unexpectedly gave us a leap forward.  We realized that as I hit my early fifties, we had pretty much reached our retirement savings objective.  We felt that God had blessed us for some reason so considered what our next steps should be in response.  As the primary breadwinner, I had a good job which I enjoyed and my wife was a schoolteacher, work which she enjoyed.  One option was for us to continue forward as a dual-income household, build a better retirement fund, have more available to give toward charity/ministries and allow us to have more stuff.  Quite frankly, this option had a lot of appeal and seemed very "safe."  We decided, however, to take a different path.

We decided that we had "enough" and I would leave my job/career and give my time to helping others in whatever way I could.  My wife would be the primary breadwinner.  For us, deciding we had enough meant we could get off the "more is better" train and be content with what we have.  This became a very liberating moment and informed our major financial decisions from there on out.

We both got involved in working with people on the margins and began to invest our savings in houses that we rented to those struggling to find affordable housing.  We based the rent we charged on a 5-6% return on our investment (which was equivalent to what we had been earning).  In every case, this allowed us to charge rents that were well below market rates (sometimes as much as 50% lower).  Also, since we only had to be concerned with maintaining our capital, we told all our renters we would sell them the house they occupied for whatever we had invested in it if they could someday qualify for a mortgage.  Again, having enough meant we did not strive to personally benefit from appreciation in property values but, instead, could pass that along to those who would benefit more.  It has been very satisfying to see some of our renters be able to become homeowners and start off with a good amount of equity.

It has now been over 17 years since I left my job and we are glad we made the decisions we did.  We still have enough and have been able to be a part of people's lives in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.  

I would encourage anyone who has been blessed with more than they need to decide "how much is enough" and let that decision lead them forward in helping others with their time and resources.

Jim told us that he took $100,000 out of his retirement and bought their first apartment building and only charged $400/500 per month (even though he could have charged double that amount) just to recoup the interest that he would have earned if he had left his money in his retirement fund.  The capital was safe in the building.

I love this radical and courageous thinking and 2 Corinthians 8:11-15 comes to mind.  This text is looking at a church that has fallen on hard times and Paul is encouraging them toward equality and unity together by generous giving.  Jim and Dawn embody this text, in my opinion.  Not everybody can do this of course, but probably more of us should consider this:
Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving.  Give in proportion to what you have.  Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly.  And give according to what you have, not what you don't have.  Of course, I don't mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves.  I only mean that there should be some equality.  Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need.  Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it.  In this way, things will be equal.  As the Scripture says, "Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough."

Sunday, November 24, 2019

"Taught to give, but not to get."

It is the week of Thanksgiving in the US.  It is a week when many of us reflect with thankfulness for the blessings of God in the past year.  God has given each of us three resources of time, treasure, and talent, and we can give thanks for how those three have been used in this last year.

Thanksgiving is followed by "Black Friday" (which I won't comment on) and then with "Giving Tuesday" a few days later.  The idea of giving following a reflection on blessings makes sense. 

But it brings to mind a conversation that we recently had at a DML event in Nigeria.  We were meeting with a businessman from Jos, Nigeria who expressed, with some frustration, that the church regularly teaches and pressures members to give, but never seems to teach them how to get.  The church often thinks of "getting" as "worldly" or "secular" but then seems to have no problem accepting the giving regardless of how it was obtained. 

This businessman said, "Does the church not understand that in order to give, one needs to get?  And is there not an understanding that how we "get" is important?"  

We reflected together on how many countries with populations of majority Christian are often very high in terms of corruption. Christians fill the church buildings on Sunday but don't remember to BE the church once they leave the building and enter the marketplace.  We believe that they have been taught that "giving is worship" but they have not been discipled to the purpose of doing "work as worship."

He was preaching to the choir but I like the way he put it. We are taught to give.  But we are not taught how to get.  As I was discussing this over the weekend with my mom, she pointed out that many of us give IN ORDER to get (if not in this lifetime, at least to get us into heaven).  That adds another layer of complexity to the whole discussion but that also needs to be addressed by the church.  It's difficult, in my experience, to find seminaries that have classes that address these issues with pastors, despite the fact that the majority of adult members of all churches work and are expected to get and to give.

It's not that the Bible doesn't speak about this.  Did you know that there are more than 2000 verses in the Bible about money?  That one in seven verses in the New Testament is about money?  That Jesus spoke more about money than heaven and hell combined?  The instructions in Genesis 1:28 are clear in God's directive to humankind to be fruitful and multiply the resources that He generously gave. 

Rev. Dr. Tongoi from Kenya said that no pastor should ask for a tithe until he/she has taught the members about how to do their work as an act of worship and with integrity AND has taught them financial freedom and how to budget.  Then a tithe can be requested.  

It's a different perspective on Thanksgiving.  Colossians 3:21 instructs fathers not to exasperate their children or they may grow discouraged.  I think many Christians are discouraged as they have great pressure to give to the Church and to the poor, but are not taught how to get.  Or alternatively, the place where they get - the Marketplace - is treated as "less than" or a place of corruption.  I don't think we can have it both ways.  We can't continue to ask for money with one hand but ignore or discredit where and how that money was obtained.

And there are so many people who do their work as an act of worship.  So many role models that can be highlighted in church services for "getting" in ways that honor God and help people to flourish.  

I am thankful that in this last year I have been able to meet many of them in many different countries, cities, towns, and villages.  

Which brings me back to Thanksgiving.  I am so thankful that God has allowed me to join Him in the work of reminding people of the ministry of business and the sacred calling in work that is done "as unto the Lord."  And we couldn't do this ministry without you!  

There are those of you who give of your treasure, and we are thankful!  
There are those of you who give of your time through prayer and encouragement, and we are thankful!  
There are those of you who give of your talent by volunteering or serving as mentors, and we are thankful!

I leave you with a picture of one of our new partners in Burkina Faso, for whom we are also thankful, as they commit to take the message of "work as worship" to their network of churches!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Onward to Burkina Faso

It was a great week in Nigeria with the DML team from West Africa.  We laughed, we cried, we worshipped, we shared, we debated, and we learned.  We spent most of our time in meetings and then we had one day of an outing to an organic farm with aquaponics and hydroponics.  Wonderful lessons learned in farming!  I'll include some shots from this past week.  We are so thankful for your prayers that allowed for both equipping and encouraging of these ambassadors for God.  We are also so very thankful for those who donated to make this event possible.  We are recognizing how critical it is for the teams to gather together to share best practices for disseminating the message in their various contexts.  They are a creative bunch and are finding innovative ways to reach the gate-keepers of the church and the marketplace.

A highlight of this past week now feeds into this week, as we head to Burkina Faso.  Both men who attended our regional conference from Ouagadougou (the capital of Burkina Faso) are decision-makers for major denominations: one for the Assemblies of God Church with 6000 churches and the other for Christian Missionary Alliance with 1000 churches.  Both say they want to sign an MOU with us to carry out the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry in their denominations.  This is not the first time that they have heard the DML message, as they have attended several DML trainings in Ghana.  But now they are ready to take the next step.  Praise God!

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country of about 20 million people, with French as the official language.  It has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, with each woman having an average of 5.7 children in 2016.  The median age in Burkina Faso is 17.1 years of age and it is projected that by 2050 (just thirty years from now!) the population will more than double to 43 million.  Muslims are the majority in this country, with 61.5%, Roman Catholic are 23.3%, traditional/animist are 7.8%, and Protestant Christian are only 6.5%.

 We have also been told that Muslims do the majority of business in the country.  Christians tend to believe that business is dirty work and that they should stay out of business.  So our challenge in this next week will be to remind Christians of the Biblical call to do business, like the patriarchs before us.  We will be meeting with the pastors and leaders of the fourteen evangelical denominations in Burkina Faso from Monday - Thursday.  Please pray for this time together, that the Holy Spirit may move in a mighty way!
The West Africa Regional Team:  Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Liberia

The Nigerian team (only four of seven pictured here), which is blessed with pastors, missionaries, businesspeople, and two vets!

Dr. Walker, Paul Soper, and myself, looking quite ready to go out and be farmers...or something like that!

A beautiful time of intercessory prayer together

Monday, November 4, 2019

Equip: Encourage, Enlighten, and Empower

"To equip the saints for the work of the ministry."  Ephesians 4:12

This is one of the foundational scriptures for DML.  We seek to equip the local church so that they can equip the saints who are in the Marketplace, to be the church every day of the week.

To do this, we have teams in the nine countries where we work, who are equipping pastors, church leaders, denominational leaders, as well as micro, small and medium-size businesspeople.

We believe that there are a number of things that constitute equipping:  encouraging, enlightening, and empowering.

So this week, we have called for our West African Teams to come together in Abuja, Nigeria for a period of equipping.

While I was writing this blog about equipping, Dr. Gaga arrived at the conference center and greeted me.  We sat down to talk and he began to share about how God has shown him something new about what it means to be equipping and what it means to be equipped.  With great excitement, he shared that some are called to be equipping the saints.  For example, Matthew was a tax collector, and he was called away from his work to equip the saints.  But Zacchaeus was also a tax collector and Jesus equipped him to do his work the right way.   Zacchaeus didn't stop being a tax collector - but he was equipped to do it with justice, integrity, and with Jesus as His Savior.  God cares about both - those who are equipping and those who are equipped.  For too long, he said, the church has been focused only on those who are equipping and neglecting the work of the equipped.

I love it!  Our heart's desire is for people to own this message and continue to seek God as He reveals Himself to each of us in His own way!  Dr. Gaga is on fire for this ministry and is being very creative in how it is done in his own context!

===Now back to the blog I was writing====

Would you please join us in prayer for this week, praying for each of them, as well as for the team together, during this time?  Assuming some of you will say yes, I will give you their names:
  • We have two teams from Cameroon:  two from our partnership with DAI Cameroon:  Joy and Pastor Williams; and two from ALAACS, a microfinance bank in Cameroon:  Maxcelline and Delphine.
  • We have one team from Ghana (the other team was not able to make it):  Pastor Derek and Kwame.
  • We have one team from Burkina Faso:  Rev. Dr. Phillippe and Theophile.
  • We have one person from our Liberia/Sierra Leone team:  Rev. Tage
  • We have eight people from our Nigeria team:  Dr. Gaga, Freeman, Ibrahim, Rev. Nevan, Rev. Raheem, Dr. Bode, Solomon, and Mrs. Bose.
  • In addition, we have Paul Soper who has joined Dr. Walker and me for the US team.

This brings us to a total of 21 people for the week from six different countries.  All come with their own personal challenges as well as challenges in their nations.  All come with their preconceived notions for what this week will bring.  

Our desire is to be present to the Holy Spirit during this time and have the right balance between empowering, encouraging, and enlightening.  My personal tendency is to focus more on the enlightening (improving the method of how to deliver this ministry as well as making sure we are all on the same page regarding the message), and I tend to fall short on the encouragement part.

Please pray for wisdom for us as we go through this week, that we may have a good balance of prayer time, sharing, learning, and growing.  We believe that God is opening doors of opportunity for the Church in Africa to receive this message through a number of different denominations and these leaders are strategically placed to help facilitate that.

Last year, we met together as a DML team for the first time in Ghana.  At that time we were able to bring together eighteen members of our team from West and East Africa.  This year, we decided to do two regional meetings, one in East Africa and one in West Africa.  Thanks to many of you and your generous support, we were able to bring together 43 team members, from ten different partnerships, and additionally denominational leaders from four major denominations.  We are so thankful to God for your financial support and your prayer support!
Our regional meeting team from 2018.  We gave all team members a bottle with a water filter (which they are holding on their heads just to be fun!), to help us work toward an environmental bottom line.  This year we are requesting all of our partners to be creative with their workshops and move away from giving multiple plastic bottles of water daily.  Our hosts have stepped up to the task for this regional meeting!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Lord's Prayer: Declaration or Call to Action?

I leave today for Nigeria.  It was three long months ago that I returned from Nigeria to begin a surprisingly long passage of health issues, and it now feels great to get back to what I love to do.  In Nigeria, we will have the West Africa Regional DML meeting, with teams from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, and Burkina Faso in attendance.  From Nigeria, we will go to Burkina Faso for workshops with the Assemblies of God Church.  Please pray with us for these meetings!

In the meantime, let me share some thoughts that I have had recently about the Lord's Prayer.  The Lord's Prayer, from Matthew 6, is a beloved prayer that many of us memorized at a young age if we grew up in the church. I have studied it, quoted it, and taught on it.

But it's only been in the last few years that I have come to see it with a different perspective.

I had always read this as a prayer where we are asking God to do a number of different things:  letting His Kingdom come, His will be done, giving us our daily bread, leading us not into temptation, and delivering us from evil.

There was one phrase where there seemed to be mutual activity:  Forgive us as we forgive our debtors.

In many ways, this prayer is read as a declaration: "May it be done!"  We speak or sing it with authority and passion.

But in more recent years, I have begun to see this prayer as a call to action.  I have begun to see it as a mirror.

As image-bearers, I am to reflect my Creator and through me, all should see the One in whose image I have been created.

That means that if His name is to be hallowed, I need to treat it with respect.

If His Kingdom is to come and His will is to be done, I need to know what that looks like and how to do it.

I need to figure out what His will in Heaven is so that I can replicate it on earth.  Isaiah 65:17-25 gives us some great clues.

If I want my daily bread, I need to use my time, talent, and treasure in order to be able to have that bread to eat.

We can't pray this prayer and then sit on our hands and wait for God to make it happen.  He created us on purpose (Psalm 139) and for a purpose (Ephesians 3:12), and He expects us to join Him in the work of reconciling this earth to Himself.

To be honest, I like this prayer better when I could pray it and then breathe a sigh of relief that He will take care of it...that He will get it done.  And of course, He can.  In the blink of an eye.  But He invites us to join Him.

He beckons us to watch what He is doing and join in the process.  He understands that joining Him in this process is not just for obedience.  He understands that it's not just so others will know of Him.  It is also because it brings us joy.  When we do something that is greater than ourselves, it brings true happiness.

This is the God we serve.  Multiple levels of fulfillment.  The opportunity to mirror to others the Most High God.  He shines through our weaknesses and failures and continues to engage us and use us.

Father, give us wisdom and strength to let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and courage to obey.  Then, may we be transformed to be more and more like you.

Monday, October 21, 2019

From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals

I had the privilege this past week to spend time in Kansas City with a number of like-minded people who are focused on building capacity with the Church through equipping and unleashing business people to be the Church every day of the week.  Not surprisingly, we were a small group of about 25.  Most people either take the church route or the business route and not very many people are committed to equipping workplace leaders through the church.

It was nice to be in the company of like-minded people for a few days.  Most of them are focused here in the US, and I heard a lot of stories that reminded me of my times with Restorers in Grand Rapids, and doing community development with a holistic view of working with the community.

Our purpose in being together was to record 15-minute talks, like Ted Talks but focused on Sustainable and Transformational Missions (SAT talks).  While there, I heard Larry Sharp of IBEC Ventures say, "We need to move from professional missionaries to missional professionals."  As a former missionary himself, I appreciated his words.

I often cringe a little when I hear people talk with a good amount of disdain towards missionaries and the costs that are spent on relocation for missionaries.  I remember my former pastor said to us before we moved to Liberia that we should rather invest in a national person rather than move ourselves.  I'd like to think that while that may have been a cheaper investment, there was a needed information/technology transfer that needed to happen through these ex-pats called the Reeds.

I have had a few choice words myself for missionaries over the years, as I have seen missionaries who live in very sheltered communities, living in houses that they likely couldn't afford in the US, with househelp doing a lot of the work at home.  They tend to mix only with other missionaries and often talk down about the people that they are there to love and serve.

But there are many, many missionaries who do not live and work that way.  Many sacrifice family, friends, comfort, safety, not to mention having to raise support, and have lost a lot, in the process.

I do agree that the model of missions is changing, however.  There is not as great a need as there was at one time for people to move permanently to a place.  There can be found great capacity in nationals, and it is important for our model of missions to change.

The SAT talks (www.sattalks.org) is a great resource for Church mission groups to learn about what others are doing in these changing times.  Significant Matters (the organization behind SAT talks) does workshops called Missions 3.0 to help people adjust their missions model to these changing times.  Take a look at this chart to see the changing population of Christians by continent from the 1900s and through a projection in 2050 (sorry about the poor quality photo).

But I do love the concept of Missional Professionals.  Every person on mission in their place of work, not just to make disciples (which is important!) but to love their neighbor/co-worker/customer, to do quality work that allows others to flourish, and to be stewards of this earth and its resources as managers, not owners.

I continue to dream about what that would look like if the 2.3 billion Christians did their work as an act of worship every day, and every church equipped the saints for the work of the ministry, not in the church building but in every corner of the marketplace.

The times, they are a'changin.  And we need to keep pace.

Update on travel:  I was supposed to leave this week for Cameroon, but after three weeks and three attempts at a visa, the Cameroon Embassy in Washington DC denied me for reasons that made no sense.  So we had to cancel the Cameroon portion of this next trip, and so next week we will leave for Nigeria for our West African Regional DML meeting, and then on to Burkina Faso after that.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"The US is not a Christian nation, and it never has been."

In recent weeks, I have been spending time with Christian organizations whose goal is church multiplication:  one church for every 1000 people.  This is a lofty goal and it sounds great.  But it
evoked a deeper question for me.

What kind of churches are being created?  We can have one church for every 1000 people, but what type of transformation will those churches bring to our communities, cities, and nations?  The authentic mark of the Global Church is transformation in people, who then have an effect on their environment.  However, churches do not necessarily bring transformation.

Kenya is an example of a people who claim to be 80% Christian, but according to the Transparency International survey of corruption, they are also "80% corrupt."  How can this happen in a country so full of Christians and of churches?  I would argue that more churches are NOT the answer, but the answer lies in churches who disciple and release their people to BE the church every day of the week.

If churches don't necessarily bring transformation, what does?  Recently in the US, there have been people speaking with longing of a time when we were more of a "Christian nation."

But can there actually be a Christian nation?

I believe that "Christian" is more of a noun than an adjective.  Can there actually be a Christian song?  A Christian radio station?  A Christian book? Being a Christian is being a Christ-follower.  An inanimate object cannot do that.  People make the decision to follow Christ.  A song can be sung by a Christian.  A book can be written by a Christian who desires to shed more light on Christ.  A radio station can be owned by Christians who have the heart to share the gospel.

Last week, our pastor, Joy Bonnema, preached a sermon about nationalism and patriotism.  She said, "The US is not a Christian nation and it never has been."  She stated that faith cannot be legislated by the government.  She cited cases where when religion has been legislated, and it has often been disastrous for "the foreigner," whom we are instructed to love (think crusades, slavery, etc).  We love to think that the US was founded as a Christian nation, but our own constitution at that time did not give rights to women, to Native Americans, and African-Americans were considered to be 3/5ths of a person.  These principles are not Christian.  The Founding Fathers of this country desired separation of church and state, as well as freedom from the religious wars.

But she said that the US is not a Christian nation NOT because of those things, as terrible as they are, but because no government can declare a nation to be Christian.  It doesn't work that way, because to be Christian means to be "in Christ."

And then Pastor Joy said words that rang deep in my soul, as it is our tagline for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  She said, "Jesus' vision was not to establish a Christian nation.  It was unleashing the Church, that is empowered and enlightened by the Spirit, to bear radical witness to the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, no earthly government can quash the Kingdom of God.  It doesn't matter who the administration or its leaders happen to be.  She said that the greatest threat to our faith and our witness isn't from any government but from our own sin and our failure to live out the witness of God in all areas of our lives.

The way God ushers in His Kingdom is not through legislation but through living it out our faith every day of the week, in every area of our lives.

Do I hear an amen?

A pastor in Kenya, after going through our training, said, "Church begins on Monday.  Sunday is maintenance/garage time."

If we are planting those kinds of churches, then let's get busy because the transformation of our communities won't be far behind.

This week I speak at a missions conference in Kansas City and am praying for good dialogue about this!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Wave of Death

A few weeks ago, my car was totaled by what my insurance agency called a "wave of death."  This is what they describe as the behavior of someone who wants to be polite, who happens to have the right of way, and who waves either a pedestrian or another vehicle into traffic.  This driver may believe they are performing a selfless act for a stranger, when in fact, they are putting that person or vehicle in potentially mortal danger.

This was the case with me.  I was in the righthand lane with no stop sign or stoplight in the vicinity.  A vehicle in the lefthand lane decided, for some unknown reason, to stop to give the wave of death to an oncoming pickup truck who wanted to turn left into a side street.  That driver did not see me coming and I had no idea that this truck was about to turn in front of me, and that was it.   My 18-year-old Subaru, which had 187,000 miles on it, and could have gone for another 100,000 miles, was finished.  His truck was barely damaged and he happened to have no insurance (but still stayed at the scene, which the police said was very unusual!).

Three weeks prior to this event, I had been released from the hospital after having a number of different infections, viruses, and parasites, and was then told by my doctor a few days later that they suspected that I had multiple myeloma (cancer of the blood). I was referred to a hematology oncologist.  There was a sense of a different kind of "wave of death" that rolled over our family as we weighed this news.  The following week, I ended up in the emergency room again as my heart began to act up, and I ended up with a heart monitor for the next two weeks, and a heart rate that continues to be erratic.

And then the accident.

What was going on?  Was it a series of unfortunate events?  Was it a spiritual attack?  Was it testing? All of the above?  None of the above?  There was a lot of speculation.

Regardless, this past week we met again with the hematology oncologist and he informed us that he does not believe I have cancer.  He believes that I was sick enough that my numbers have been thrown off and continue to be off from that series of illnesses.  There is speculation that my heart issues may also stem from issues surrounding the viruses and may eventually settle down, although this week I will have an echocardiogram yet to ensure that my heart is okay.

We are very thankful to God for healing and for the ability to continue with work and ministry.  While we experience a "wave of death" which brings potentially mortal danger into our path, it is truly a gift to know that God is close by and is in control, regardless of the outcome.

I heard a song recently that has been playing in my head over and over again.  It is called "Surrounded" by Michael W. Smith and is quite repetitive, but it needed to be that way for me to finally settle into my brain.  It says, "And I believe you've overcome and I will lift my song of praise for what you've done...so my weapons are praise and thanksgiving.  This is how I fight my battles."  It then goes on to say, "It may look like I'm surrounded, but I'm surrounded by You."

Whatever "wave of death" that you may sense around you, I pray that you remember who it is that surrounds you.  And continue to fight your battles with the weapons of praise and thanksgiving.

Oh, and if you drive, resist the urge to be a good samaritan on the road when you can't fully control traffic.  You may be saving a life by denying a goodwill gesture.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Don't tell me you're too busy

I heard a speaker recently who told me the same unfortunate information that my pastor has told me for years:  don't use busyness as an excuse.  I have passed this message on to many of my students over the years.  My pastor would say, "Stop saying you are too busy.  Get control of your schedule."

I say that is unfortunate information because saying "I'm so busy" is such a nice excuse for not getting something done or for getting sympathy from the listener.  Taking the ability away to use that line means that I have to manage my time and make sure that my "yes means yes."  Think of the number of times we have either heard or used that line.  As the meme states, we can often use that line as a competition with our peers to "one-up" each other in terms of bragging about our work or demand.

But this speaker that I heard last week went further.  He told his staff that they were not allowed to say that they were too busy to get this or that done.  They were only allowed to say, "I didn't get it done, because it was not a priority to me."


That will make you pause and think before opening your mouth regarding not getting something done.

Figuring out our priorities and how to spend our time is important.  Of the three resources that God has given us (time, treasure, and talent), time is the only non-renewable resource of the three.  Losing the ability to say "I was busy" and having to rephrase it to "It wasn't a priority for me" can really help us sort out what we can and can't do in the short amount of time we have.

May God help us!

Monday, September 23, 2019

DML is growing up

On Thursday, at our DML meet and greet event, we informed our friends and partners that Discipling Marketplace Leaders will be spinning off from International Christian Ministries by the end of 2019.  Discipling Marketplace Leaders started under ICM in 2013 and has received a very gracious growing space from them.

However, as DML has been growing quite rapidly, we believe it is time that we form our own 501c3 in order to have a Board of Directors that is more directly involved in how this particular ministry grows, especially as the number of partner ministries that we network with also grows.  The DML leadership and the ICM leadership spoke about this growing realization and ICM has given its blessing to DML to spin-off on its own.

This is both exciting and scary at the same time.  It is exciting to watch the growth of this ministry and how God is using it to build His church.  It is exciting to be told by partners that it is time for a prayerful, thoughtful team to give leadership to DML, who can be more objective than Dr. Walker or myself who are "deep in the forest and often can't see the trees."

This is the third ministry that I have been involved in starting, and the second time I have gone through the process to get non-profit status.  There is a tremendous amount of safety being under another organization's umbrella as it relates to accounting, audits, and legalities.  Dealing with bureaucracy is not my favorite thing to do, so it is scary as well.  I am the type of person who likes to "set up shop" and not necessarily "keep shop."  So I know that this is the type of thing that drains me of energy rather than gives it, but again the time is right for this to happen.

So we are going through a rebranding process, looking at DML from all different angles as we prepare for this launch.  One of the things we are looking very seriously at is how our ministry can also fulfill a quadruple bottom line: missionally, socially, environmentally, and economically.  If we preach it, we also need to do it!

This week I will be in Texas, with the Global Alliance for Church Multiplication forum, looking specifically at how the Marketplace is used to grow the church through a number of other ministries around the world.  These are the types of things that we want to get better at as a ministry - networking and continuing to watch where God is working and join Him in that work.

More updates to come!

Monday, September 16, 2019

News from Discipling Marketplace Leaders

This week is an exciting week for us.  Both Dr. Walker and Emeline Nde, DML-USA staff, will be coming to Grand Rapids as we will be doing a professional video shoot of our two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders, that can be reproduced for our teams in Africa.  They have been asking for this for a long time, and we have a number of copies of videos that were done on-site but the quality, especially sound, has not been good, so we are going to do the "real deal" this week.

Additionally, we are having a "Meet and Greet" on Thursday evening for friends of DML to hear the exciting things that God is doing to grow, build and equip His Church in Africa through DML.  If you are in the Grand Rapids area and would like to join us, please email me at renita@disciplingmarketplaceleaders.org for more details.

The opportunity to share these stories comes on the heels of the DML East Africa Regional Meeting that just took place on the Nile River in Uganda, with our teams from Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya (the teams are in the boat that is pictured).

Hearing them share their stories, their ideas, and how God is working with them to share this message AND the DML method, was inspiring for the teams.  At this particular meeting, we not only had our five teams from four countries, but we also had key denominational leaders from the four denominations that we are working with join these meetings.  This ended up being a very good investment, as the picture of how to implement this ministry became much clearer during those days together.

As the Church grows in Africa, and as the population and economy grow in Africa, we believe that Africa has the potential to fulfill the Great Commission IF it can unlock its members from the building, to be the church every day of the week in the Marketplace.

Enjoy some pictures from our teams, and thank you for praying and supporting this ministry!

Uganda DML Team, with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God reps.

Tanzania DML Team, with Full Victory Gospel Ministries reps.

Kenya DML Team, with Anglican Church of Kenya reps.

Ethiopia Teams, with reps from Kibir and the Kale Heywet Church