Sunday, March 31, 2019

Heart-breaking and Back-breaking

On Saturday morning, I worked with my students on their income and expenditure analysis and the budget that they formed for their family (we work on both personal as well as organizational/church budgeting).

One pastor showed me his budget, which wasn't balancing, and we looked for options of where he could reduce expenses to help his budget balance.  I noticed he had about $33 in his food budget for the month and asked him how many people that was supporting.  He said six people...and added that it wasn't enough.  Not an option for cutting expenses.

Another pastor had 50% of his income going to rent. No wonder it was difficult for him to balance his budget.

Three of my students aren't working - they are all adults in their late 20s to early 50s - and are trying to survive on about $100/month.

Very tough to make ends meet.

Not only that, but a key difference between African budgets and American budgets is the number of lines for generous giving.  In the US, we usually have one budget line for gifts and offerings.  In the budgets I use here, there is a line for tithe, a line for offerings, a line for family contributions, a line for community contributions, and a line for giving to the poor.  And there is usually something filled in for every line.  One student had 10% for tithe, 36% for family contributions, and about 5% for the others.  Over 50% of his income was given away.

I finished working with the students on their assignments and left my classroom to go back to the guesthouse.  On my way out, there was a bazaar going on at the Evangelical Theological College with lots of different arts and crafts being sold.  They were closing up and so I quickly stopped to pick up a few gifts to take home with me and then rushed to the van.

On my wayback to the guesthouse, I realized that what I spent on gifts - without even thinking - was about the same amount that the one pastor spends on groceries for a whole month for his family of six.


That sick feeling crept in again.

What was I thinking, buying those gifts right after working with these challnges?  What can I do?  How is this fair?  Where is the justice?  I can help some of them out for a month or two but then what?  And what about the conversation we just had in class about how aid can create dependency?

They weren't complaining.  They wanted to figure out how to be stewards with their resources.

I hate poverty.  I hate the struggle that so many have to go through every day to survive. I hate how slow progress is in addressing poverty, the opportunity to work and provide for themselves, and for people not just to survive but to thrive. The selfie I have posted here is from Mount Entoto (just outside of Addis) where woman after woman is seen walking down this mountain with this huge pack of wood on their back.  Where there was a guard rail to keep cars from going over the mountain, they would take the opportunity to rest their load.  Backbreaking work.  And my guess is that the profit is very small.

We had just watched a portion of the Poverty Cure in the class, where Mohammad Unus says, "Human beings are not animals.  Animals are the ones who go around and look for food all day, and then get tired and sleep, and the next day begin in search of food. Human beings are created for a much higher purpose - to take care of the whole planet and take it forward."

While China and India have seen millions of people come out of extreme poverty, Sub-Saharan Africa has actually seen an increase of people in extreme poverty. Watch this clip from the Poverty Cure, which is one that inspires people so much across Africa when we show it.

Yoseph Bekele (right), a DML trainer Tafese, and myself on Mt. Entoto, overlooking Addis.  
One of the older Orthodox Churches in Ethiopia, on Mt. Entoto.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church represents about 43% of Ethiopians.  There are many challenges in this faith, for which there is a need for ongoing prayer.  Ethiopia has an amazingly rich history, being the first African nation to recieve both Christianity as well as Islam.

Yoseph is doing amazing work as the Business as Mission coordinator for the Kale Heywet Church.  He drove us up the mountain in his car which he rolled three times just a few weeks earlier and yet walked away without a scratch.  He was able to repair it but it is having some issues.  If you would like to contribute to his car repairs so that he can continue to get this word out to 10,000 churches across Ethiopia, please go here and follow the instructions for giving.  

Sunday, March 24, 2019

"I had to come to Africa to hear an American woman speak about 'Work as Worship'!"

This was a quote from an El Salvadorian woman who joined the ICM-USA team to do some work in Kitale, Kenya.  She has lived in the US for twenty years and joined our workshop for the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) on Friday morning.  She was amazed by this message which had eluded her in the church.  It's amazing to see how God weaves His people together from different walks of life, in different parts of the world!
As I mentioned last week, we had the privilege to present the message of Discipling Marketplace Leaders to the ACK Kitale Diocese (Anglican) this past week.  This diocese has 62 parishes, with each parish having about five churches, and a total of 97 priests.  This is about three hundred churches with approximately 4000 members.  The Diocese voted unanimously to accept DML as one of their ministry partners as it became clear that we would help them achieve various aspects of three of their main goals:  spiritual, societal, and stewardship.  It was an exciting time with these priests who interacted with us with great enthusiasm for the message.

The Right Reverend Dr. Emmanuel Chemengich, pictured with Dr. Walker, is the Bishop of this Diocese.  Prior to becoming the Bishop, he was the first African head of ACTEA which is the accrediting body of theological education in Africa.  Prior to that, he was the principal of Africa Theological Seminary, where I have been teaching since 2013.  So we go back a ways. Not only is he a wise, godly man, he also has a great sense of humor.

Bishop Chemengich gave the Commencement Address at the ATS graduation on Saturday and he said a few things that I would like to reference here.  He reminded the graduates that the first person they must lead is themselves, and that requires self-discipline.  He defined "self-discipline" as doing what you NEED to do even when you don't WANT to do it.  He reminded us that most marriages, pastors, leaders, businesses, etc, fail mostly because of a lack of self-discipline than any other issue.  It is critical that we learn this.  He reminded us that having a good start (good education, a loving family, etc) helps, but a good finish is dependent on self-discipline.  To have a good finish takes courage, and he reminded us that you will never see courage in someone who is comfortable.  To learn courage means you will be uncomfortable.  This was a good message not only for the graduates but for all of us.

We also had the privilege of giving out Africa Study Bibles to all the priests in attendance from the ACK.  Below we have some pictures of the Bibles being given out by Dr. Walker as well as Rev. Dave Champness (President of ICM-USA).  Again, we are so thankful to those of you who donated to this!  Allowing people to study the Word with notes that were designed for their context is of great importance.  Not having that is like people from North America reading a Study Bible that was designed for China.  It doesn't really fit.  We pray that this Bible will be a blessing to those who have received it!

I am now in Ethiopia where I will be for about four weeks yet.  We start by teaching at the Evangelical Theological College, and then will go into a training of trainers for DML, followed by some workshops.  Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, March 18, 2019

"Church begins on Monday...

"Church begins on Monday...Sunday is garage time."

This is a quote from a Kenyan Marketplace Minister.  This is one of many analogies that we hear about the need to change how we define the Church.

She went on to describe that Sunday is the day for the vehicle (ourselves) to be refueled, have oil changes, or minor repairs.  But being the light of Christ begins when we leave the building and become the Church scattered, shining the light in places of darkness, which desperately need the light.

Others say that church is like a cell-phone recharging place.  If we don't turn our phone on after recharging, if we don't use it, what good does it do?  We can come back and recharge each week when the Church gathers, but we need to actually use the phone during the week.

Or church is like a warship rather than a cruise ship.  The purpose of the warship doesn't take place on the ship - it is where-ever the war is being fought.  Soldiers come to the ship for rest, healing, fellowship, and for new orders.  A cruise ship's purpose of rest and fellowship is found on the ship, but the ship ceases to exist for customers as soon as they step off the ship.

And so on.

Bishop Berrings, myself, and colleague Steve Kennedy
Light bulbs relating to this were going off this week with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, where the Senior Bishop, Bishop Berrings, called his five bishops together from the various regions of Tanzania, along with some other key leaders in the church to hear the message of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  And now they are ready to disseminate this throughout their denomination. We thank God for this open door and positive response.  We also met the head of this denomination who oversees the work throughout Africa and he too was very interested in seeing this in other countries as well.

Recently one of our faithful prayers of DML had a vision while praying about this work.  He saw Christ hovering over the Marketplace, beckoning us to come.  As we prayed about this and asked God to reveal His message to us in this vision, it became clear that at times we feel like we are bringing Christ to the Marketplace.  But He is already there.  He beckons us and invites us to join Him, with arms wide open.  In DML, we say that Christ has redeemed the Marketplace and we are to reclaim it, but we (or maybe I) sometimes feel like there is such darkness or abandonment of the Marketplace by the Church that we actually need to bring Him there.  And of course, that is not true.  We need to continue to look (and we do find!) for where He is already working and join Him in that work.

We also need to remember that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  If we had to bring Christ to the Marketplace, that would be a heavy yoke.  But when we are invited to join Him where He already is shining the light, it is much easier.

May God continue to grant us wisdom and discernment to find those partners in the faith, to grow the light of Christ in the Marketplace!

I am now in Kenya, where this week we will have the opportunity to present this message to about 100 vicars from the Anglican Church of Kenya, Kitale Diocese.  We are very excited to be able to present each of them an Africa Study Bible.  Thanks so much to all of you who contributed to these Bibles - I know they will provide great meaning to these pastors as they minister the word of God!

The bishops, pastors and church leaders in Iringa, Tanzania

View from the 12-seater plane - Tanzania is a beautiful country, with more animals per square mile than any other country in the world!

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Brevity of Life: A Little Too Close for Comfort

I landed in Addis Ababa at around 7 am on Sunday morning, after a 14 hour flight from Chicago.  That plane was quite full and fourteen hours is a long time to be in such close proximity with so many people.  You hear stories from people as you wait to board, as you stand in line, as you wait to take-off, when you land, and when you de-plane.

Once in Addis, all of us in transit headed wearily to our next gates to wait for our next flight.  The same woman, who had pushed by people getting on and off our plane, was pushing ahead again.  What was her hurry?  The young man who shared that he had put his life contents in storage to spend one month in Kenya to see how it worked out strolled to the gate with the young woman he had been talking to - I don't think they were together though.  The mom with the very busy and very cute little two or three year old daughter (who spent much of the flight squealing and laughing - which is SO much better than crying) hustled to the gate as well.

Gate 8 was the flight to Nairobi, Gate 9 was my flight to Dar Es Salaam.

Right after they had boarded for their flight to Nairobi, we were called to begin boarding our flight.  Once we were all on the plane, we sat and waited.  And waited.  We were told that we would be waiting for about 45 minutes.  I thought it a bit strange as I didn't see a line of planes waiting to take off, and we were staying right in the place where we had boarded - not taxiing up the runway to get in a queue.

But we finally started moving and I did my best to read another paper for my dissertation before catching a few winks.

Once in the airport in Dar Es Salaam, my phone began buzzing.  I love that my phone knows enough airports that it just automatically connects (as I'm always on airplane mode when I travel and have to rely on Wifi).  After clearing immigration, I waited for my luggage and checked my phone.

Breaking news from BBC:  Ethiopian flight from Addis to Nairobi crashed and there are no survivors.

I immediately felt sick.  I had just seen those people.  Just stood next to them.  Just talked to some. Just overheard some of their conversations.  And now, they are dead.  Gone.  Pictures from the crash site show absolutely nothing left from this plane that was less than four months old, and had only been airborn for this particular flight for about six minutes.

And then the thought occured that it could have been my plane that crashed.  The plane that crashed had just flown in from South Africa that morning.  So this wasn't a regular back and forth flight.  It could have just as easily been assigned to Dar Es Salaam.

And I start thinking about Michael.  And my kids who have already lost their dad.  I have never feared planes - I actually enjoy turbulence as its a bit like a roller coaster ride - and I would be happy to go down in a plane (as opposed to the slow decline my poor father is experiencing).  But I would have an issue with leaving my kids parentless for the rest of their lives.  Or Michael as a widower.

As I drove in the taxi to the guest house, I had to keep telling myself to stop thinking about it or I was afraid I would have to tell the driver to pull over so that I could be sick.  Once in my room, I let myself think and process and grieve.

I'm now thinking that we were waiting to take off because the news of the crash was getting to all pilots and maybe they had to wait to rule out terrorism before letting more planes fly.  (In hindsight, I'm a little uncomfortable that we only had to wait 45 minutes...)  I wonder if the flight attendents knew and had to keep a brave face, knowing their colleagues just died - or whether they were not told.  It seemed to get out on the news pretty quickly.

And I think about those families from 33 different nations receiving this news with horror, unbelief, and fear.

And then my mind shifts to the team of people that are joining us in Kenya in this next week, many of whom will take that same flight from Addis to Nairobi, and some of whom will be coming to Africa for the first time.  

The brevity of life.  We all know it.  We all lament it when we hear of such tragedies.  But every now and then it hits a bit close to home.  Close enough to create some discomfort in the heart despite the logic in the head.

We recognize how quickly life can just be over.  We know that to live is Christ and to die is gain.  We know that we have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.

The sound mind reminds us that Ethiopian Airlines has a very good track record of aviation safety.  This plane was only four months old (that is troubling for other reasons) - this was not negligence.  Love says that we continue to do what God has called us to do despite the risk.  The power of God reminds us that He is in control - we are to be obedient.

Please pray for the families who lost loved ones as well as the team that will be traveling from the US to Nairobi this week.  And please pray for the investigation team that is going to be looking into why two new Boeing 737 Max have crashed shortly after take-off in the last five months.  Answers will make us all feel a bit safer about traveling.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Replication...and a request for Africa Study Bibles

On Saturday, I leave for a longer trip (six weeks) to East Africa, starting in Tanzania, then to Kenya, then to Ethiopia.  It feels like I just got part because in some ways I did just get home, but also there was a good amount of travel while I was home these past three weeks.

As the schedule for DML continues to intensify and the requests from churches and schools grows, it can feel overwhelming at times to try to figure out how we are going to replicate ourselves so that we can build capacity in local leadership and not have to respond to each request.

And then I get up in the morning and find a couple of dozen pictures from our partner in Ethiopia, Yoseph Bekele, of the many churches and pastors that he has been speaking, teaching, and preaching to in the last few weeks.  And it is so encouraging, because I know that he is SO much more effective than us in that he speaks Amharic and there is no need for clunky translation.

Then I get up another day and I find a dozen pictures from our partner in Liberia, Lisa Travis, who feels so led to speak about DML that she has gone beyond Liberia to Sierra Leone to teach a number of groups there.  And I see the smile on her face as she teaches and have heard from her about the need that DML meets in her heart in serving the Lord, and it makes me smile.

So let me share some pictures with you from both Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

And you can join us in thanking God for protecting Yoseph's life - he sent me an email with pictures on Wednesday in which he had rolled his car yet emerged without a scratch.  The subject line of his email?  "It is God."

One of the groups Yoseph spoke to recently in Ethiopia.

I love to see the DML materials in Amharic.  But we also use nesting dolls to illustrate the point about how we are discipled toward family and membership in the institutional church, but not toward how to be the church in the workplace or the Marketplace.  I love that Yoseph has turned the dolls faces away, just as we do when we teach it.  

Another large group of people getting the message that Work is Worship!

Yoseph is in the center of this group that he recently trained.

His car, which was able to protect him, as he uses it to serve the Lord.
And now some pictures from Sierra Leone:

This woman is pointing out which maize is able to glorify God, as we remind ourselves that we are to preach the gospel to the whole creation.  I love Lisa's smile on this picture as she seems to be thoroughly enjoying teaching.

Lisa teaching in Sierra Leone.

Lisa with one group in Sierra Leone.

Group work and Bible study is an important part of our workshops.  We need to ensure that what we are being taught is Biblical!
Lisa with another group in Sierra Leone.

I do have a request:  On March 21 and 22, we will be working with the Kitale Diocese of the Anglican Church of Kenya, with about 80 pastors.  We have been asked by the Bishop if we could bring Africa Study Bibles for each of them and we are looking for people who might want to contribute for one or more Bibles. This Bible, printed by our friends at Oasis Publishing, has study notes focused on the leaders in Africa.  Most of the notes were written by African scholars to help leaders see Christianity with fresh eyes. 

I would like to invite you to join me.  Our target is to raise $2,000 for 80 Bibles ($25 per Bible and includes shipping and handling).  There are two options:  
  1. First you can send a check to ICM, PO Box 129, Monument CO 80132 and include a note that it is for "Discipling Marketplace Leaders - Africa Bibles - #609045.
  2. The second option is to go to here and follow the prompts.  Please select Discipling Marketplace Leaders in the dropbown, and in the comment box put in "Africa Study Bible".
If/when you donate PLEASE drop me a note telling me how much you donated.  This is very important for tracking purposes.  Below is some comments about the Africa Study Bible:

God's Word through African Eyes.
The Africa Study Bible brings together 350 contributors from over 50 countries, providing a unique African perspective. It's an all-in-one course in biblical content, theology, history, and culture, with special attention to the African context. Each feature was planned by African leaders to help readers grow strong in Jesus Christ by providing understanding and instruction on how to live a good and righteous life:

  • Over 2600 notes explain the Bible, inspire readers to apply truth to everyday life, teach Christian values and doctrine, and more.
  • "Touchpoints" and "Proverbs and Stories" give African perspective on the Bible and also show parallels with African wisdom.
  • A narrative timeline highlights God's work in Africa.
Thank you for your consideration and for being part of the team:  teaching, training, and discipling leaders!