Monday, July 22, 2019

Africa is leading the world in plastic bag bans

In Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we teach that every Christian should have a quadruple bottom line:  social, economic, environmental, and missional. All four are important.  But the one that is often the most difficult for people to understand is the environmental bottom line.

Thomas Aquinas said, "Any error about creation also leads to an error about God."

We forget how intimate the relationship between God and the Earth is, and how it has been entrusted to us to "work and care" for it (Genesis 2:15).

About two years ago, when I landed in Kenya, everyone on the plane was warned not to take plastic bags off the plane and into the country, as those bags would attract a fine of $38,000 USD and four years in jail.  Quite an incentive to lose those bags!  It was amazing to see the plastic bags flying out of the carry-on bags.  We waded through knee-deep piles of plastic bag waste as we disembarked.  I was so proud of Kenya.

As of June 1, Tanzania has also started a plastic bag ban.  There are now 38 countries in Africa that have banned plastic bags.  Africa is leading the world in plastic bag bans (according to Quartz Africa).

Rwanda is looking to be the first plastic-free country.  They started their plastic bag ban in 2008, and Kigali is said to be Africa's cleanest city.  Kenya talks about how much cleaner the country is without plastic bags blowing around.

About 40% of solid waste in Africa is burned, which ends up in toxic pollution, causing asthma, heart disease, and other long-term medical issues.  Of the nine billion tonnes of plastic ever produced, only 9% has been recycled.  By 2050, if things do not change, there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter (according to the UN Environment Programme).

Ghana, which now claims to have Africa's fastest-growing economy, struggles with frequent floods because of the plastic bags which clog up sewers and gutters.

Governments are paying attention to these challenges and there is a growing movement towards getting rid of single-use plastic, especially.  Bans on plastic straws and plastic cutlery are joining the banning of plastic bags in some places.

The higher the income and rate of urbanization, the greater the amount of solid waste that is produced.  On average, in high-income countries (for example, the US), it is 4.6 pounds per day per person (or 2.2 kg).  Less than one-quarter of that amount is recycled.  The rest ends up in landfills.

However, with China no longer buying the recycling from the US, much of the recycling from the US is also ending up in the landfill.

How I wish that the US would also ban plastic bags and take significant steps toward reducing the use of single-use plastic.

If you are concerned about this for yourself, take an assessment of how much solid waste you are producing every day and try to reduce it.  Take a careful look at single-use plastic especially (plastic wrap, straws, chip or snack bags, candy wrappers, etc) and see if there are alternatives.

Additionally, I have signed a petition for Michigan to ban plastic bags.  If you google your own city, state, or country, you will also find actions that you can join.

Let's join Africa in creating a healthier community and world for future generations!

Monday, July 15, 2019

What pain do you want in your life?

I read an article the other day that said too many of us are asking the wrong question, which is "What do you want out of life?"

The author stated that everyone wants to be happy, have a great family, and a job they love.  That is not new and it is not unique.  The bigger question he stated is what pain do you want in your life?  What are you willing to struggle for?  Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

It's an interesting thought.  The truth is that:
  • To achieve what we want requires pain.  
  • To be in a relationship means inevitably going through hurt feelings, emotional drama, and tough conversations.  
  • To be in good shape physically means watching what you eat, exercising, sweat, soreness and hunger pangs.  
  • To have a job you love takes a risk, repeated failures, education, experience (often from the ground up) and hard work. 
So what determines your success is not what you enjoy, but rather what pain you are willing to sustain. You can't have a pain-free life.  It really is the more difficult question.

Too often we want the reward and not the struggle.  We want the result and not the process.  We want the victory but not the fight.

When you can answer the question, "What pain do you want in your life?" then you can actually make progress in achieving your real goals. 

Shortly after reading this article, I was dealing with a dilemma regarding the DML and someone asked me what I wanted out of the situation in an ideal world.  I thought for a few minutes and answered that I thought the better question was what pain I was willing to put up with.  That completely changed the conversation to be more productive and helped us to really weigh the pros and cons.  We were able to move beyond the ideal to the real.

It's true that this is not a happy question. I tend to be somewhat of a realist though, so it works for me.

I have returned from a good and productive trip to Nigeria.  I now will be home for a month (which feels like a nice long stretch - first whole month home this year!) before heading to Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania.  There are many programmatic things that need to get done as we continue to grow and learn, so the month will be busy but at least I will not be living out of a suitcase.  Thank you for your continued prayers!

Yet another exciting group picture - wish there were more exciting shots, but this is what we do!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Extreme Poverty in Nigeria

We are currently in Nigeria, where we have finished workshops in both Ilorian and in Igbaja.

In one part of our workshops, we ask the participants to answer the following questions:  Which institution do we look to primarily for alleviating poverty?  What about for promoting peace?

In most places, the two most common answers we hear are government and church.  Usually in that order.

Except, sadly, in Nigeria.  Government doesn't even enter the conversation.

And for good reason.

Our colleague from Kaduna had a kidnapping in his community just this past week.  Men came into the community in the night, shot guns in the air to scare everyone into hiding, kidnapped someone, and then left.  He was receiving calls from people, suspecting that he had been kidnapped.  His wife and children had to flee to the church for safety.  He has two doctorates and could be a prime suspect for kidnapping.  He believes that the reason for the many kidnappings in Nigeria is due to the high unemployment and the lack of effectiveness of the government to make business more conducive for the average citizen.  Nigeria ranks as 145 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business overall, and 183 out of 190 countries for being able to trade across borders.  In a country of 200 million (currently - expected to double by 2050) that presents a real problem.

At another point in our workshop, I point out that in 1980, 52% of the world was considered to be living in extreme poverty.  Then I ask, do you think that number is higher or lower today?  Most people (from other countries) tell us that the number of people in extreme poverty has decreased.

Except, sadly, in Nigeria.

And for good reason.

The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has actually gone down to 25%, which is great!  But in Nigeria, it has increased from 51 million to 86 million.  Nigeria actually took the number one spot for highest number of people in extreme poverty in the world (passing India last year).

The reason that the number of people in extreme poverty dropped so significantly was not because of the work of non-profits or the Millennium Development Goals, but rather because of business.  China reduced the number of people in poverty from 756 million to 25 million primarily through manufacturing.  India decreased the number of people in poverty from 338 million to 218 million primarily through the service industry.

We tried to comfort Nigerians by saying that it's not that things have gotten SO much worse here that they are now holding the less than prestigious spot of #1 for people in extreme poverty but RATHER because China and India are doing so much better.  It is little comfort, and the truth is that the number has increased by 35 million.

We keep repeating that we need to be CREATING JOB MAKERS, not just job seekers.  The Church can have an impact on this.  By 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populous nation in the world (passing the US).  One in four people will by African by the year 2050, and by the year 2100, one in three people will be African.  But we need to make sure that Africans will own the companies, businesses and resources that will allow people to flourish (rather than foreigners)!  This trend of the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty CAN be changed.

One other fact about Africa that is interesting is that the median age in most countries is below twenty years of age.  This is promising in terms of a labor force (median age in Europe is 40 years and median age in the US is 35 years) but it also means that jobs need to be created and those businesses creating those jobs should be owned by Africans.

Please join us in this work if you feel led - prayers, words of encouragement, and support are all needed!  We are working in five of the ten countries listed for having the highest extreme poverty in Africa, and we are seeing results in increased income and jobs being created.  For more information, go to