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."