Monday, March 29, 2021

Are you a Stone Catcher?

In John 8, the story is told of the Pharisees bringing a woman caught in adultery (not the man, just the woman) to Jesus to ask Him what to do with her, noting that in the time of Moses they were to stone her.  Of course, the Pharisees weren't actually looking for advice but were looking to trick Jesus.  Jesus bends down to write on the ground, then stands to say, "Let him who is without sin among you, be the first to throw a stone at her."  Then he bends down again to write on the ground.  When he looks up again, there is no one left.

While there are MANY remarkable things about this incident, what is most remarkable to me (in this day and age of "reality" being so subjective) is that they "went away one by one, beginning with the older ones."  Justification of our sins has served us well for centuries.  It's how we live with ourselves.  Our brain needs to make sense of our own violation of morals and ethics so it explains it in a way that allows us to sleep at night (even though some sleep loss might be warranted!).  But no-one threw a stone. 

This past week we had another book club meeting with the DML team to look at our last chapter of the book Honorable in Business where the author challenged us to be stone catchers.  In John 8, the Pharisees walked away and no-one threw a stone.  Maybe because they recognized Jesus in the form of God before them and they had to be honest?  But today, many people throw stones without thinking twice.  Those stones are being hurled in many different contexts, and part of our call, as Christians in the workplace, is to be stone catchers - protecting those who are being stoned.  The authors write:

At times, Christians in business will be stone catchers - acting with justice and mercy in a world where often the results of business activities are like stones being thrown at supervisors, colleagues, employees, customers, vendors, stockholders, the public, anyone in general, with or without naming specific individuals.  In these instances, the Christian who wishes to answer the question asked in heaven:  "Were you honorable in business?"  in the affirmative, must act a stone catcher.  

Since the Christian knows the end of the story, he or she will today "engage in business with a sense of hope and meaning."  They will look forward to whatever God has in mind for eternity for those who have spent their lives serving their fellow humans through "enabling the community to flourish and providing opportunities for employees to engage in meaningful and creative work. (Honorable in Business, Gibson and Augsburger)

We live in a world of stone throwers.  Sometimes these stones are obvious, but often they are not.  They can be physical, verbal, or even non-verbal.  They hurt, they damage, they destroy.

The marketplace is a difficult place to be.  We are surrounded by hurting people living in a world of judgment.  It is not enough that we consider our own sin before throwing a stone - sometimes we need to step in and be the stone-catcher.  

Catching stones that are thrown with force with the intent to injure or kill is putting yourself in danger's way.  That may hurt.

Catching stones that are not well-aimed, means you may be injured yourself.  You may not be able to catch it.  It may strike a blow.  That will hurt.

But as the people of God, who are to be the Church every day of the week, in every setting, we need to have eyes to see this pain and the courage to step in.

We teach that to love our neighbor requires four C's:  compassion, capacity, competence, and courage.  

May God help us to further develop these muscles to be stone catchers and share the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ.

PS - Friends, we just finished our Economics of Hope class this past week with our partners.  We discussed how the shame of poverty is a major partner in brokenness for how the materially poor see themselves.  Instead of seeing themselves as being created in the image of God, they often feel inferior to others.  At this time, we are seeking to raise funds to mitigate the huge numbers of people moving toward extreme poverty because of the pandemic.  We have a matching grant opportunity that needs to be met by the end of March.  For more information, and to participate, please click here.

Monday, March 22, 2021

100 million more people in extreme poverty and how you can help!

The world was on a significant trajectory to eradicating extreme poverty (those living on less than $2/day).  As you can see in the graph below, the world went from 1.9 billion people in extreme poverty in 1990 to 650 million people in extreme poverty in 2018.  That is huge and wonderful!  As you can see in the graph, most of the poverty reduction took place in South Asia and East Asia & Pacific, and most of that poverty reduction came as a result of business development.  Unfortunately, the number of people in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa actually slightly increased over the same period of time.

However, the pandemic significantly altered this trajectory and the progress in the global number of people in extreme poverty is expected to increase by 100 million.  That is heartbreaking.  The graph below shows what the line looked like for Pre-COVID predictions and then with the reality of COVID.

The graph below breaks out by region where the new poor are going to be.  Many will be in Africa.
Because of this, Discipling Marketplace Leaders launched a campaign last week to raise funds for business development for our partners, to augment what they started last year in the form of pig farms, goat farms, fish farms, mushroom farms, rice farms, and other business development.  Last year we gave more than $150,000 and for this campaign we are looking to raise $55,000 to promote business sustainability projects.

The important thing to remember is that the money that many of you gave last year is still working as our partners require that the first piglets or baby goats are passed on to another person so that they too can start farming!  We are so thankful for last year's gifts that keep giving today!

In this last week, we received a challenge grant in the amount of $10,000, for which we are so thankful!  Would you prayerfully consider contributing something toward this before the end of March?  To do so, please click here and select the "Continued Connections, Flourishing Partners" Campaign.

100% of your gift will go to these business development projects.

Please pray as well.  With the help of God and the body of Christ working together, we can mitigate some of this poverty.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Economics of Hope: Does the Bible support one type of economic system?

Last week, DML started teaching a newly developed class, called "Economics of Hope."  This is a take-off of a class that we had taught called "Development and Social Change" but we felt the need to tailor and focus it more on economics and the hope that we find regarding economics in the Bible.

A question that comes out in this class is this:  Does the Bible propose an economic system?  Does God favor one of the four choices that most of us face in our various countries (Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, or Fascism)?

We don't see those words in the Bible, of course, but what can we glean from scripture in this regard and what does this mean for us today?

What we find in Scripture over and over is the desire for shalom, which I like to define as "vigorous wellbeing and abundant flourishing."  That is God's will for His people.  That is God's desire for His creation and all its creatures.  That was how it was set up before the fall.  That system called for all people to work and care for creation in order to perpetuate its flourishing (Genesis 2:15).  

We serve a working God.  We are made in His image.  But we don't have a "Made in the image of God" stamp on us (like many products that say "made in China").  It's not just a stamp - it's a part of who we are.  We bear that imprint in body and soul.

God created a system in which all would work and all would flourish.  So far so good.

Next we look at how often the Bible talks about private property and not stealing (implying ownership).  There are many mentions of this throughout Scripture, indeed even the longing that everyone would have their own vineyard and orchard (Micah 4:4).  Private property and ownership is very important for thriving and flourishing.  Studies have been done on what happens when the poor are given their own property - education and income increases, as well as many other positive effects.  

What about business and trade?  There are MANY examples in the Bible of strong, successful men and women who kept God on the throne despite their success and wealth.  But trade must be honest.  God abhors dishonest scales.  Trade must be done in a way that causes the customer and the employee to flourish.  That is the goal.  Profit is a means to this end but should not be an end in and of itself.  But we are expected to be fruitful and multiply so that MORE may flourish (parable of talents and minas).  Maintenance is not good enough.  

What about consumption?  The Bible tells us many things about money and wealth.  But much of it can be boiled down to three main points:  The hoarding of wealth is condemned, the sharing of wealth is encouraged, and the creation of wealth is both a God-given ability and command.  The New Testament command to give generously and with a grateful heart means that we should not be asking "How much should I give" but rather "How much do I need to keep?"  The difference in that question is the taking away from the "limitation" of the idea of the tithe from the Old Testament.

These are just a few of the things we can look at to see what the economy of God looks like and how things should operate.

Of course, we don't see any perfect system anywhere, and in my opinion, capitalism comes closest of the four.  But it has many issues, including feeding the desire of unnecessary things and the neglect of certain groups.  While we can get angry at the level of consumption, the inequality in resources around the world, the lack of jobs, and the lack of flourishing, it's important that we turn to hope.  

Christians can live and work according to God's economy.  The Christian Church can teach and lead people in this way.  Within our spheres of influence we can have an impact and we must hold on to that hope. 

Romans 15:13 reminds of this - and that we, as believers, should overflow with hope through the Holy Spirit!

Pastor Stephen Atria from Uganda is one person that gives me hope.  He has started something called "Monday Church" encouraging his members to live out the economic system of God.  This has had a ripple effect through his church and community.  I happened to catch his testimony a couple of weeks ago during a Zoom training and I invite you to listen to hear it, to also catch the hope that we can have when we apply what we know and believe on a daily basis and in our spheres of influence:

Monday, March 8, 2021

So I guess I AM a Canadian...

When I teach at various universities and seminaries, I often introduce myself this way:   "I'm a Dutch, Canadian, American, Liberian, Ghanaian, Kenyan citizen.  So I'm mostly confused.  But I know that I am a child of God and a citizen of heaven, awaiting my time to go Home!"  People laugh and I expand a bit more on my background.  

My husband, Michael, is Canadian with a green card and he has no plans to change that any time soon.  He insists that I too am Canadian, but I remind him that when I became an American in 2009, I had to "forswear all other" nationalities and pledge my allegiance to the US.  This has been an ongoing (playful) argument as to whether I am a Canadian.  

But then this happened to me last week.

On Wednesday, I drove to Port Huron, MI in order to get into Canada to spend a little over two weeks at my aunt's house with my mom.  Fourteen days must be in quarantine, but my aunt's house offers me my own bedroom, bathroom, office (so I can keep working), and living space.  I did this in December and the approval that they gave me in November is for six months, so I thought I should make one more trip (especially as I hope to be going to Africa again soon!).

The border guard looked at my US passport, my paperwork and my recent COVID test results, and then said, "I need to refer you to the Port Health Authority to go over your quarantine expectations, but as a Canadian, you should have no problems getting in."  I nearly repeated, "As a Canadian?"  But having learned long ago to say no more than necessary, I thanked him and went to see the Port Health Authority.  I ran into trouble with them and they denied me entry because they said my mom couldn't be in the same house where I was quarantining because that is a mix of too many households.  Since that was my whole reason for going (to spend time with her), I knew I had to turn around and go back home.  While I was on the phone with her telling her the bad news, the official who met with me came over and said, "Since you are a Canadian, it doesn't sound like they are making the right call - let me check with them."  Again I'm a Canadian, I wondered?  Two minutes later, the Port Health Authority person called me back and said they changed their mind based on the size of the house.  I was cleared to go.  

Of course, I was greatly relieved but I thought it curious that after 11 years of being an American and entering Canada with an American passport, I've never been referred to as a Canadian.

Then on Saturday, I received an email from the Canadian government regarding my quarantine, and it started by saying, "You are receiving this email because you recently returned from traveling outside of Canada...", again implying that I am Canadian and have just been out traveling! I guess I've been traveling outside of Canada since I was 17 years old - for 35 years!

So I guess, from Canada's perspective, I am Canadian.

It's a little strange to be unsure of your identity.  When I say I'm American, there is always a twinge of not feeling fully American.  I certainly haven't felt like I'm Canadian.  I have tried to move away from being identified as Dutch, even though my parents are both from the Netherlands.  And I certainly can't claim I'm African, even though that's the continent I have grown to love and where I would love to continue living. 

I'm glad my citizenship is in heaven and all the rest really doesn't matter.  As long as I have travel papers that allow me to cross borders, I'm happy!

And, Lord willing, in May I will be traveling to Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia to meet with Assembly of God pastors and Harvest International Ministries.  It's been about a year since I've been in Africa and it is time!

Oh...and one more thing...I guess my husband was right about me being Canadian.  He says that I don't say that often enough...that he is let me say it publicly here!