Monday, August 30, 2021

Be an Ignitor for Work as Worship - Opportunity on Tuesday!

We are back from our trip to Burundi, Tanzania, and Kenya, and we thank God for safe travel and good meetings!  We had six COVID tests in three weeks, and all came back negative, so we are thankful for that as well!  We met with our DML teams, with many denominational leaders, ministry leaders, church leaders, and Marketplace ministers and are so encouraged by what God is doing in His Church.

On Tuesday, August 31 at 7 pm EDT, we will be giving a thirty minute update from our trip, as well as concluding our August "Tuesdays with DML", where we have been sharing country reports from Ethiopia, Ghana, and Burkina Faso.

We hope that you can join us for this brief Zoom call, and consider joining our Marketplace Ignitor Team of monthly givers who help us support the work in eleven countries with fourteen partners.  We have requests for Chad, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more.

That number continues to increase as demand continues to increase!  The church is thirsty for how to be relevant to people's daily lives, and the desire to have a positive impact on the marketplace is increasing!  Jesus is in the Marketplace, and He is beckoning us to come!

To join us, please use this Zoom link:

Monday, August 23, 2021

Digging Deep in Tanzania

We have a saying in DML:  Dream big, start small, go deep.  Dreaming is easy and fun.  Starting is often difficult and overwhelming.  Going deep is challenging because it requires time and often intense relationships.

Pastor Anthony and his wife, Leticiah, have their shovels out and are digging deep.  Leticiah, a lawyer who has been working on women's rights cases for many years, said that the day that they heard the message from DML about the role of the church being one that equips people to go rather than bringing people into the church to "receive" was the "best day ever."  She had been working at the Women's Legal Aid Shelter and it was very discouraging work.  She just wanted to leave the work of being a lawyer and "work for God" (meaning work at a church).  But the message of DML changed her perspective on her work and she didn't sleep the night after she heard our talk.

Pastor Anthony leading Bible study
 in their church
Since then, she has poured herself into her work with new energy.  An opportunity came to her to work with 80 women in her community, which is made up of many poor, many Muslims, and many people with AIDS.  Many of these individuals have access to the antiretroviral medication, but they often don't have the money for the food that must be taken with the medicine for it to be effective.  Leticiah shared that many have told themselves that they are dying, so why do business?  Leticiah was asked to offer counsel to these individuals in different forms, including spiritual counseling and vocational counseling.  This was an excellent shift for her and the stories then began to pour out about how she is doing her work as an act of worship, as well as teaching others to do the same.  Leticiah and Pastor Anthony do this at their church, which has now doubled in number.  The stories they share are amazing as they have poured themselves into these individuals and have developed 25 different businesses that can be successful in their area.

Let me share just a couple of these stories:

  • Aleema is a Muslim woman with AIDS.  She became a Muslim when she married her husband.  He passed away from AIDS not too long ago.  Aleema has now become a Christian and has learned from Leticiah how to make liquid soap and doormats.  For the first time in her life, she now owns a phone and is able to pay her own health insurance.  Her children are amazed that they no longer need to send money to take care of Mom!
    Doormats made from recycled materials, saying "Welcome"

  • Danah was a Muslim and married to a Muslim man.  Both are HIV positive.  Her husband is a habitual offender and has served a total of 26 years in five different sentences for armed robbery.  Even while he was in prison, he continued to do illegal business.  In going through the counseling with Pastor Anthony and Leticiah, Ahmed first discovered with great surprise that Christians are loving.  Then he learned, with his wife, to do business.  They are now doing rabbits, ducks, chickens, and shoemaking.  He is also doing something with cockroaches - extracting the milk for something but I was shuddering too much to understand what!  He comes early to the church (this group meets at the church four times per week) and sweeps, mops, and cleans the place voluntarily.  He is successful and people are trusting him for the first time in his life.  His wife has given her life to Christ but Ahmed has not yet.  We can pray for him!

Pastor Anthony and Leticiah have also started three savings and loan groups in their community, where the people save, lend money to themselves as a group, and receive any interest paid as dividends.  They can't seem to open enough of these before they are full and needing to start another one.  One woman, doing business now because of this program, has saved $450 and has bought a plot of land.  She is amazed by this!

Pastor Anthony translating into Swahili for Dr. Walker 
Pastor Anthony and Leticiah continue to share the good news that work is a good thing - that we have been put on this earth for a short period of time to give of our time, talent, and treasure to bring the Kingdom of God on earth a little more each day.  They have been invited to speak on TV and radio and because of that we had a great gathering of leaders to share the message with while we were in Tanzania.  

God is moving among His people and we give thanks!

We are now in Kenya which is a little more shut down because of COVID, but we look forward to seeing what God is doing here!

The DML Tanzania Team

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Unexpected Progress: Burundi

To be honest, I wasn't sure about DML starting to work in Burundi.  Burundi is a small nation (smaller than Maryland), with about 12.5 million people and a per capita income of $254/person/year.  This nation, which is fourth in terms of having the highest amount of poverty and having recently been through an extensive civil war, is not a nation that I expected to have business thrive and I worried about it having the capacity to engage in business development.  

What I failed to consider was the potential of a population that is tired of poverty and war.  

What I failed to consider is the readiness of the church to engage a ministry which promotes that work is a good and godly thing, making room for a theology of work and doing work as worship.

What I failed to consider is how rapid a population that is tired of poverty can pivot.

Last year, just before COVID, we made our first visit to Burundi to begin the teaching of DML.  During the past year, we received many positive reports of how the work was going, but to honest, we were skeptical that the reports were reflections of what we consider "success stories" as we weren't sure that one visit was enough for the leaders to embrace AND be able to teach this message.

But our visit to Burundi this past week put those fears to rest.  This is a nation that is ready for change.  Our DML Burundi team kept us very busy meeting group after group of pastors and businesspeople, as well as a group of 1000 youth!

My colleague, Phil Walker, arrived the day before me and was able to attend a DML commissioning service for business people at a rural church in Gitega on Sunday.  There he had his perspective adjusted when he heard testimony after testimony of lives which had been changed as people began to see their place in God's economy.  Here is what he wrote about that service:

I was not very excited about getting up Sunday morning, the day after a long trip, and going to a rural church to preach and commission a group of businesspeople who had attended the DML training.  Like Renita, I was not sure how and if DML business training would work in a country known more for it mountains and internal fighting more than business development.  As we drove to the village church, I was thankful that it was the dry season, otherwise we would never have made it by car. 
Upon arrival, I was ushered into the church and seated at the front of the assembly. The church walls consisted of rough wood and banners all around and a dirt floor. There was excitement that someone from so far away came to their church to commission the first marketplace ministers.  The small church was full with about 200 people.  The windows in the back of the church were also filled with people who could not find a place to sit.  
What struck me was the zeal as they worshipped with song and dance.  Men, women, and children would take turns jumping up to sing and dance as they worshipped.  I soon found myself again enjoying the African beat and songs.  These men and women are mostly farmers, working on very small plots of land to grow enough food to feed their families. 
I preached a sermon on “commissioning” appropriate to the occasion.  Any time I mentioned that God loved the poor, there was a hardy amen!  After the preaching they called up those who had gone through the training.  Forty-five people came up to be commissioned as marketplace ministers.  I was surprised at the large number that had gone through the training.  After the commissioning, they invited members of the group to share why they thought the training was helpful.  Here is a sample of what I heard: 
“Before this training I went to my garden, weary before even starting. I would be working all day for barely enough to feed my family.  Work and more work.  After the training I realized that my work was something God desired of me.  I was not simply working to feed my family, I was working as a way of worshiping God!  My neighbors began to see a change in me.  They wanted to know what had happened.  Now I was not only working for God, but also evangelizing!” 
A pastor, who was trained said, “As a pastor, I had been taught that to serve God is to preach the gospel and get people saved.  I had a small plot of land, but did not have time to farm as that was not serving God.  This led to my children not having enough to eat and my wife being unhappy because I was away evangelizing.  At the training, I learned that God worked and created us to work.  I began to understand that the farmer also serves the purpose of God through their work.  I still do evangelism, but now I also farm.  My children have enough to eat and my wife is happy that I have made a commitment to being home more.” 
The senior pastor looked at me and said, “You cannot know what a change the training has made.  The whole church wants to be trained. After seeing the first group and the change in their lives, people are begging me to give another training so they can learn as the first group did.  Please come and teach us how to worship God through our work.  We are ready!” 
Can you do “business” training with a poor nation consisting mostly of small scale farming?  Absolutely.  To validate what they do as a call of God changes their perspective validating them and their work as being part of the mission of God.

On our last day in Burundi, we had a meeting in the capital of Bujumbura with about 15 Bishops of major denominations, as well as presidents of national church groups (Burundi reports to be 97% Christian).  After doing a short three hour presentation on a Saturday morning with these men, the overwhelming response at the end of our time together was a chorus of "we can't wait for this...we need this now."

Apparently there have been reports for some years that there will be a revival coming to the Church in Burundi and there have been arguments about which denomination will start it.  After our presentation, they said that they now see that it's not about denominations at all but about Christians in the Marketplace.

We are now in Tanzania where we will spend the week with more incredible leaders, including speaking to the Assemblies of God Tanzania.  

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Bricks from Plastic Bottles

I'm on the road again and am writing this from Burundi, which is a small country (a bit smaller than Maryland), just south of Rwanda.  It is one of the poorest countries in the world but a country of hard-working people with fruit and vegetables growing in almost every inch of space!  From Burundi, we will be going to Tanzania and then to Kenya.  It's great to be out again, despite the challenges of COVID!  Unfortunately I arrived without any luggage so please pray that it will make it here!

One of the things I love about how Discipling Marketplace Leaders has developed over the years is that it is centered on a vision rather than a blueprint.  Because we have partners rather than employees, they have the freedom and liberty to continue to explore what God is calling them to do as it relates to DML implementation, and it often ends up reflecting their individual/organizational passion and gifting.

For example, one of the four bottom lines that we encourage is an environmental bottom line (the other three are missional, social, and economic).  Our partners vary in terms of which one they tend to emphasize, but our partner in Cameroon, called HUTSEED, has a particular passion around the stewardship of creation.  We have watched this blossom and grow in many creative ways over the past few years.

This week, the leader, whose name is Joy (which is so fitting if you see her beautiful joyful face!), sent us pictures of the training they were doing on making ecobricks from plastic bottles. These bricks can be 5-7 times stronger than concrete and uses the plastic waste that we see all around us.  So very cool!  I love it!

Genesis 2:15 tells us to work and care for creation.  The Bible is full of the Father's love for this world He created - not just the people, but all of creation!  We get to be stewards of creation and it is a joy to see what we can do to have a positive impact for the glory of God!

When Joy posted these pictures on our Global WhatsApp group, the response from everyone was, "WOW!  I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO DO THIS TOO!"  

And that is the value of a global team who lives and learns and loves each other!  So excited to be part of these team and learning from dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

Enjoy more pictures below!

Pastor Nokoson getting busy with cutting plastic!

The finished product!
Here is Joy (second from the right) and her amazing team!

PS - I hope you've had a chance to see our invitation to "Tuesdays with DML" - just a few minutes each Tuesday in August to learn a bit more about how this ministry works.  Tomorrow, look for an email to hear from our partner in Ethiopia where we are hearing about interesting connections between taxes and missionaries!  Join us and prayerfully consider becoming a Marketplace Ignitor with DML!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Work: A Means or an End?

In the last few weeks, I have participated in many discussions about wealth creation, and as a result, it seems to me that there needs to be a discussion about work, asking:  Is work a means to an end or an end in and of itself?

In my discussions, overall, there seems to be agreement that wealth creation is a means to an end - the flourishing of all.  We don't create wealth just to create wealth.  What we do with it matters and the Bible states pretty clearly that we are to be generous and not to hoard. 

Most also agree that that we are created to work.  We serve a working God, who continues to work to this day, and Genesis 1 and 2 (as well as many other passages) makes it clear that work is our part of being co-creators with God.  As Dorothy Solle says (in To Work and To Love), "First creation is unfinished.  Creation continues; it is an ongoing process...Human work is the act of working with God to fashion a more just world."

But in light of these two positions, do we view work as an end or a means to an end?  In a capitalist economy where efficiency and productivity are emphasized, are jobs created for the fulfillment of a person or the supplying of a need?  Do we prioritize work over the worker?  We often consider the impact that our work has on the world, but how often do we ask the question, "What does the work do to the worker?"  Another way to put it, do we value labor over capital or capital over labor? 
There has been and continues to be great conflict over this, which also enters into the way we view economics or wealth creation.

To that end, I have been reading a book called The Church and Work by Joshua R. Sweeden who shares a number of different opinions on this.  Let me share just a few with you:

Miroslav Volf, theologian and author, says, "If I am created to work, then I must treat work as something I am created to do and hence (at least partly) treat it as an end in itself."

Schumacher writes that "a person's work is undoubtedly one of the most decisive formative influences on his character and personality."

Sayers, in Vocation in Work, states:  "The great primary contrast between the artist and the ordinary worker is this:  the worker works to make money, so that he may enjoy those things in life which are not his work and which his work can purchase for him; but the artist makes money by his work in order that he may go on working...For the artist, there is no distinction between working and living.  His work is his life, and the whole of his life - not merely the material world about him...his periods of leisure are the periods when his creative imagination may be most actively at work...he wants money not in order that he may stop working and go away and do something different, but in order that he may indulge in the luxury of doing some part of his work for nothing...When the artist rejoices because he has been relieved from the pressure of economic necessity, he means that he has been relieved - not from the work, but from the money."

Karl Marx and Adam Smith had differing views on work.  Both highly regarded work and placed significant value on it for the benefit of society, but Marx emphasized how work shapes humanity and Smith emphasized work as a source of economic wealth.

St. Benedict collapses the means and the end of work by saying that it is not only instrumental for life, but part of the purpose and intention of life. 

To be honest, I'm not trying to answer some of these questions as much as I am longing to hear the church address some of these questions.  The church needs to have a voice in this dialogue, impacting social, political, and economic realities.  Sweeden writes, 
"When the church remains ancillary in theological considerations of good work, the church's influence in shaping the way Christians understand and embody good work is diminished.  When good work is connected to abstract theological proposals rather than to a concrete community, there is little expectation for the church to reconstruct dominant notions or practices of work among its members or its context.  In other words, the church becomes just another place where theological principles can be propagated - with only slightly more impetus to provide just wages and working conditions - instead of the place where members are nurtured into practices and understandings of work corresponding to theological convictions.  The danger is that the church becomes inconsequential for the understanding and practice of good work...The question inevitably arises, if the church does not ground Christian understandings of good work, who or what does?"
I believe that the greatest commodity one can possess is not money, but the ability to share skills and material things. 

What are your thoughts on this?

PS - Tuesday, August 3 begins our "Tuesdays in August" with DML Marketplace Ignitor Campaign.  Watch your email for more details and we hope that you will join us as our partners share some exciting updates of the impact of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in their churches and communities.