Monday, February 28, 2022

Crap Detector #1: Blessings - Passive Receiving or Active Equipping?

When I look back over my own faith journey, I'm sometimes surprised to realize that I've essentially been pastored by two men.  From birth to age 17, I attended the churches where my father was the pastor.  At age 17, I moved from Canada to Grand Rapids and started attending Madison Square Church, and Pastor David Beelen was my pastor until he retired a couple of years ago.  That is a lot of years of influence on my life and faith, especially from Pastor Dave!  

A recurring exhortation that Pastor Dave would use in his teaching was that all Christians need to fine-tune their own "crap detectors" in order to determine what was Biblical truth and what was not.  I remember chuckling over that phrase - one that my father, the other pastor in my life, would NEVER have used and definitely not from the pulpit!  What's even better is that Pastor Dave had a "crap detector" built and brought it to the pulpit on many a Sunday to press home the illustration.  His goal was to get us to not blindly accept what was taught from the pulpit or anywhere else, but to learn the word of God and bury it in our hearts.

Over the years, my crap detector has become finetuned in detecting some specific foul-smelling errors relating to my passion and my work.  My crap detector has been known to go off when I hear or read false or muddled unbiblical ideas especially around the concepts of the sacred/secular divide, the theology of work, and the purpose of our place in creation.  Others may have their crap detector attuned to different biblical issues and problems.  For my husband, Michael, for example, who has spent his adult life being an editor for New Testament studies and theology, his crap detector is very attuned toward Pauline studies and matters relating to what Paul teaches.

I pray your indulgence as I am going to spend a few blogs pointing out where my crap detector has been going off lately. I hope that in sharing these things within the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit will help us all to be attuned to God's word, keeping our "crap detectors" finely tuned for the falsehoods that so easily pose as truth.

The first alarm bell I want to sound is the way Christians misunderstand and misuse the word "blessing."  My crap detector has gone off for some time when I hear how believers use this word, but only recently has it become clearer to me why this is so. 

My crap detector has gone off when I hear Americans talk about how blessed we are to live in this country of relative safety, wealth, and opportunity.  Don't get me wrong, I am thankful to live in the US, especially all the more so this last week with the war between Russia and the Ukraine.  However, in my mind, I wondered when I hear such things from other believers: "Is this really a blessing?  The way in which our country has achieved our current state of prosperity and relative peace was not exactly 'Christian' in many ways.  How do we now get to say, 'Thank God for these blessings?'  

A secondary bell goes off on the old detector as well. Doesn't this level of 'blessing' that we so enjoy tend to lead to complacency, apathy, and express itself in a lack of need for God?  Are we not fast moving toward a post-Christian era in the US because of our individual, cultural, even spiritual attitude toward these "blessings?" Would not the flip side be that if this prosperity and relative peace is blessing for us, then Ukraine is not blessed?  Or there is no blessing for Nigeria, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, or other countries dealing with on-going conflict or poverty?  Intentional or not, we, as Americans, thank God and cling to these privileges received as blessings, as if they are richly deserved.

To be fair, my crap detector has also sounded when I have left American shores. It's gone off when, for example, I hear Africans praying for blessings.  Frequently enough, there has been a subtle (or less than subtle) subtext that to receive a blessing, a believer must have enough faith, or spend enough time in prayer, or plant a large enough seed, or be holy enough.  In this case, it's as if the blessing is earned.

Maybe my crap detector has become heightened to the question of "blessing" because of Bob's death.  Many missionaries talk about how blessed they have been by God in His protection; that was not something I could say after Bob's death.  Or maybe it has become sharpened through spending so much time in countries with poverty, disease, conflict, and war, so that when I hear North American Christians pray for what we enjoy and describe as "blessings," it sounds hollow and superficial. What we in the US might perceive as a lack of blessings, may be the rich fertile soil for a deeper understanding.  As New Testament believers and Christians in most of the world know from experience, even as we are going through trials, it does not mean that we are not blessed. Both Matthew 5:5-6 and James 1:12 reminds us that we are blessed when we are under trial and persecution. (Matthew 5:5-6, Message version: "You're blessed when you are at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.  You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you." James 1:12 - "Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.") In this case, blessings are not an event or a material good, but it is the loving word of our Father over our lives that is revealed on our life's journey.

Blessings cannot be earned NOR are they deserved NOR are they an event.  

Blessing is an empowering or an equipping.  It is not passive receiving.

God does not ask us to do something without empowering us to do what He is asking.  His blessings are an active equipping.  In Genesis 1:28, we were blessed before we did anything, in order for us to fulfil our purpose on this earth.  We are blessed to be fruitful.  We are blessed to reign. Those blessings are for all nations, for all people, made in HIS image, flourishing in this amazing world that He has created, with resources for all to use for our own flourishing and the flourishing of others.  

We are blessed to be a blessing just like Abraham (Genesis 12:2 and Galatians 3:9).

Inherent in this is that we should be careful when we pray for a blessing.  To whom it is given, much is required.  We are to pass that blessing on to others.  We are to keep open hands before the Lord when He gives blessings.  These blessings are not ours to hold tight to and try to control.  But rather, with open hands, we give the opportunity for these blessings to be a renewable resource that can make nations great, and people flourish.

Does your crap detector go off when reading this blog?  If so, please feel free to write me at  And I would also love to hear what makes your crap detector go off!

Monday, February 14, 2022

More about Rwanda

As a novice to Rwanda, I find it to be fascinating.  The genocide of 1994, which killed approximately 800,000 people (1/5th of the population!) in ten days by approximately 150,000 perpetrators(!) should have decimated the country for years to come.  There should have been backlash, acting out, PTSD, mistrust, and more for quite a period of time to come.

But after twenty years, there is quite a different testimony.  Consider this:

  • Kigali is considered the cleanest city in all of Africa.
  • Rwanda is considered the safest country in all of Africa.
  • Per capita income has more than doubled since 2019 and is $2155; in 1990 it was $933.  There is still a lot of poverty in Rwanda, with 55% of the population still below the poverty line, and 22% in severe multidimensional poverty.
  • Health insurance is provided for all citizens at the low cost of $10/year.  Infant mortality and death of children under the age of five has plummeted.  Life expectancy went from 33.4 years in 1990 to 69 years in 2019.
  • Public schooling is free and Rwanda boasts that 97% of children are in primary school, the highest in Africa.  Expected years of schooling in 1990 were 5.7 years; in 2019, it was 11.2 years.
  • They were one of the first countries to get rid of plastic bags.
  • Electricity has been brought throughout the country.
  • Rwanda has the highest proportion of women in government in the world.  They now have the right to own property and keep an equal inheritance in a divorce.

Only 71 people were convicted by the UN tribunal for their role in the genocide. Most others confessed and went through the peace and reconciliation process, allowing them to process forgiveness, healing, and reintegration into society.

To discourage tribalism and identify as one nation of Rwandan people, the government introduced a new flag and new national anthem in 2001.

The World Bank measures the ease of doing business in countries around the world, and Rwanda ranks better than the US in a number of areas!  Rwanda ranks at 29 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business; #2 for registering property, #14 for protecting minority investors, and #35 for paying taxes.  

The Bishop of the Pentecostal Church of Rwanda
This work of rebuilding the nation spread also to the churches.  In 2018, 6000 churches were closed for not meeting structural and pollution regulations (in many cases, sound pollution - churches competed to be the noisiest with their services).  Many of these churches were able to reopen once they met the standards, but the message given was that churches need to be contributing to the flourishing of people, and not deceiving their congregations with misleading sermons. Pastors are now required to have a first degree in theology.  We met with the bishop of the Pentecostal Church of Rwanda (pictured here), the largest evangelical denomination in the country, who had as one of his first duties to let go of 1000 pastors.  Those critical of this work were quickly silenced by being reminded that the church was complicit in the genocide.  Additionally, the church is criticized for not contributing to the flourishing of human life on earth, rather it promotes dependency and complacency.  This is in part why the Pentecostal Church of Rwanda is interested in working with Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

Lots of great things.  Lots of changes.  Lots of challenges.

It is quite fascinating to think about why and how and who.  So many countries continue to struggle with the aftereffects of various forms of devastation and the ability to move on seems illusive.  How did these changes happen?

Two key leaders in Kigali DML training
While what I know is extremely limited by only what I hear and read, I believe that President Kagame has articulated a very clear and critical message of resisting a dependency mentality, which has had an impact on how the government works (looking internally for change and development rather than externally), as well as how the average citizen works, not looking externally for assistance and development but looking internally for ways to contribute to Rwanda.  President Kagame is quoted as saying, "We have understood for a long time that you can't cure poverty without democracy.  the only cure is through business, entrepreneurship, and innovation."  Forbes goes on to say this in the same article:  "On a continent in which power tends to coagulate at the top and rarely spreads to regional and local levels, Rwanda preaches a gospel of free enterprise and private sector job creation."

In contrast to countries who proclaim that, if elected, they will bring salvation and relief from misery (promoting dependency on government) and willing to sell out to foreign donors, this is a more healthy, Godly view of people, made in the image of God with the capacity to be co-creators with Him.  This is not to say that there aren't points of criticism about the who and the how and the when, and I'm aware of those criticisms.  But the results are quite remarkable.  It makes me want to live there for a while, just to watch and learn.  I pray that there may be lasting peace, progress, and flourishing for all citizens in this country!

Leaders trained in Discipling Marketplace Leaders in Kigali

Monday, February 7, 2022

Fourth stop, Kenya (and a new tip for getting an audience's attention!) 😊

I'm sending this from home, where I arrived last night (Sunday).  So thankful to God for traveling mercies and trip mercies!

In the past 24 days, the following occurred:  

  • Nine flights (total flight and airport time was 57 hours)
  • 32 hours driving on the road 
  • Ten different beds (which includes ten times packing, unpacking, and the favorite pastime of ironing), 
  • Seven two-day foundational workshops (112 teaching hours) in seven different cities in four different countries, training 620 pastors and church leaders
  • Nine COVID tests, dealing with long lines, costing a total of $390 USD per person
  • Countless meetings before, after, and during the workshops with DML teams, leaders of denominations and organizations, old friends and new friends.
Praise God for the strength and ability to get through all of this, relatively smoothly!

Karibu Kenya

The last leg in this journey was in Nairobi, Kenya.  Here, we met with a new DML partner, Life Ministries Kenya, which is the Kenyan name for Campus Crusade for Christ.

CRU (as it is known in the US) is not just about campus ministry, but it also works with churches and denominations, encouraging discipleship and leadership development, as well as church planting.  The workshop in Nairobi was attended by many of the Life Ministry Kenya staff, including the National Director.  

The message of DML resonated with them and they said that the time is right for this message, especially in this season of COVID where churches have lost significant amounts of members.  One leader said, "The church has been caught with their pants down - they made the church all about the building and programs, and not about equipping the people."

Other comments made at the close of the workshop:

Everything you are saying is in the Bible - and we have this same Bible...How did we not see it? (Justice Mediator and Business Owner)

 I realize that I have been teaching everything wrong.  I have been teaching scarcity and population control.  I have learned that people are not the problem, they are God's solution.  Going forward, I will be changing how I teach.  (Economics Professor)

The leadership of God's church is shifting from the pastors and bishops to the leaders in the Marketplace.  (Pastor) 

We are excited to see what God can do through this partnership!

Tips for Commanding the Attention of an Audience

For those of you on Facebook, you may have learned of the *shocking* experience I had in Mwanza, Tanzania.  I am developing tips on how to command an audience's attention.  In Ethiopia, I fainted while teaching and was caught by my translator.  In Mwanza, I was electrocuted and saved by my translator.  All of this is a good (albeit humiliating) way to get the attention of the audience!

What happened was this:  We were just opening the workshop with welcome and introductions, following which we would show a short video.  While Pastor Anthony was doing the intro and welcome, I was making sure the video was ready to go.  We were using two projectors - one for English and one for Swahili.  I realized that the computer we were using for Swahili did not have the video on it, so I decided to switch HDMI cords to project from the English computer.  I unplugged the HDMI cord from the Swahili computer and walked over to the English computer and unplugged that HDMI cord.  As soon as I did, the current (220, not 110) started surging from one hand to the other, through my body.  I began shaking.  I tried to shake the cords off of me, but they were now stuck on my palms, attached like magnets.  I called out, "Help me!" three times, while stumbling backwards and then falling to the floor.  Pastor Anthony tried to pull the cord to get it off of me but it would not detach.  He then grabbed my arm and was able to pull one of the cords off, which ended the flow of electricity.  It took about 10-15 seconds.  So, there I sat on the floor, and looking up, saw everyone gathered around with great concern.  Yup.  Embarrassing.  

It was definitely scary for me, and I keep wondering what would have happened if I was alone - how could I have ended the flow of that current?  But God is good, and I am fine!  My doctor encouraged me to get an EKG when I could, so I was able to do that in Nairobi and was told my heart is "perfect." But I didn't touch the cords at that workshop for the rest of my time there!  

It's not unusual for things not to be grounded in various parts of Africa, and I've been shocked many, many times.  But never for a sustained period like this!

For more tips on commanding an audience, especially if you are willing to be embarrassed, stay tuned!  

The training in Nairobi, with the majority of participants from Life Ministries Kenya and the Africa Community Fellowship Churches.

View of Lake Victoria from Mwanza, Tanzania