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Blog – Renita

  • From a Flood to an Ocean

    I arrived at the guest lodge in Dar es Salaam at midnight on Sunday, March 11, with three suitcases
    and two pieces of hand luggage in tow.  The trip had gone smoothly but, as always, was tiring as I rarely sleep on planes.  We arranged for an 8 am start for the day, just a short eight hours away, but our trip in Tanzania was only for three days so we had to make as much use of the time as we could.
    A little bleary-eyed and brain-cloudy, we started off in meetings on Monday morning.  Partway into the meeting, we heard it start to rain.  James Kamau, the principal of African Theological Seminary Tanzania and our host, immediately stopped our conversation and said, "We need to pray that this rain will stop.  If it begins to rain hard, no-one will come to the workshop tomorrow.  The roads will be too bad."  So pray we did.  After about ten minutes, the rain stopped for the rest of the day.  We were thankful.  We were able to see the campus of the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS), which is only a couple years old on their new property (they outgrew their last facility).  It is beautiful.
    James and Mary Kamau, and Dave Champness, in front of some of the new dorms at ATS Tanzania
    Dave's muddy roomAfter a full day, we finished with a dinner outside at the guest lodge, where I was eaten up by mosquitos (and I had forgotten to start my anti-malarial medication), and then I was more than ready for bed.  At around 3 am, it started to pour.  And pour.  And pour.  By 4:30 am, I stopped praying for it to stop as the damage had been done.  My colleague, Rev. David Champness, the new president of ICM-USA, was in a lower part of the guest lodge, and he gave up trying to sleep at 4:45 am, as he heard some of the staff sweeping water.  He swung his legs out of bed and stepped into two inches of muddy water in his room.  His suitcases and some electronics were all on the floor, but thankfully nothing was permanently damaged (lesson:  keep your stuff off the ground if possible!).  Yikes.  The road in front of the guest lodge was a river.  Mud covered everything.  It was a mess.  But my room, thankfully, stayed dry.

    We had expected about fifty people at our event but what could we now expect, given this situation?  We expected very few.  But we continued to say, "Whoever the Lord brings..."

    It appears that the rain was worse on our part of Dar Es Salaam than other parts, however, and we are happy to say that we had 56 pastors and church leaders at the event.  Praise God!  We are thankful that even when people have to battle mud and huge pot holes and mosquitos and torrential rain, that they continue to attend to what God has for them to do.  We were blessed by this group and the dynamic conversations that came out of our time together.

    At the end of the day, we were told by the ICM Tanzania country director that he was going to take us out to dinner.  We were tired (having not slept much the night before because of the rain) but again, as time was short, we had to make the most of it.  "As long as there are no mosquitos," I thought to myself.  We pulled up to a hotel on the beach...and well...I can let the pictures speak for themselves.

    ICM Tanzania Director, Michael, ATS Principal James, ICM-USA President, Dave, and me.The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. (Psalm 19: 1-2)

    From a flood in the morning to this sunset at night over the ocean.  What a delight to serve such a creative God.

    Of course, the beautiful setting didn't prevent us from still attending to business (as can be seen by the picture of me earnestly talking)...nor did the darkness...nor did the wind from the ocean prevent mosquitos from finding my legs and enjoying their own dinner on me.  We accomplished what we came to do in those three quick days and the next day (Wednesday) we went straight from the workshop venue to the airport, where we flew to Kenya.  The next morning (Thursday) I started teaching Integrity and Finance to the ATS in Kitale.

    As we say here, "God is good, all the time...and all the time, God is good...and that is His nature."
  • Work as Worship Retreat update

    I am sending this from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where tomorrow we will start a two day training for pastors and church leaders on Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  I am accompanied by Rev. David
    Rev. James KamauChampness, the new President of ICM, who will co-present with me, as well as Rev. James Kamau, the former ICM Tanzania Director and now Principle of the Africa Theological Seminary, Tanzania.  For the past two weeks Rev. Kamau has been teaching the seminary students on Church-based Business as Mission, a topic that he seems to have fully embraced as crucial for the church.  He wrote us this in a recent email, "I am teaching the Church-based Business as Mission class and loving it.  The students are hearing truths that they have not heard before, and they are wondering how we can get this great truth to a maximum number of people in the shortest time possible.  They want to make me a TV preacher.  NO."

    It is exciting when we see various teams in different countries find their own way of promoting this old truth that work can be an act of worship.  It is also exciting that as of March, this has been taught in seminaries in three different countries already in 2018, with the hopes of going further throughout the year.  God is good!

    Following this training in Tanzania, we will be moving to Kenya and Uganda, where we will join Dr. Phil Walker and Rev. Steve Kennedy (from the UK), and then later in the month all of us will move to Ethiopia.  Please pray with me for safe travel, good health, and open hearts, minds, and ears to the message that God has given to us to share!

    I wanted to update you on the Work as Worship retreat that we had a couple of weeks ago and share with you some of the key quotes that I captured if you weren't able to be there.

    On Friday, February 23, about ten thousand people across North America gathered in churches to reflect on the meaning of "Work as Worship."

    We heard inspirational speakers and testimonies from Pastors Matt Chandler and Chris Brooks.  Matt Chandler said, "The moment we think that work is work, and Christ is Christ, we lose power to focus." 

    Chris Brooks said that the words 'poverty alleviation' just seeks to make poverty a bit more comfortable, and that Christians need to be involved in economic development.  He said that the church is the greatest agent for community transformation and needs to be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of poverty, which is not permanent.

    We heard a moving testimony of Anne Beiler, who owns Auntie Anne's Pretzels, and said that she is "not in the pretzel business, but the people business."  This is a key difference for those who do business as mission!

    We heard from Joel Manby, former CEO of SeaWorld, who wrote a book called Love Works and how he worked diligently to incorporate love into the work environment.  He said for those who struggle to know how to start when needs are many, "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone", describing love as a verb.

    In my opinion, the best speaker was Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, who shared his difficult testimony of challenge in running that business.  He said, "He who has something plus God has nothing more than He who has only God."  Powerful statement.

    We also heard from one of my newly favorite authors, Tom Nelson, who has written a number of books including The Economics of Neighborly Love and Work Matters.  He shared from John 15 and reminded us that fruitfulness comes from abiding and for most of us, fruitfulness is vocational productivity.  He reminded us that God's words to Jesus "in whom I was well pleased" were spoken BEFORE he started his ministry, when he had been a carpenter for eighteen years.  He asked, "If Jesus were to give you your job review, what would he say?"

    This is only a portion of what we heard in that day.  It was a powerful time with lots of information to process!

    Recently I read this quote from C.S. Lewis, who became a Christian at the age of 32 which caused him to reimagine his work as a service to God and others.  He wrote, "The question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not.  We certainly should and must.  The question is whether we should simply (a.) Bring him in in the integrity, diligence, and humility with which we do it or also (b.) Make His professed and explicit service our job."  Lewis didn't change his work upon his conversion.  It changed his relation to his work.

    Amen!  How the world would look different if all who claimed Christ as Lord and Savior had this changed understanding of work as worship!
  • Perspectives, Part 3 of 3: Sweet Trouble

    1 Peter 4:12 - Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
    Recently I heard an African pastor share that the question to be asked when facing trouble is "how can this trouble sweeten me?"

    Sweet trouble.

    How we avoid trouble.  How we dislike trouble.  How we grumble during trouble.  How anxious and nervous and sad and depressed and weary and even burned out we get during trouble.  (How well I know each of those categories!)

    How surprised we are at trouble, despite the reminder of 1 Peter 4:12.  "How can this happen?"  "How can this happen to me?"  "How can God let this happen?"

    When the person speaking of "sweet trouble" is a Nigerian pastor who has known trouble and has seen trouble, those words strike deep.  The person saying those words has not lived a cushie life of ease.  I remember being in Egypt and listening to them singing a hymn of faith while in trial in Arabic, and tears welling in my eyes as I felt the oppression for Christians in that country yet hearing them sing about the sweetness of trouble.
    We don't usually think of trouble as sweet until it is long behind us and we can look back to see how it has shaped us, or how God brought good out of the trouble.

    We don't often associate trouble with the participating in the sufferings of Christ.

    As I look back over my life, I see so many episodes of sweet trouble.  Trouble that could have been designed to break me down, God was able to use to build me up.  I certainly didn't see it as sweet most of the time.  

    Recently, I looked in the face of a dear friend, whose son is struggling with cancer, and heard her words "I am heartbroken for him and yet I hold on to joy."

    The perspective of sweet trouble.

    When trouble is viewed as sweet, the opportunity is there for it to evolve into something beautiful.  When trouble is not viewed in this way, the potential is there for people to become bitter, cynical, ugly.

    A friend said to me last week, as we processed some sweet trouble, "God fixes a fix to fix you.  If you try to fix your fix before you're fixed, He'll fix another fix to really fix you."

    Sweet trouble.  We don't pray for it.  But our perspective can certainly help us go through it.

  • Perspectives: Part 2 of 3

    April 15 - tax day - is rapidly approaching.  A day that fills many with dread.

    I recently helped my son, Noah, do his taxes.  He graduated from college in 2016 and was blessed to have a fulltime job right out of college.  His taxes for 2016 (filed in 2017) were for six months of fulltime work and so his 2017 taxes (to be filed soon) were his first year of taxes with a fulltime job that was for twelve months.

    He was shocked and a little outraged to find that his tax rate as a single person was 28% of his gross income.

    I agree that it does seem like a lot.

    But then perspective kicks in, which Noah was able to quickly hear given his many years of living in Africa.

    He landed a fulltime job right out of university at the age of 22.  That is amazing.  That is a blessing.  He is doing something he enjoys, in his field of study, contributing to the safety of our country.  Not many 22 year olds can say that in the world today!  [Not to mention the fact that he makes more than I do, at the age of 49; granted, DC is expensive but still!!!]

    In Ghana and Nigeria, so many young people are now graduating from university with no jobs available.  They are told that doing a small business is "beneath them" as they have a university degree.  So they sit at home and wait and hope for a job to come.  Because of this, there is an increase in armed robbery and kidnapping, as these youth begin to despair of finding purpose and work.  We (at Discipling Marketplace Leaders) are developing an entrepreneurship program to address this challenge.  We believe firmly that the Church need to be about training job makers, not just job seekers, so that people can use their creative abilities, made in the image of God, to help people flourish!

    While Noah (and many of us) may not be happy about how much of his income is going to taxes, he does know that infrastructure is consistently provided for in his city/state, and will continue to be kept up - roads (okay, some potholes but overall incredibly good roads!), water, free public education, and electricity.  The government, while full of it's own issues, is not overtly corrupt with nepotism (you may think I'm naïve, but again, remember that this is about perspective IN COMPARISON to other places).  He can sleep safe and secure each night, with a country that does protect it's people (granted, not all people equally, but the majority are able to sleep at night without fear).

    Is it perfect?  Absolutely not.  Is the US the greatest country in the world?  Not even close, in my opinion.

    But again, can our conversations be seasoned with more grace and perspective, given the reality of many places in the majority world?

    I think so. 

    The challenge of paying taxes is not new.  David killed Goliath in part because his family wouldn't have to pay taxes (1 Samuel 17:25).  But Jesus is very clear in Matthew 22, that we are to pay to Caesar the things that are Caesars. 

    Taxes are in place to help level the playing field for all citizens in a country.  That is the goal of government.  I have seen with my own eyes what happens when countries who pay even higher taxes than the US have no infrastructure, no jobs, and no security, when embezzlement is the order of the day; and when killing of certain people groups by those in government is not only ignored but condoned.

    Perspective.  It's a wonderful thing.  I know that we can always find people who have it "worse than us," and there is a time and place for being legitimately grumpy about circumstances.  But despite that, perspective is still helpful.

    We live between the "now" and the "not yet."

    There is much to be grateful for in North America in the now.  But have we arrived?  Absolutely not.  We are "not yet" where we need to be, and it's good that we continue to voice concerns for injustice and take action as we can.  But as we live in this in-between time, let us lend our voice and our prayers also to those who have it much worse.  Let us speak with appreciation for what we have here.  Let us pay our taxes, grateful for what it provides, and continue to pray and be active in working towards the betterment of our country and our world.
  • Perspectives: Part 1 of 3

    My daughter Hannah has a sleep disorder called Hypersomnia.  There is a part of our brain that is supposed to keep us awake that doesn't work right for her, so she is tired all the time.  It took years to come up with that diagnosis, with lots of tests.  She has access to medicine that addresses that and allows her to work, study, and fully function.  That medicine costs $800 per month but because of health insurance, she only pays a copay of $15.

    I have a niece that has Crohn's disease.  I have watched her suffer (from a distance) for more than eight years with excruciating pain, medicines, job challenges, etc.  Several years ago, we were able to be present for her wedding and recently she gave birth to a healthy daughter, despite being told that it would be a challenge due to all the medication she had been on.

    A fellow church member also has Crohn's disease and has gone through a number of surgeries, sharing on Facebook the difficulties that this disease presents.  She is now doing much better thanks to the medical help she has received.

    I have a friend in Kenya, a pastor and graduate of Africa Theological Seminary.  He and his wife have two children.  When I saw him a year ago, I noted that he looked even thinner than his usual thin self.  Upon asking him if he is okay, I was able to coax out of him that he had lost weight because his son is sick.  You see, this pastor makes $200/month for a family of four.  He is a pastor in a relatively large church (500 members) in a relatively large city in Kenya.  But his fourteen year old son has Crohn's disease and the monthly medication for him is $300/month.

    Which is why he is losing weight.  When your child is sick, crying each night in pain, and not able to go to school despite being a bright student, you do what you have to do as a parent.  They were buying the medicine as often as they could, which was not often and not in a consistent way that would allow for healing.

    So Michael and I stepped in to help.  This young man has now been in school for the last six months, is sleeping during the night, and his medication has now been reduced to half the amount as healing is taking place.

    I'm not writing this to toot our own horn.  I'm writing this because of the amount of complaining that I hear about the health system in the United States.  I'm writing this because there comes a time when we need to get a bigger perspective.  I have the luxury of having that perspective thrust in my face every time I'm in Africa.  Not many people have that luxury and when you are surrounded by negativity, it's difficult to find perspective. 

    It's true that the system here is not perfect and needs to be worked on.  It's true that health insurance is very expensive and not equitable for all people.  I agree.

    But it's also true that we have it better than most people in the majority world.  And because of that, our conversations can be seasoned with more grace and appreciation than what I often hear.

    We have hospitals with working machines (something Bob did not have in Ghana).  We have options of health care.  We have "GoFundMe" options when we can't pay the bills.  We have options of paying things off over time (as opposed to many places in Africa where you have to prepay for a procedure as they have little hope of collecting it after - therefore many people die without treatment because they can't afford to pay up front). We can even declare bankruptcy when the bills overwhelm us.

    I continue to be so grateful for the perspective that my work affords me.  I pray that God grants me the grace to be thankful, as the quote says, for the "roses in the thorn bushes" and not just lament the thorns.
  • Did It Rain Before the Flood?

    Two weeks ago I was giving my rendition of Genesis 1 and 2, asking the crowd to use their "spiritual imagination" in thinking of how Adam and Eve might spend their time in the garden where they were told to "work" and "take care of" the Garden, prior to the fall (Genesis 2:15).  I reminded them that there were no weeds yet and God was watering the garden on His own with rain.

    The next day, Dr. Walker and I did our two mile walk for exercise, which we try to do as often as we can when on the road, and as we walked, we started our routine debriefing of how the workshop went.  We usually critique each other on style and content.  He said to me, "I noted you said that God watered the garden with rain, but you know there was no rain until Noah."

    That stopped me in my tracks and I responded with an astounded "what on earth are you talking about."

    The idea that there was no rain comes from Genesis 2: 5-6 which says, "When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up - for the Lord God had not cause it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground."

    The idea was that a vapor canopy covered the earth, producing a massive greenhouse effect.  Additionally, since there was no mention of rain until Noah, the assumption was there must not have been rain.  To me, the fact that very shortly after this text there were many plants of the field and humans to work the ground, negates this idea.  This text seems to me to be simply a recapping of the creation and the fact that no rain had come by day three.

    Apparently many people have held this belief, but this was the first I had heard about it.  [I find it amazing what I continue to learn about the Bible, even after reading and studying it for so many years!]  Many have now abandoned this idea as it has been difficult to show how this would have worked and is not actually backed up with scripture.

    On the face of it, with my limited knowledge, it makes no sense that God would create the world to have such a vastly different climate and weather system up until the flood.  The entire system would have had to be different.  But He declared His creation to be very good, so why change it so drastically?  Was rain a result of sin?  Seems odd to me.

    I'm not sure I like the idea of living in a greenhouse, which sounds very humid.  And normally, I don't like to get into these type of debates which involve a lot of speculation of the past, which doesn't necessarily change anything for us today.  But it's interesting to learn about some of the speculation that theologians and scientists have regarding the way God created the world.

    I had a very busy week in Ghana, teaching Church-based Business as Mission to 98 theology students at the Assemblies of God Bible College in Kumbungu, Northern Ghana.  In addition to that, we had a number of meetings exploring partnerships with other Bible colleges and seminaries.  The meetings were exciting in that we met people in key positions who have such a heart for the Marketplace and are looking for discipleship tools for their members.  One of the Christian universities was so excited (they already teach Theology of Work) about Discipling Marketplace Leaders that they immediately offered me a job and a place to live on campus! 

    I'm looking forward to seeing what God will do in West Africa in the next year!  Things are certainly starting to get busy!

    I'm now home for a few weeks and then will head out to East Africa, where we will have DML work to do in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.  
    The students at the Assemblies of God Bible College.  A great class!
  • When Four Hours Becomes Eight

    On Thursday, we started the four hour journey from Jos to Abuja at 7 am.  The goal was for our colleague to be able to make the trip back in time for an important church meeting that evening.  This particular road has been known for armed robbers, so there are many police and para-military check points along the way.

    Some of the police and soldiers are very courteous and friendly, wishing us safe travels.

    Others....not so much.

    Two boldly demanded that we give them money.  We offered a blessing instead.  One accepted the blessing...the other one kept demanding money.  We didn't give any and eventually we were released.

    At one stop, however, we were waved over by the police to park.  I've learned that there are strict rules about how to behave when this happens, or the consequences can be severe.  Our colleague was asked to provide his license and papers which were thoroughly examined.  Then the car was examined.  We began to hear arguing and we knew this wasn't good.  The violation?  A brake light was out and the spare tire needed more air (according to the police officer).

    Both of these are relatively easy fixes and minor violations.  A brake light can burn out at any time without the car giving any sort of warning or notice.

    It was the consequence that caught us off guard.  A 5000 Naira fine (about $15 - not too bad), license seized (that can get tricky to get back and is only supposed to be seized if there is a traffic accident), and three weeks of driving school for our colleague.  That's right.  You read it right.  Three weeks of daily driving school...for a brake light out and lower tire pressure on a spare tire.

    [Nigeria must have the best educated drivers and safest cars in the world with this level of commitment to safety and repeat education!]

    As we knew time was of the essence for our colleague, we wanted him to take care of it in the most efficient way possible, as we continued the journey.  As police don't take cash (which is a good thing!), the first step was to find an internet café which actually knows how to deal with these violations and can print the paper needed to take to the bank.  After three internet cafes that didn't know how or didn't have the capacity, we finally got the paper we needed at the fourth internet café.  Now to the bank to make the payment.  After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, we learned the computer was down.  Power is on and off so much in Abuja.  Finally, that payment was made.

    Then it was on to get the brake light fixed and air in the spare tire.  One place for fixing the light.  One place for putting air in the tire.

    Then we were on our way.

    It was up to our colleague to find his way back to that check stop and the police station associated with it to get his license back.  And he would also need to plead with the people there not to require the three weeks of driving school.

    His heart was heavy with the prospect.  Our hearts were heavy with the reality before him.

    I get to say, "This is what happens in Nigeria."  I get to leave.  My colleague has to struggle with the fact that this is his country.  These are his people.  It's embarrassing for him.  It's beyond annoying.  It's a waste of time.  It's over the top.  The drain is emotional, financial, and time-consuming.

    The good news is that he was able to get his license back and they waived the education requirement.  He missed his meeting at the church but was thankful to have the whole thing behind him.

    This time.  What of next time?  What is a citizen to do when faced with this again and again?

    One thing that I learned on this trip is the "gentleman's agreement" that the country of Nigeria has between the north and the south.  The agreement is that every eight years, there is to be a trade-off on whether the president comes the north or south.  The north tends to be more Muslim; the south tends to be more Christian.  The current president is from the north.  What I learned is that when the president from the North comes in, his people are all put into all ministerial and cabinet positions.  All the favor swings toward the North and the Muslims.  When the president from the South comes in, similar things happen, although Christians argue that their people work to be more egalitarian for all people.

    Whatever was done by the previous president is usually undone and everyone who is from the other camp simply holds their breath until the eight years have passed.  This can't be good for the country overall.

    In the US, we can say the same thing happens, as it relates to one president undoing what another has done.  But there is freedom of choice at each election.  The other issue is that things go much further here, with lives lost, police looking the other way, etc, based on where you are from.

    Lots of thinking and processing to do on my part as I watch, observe, and try to identify with my Nigerian brother and sister.

    I have now left Nigeria and am in Tamale, Ghana.  Today I start teaching at the Assemblies of God Bible College, where I'm told I will have 90 pastors as students of Church-based business as mission.  I was supposed to teach one class but they decided to open it up for all the students at the college for this section!

    God is good...all the time! All the time...God is good...and that is His nature!
  • No "Spoiler Alert" Needed

    I'm told that there are people who like to read the last page of a book first, in order to know whether or not the book ends well.  I assume reason this is done is to ensure the book has a happy ending.  If the book has a sad ending, they will pass on the drama of reading the
    whole thing.

    That is definitely not me.  In fact, I frequently feel misunderstood by my family because I tend to want to watch movies that are based on real life - movies that describe the hardship and pain of life; and often these movies are frequently sad.  I started feeling badly about myself, because I would recommend a movie that I thought was beautiful and deep, troubling and thought-provoking, and people would react negatively to it, so I began to think that maybe there was something wrong with my choice of "entertainment."  How could my sad choices be entertaining?  Maybe I'm too dark.  "When I watch something, I just want to escape - I don't want to deal with reality," is the line I frequently hear.  I was sharing this with a friend, who is similar to me in personality, who said "our personality types don't like 'candy' for entertainment - we are truth seekers, seeking to understand people and human nature."  I happily accepted that assessment as part of how God has made me.

    Which brings me to the story for this blog, which actually needs no spoiler alert.  EVERYONE knows the end of this story.  And that is part of the problem.  This particular story ends happily but because we know the ending, we miss out on the tension that is so crucial to the understanding of the story.

    The story I am referring to is when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. We know the background of the story - the drama that is found in Abraham being asked to sacrifice a child that he has waited for his entire life; a child that was to be the beginning of the nations that would be Abraham's heritage; a child promised in such a dramatic fashion. We also know the ending to the story, but let's suspend that for a moment in light of a revelation that was new to me (maybe not new to you) and which dramatically changed the dynamics of this story.

    How old was Isaac when Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice him? 

    Almost every drawing or piece of art that has been made of this scene depicts Isaac as a child.  But when you read Jewish scholars and Christian theologians or commentators, you will see that almost all say that he was likely between the ages of 20-35 years old.


    That changes the story for me.  Imagine now Isaac asking, "Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" as an adult.  Imagine him carrying the heavy wood and walking alongside his father,
    conversing as they walked.  These were not child/daddy conversations, but adult to adult. 

    But more than that, think of what these words mean: 
    Genesis 22:9  "He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the alter..."

    By this time, Abraham was likely to be around 125 years old, assuming that Isaac was 25 years old.  Could Abraham have bound Isaac without Isaac submitting to being bound?  Likely not. 

    Can you imagine willingly allowing your father to bind you, lay you on an altar, and plan to set you on fire?  Can you imagine THAT conversation?  And yet, apparently Isaac was willing to be obedient, even unto death.

    This story is as much about Abraham's faithfulness to God as it is about Isaac's submission to God. I had never caught that before.

    We've all heard how this story harkens to the story of Jesus, carrying his cross, but it bears a much closer resemblance to the sacrifice of Jesus by God the Father when we understand Isaac's age.  This wasn't a child being duped by a father who didn't want to tell him what was going on until it was too late.  This was a young man willing to go toward his death.

    Am I willing to be as obedient as Abraham? Am I willing to be as obedient as Isaac? Could I sacrifice this deep, to this level?

    The happy ending, of course, is that God provided the lamb, both for Abraham, as well as for us.  The good news, in fact, is that Jesus died in our place.

    The good news is that there is one more spoiler alert given to us by Jesus:
    I, for one, am very grateful.

    This week we are on the road in Nigeria, visiting various cities to meet with pastors and church leaders who have begun to implement Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  On Friday, I will leave Nigeria for Ghana where I will begin teaching at the Assemblies of God Bible College in Tamale, as well as engage with other trainings for businesses and enjoy meetings with the Hopeline Team.  I appreciate your prayers!
  • Update from Nigeria

    Greetings from Abuja, Nigeria.  The Harmattan winds arrived in Abuja just before I did, bringing a constant look of fogginess, which is actually a very dry and dusty wind from the Sahara.  It's been 100F here during the days, which despite the dust in the air, is still preferable to me as compared to the freezing temperatures and snow in Michigan!

    We just concluded a two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders, and we were excited to have two leaders from Cameroon join us as well.  Lord willing, we will start the work there in July as some of the tensions there seem to be calming down.  They were both very excited by the material and it especially struck a cord with Emeline, who is working on her PhD in Organizational Leadership and has felt called to this exact message for some time.  In fact she has written a book about this concept but felt she lacked the tools to make it practical.  We are looking forward to being with them to do a five day course with DAI Cameroon.

    One of the hot topics during this particular two-day training seemed to be a resounding echo of conversations that we have had of late in the US as well, having to do with the growing sense of the irrelevancy of the Church especially by young adults.  While people love the idea of Discipling Marketplace Leaders, some are occasionally frustrated by the fact that we believe this work needs to be done through the church.  The church leaders in this workshop wondered about whether we would be willing to work with a new movement - a movement of people who are frustrated with the current institutional church and who are starting their own gatherings.  One pastor of such a church was in our midst.  He expressed that you can only try so long to change the mindset of the institutional church and its leaders before you finally give up and try to "be the change that you seek."  The frustration with the church is often the same - it is inward focused, focused on raising money, focused on programs, and existing as a sub-culture.

    Dr. Walker described the challenge in a new way during this training.  He asked whether people would rather be Moses or Joshua?  Moses was involved in protecting and saving a people who were enslaved and beaten down.  Joshua was involved in taking a new generation, who had forty years to leave behind slavery, to be a people ready to conquer and take over a new land.  The miracles that God did through Moses in Egypt were many and revolved around God doing the miracles.  The miracles that God did for those entering the promised land were fewer and they revolved around the Israelites being involved with the miracles (i.e. walking around the wall).  Are our churches stuck in caring for people with a slavery mindset, who have been beaten down by the world?  We describe this as a "Come to Get" church.  Or are our churches preparing us to conquer lands and move into the Promised Land?  We describe this as a "Come to Go" church.

    It was an interesting conversation.  We certainly agreed on a couple of things.  First, we need to continue to work with the existing church and sound a warning, as we are told to do in Ezekiel 33. But secondly, if God raises up a new movement, as has been done time and again throughout history, we need to be open to how the Holy Spirit moving.  It needs to be a both/and.

    Please continue to pray for the Church in Nigeria.  I have been told that churches in the north are being denied the ability to renew their annual occupancy permits.  This seems to be an attempt to close down the church.  The Church definitely seems to be under persecution in some ways in some parts of Nigeria.  Thankfully, the church is more about buildings and while they may close the buildings, they can't stop the Church as the people of God!
  • Health and Productivity

    Not long ago, the US Embassy in Kenya sent out a notification of a cholera outbreak in the country.  There have been 3000 cases with sixty deaths so far.   It made me think of a research paper that I wrote for one of my classes on the correlation between health and productivity.  We all know of organizations who do great work in addressing health issues around the world.  Two that come to mind immediately for me are Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Mercy Ships.

    While we laud their work, there may be another motivation for us to address health, than simply for the sake of health.  There is a great deal of evidence that health and productivity, or the economic development of a nation, may be linked.  There is also a great deal of evidence that health and per capita income are linked.  Therefore, if the health of a person is increased, their income may be increased, which may lead to the income of an entire nation to be increased.  This is part of the reason why the Millennium Development Goals focused on health, and why the Sustainable Development Goals that I mentioned last week continue to focus on health.

    As it relates to physical health, there have been great strides made around the world in the last fifty years.  According to the World Health Organization:
    •  In 1950, 280 of every 1000 children died before their fifth birthday; by 2002, that number has fallen to 120 per 1000 births in low-income countries, 37 in middle-income countries, and 7 in high income countries.   
    • Some important diseases have been largely controlled, eradicated or nearly eliminated, such as smallpox, rubella, and polio. 
    • There are 17,000 fewer children dying every day in 2012 than in 1990, however nearly 18,000 children still died every day in 2012.  There amounts to the loss of over six million children each year due to preventable diseases. 
    • Many children who survive suffer from malnutrition, malaria, and water borne diseases.   The efficiency cost of hunger is significant, as those who suffer feel weak, lacking in energy, are more susceptible to infection and other illnesses, and may have physical and cognitive impairment due to nutrient deficiencies.   
    • One study suggests that the elimination of undernourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa would raise the economic growth rate from 0.34-4.63 percentage points.  Another study showed that an increase in calories intake by employees increased productivity in a construction firm in Kenya and agricultural productivity in Sierra Leone.  Current evidence indicates that undernutrition is the underlying cause of death in an estimated 45% of all deaths among children under the age of five. Malnutrition or undernourishment can be tied to income.    
    • Malaria is another significant disease that affects the supply of labor due to the high death rate and the productivity of laborers to the point that economists suggest that the growth rate of a country may decrease by 0.23-1.3%.  
    • Malaria can be contracted almost regardless of income.  According to the World Health Organization, 3.2 billion people are at risk for contracting malaria; in 2013, 198 million cases occurred, and the disease killed approximately 584,000 people.   On average, malaria kills a child every minute.
    •  Tuberculosis is one of the world’s biggest infectious killers with an estimated nine million new cases in 2013, and an estimated 1.5 million deaths. 
    • Waterborne diseases kill two million children annually per year, and include such diseases as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and work infections, to name just a few.   Adults more typically survive these diseases but their productivity is impaired while sick.   Water borne diseases can very much be tied to income.
    • Child labor continues to be a widespread problem as well, which often results in physical stunting of children, as well as exposure to cruel and exploitative working conditions.   The International Labor Office (ILO) estimates that there are around 120 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are working fulltime, with another 130 million children working half time.These numbers do not include those children who work at home for their parents or guardians.  However simply banning child labor will not improve the situation, as many of the children survive from the meager wages that are earned.   Rather, raising the per capita income may result in a decrease in child labor and an increase in health.
    There have been significant improvements in health however it is apparent that there remains a great deal of work to be done.   The impact of bad health on the human capital within a country is significant and can significantly impact a person’s personal income, a country’s productivity, and the national GDP.

    This chart shows the correlation between health and income, and the effect on life, very well.

    Development is sometimes referred to as a "headless heart" when it is done only based on
    compassion without looking at the big picture.  This reminder of the importance of health on productivity, which then leads to the health of nations and its citizens, reminds us that people are the solution when given a fair and equal opportunity, such as health.

    [Side note:  The other interesting thing that I read recently is that they continue to measure happiness of citizens in various nations, and have found that happiness levels off after people reach a certain income level (and it's not that high of an income level either).  This diplomat then said that countries make a mistake when they continue to make it their singular goal to see that their country continue to grow in wealth year after year...maybe the focus needs to be somewhere else...something to think about.]