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Blog – Renita

  • Prayer and Paradigm Shifts

    Wow - it's been an intense two weeks in both Kenya and Uganda.  I just arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where I will begin teaching tomorrow but let me share about the last two weeks.

    The trip started in Kitale, Kenya, with a two-day prayer retreat for DML business owners.  We had 140 people in attendance, from five different cities (and their surrounding areas), with 28 different churches represented, including twelve pulpit pastors.  It is not easy to get people to close or hand off their businesses for two days, and spend the money to travel to Kitale, yet so many did.  It was indeed a blessed time.  I realized within the first hour of prayer that this retreat was for me as much as it might have been for anyone else.  It is a powerful thing to spend that much time in prayer with so many brothers and sisters in Christ.

    We heard many great testimonies of what God is doing in and through the businesses of the Marketplace Ministers:
    • stories of economic growth in businesses, household income, and jobs being created
    • testimonies of networking and mentoring as people from the same church meet and share together
    • declarations of spiritual growth as people continue to grow in the grace and knowledge that the work they are doing is holy and good
    • doors being opened to love their neighbor as themselves
    • environmental awareness growing as we learn to be stewards of the earth
    • testimonies of answered prayers, both individually and corporately
    These testimonies were the highlight for me, as well as many others as evidenced by the evaluations. 

    We had something called a "prayer supermarket" where we divided ourselves into four groups, and circulated to four different leaders as a group to pray over specific challenges as Christians in the workplace.  People found this to be very powerful.   We also had everyone find a new prayer partner from the DML ministry, who will pray for them in this next year, and help with accountability and transparency.

    Very slowly, as time passes, we see paradigm shifts begin to take place.  People are beginning to use a more common language about how they are called to the marketplace.  In fact, there has been a few times that they have corrected us as leaders - one time, we said something about a "secular" business and we were quickly reminded that there is no difference between sacred and secular.  Another time we talked about going to church, and we were quickly reminded that we don't go to church - we are the church.  A different time we asked someone if they were in ministry and another person quickly said that we are all in ministry - as part of the royal priesthood.  It's delightful to see this ownership of the paradigm shift coming about naturally and we pray that it may continue.

    On Sunday, March 19 we travelled to Tororo, Uganda to have a two day training with pastors and church leaders with ICM Uganda.  We had a gathering of about fifty, including a number of bishops.  It may have been one of the most fun groups that we have presented to yet.  They love to laugh but they were also many aha moments as paradigms began to shift.  It is such a joy to see people begin to see the Bible, with which they are so familiar, in a different light, especially as it relates to the importance of Genesis 1 and 2, which many pass over quickly as an introduction to Genesis 3.  We have already had six churches sign up to do "Thirty Days in the Marketplace" starting in April and May, so we have our work cut out for us! 

    Thank you for continuing to pray for us and for this ministry. 
    Rev. Elly Kisala, Co-Director of DML Kenya, with the group of pastors from Uganda
    The leadership team in Tororo with ICM Uganda and Africa Theological Seminary Uganda
    An amazing, Godly woman, Grace Koelewijn, the Country Director of ICM Uganda.  What this woman is doing, with her husband Cor, is amazing.  I enjoyed getting to know her much better and look forward to working closely with her.
    My dear friend, sister, and colleague, Caroline Sudi, Co-Director with Rev. Elly Kisala in Kenya.  Always a joy to have more time with her.  A former bank manager for eighteen years, she is now studying for her BA in Theology at ATS in Kitale, while working fulltime with DML (and running a business).  I'm blessed to be surrounded by great women and men of God!
  • Seven years ago...

    Monday, March 20, 2017 is the seventh anniversary of Bob's death. 

    When Hannah and I were discussing this before I left, she remarked that it seems so long ago.  My first reaction was, "No!  I can't believe it's seven years!"  But then I thought about it for a few minutes and agreed with her, that yes, it does seem so long ago.

    It's both.  It's been fast and it's been slow.  So much has happened.  He has missed so much and is missed so much.  On the other hand, it seems like just yesterday that I was at the hospital with him. 

    On my way to Kenya this past week, I watched the movie "Jackie" about Jaqueline Kennedy giving an interview to a reporter just a short time after JFK's death.  [As a disclaimer, I have no idea how accurate this movie is to the facts.] As she relived the actual moment of JFK's death, and you see the horror in her face, I remembered what that was like.  As she relived her first night alone in their bedroom, I remembered what that was like.  Watching her go through that first week, watching her grieve, attend to her children, commemorate and celebrate her husband's life, it all flooded back.  Moments of sanity, moments of dream-walking (or nightmare-walking), moments of anger...so many different moments.

    At one point in the movie, as she is travelling with the body and with Bobby Kennedy, she says to the driver, "Do you know who James Garfield is?"  The driver says, "No."  She turns to another person, and says, "Do you know who William McKinley is?"  The person says, "No."  She looks at Bobby and says, "Two presidents who were killed in the line of duty and we don't even remember their names."  She was determined that would not be the case with JFK.

    I know what that feels like.  Wanting your husband, the father of your children, to not be forgotten.  Wanting his life and his death to have meaning.  Wondering, "should I mention him or not?  I don't want to draw attention to our loss; on the other hand, I want him to be remembered as an important person in our lives."

    On Wednesday, I flew in a ten-seater plane from Nairobi to Kitale.  It was a rainy morning and this small plane feels turbulence easily.  As is often the case, but particularly in this somber week leading up to this anniversary, my mind turned to death.  I don't fear death at all - in many ways, I would welcome it.  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  As I watched the angry clouds outside the window of the plane, I was keenly aware that my kids still need me.  I think about how I talk to my mom each week, and how meaningful her support and love has been for me in these past seven years.  And I think about how heavy that weight can be sometimes as the sole parent remaining.  That part still feels heavy for me, with every landmark that Hannah and Noah pass and with every challenge or joy they face.

    As I pondered this while feeling the turbulence and watching the amazing clouds, we began to rise above the clouds, and something caught my eye.  It was the shadow of the plane on the clouds, with a rainbow surrounding it.  I had to blink a few times to realize what I was seeing.  I took a picture of it and also a video of it, which you can see below.  It's not easy to see - I drew a circle around the photo, and the video (which is only 11 seconds) shows it best when going in front of a white cloud, about seven seconds in.

    I'm sure there is a great scientific reason for a rainbow to surround the shadow of a plane, but in that moment I felt the arms of God around me, reminding me "Never will I leave you nor forsake you."  (Deuteronomy 31:6)  I am thankful to God that despite loss, grief, and the passage of time, God is a Father who knows all of our burdens and cares, and is a Father to my children as well.
  • Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia

    I leave today for four weeks to journey to Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.  I will be joined by Dr. Walker and Mel Fox for the whole trip, and Dave Champness for the Kenya and Uganda portion.
    In each place there will be different work to be done.

    In Kenya, we will have a two day prayer retreat in which 150 businesses will come from five different cities to rededicate their businesses to God.  We will also celebrate the graduation of the next class of students at the Kenyan Africa Theological Seminary with certificates, diplomas, and BAs in Theology and Counseling.

    In Uganda, we will meet with ICM Uganda and hold a two day workshop for pastors and church leaders at the Ugandan Africa Theological Seminary in Tororo (Eastern Uganda).  We have been looking forward to this for some time and have already trained a couple of the faculty.  We will be going there with the two DML staff from Kenya who will be able to lend support to the Uganda team as it develops.  We will also spend some time visiting businesses while we are there.

    We will then leave for Ethiopia, where I will be teaching Integrity and Finance at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, and we will also be doing a Discipling Marketplace Leaders introductory event, as well as the two day training event.  All the materials have been translated into Amharic, and we are praying for the right people to come. 

    In the meantime, our training partner for Ethiopia is in Indiana and is hosting a two day BAM symposium.  We are grateful for our trainer, Kent Ringger, who will be representing DML and will be presenting on our behalf. 

    I am excited to get back on the field again after doing so much writing over the last little while.  We covet your prayers and will look forward to sharing with you what God is doing as we seek to join Him in His work.
  • Scarcity, Part 1

    Recently I read a book called Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.  It is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.  It has to do with how the brain works as it relates to the psychology of how we all struggle to manage life and tasks when we feel that we have less than what we need.  "Less than what we need" can refer to money, hunger, time, love, or any other need that we might have.  The realization is that people's minds act differently when they feel they lack something.  This sense of scarcity allows us to focus more intently on the pressing need and have a keener sense of the value of that need (benefits), but it also saps brainpower, willpower, and narrows our perspective (debilitating aspects).  Something we can all relate to is the idea of a deadline - when it is far out and we have lots of time, we are able to blow it off easily; as the deadline comes closer and time is more scarce, we are able to focus on it better but we might lose sleep or eat more or ignore friends while focusing. 

    There are some fascinating aspects to this psychology.  For example, as it relates to the scarcity of food for those dieting, they did an experiment using a word search study with those who were on a diet and those who were not on a diet.  Those on a diet performed 30% slower after finding words like "cake" and "donut" in the word search than those who were not on a diet.  Being on a diet significantly slowed down the processing of words related to food.

    Another study was a regular IQ test, but before having the participants take the test, they had half of the group read the following hypothetical scenario:
    Imagine that your car has some trouble, which requires a $300 service.  Your auto insurance will cover half the cost.  You need to decide whether to go ahead and get the car fixed, or take a chance and hope that it lasts for a while longer.  How would you go about making such a decision?  Financially, would it be an easy or difficult decision for you to make? The other half of the group had the exact same scenario, but instead of a $300 service, it was a $3000 service.  The researchers had divided each group by their self-reported income between rich and poor.  In the scenario where the service on the car was only $300 ($150 to be paid by the individual), the rich and poor group did the same on the subsequent IQ test.  But on the scenario where the cost of the car was $3000 ($1500 to be paid by the individual), the poor did significantly worse.  All that was done was to tickle the idea of scarcity and the result for the poor was lower cognitive performance.  Imagine how this relates to test scores in low-income schools?

    They also found that the idea of scarcity lowers impulse control as well.  They did a research study on two groups of people, giving one group two numbers to memorize and the second group eight numbers to memorize.  They then had them wait in a room where there was fruit and cake, with the only instruction to remember their numbers.  The real test was what they would choose to eat when mental bandwidth is more scarce.  Those who only had to memorize two numbers chose the healthier fruit, while those juggling eight numbers went for the impulsive less-healthy cake.  When we are juggling a challenge, we have less bandwidth for self-control.  In a similar experiment where again half of the group has to memorize two numbers and the other half of the group memorizes 8 numbers, the group was then served food that is culturally very different than what this particular group was used to (in this case, a chicken foot with claw intact).  The group with only two numbers was able to eat the food without any rude statements; the group with eight numbers had a number of rude outbursts, even saying "This is bloody revolting!"  Again, with the brain tied up in memorizing numbers, there was less bandwidth to restrain impulsive words.

    I find this type of thing fascinating.  But I especially find it fascinating in light of the research that we did for the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry in Kenya.  As you remember, we found that those who made less than $9/day did not benefit from the ministry while those making $10/day and above made incredible gains after going through the program.  We argued that it was because of the stress of poverty, which didn't allow them to apply more complex processes that they were taught, such as marketing, book-keeping, etc.  We knew it wasn't education or gender, as that had been proven as statistically irrelevant.  But now we have better language for the challenge that the poor face, which is actually scarcity of bandwidth which reduces intellectual functioning, impulse control, and self-control.

    The idea of bandwidth is definitely something to consider as we look at human behavior.  And right alongside that is the idea of slack, or a buffer, to absorb shocks.  We need to have enough slack in our _______(fill in the blank:  budget, calendar, diet, etc) to be able to manage life challenges.  When bandwidth is limited and there is no slack, we get caught in a scarcity trap: a situation where a person's behavior contributes to his/her scarcity.  How do we increase bandwidth, both for ourselves and in our work?  How many times have we judged someone's capacity (intellectual, emotional, or even capacity to parent, work, etc) without considering bandwidth and slack?

    I'll write more about this book in a second blog, looking specifically at poverty and even more closely at microloans.  Hopefully at least some of you find this type of psychology interesting too!
  • Rededication, Reconciliation, and Results

    On March 17 and 18, many business people will descend on Kitale, Kenya to rededicate their business to the Lord.  The Kenyan Discipling Marketplace Leaders team is calling this "Commanding the Year" and we will spend hours in prayer together to lay our work before the Lord again as His ambassadors in the Marketplace.  We continue to seek reconciliation through our work, as it relates to how we do business before God, with others, and our interaction with creation.  Our prayer time will be spent on this quadruple bottom line, with speakers who will guide the prayer time to focus on economic, social, missional, and environmental concerns.  As marketing is done for this event, please pray with us that people will give of their time and join us for this important time of prayer.

    This week Discipling Marketplace Leaders will have a Training of Trainers in California for the development of a US team who will begin to go out with us to the places to which God will call them.  The teams we are seeking to build will ideally have person trained in theology and one business person, to be able to reach both pastors and business people.  I'm happy to share the names of a few of those who will be joining this team:
    • Michael Thomson - as Michael has his M.Div, he will be a great partner with me, and we are hoping that the Lord will allow us to team teach together in the future.
    • David Graf - a businessman who has been a prayer partner, encourager, and advisor to me since 2004.  I've wanted Dave to get directly involved in this work for 16 years and finally he is taking that step!
    • James Nowell - a businessman who has been working with us since we were in Liberia, James has also been an advisor, prayer partner, and encourager in this ministry since 2007.  He has taught in Liberia and we are thankful he is joining this team now!
    • Kent Ringger - a pastor and entrepreneur from Indiana, Kent has been teaching at the Africa Bible College in Liberia for many years.  I met him while in Liberia and have stayed in contact every since.  He started a large church and refused to hire anyone to be a pastor unless they had worked in business, as he wanted pastors who could relate to his members.  Business as Mission has been near and dear to his heart for many years!
    • Jim Ippel - a businessman who went on a trip with us in Liberia in 2008 and has wanted to get involved in a more direct way for some time.  We are thankful that God provided a way for him to join us for this trip.
    • Dave Champness - a pastor and businessman from Bakersfield CA, who also serves on the Board of Directors for ICM-USA.  Dave travelled with us to Guatemala last September and believes in the message of DML, wanting to take to other places.
    • Mel Fox - a businessman from Bakersfield CA, who has been involved with ICM-USA for some time.  Mel is feeling led by God to get more involved in the ministry of DML and also travelled with us to Guatemala last September. 
    There are a few others who will be joining us as well.  Please note that this is mostly a male team thus far!  If you are a female pastor or business person and would like to get involved, please email me at renitar@icmusa.org and I can send you the information on how to become a trainer.  Please pray for this team to have a time of learning, sharing, and unity this week, that God may be lifted up in the Global Church.
    Soon after that, the trips will start to Kenya (March 13), then Uganda (March 19), and then Ethiopia (March 26).  We continue to covet your prayers for this work as we seek to join God where He is already active.

    We also were able to come up with our numbers from 2016 and wanted to share that with you as well, especially those of you who are contributors to this ministry, both in prayer, encouragement, and financially.  We are excited to see the growth but know that growth is about more than what we can share in numbers. [Please note that different countries are at different stages of implementation and sensitization, as this is an evolving process.]  Please pray that God will continue to raise up an army of believers who know how to be transformational for Him in their place of work.


    Activities Totals Pastors who attended two-hour introduction (Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia) 183 Pastors and Church Leaders who attended Two Day Training (Kenya, Ghana, Guatemala, Nigeria) 524 Churches Using "30 Days in the Marketplace" (Kenya, Ghana) 14 Churches engaged in twelve-week basic business principles training (Kenya, Ghana) 21 Number of businesses who started twelve-week training (Kenya, Ghana) 319 Number of businesses who completed twelve-week training (Kenya, Ghana) 314 Number of other churches represented by people in business training (business people attending training who are not members of the host church) 36 Number of Commissioning Services (Kenya, Ghana) 8 Number of Marketplace Ministers Commissioned in 2016 314 Total Number of Marketplace Ministers Commissioned since starting in 2013 886 Number of Trainers (Kenya, Ghana) 48 Number of businesses involved in mentoring (Kenya, Ghana) 215 Number of businesses involved in advocacy (Kenya, Ghana) 478 Marketplace Ministers involved in Prayer Walk (Kenya) 104 Marketplace Ministers engaged in Subject Matter Expert:  Dr. Marsha Vaughn on Boundaries (Kenya) 81 Cities where DML is being disseminated 14 Denominations who are using DML 20 Amount of Solomon Funds Passive Investments through DML in Kenya and Ghana $130,227 Number of loans given 172
  • Kenya's Medical Crisis

    In Kenya, the doctors working at 47 public hospitals are now entering their third month of being on strike.  Private hospitals have been overrun with patients, but many cannot afford to go to private hospitals, as fees need to be paid before service is given.  People are dying of preventable, treatable sicknesses. Nurses have been forced to do procedures that they have not had training for, being put in situations well beyond their qualifications.  And recently, the nurses decided to join the strike, making a bad situation even worse.
    Picture from Al Jazeera
    Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are suffering because of this strike.  There has not been a death count released because of this strike, but people estimate that it is in the thousands.

    So what is going on?

    To understand, we have to go back to 2013, when the government agreed to raise the salary of doctors from $14,800 annually to $37,700.  They also agreed to hire new doctors to cover the significant shortage of doctors for the population, deal with equipment shortages, and other provisions.  To date, four years later, officials haven't even begun to implement this agreement.  And this is by a government that is the second highest paid in the world, earning between $5,000-20,000 per month, with multiple pay increases since 2013. Additionally, an internal audit recently reported that of the $4.4 billion dollars that went missing last year from the national coffers, $53 million was from the Kenya Ministry of Health.  And that was just for 2015.
    Picture from Al Jazeera
    The average Kenyan citizen is suffering.  But what the doctors are doing is understandable.   And oh so difficult.

    I held myself back on exclamation marks in writing this, but it well could have been peppered with them.  It is heartbreaking to read the stories of people dying outside of hospitals, of nurses watching patients die, of doctors who long to serve and do what they have been called to do but wanting justice by the government for the sake of the citizens.  The World Health Organization recommends one doctor per 600 citizens - Kenya has one doctor per 4500 citizens.

    Jesus tells us in the book of John that we will see trials and sorrows on this earth, and we do see so very many.  Creation is indeed groaning.  I don't know if it is groaning more than previous centuries - I think each generation has its own unique challenges.  But as comparison is not helpful, all we can do is pray for the challenges before us today.  I know there are so many around the world.  But I ask you to join me in prayer for this situation in Kenya - for the government, the arbitrators, the doctors, and the sick.

    How we need the Holy Spirit.
    Come, Lord Jesus, Come. 
  • Being Free to Follow the Call

    This is a quiet time for me.  One trip for January was canceled and one trip in February was postponed, and so I'm in Grand Rapids for a few more weeks yet.  I'm actually happy about it, even though I love being out on the field, because I have so much writing to do.

    I have been using this time to sharpen my tool box and upgrade the resources we use to teach Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML). I have been working hard, writing and editing the course materials that we use in all DML countries. I have completed two manuals, which now gives our churches three choices for their members, depending on their needs:
  • Leaders in the Workplace - an eight week series (three hours per week) for people who are not business owners but work for others, whether a business, as a teacher, in the medical field, etc.  This series is designed to help Christians in the Workplace understand how to be the Church from Monday-Friday in their place of work, and develop a personal ministry statement to identify how to do that.
  • Microbusiness Manual - some of our churches in developing countries are in rural areas where the full small and medium size (SME) business training is not needed.  This training focuses on some core components to help a business grow, as well as opportunities to help those who lack hope in the heart to understand their calling and place in this world and in God's work.  This training is two-three days, depending on the need for translation.
  • SME Manual - this was finished some time ago but is a third option for churches who have business owners.  This is a twelve week series (three hours per week) and cover basic business skills, culminating in a business plan.
  • Along with Dr. Walker, I am also writing several books that can be made available to the churches with whom we work.  The bigger book includes much of the manuscript that I wrote two summers ago.  We are calling this book, The Grand Narrative of God, as it focuses on the call of God to be the Church from Monday through Sunday, and the role that ALL Christian play in God's story, from the carpenter, to the hotel room cleaner, to the small business owner.

    The second book I am writing is one I already referred to recently in my blog, and is called Financial Freedom for Families.  As I teach Integrity and Finance, I am seeing that pastors and leaders not only need to know more about how to understand budgeting and bookkeeping for their church/organization, but also for their families. 

    As I wrote the chapter last week on The Danger of Debt, I recounted a personal story which I may have shared on this blog before (or maybe Bob did) but thought that it would be good to share it again, especially as our pastor encouraged us on Sunday to share our history - as His Story - the testimony of how God has moved in our lives.  The writing that I'm doing is personal, not just theoretical, and so sharing from my personal experience allows me to be a witness to what I am teaching.  So, here is a portion of the chapter relating to the importance of financial freedom.
    No-one strives to be a slave.  Being a slave is serving someone else's needs rather than your own, often with little to no say in how, when, where, or why it happens. Yet many of us throughout the world put ourselves in a position of being a slave through taking on consumer debt.  Sometimes debt is a necessary thing.  But often we get into debt, or stay in debt, in unwise ways. Let me share from my personal story.  When I got married, my husband brought a large amount of debt into the marriage.  It was mostly student loans but also credit card debt.  He claimed that he was not good with money and quickly turned all budgeting over to me.  We lived very simply, on a tight budget, and worked hard to get rid of that debt.  Almost as soon as the last debt was paid off, we felt that God was calling us to move into a very tough neighborhood, with high crime, drug houses, and high poverty.  It took some convincing for us to accept this call from God, but when we did, we found that the houses in that area were in very bad shape, and despite our good income, no bank would lend us money to invest in that neighborhood.  Thankfully, we had cleared all of our debt and were able to max out our credit cards to get our house to where it was safe for us to move in, with a four year old and two year old.  If we hadn’t been diligent to pay off our debt, we would have had to tell God, “No, sorry.  We can’t move there because we are serving another master right now.” Once again, we buckled down, stuck to a very tight budget, and worked very hard to pay off our credit card bills.  No sooner had we paid off those debts when we felt that God was moving us to send our children to the local public (government) school, which was on the closing list as it was considered a failing school.  Our children had been going to the Christian school outside of our neighborhood, but we had felt the urge (the call) to be even more “one” with our neighbor by joining in the local school.  However, there was one major challenge (other than the fact that it was a failing school and our children would be the only white children there).  My husband was working at a Christian college which had the policy that all faculty had to send their children to a Christian school.  He had been working at this college for sixteen years and had a very good salary.  But again, we felt strongly that God was urging us to be one with our neighbors and join with them to be parents at this public school.  Because of heeding this call, my husband lost his job at the Christian college.  I remember that I was at a prayer meeting at my church when I received word from my husband that our appeal to the decision of losing his job had been denied.  I immediately was afraid and tearful, knowing that we had lost our main income (at the time I was working at a local non-profit that we had started with our church, making very little money).  A friend (Laura Prichard) played a song for me that day from Donnie McClurkin, called “I’ll Trust You”: I know that faith is easy when everything is going well
    But can you still believe in Me when your life's a living hell?
    And when all the things around you seem to quickly fade away
    There's just one thing I really want to know
    Will you let go?  Will you stand on My word?
    Against all odds will you believe what I have said?
    What seems impossible will you believe?
    Every promise that I made will you receive?What if it hurts?  What if you cry?
    What if it doesn't work out the first time that you try?
    What if you call My name and don't feel Me near?
    Will you believe in Me or will you fear? Oh, my child?

    I will trust.It was tough to trust; I've had to come back to this song a number of times to repeat, "I will trust."  But, once again, we were able to follow this call to walk away from a solid income because we had no debt.  If we had not been diligent to pay off our credit card bills, we would have had to say, “Sorry, we can’t send our children to the public school because we have to keep our job so that we can keep paying on our debts.”  [Side note:  Our efforts to join with our neighbors resulted in that school being taken off the school closing list, with a sense of new life brought in through the church partnership, a thriving tutoring program, and other ways of working together.] My husband was a licensed psychotherapist and so he opened a practice for low-income families in our neighborhood, and we were able to muddle through on about 40% of our income from before.  Four years later, we felt led to move to Africa, where our income was reduced by another 60% (down 85% from the salary at the Christian college).  But we were able to meet these challenges by having no debt and living on a budget. As you can see from this story, debt is sometimes necessary.  But freedom from debt is crucial for us to be able to follow God’s call.  This is God's story in our lives, through the teaching of parents who taught budgeting and living frugally, with a married couple who were committed to serving God before self.  It wasn't easy.  There were times of hunger and struggle.  But God was so faithful and continued to allow us to join Him in His work.  I believe the root of this journey is contentment - willing to do whatever God called us to, as long as we knew He was behind it.  Contentment is not something that can be taught - it is a choice, having to do with the hear and the now, rather than the "whens..." (i.e. when I get a raise, when I get a bigger house, when I get a newer car, etc).

    The bondage to debt that I see so many people struggle with around the world is painful.  [Michael has shared with me about how the weight of debt in his past caused him nightmares, sleepless nights, and paralyzing fear to open mail.  This pain is real and deep.]  The challenge in marriages to have mutual financial goals that give a testimony to God (that aren't just about financial success) are real yet necessary to work through.  The children who are being raised without being taught financial freedom and stewardship is sad.  It is for this reason I share this story, as one testimony of God's work in one family.

    And so, I will keep writing, trusting that God might use that offering to encourage others and build His church.
  • Meet Pastor David, a Kenyan Marketplace Minister



    DML Story:  KenyaSasia Agric Enterprise, Pastor David
    Meet David, a pastor with Graceway Ministry, a DML Trainer and owner of Sasia Agric Enterprise. ‘Sasia’ is a Luyha word meaning “multiplication’ and true to the name, Pastor David does just that. This is one marketplace leader who started from very humble beginnings and we share with joy where God has brought him to today.
    Pastor David started out with selling bread supplied from a local factory.  This small business endeavor allowed him to start a small plot of horticultural farming. With the profit from that plot of land, Pastor David ventured into a medicine-vending business where he was licensed by the Ministry of Health to sell specific type of drugs. This business did well, earning him enough to purchase a residential plot after some years. He managed to put up several rooms; renting out five of them for a rent of ksh3500 per month ($35 USD). His family took up residence in some of the rooms and by living there, he has managed to supervise the plot’s cleanliness, renovations and security. The rental income then gave birth to the lease of an 8-acre piece of land at Bidii- a farmland in the outskirts of Kitale town.
    He plants maize, beans and horticultural crops that have a shorter growing season. He does so well that his plot has drawn attraction from the County Agricultural offices and has often used his farm as a demonstration farm for the community.
    He heard about DML and trained at Faith Tabernacle Church in Kitale, a church that is passionate about the DML ministry. So inspired was he by this ministry that he pursued to be trained as a trainer. He now takes up training in other churches whenever called upon by the DML office.  Indeed, he is one of our most active and available trainers. He trains with a passion as one who lives out the very lesson of calling in the marketplace.
    Pastor David never ceases to pursue opportunities as he is currently handling a Government tender to restore culverts in his community and in the county. This he is doing in partnership with a constructor with whom they registered a firm recently. Indeed, he has proved that the sky is not the limit; self is!  With the use of irrigation canals he manages to have a crop all year round.
    KUDOS Pastor David! You remain an encouragement to all marketplace leaders!
  • Family Budgeting Challenges and Opportunities

    My training in budgeting started as a child.  My father always handled our budget very diligently and taught all five of his children about how to be very careful with money.  As an immigrant from the Netherlands to Canada, having survived the Second World War, he knew how to scrimp and save.  He purchased his first car with a loan and was so horrified at the interest he would have to pay, that he made one payment to the bank, and one payment to himself.  Unfortunately, he could only afford to eat peanut butter sandwiches while he did this, but by the time a second car was needed, he could purchase it with cash.  He continued to make payments to himself and never borrowed money again for a car.  He also never ate peanut butter again, but that was a sacrifice he was willing to make

    When I became a social worker, I began working with people struggling in poverty and began to see the need for financial freedom classes to help people get out of debt and stay out of debt.  This grew into a ministry that was no longer just for those in poverty, and as I began to coach people who made much more money than me, I saw that usually the more money we make, the more trouble we are in, because there are so many more options and temptations, and much of the world teaches us to be consumers.

    When I moved to Africa as a missionary in 2005, I began to see that the poor do quite a good job at saving, and there was a real advantage to living in a cash system without all the challenges of credit.  However, as I lived and worked in both West and East Africa, I saw more and more options being made available, such as mobile money, table banking, and the like.  And consequently, I saw more and more debt being created by individuals and families for consumption loans that would only cause more challenges than blessings.

    God has given us the blessing of resources but they do need to be managed in a way that will allow for freedom.  This is a need for all God’s people, regardless of their age.  All parents spend money and need to save.  All children can and will learn about financial matters.  Therefore, parents need to learn how to manage money well to help their family be successful, as well as to be able to teach their children in the way they should go.  This is true regardless of income level.  Children are watching and will emulate behaviors.  Unfortunately, the cost of an unlearned lesson always increases with time:  a child who has a tantrum may get a five-minute time out; a teenager who acts out in school may get a fifty-minute detention; an adult who gets angry and starts a fight may get a criminal record and 500 hours of community service.  We need to teach these lessons early to minimize the cost and hardship to our children.

    Unfortunately, this does not happen in many families.  In many parts of Africa, this is especially difficult.  I have often joked in West and East Africa that when people get married, the two become one in all ways except financial.  Too often, the wife has no idea what the husband's income is, and there are no joint discussions as a family as to how to achieve financial goals.  For this reason, while I am Stateside, I am writing some resources that can be disseminated to churches and pastors where we are doing Discipling Marketplace Leaders and teaching Integrity and Finance.

    Recently, in Ghana, while flying from Accra to Tamale, I read an inspiring story in the flight magazine about a young woman who had a VERY different experience in her family relating to budgeting:
    A young lady called Charity went through a socialization process which was one of the most important parts of her upbringing.  Her earliest recollection of this process as a little girl still brings a smile to her face and tears in her eyes. 
    “The entire family (mom, dad, brothers and sisters) would sit down the first Sunday afternoon of each month at the table after church and after Sunday dinner.  We didn’t have much money…we would always take a look at daddy’s monthly paycheck and then start doing our homework (i.e. financial planning and income allocation).”  Both parent’s pay cheques were earmarked for all current bills. After that, the upcoming expenses for the month were estimated.  Her father’s income was also allocated for certain key categories such as groceries and she says they ate lots of beans at certain months when they had to make it for less.  Despite having to eat a lot of beans, they never failed to give generously to noble causes.  Living for less enabled her parents to fund their education, because of the hard work and financial prudence on the part of her parents. Charity is very successful today because of the nurturing environment that her parents provided.  Her parents demonstrated respect for each other and for their children.  They were frugal, and they planned and accounted for every penny of their income.  The children were treated as adults rather than infants, and were always involved in the Sunday family planning meetings.  Each child would make his or her request and proposals to the planning board.
    She says that if she needed a new textbook or shoes, she would have to explain to the family the reason and the rationale behind the request.  Each child had to plan for the meeting and conceptualize a logical theme for the funding.  And if one could not, then no money would be earmarked for that item.  Charity wondered, “Imagine if all children grew up in such an environment.  They would have leadership skills in knowing how to run business meetings, disbursements, how to budget, and empathy for the needy before the age of ten.”
    The regular meetings were not for finance issues only, but for discussion about household chores and also time to inquire about everyone’s vision and goals concerning school work.  Her parents made chores fun because they took part.  
    Charity is much more successful and financially better off than her parents but she trains her children in the same principles and manner, and her kids also appreciate them a lot.  She began planning for her kids before they were born.
    The fact that Charity and her siblings knew about family obligations made them better planners and investors.  The question is what if Charity’s parents had different standards?  For example, what if they had a six-figure income, did little to no budgeting and planning, and were hyper-consumers?  They would have communicated a very different message to their children.  The kids would be spoiled.  They would expect things to be done for them no matter the cost.  All income would be spent on consumer goods and the kids won’t be appreciative of their parents because they didn’t teach their kids, let alone to think about a noble cause.  Parents must take time to share these values.  It is not difficult to do.  They can be creative about explaining what money is and it’s alternative uses.  After all, there is magic in compounding of interest and dividends over a lifetime of investment. (Fly Afrika Magazine, October-December 2016 issue, page 50-51)What a great testimony!  Oh for parents today to role model careful budget planning and financial stewardship!

    Our goal is financially free people of God who can enjoy the resources with which God has blessed them, while also living the life that God has called them to live.  Proverbs 30:8-9 is a great text that the majority of us should strive for - having enough to live in peace but not so much to forget our God.
    Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
        give me neither poverty nor riches,
        but give me only my daily bread.
    9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
        and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
    Or I may become poor and steal,
        and so dishonor the name of my God.
  • Detoxification

    [We reached our match!  Thanks to all of you who contributed!  And our thanks again to Larry and Paula Alsum for their generous match challenge!  The work in Ghana can now go forward for the next year.  Praise God!]

    I have to admit that I got angry over Christmas.  Not at anyone around me - just at myself.  There was so much food around and I showed little self control.  The more food that came, the more angry I got.  So I did what I normally do when I begin to feel like a victim - I figured out a way to gain control.  I started a green smoothie cleansing program to detoxify my body and establish discipline for myself again.  That means only veggies and fruit for ten days in the form of a smoothie and nothing else.  I have found that if I don't draw drastic lines for myself, I have a difficult time maintaining discipline.  So I started this the day after New Years.

    Of course, what one finds when one starts to quiet down in one area of life, is that very quickly one can see that it was not just that area of life that was noisy.  As I quieted down my food and drink intake, it became quickly apparent that I was not just noisy in terms of food but also spiritually and emotionally.  As I quieted down cravings and frenetic eating, I could feel the quietness spread not just through my body but through my heart and soul.  I realized how little I need to survive and how God has provided everything we need as it relates to food in the Garden of Eden.  I realized how complex we have made things through the plethora of options that we have in front of us, and how those quickly turn into "needs, wants, and desires."

    Detoxification of body, soul, spirit and mind.  Quieting down in all areas.  The toxicity of a living in a country with so much - so much food, so much consumption, so much entertainment, so much access to everything.  But no matter where we are, the dangers of toxicity are there: toxic food, toxic words, toxic relationships, toxic thoughts.

    I'm reminded of the wedding verse that Bob and I choose (and regretted often!), from Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God."  It is such a difficult verse to live out.  We fail so many times.  But I have read it differently during this past week.  I always read it as two separate commands, "Be still" and "know."  But I realized this week as I quieted down, that the only way to know that God is God is to be still.  So it is like this:  "Be still AND THEN you will know that I am God."  It is so difficult to know that when we are so busy in our spirit.

    As is often the case, when I begin to quiet down, I find myself back in Ted Loder's prayer book "Guerrillas of Grace," and this particular prayer speaks to me at this time:
    O Holy One
    I hear and say so many words,
    yet yours is the word I need.
    Speak now, 
    and help me listen;

    and if what I hear is silence,
    let it quiet me,
    let it disturb me,
    let it touch my need,
    let it break my pride,
    let it shrink my certainties,
    let it enlarge my wonder.  Amen.