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Blog – Renita

  • 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 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.
  • The Surreality of Christmas

    [Matching grant update - So far we are at $5100 out of the $7500 that can be matched!  Praise God!  If you still want to give, we still have time.  Go here for details.]

    I don't know about you but Christmas often feels a bit surreal to me.  Chestnuts roasting by an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your toes, Yuletide carols being sung by a all sounds so cozy and warm.  And at our house, we attempt to create this warm environment.  Christmas lights, Christmas baking, buying loved one gifts that will make them smile, devotions around the Advent wreath...all contribute to capturing this aura.

    And yet...

    We continue to hear stories of what is happening in Syria.  We continue to hear of terrorist attacks.  We continue to hear of people suffering from illness, disease, and our loved ones die.

    So surreal.

    A story just came out on BBC Africa (my go-to news site) that brought this juxtaposed reality to the forefront again.  The title:  Kenyan girls hide in schools to escape FGM (female genital mutilation). December is often a time of initiation rites for girls and boys in different parts of Africa.  This news report said that one out of five women in Kenya, between the ages of 15 and 49, has been circumcised despite the fact that Kenya made the practice illegal in 2011.  That number is astounding to me.  But in other countries (Egypt, Somalia, Guinea, and others), the number is as high as 90% of all women.

    To bring the reality home a bit more, the article listed what types of FGM there is and what is done:
    The tools often used.•Clitoridectomy - partial or total removal of the clitoris
    •Excision - removal of the clitoris and inner labia (lips), with or without the outer labia
    •Infibulation - cutting, removing and sewing up the genitalia
    •Any other type of intentional damage to the female genitalia (burning, scraping etc)Too much information, you might be thinking?  I agree.  It is horrifying to read.  I can't imagine what it is like to undergo it, not to mention that it is usually done without any sort of anesthetic or hygienic facilities.

    So while I bake and sing Christmas carols, girls are hiding in Kenya so that this won't be done to them.

    What do I do with this juxtaposed reality?  Should I feel guilty about the peace and safety that I enjoy in the US?  Should I deny myself the pleasantries of Christmas in order to better relate to my suffering brothers and sisters around the world?

    I don't think that is the solution.  The reality is that these are surreal times and we have to exist in one, while being aware of the other.  It means we pray with fervor, we act when appropriate, we temper our complaints for what is appropriate given our givens, and we live below our means to be able to bless those who are less fortunate than us.  Romans 12:15 tells us to "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."  It's not an either/or.  It's a both/and.  We live with a foot in both worlds.  We choose to do that and not ignore one because it is uncomfortable.  We smile and celebrate, and our mind flashes to those in pain.  Does it make us feel a bit crazy at times?  Absolutely.  And it makes sense that it does. 

    Titus 3:3-7 reminds us of the gift that we received because of the birth of Christ:
    3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. The country I was born in might not practice FGM, but we have been disobedient, deceived and enslaved by other things.  We all need the mercy that we have been given through the desire of God the Father to have fellowship with us, in the gift of His Son, Jesus.

    And so we sing.  We rejoice.  We weep.  We love.

    To the glory of God.  Amen and Amen.

    From our house to yours, we wish you a blessed Christmas season and the peace of Christ in your hearts in 2017.
  • Two New Witnesses

    Hebrews 12:1 says, "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..."  The previous chapter, Hebrews 11, takes us through a litany of people who acted by faith and were commended for it.  People like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and so on.  People who acted courageously, who "went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground." (Hebrews 11: 37b, 38)

    Two witnesses joined that great cloud in this past week.  Two women who played a significant part in my life, both of whom lived lives of integrity and great faith.Michael and his parents

    The first was my husband Michael's mother, Hylda Thomson, who died on Saturday evening, December 17, at the age of 83, after a painful struggle with cancer.  She was only my mother-in-law for 2.5 years and I didn't have a chance to get to know her very well, but what I do know well is the testimony of who she helped form in her son. You can tell a lot about a mother from her children - not everything, of course and sometimes children go off course - but the older I get, the more I realize how important our formation and upbringing is, and how we don't move away from it very easily.  
    Michael, his boys, and his Mom
    Michael is not only a very loving and caring husband, but a very loving and caring parent to his two sons.  I can only believe that his parents played a significant role in the formation of his capacity to love, serve, and give of himself.  How could I not love her for that?  Michael's parents served the Church for many years: learning French and pastoring in churches in Quebec, serving a church of mostly Haitian immigrants and learning that culture, starting a seminary in Montreal so that French speaking pastors would stay in Quebec, and serving God in whatever other way He called.   

    We spent about 36 hours by her bedside, and her five children, their spouses, and a good number of her sixteen grandchildren were present.  It was a time of praying and singing, scripture reading and sharing stories, crying and mourning, distress and joy.  It was a holy time and I was privileged to observe and learn more about the family that formed my husband. 

    I believe that she has joined this great cloud of witnesses and will now be cheering on those of us who continue to run the race set before us.

    Jane and John LambersThe other witness who has joined this great cloud is Jane Lambers.  Unfortunately, I didn't hear of her death until after her funeral service.  She was such an important part of my life that I feel compelled to speak of the impact she had on me since I was not privileged to join with those sharing the testimony at her funeral.  I became a deacon at Madison Square Church at the same time as Jane Lambers in 1997, at a time when the deacons were looking at how to move from relief to development, to being a church that works "with" the community rather than "to" the community.  When the non-profit Restorers was born, in combination with five churches in the Madison-Hall community, I volunteered as Jane joined me in sitting in an empty building, trying to figure out how to move from point A to point B.  She worked pretty much full-time with me for seven years, debating and discussing issues relating to poverty and racism on a daily basis during that time.  She was my coffee buddy.  She was the one who would send me to my office to write grants and make sure that I was not distracted.  She knew me so very well and those were such precious years for both her and myself.  I had lunch with her not too long ago and while her memory was slipping, she was able to speak with such pleasure about our time together at Restorers.  

    Jane and John Lambers were two people who not only spoke freely about their faith but were determined to live it out in a real and powerful way.  Jane struggled and wrestled for all the years I knew her with how to be even more real, and wondering how the church could do better at addressing issues that were so real to her heart:  justice, poverty, and racism.  She and John lived in community for many years, sharing all resources, and continued to live with the values of community for all of their years.  

    I feel so privileged to have had the joy of working alongside Jane for so many years.  I was just thinking last week, as I was writing a document that was a tough write, that I needed Jane to "send me to my office" and make me write without distraction.  

    I pray that both of these witnesses are celebrating among so many other witnesses who have graduated from this life to the next.  They continue to spur on so many through their testimony.
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
  • Breaking News!

    Dear Friends, 
    I wanted to inform you about two important pieces of news because I am requesting your participation in both!  
    The first relates directly to the year-end letter that I sent out last week, seeking specifically for funds for the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) in Ghana.  I’m thrilled to report that Larry and Paula Alsum, from Alsum Farms & Produce in Wisconsin (look for them in the produce section of your grocery store!) have graciously offered a matching grant up to $7500 between now and January 10 for anyone gives specifically for Ghana.  Larry has traveled to both Ghana and Liberia when I lived there and has actively sought to help build capacity in West African farmers.  I love the motto of Alsum Farms, “Integrity from field to fork.”  If you would like to give a year-end gift that will immediately be doubled, please go to, click on Donate, and then scroll down to Discipling Marketplace Leaders – 609045 and write “Ghana” in the comment section .  [Note:  this is not for my personal support which is a different account at ICM.  This is specifically for the ministry of DML in Ghana.]   If you prefer to use mail, please mail to ICM, PO Box 129, Monument CO 80132.
    We praise God for this opportunity as it will help the DML ministry in Ghana be set for the next year, reaching the Northern Region of Ghana. 
    The second piece of exciting news comes out of Kenya.  As you know, a few weeks ago, DML did a two day training in Nairobi for about fifty pastors and church leaders (which is now our fifth city center, in addition to Kisumu, Kakamega, Eldoret, and Kitale).  One of the church leaders was the mission director for a church called Christi is the Answer Ministries (CITAM), which is an offshoot of the Assemblies of God Church.  This denomination has about 45,000 members throughout Kenya, and they have decided to go through the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry with all of their churches!  This still needs the formal approval of the bishop this week, but as it looks like it will go through, we need your prayers!  This would start with training about 100 pastors and church leaders, followed by the training of 1500 small group leaders, and identification of 100 trainers for the business people.  Then the entire month of April would be set aside for what we call “Thirty Days in the Marketplace” in which all the churches would be preaching on Church-based Business as Mission, doing devotions together related to this, and other church wide activities.  Training of businesses would then start in May.   
    This is very exciting and we thank God for new and open doors that He is providing for 2017.  We thank you for praying along with us for this ministry and joining us financially as you are able.
    To God be the Glory!
  • Fighting Poverty Without Hurting the Poor

    Recently a graduate from the Africa Theological Seminary in Kenya who runs an orphanage contacted me for help with a situation with a non-profit from the UK.  The UK organization came and visited the orphanage, signed an agreement to send funds every month to help with food and the running of the orphanage, and took countless pictures of the children.  All of the pictures ended up on the website, with the statement that all the money donated would go to this orphanage, and yet ten months into the contract, not a single dollar has been sent to the orphanage and information just came that no money is going to come.  Money from this organization has come to Kenya though (proving that money has been raised) but it is to buy land for this organization to build and run their own orphanage.  The orphanage administrator is outraged, wondering what could be done about getting the pictures of the children off their website.  This is just one story of the billions of embezzled dollars that happen through both non-profits or churches on an annual basis.

    This situation made me think about the numerous "asks" that are coming to my mailbox, and likely to yours, at this time of year.  Many requests by well-intentioned, sincere Christian ministries, as well as numerous requests from those with whom we are not quite as familiar.  How can we make good decisions that honor both our desire to give, which comes from a compassionate and sincere desire to share in the blessings we have received, and our desire to make sure that the giving actually makes a difference for the intended recipient?

    Sometimes our helping can look like this...There is a quote from a video series called the Poverty Cure that says, "Compassion is much more than a vehement expression of emotion..."  For those people who gave to this "ministry" in the UK, their hearts were probably moved to many "Awwwwww...." expressions in looking at pictures of the children in the orphanage.  And from those feelings of "Awwwww....", checks were written and money sent.  True compassion has to mature from the feeling of "Awwwwww..." to something that actually does good.  Unfortunately, despite a growing awareness of how charity can hurt the intended recipient by stripping them of dignity and purpose, we continue to see many ministries operating by doing ministry "to" people rather than doing ministry "with" people.  Sometimes compassion needs to peel back layers and dig deeper for a better understanding.

    For example, there are people who could look at the ministry I am involved in, Discipling Marketplace Leaders, and not understand where compassion enters the picture.  Helping businesses grow could be perceived as capitalistic - a desire to "create wealth" rather than helping the poorest of the poor.  But let's unpack this a bit.  Why are many children in orphanages in Africa?  The majority are actually not orphans - they have at least one parent, if not two, but they are social orphans - their parents can't afford to raise them and school them, so they are given to an orphanage.  What is the most compassionate thing that we can do?  Rather than giving money to a child sponsorship program, which potentially strips the parents of the dignity of providing for their own children, let's help parents run a business or find a job in a business, where they can use their gifts and talents AND provide for their own children.  Why do so many people give to ministries that pay for medical expenses or educational scholarships for children in Africa?  Again, it's because the parents are not able to afford it.  Why not invest in something that increases the ability for the parents to be able to make their own decisions and invest in their own children by helping them have jobs to do just that. 

    My encouragement at this time of year as we consider year-end giving is for us to whether the ministries we support are creating dependency or opportunities for real, long-term change.  Is the organization working with nationals on solutions, or only doing things "to" those in poverty?  Are there impacts and goals that will move people away from the handout and toward empowerment and a "hand-up?"  Relief is necessary when there are emergency situations, such as natural disasters or war.  But soon after the emergency is over, we must move toward development, building more rungs in the ladder for people to climb out of poverty, rather than inadvertently establishing a system that creates dependency and thereby keeps people in poverty.

    Discipling Marketplace Leaders is one way to give with certainty that your funds are going to build the church and businesses with long term impacts, directly affecting parents with children, who desire to work and provide for their families, as well as fulfill the purpose for which God has created them by using their gifts and talents in work.  We have done extensive research to prove that this ministry will help churches grow, will help the spiritual life of business owners grow, will help businesses grow, and will help family income grow.  If you would like more information on how to give to DML, you can find our year end letter here with instructions on how to get involved.

    There are many good ministries operating around the world.  Take your time, do your homework, and be sure that your gift is achieving actual long-term sustainable change, affirming the dignity of all.