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Blog – Renita

  • Development Malpractice in Ghana

    There are times I read articles like this and it gets me so frustrated that I have to repost it.  I just came from staying for two weeks at a mission guest house in Ethiopia that had short-term groups coming and going the whole time I was there, some with similarly questionable approaches as you can read about below.  Christians have good hearts and good intentions and a desire to serve the poor.  BUT this compassion must be coupled with wisdom, good sound thinking, and proven techniques to have long-term sustainable positive changes.  What I often see reminds me of what a former mentor, Earl James, once told me:  "Much of the good work that Christians do is working out their own salvation."  We must go beyond that to truly doing what helps and not what may lead to death for those we seek to serve. 
    Please read this article by Kevin Starr and if you or your church are involved in working with developing countries anywhere in the world please forward this to them.  It's a little crass in a couple of places but hear it from the heart of someone who is likewise frustrated.  At the end of the article, I have an "Oath for Helpers" that I would encourage all of us to take and review regularly.
    Development Malpractice in Ghana ( ~How stuff that doesn't work can screw up stuff that does.Last week, I went to see a water organization called Saha in northern Ghana. Saha works in hot, flat country where hard seasonal rains are followed by long dry spells. There are few year-round streams, and underground water is impossibly deep, so villages collect and store rainwater in big, open ponds known as dugouts. These ponds are unprotected, and the water people take home is liberally seasoned with the excreta of various two- and four-legged animals. It starts out bad and gets
    worse as the dry season goes on.

    Saha has a great fix. They find entrepreneurial women in local villages, and set them up with a chlorinating business that uses simple materials and simple procedures. The women collect water in a barrel and add alum, a cheap and easy-to-get chemical that binds with sediment and clarifies the water. The clear water goes into a big plastic tank. When the tank is full, the owner drops in a precise number of chlorine tablets—available in nearby markets—and opens for business. Saha provides every household in the village with a 20-liter plastic bucket equipped with a lid and a tap, and customers pay a little more than two cents to fill it. At four liters per person per day, two days of clean water for a family of five costs about a nickel.

    Saha makes it really easy to get clean water that will stay clean. The water is affordable even for the very poor, and the business sits right next to the dugout. Pairing the residual effects of chlorine with the protection of a well-designed container prevents recontamination. The fact that these are profitable businesses using local materials keeps the whole ball rolling. 

    And Saha does rigorous ongoing monitoring, with systematic collection and analysis of random water samples from business and homes. They’ve set up businesses in a hundred villages so far, and all are still running. In random checks of all businesses, 99 percent of the water coming out of the tap is clean—free of bacteria—and 98 percent of the Saha home containers have clean water in them. Those are the best numbers I’ve ever heard of in the industry, but the Saha team is not satisfied; they believe they can—and should—do better.

    Saha is a not-for-profit. They realized a long time ago that to hit a price that all can afford, they would have to subsidize the cost of the initial business set-up and the ongoing monitoring support. Here’s the thing, though: That subsidy works out to about 13 bucks per person for 10 years of clean water. Jaw-dropping.

    When we went out to see the work, the first few Saha businesses looked great: lots of customers, decent profits, equipment in good order, homes with full containers of clean water. Then we got to a village called Kulaa, where the business was on the verge of failing after two years of struggle. I thought we were going to hear about the difficulties of overcoming long-held customs or the challenges of running a business when you’re barely literate, but instead we sat under a tree talking to a slightly dazed-looking woman who told us of an exhausting uphill battle against the forces of good intentions. 

    She’d gotten off to a reasonably good start—she’d mastered the business, every household in the village had a Saha container, and her customer base was growing. So far, so good. Then people from the government came through (that’s who people thought they were, anyway) and distributed ceramic filters—a sort of bowl mounted on top of a 50 liter plastic bucket—for free to every household. Everybody started using those filters instead of buying Saha water, but by about six months in, most of the filters had either broken or clogged. The filters could be cleaned, but nobody knew how, and of course there was no way to replace ones that broke. (The buckets remained useful, though—we saw one serving as a nice little clothes hamper.) 

    The ceramic filter episode killed Saha’s initial momentum, but the business survived, and things were starting to look up when some American church group blew into town with a truckload of LifeStraw Family gravity filters.  Distribution was hit or miss, but most households managed to get one. The LifeStraw Family filter is a bit fiddly and slow, and the filter must cleaned just so, but villagers seem to have made an effort to use it (“What the hell, it’s free!”). Who knows how much the church group did to train people to use and clean the filter, but it wasn’t enough (it never is).  We managed to find three of them, only one of which was in use. Two had broken and no one had any idea how to get them fixed or find another one.  The one that was still in use had clogged and the owner didn’t know how to clean the filter element.  Somehow he was still getting water through it, though, and while the water was still turbid, he – reasonably – figured it must be clean enough to drink. It wasn’t. We tested the water in the lab – it was positive for E. coli and coliforms, which means there was shit in it.

    Then—then—some other NGO came through and gave the village a “backpack” water filtration thingy. It’s a big blue plastic box with carrying straps, a hose coming in from the pond, and a little tap coming out. I think there is a sand filter inside. We trooped out to the pond to see it. The water coming out of the tap was clear, but it came out slowly. It took a full minute to fill a 1500 cc container. That translates to about 13 minutes to supply the 20 liters one family needs to get through the day. That means that the hundred or so households in the village would need about 22 hours to fill their containers, even if they were willing and able to wait in line around the clock. Absurd. Oh, and we tested the water; it was clean coming out of the tap, but when we tested it in the homes, it was contaminated. 

    In sum, this village has seen four water interventions. The last three didn’t work, and each of them managed to screw the one that would have. It’s a tawdry story that does all-too-good of a job illustrating some basic principles of development, namely:
  • There is a huge opportunity cost to failure. When you do something stupid, you either a) wreck something that is working or could have worked, or b) or blow the people’s one chance to get anything ever. Once a well is drilled, a clinic built, or a program delivered, an NGO or government official checks a box, and future resources go somewhere else. Failure is worse than nothing.
  • Most “training” for end users is useless. Some guy came by my house the other day to teach me how to keep the wifi up and running. The next day, I screwed it up. So it is for things like water filters. If a product or technology intended for consumers requires “training,” it’s probably going to fail. 
  • It’s all about follow-up. If you can’t provide repair and replacement, if you can’t monitor performance over time, don’t do it. If you can’t make a strong case that, say, two years from now, things will still be working—and in a way that inspires confidence that it will work over the long haul—don’t do it. Stuff breaks in ways you can’t even imagine, people use things in completely unpredictable ways, and unintended consequences rule supreme. The devastation of lake ecosystems in Africa from fishers repurposing fine-mesh mosquito nets is a fine example of the kind of debacle that could be avoided with some decent monitoring over time. 
  • I could go on, but these are the big rules that were violated in poor Kulaa. This is development malpractice: Kids died because of a series of ill-conceived projects. If you designed them, you’re responsible. If you implemented them, you’re responsible. If you were part of another organization, recognized this was bad, and said nothing, you’re responsible. And perhaps most of all, if you fund crap projects like this, you’re responsible, whether you’re a church group, a foundation, a development agency, or the government. We can’t keep doing this.

    So. If you see something, say something. If you become aware of someone planning/doing/funding stuff like this, talk to them, educate them, dissuade them. Do it respectfully and thoughtfully. If that doesn’t work, call them out in whatever forum you can. If they work for you, fire them. Make them accountable. Don’t let these things happen. Don’t let yourself become cynical. Do something.
    In the end, what really set Kulaa up for failure was its proximity to Tamale, the biggest town in north-central Ghana, and one where NGOs are the primary growth industry. Kulaa is poor, but it’s easy to get to—you can do your ineffective training and be back for a refreshing Coke by early afternoon. The villages where Saha thrives are the ones farthest out, beyond the reach of other development NGOs. That pretty much says it all.

     Kevin Starr (@mulagostarr) directs the Mulago Foundation and the Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program.

  • Disembodied Soul? I don't think so.

    "He is risen.  He is risen indeed."  Our church resounded over and again with this phrase on Easter morning, as did many churches around the world.  It is indeed a glorious thing.  But it can also be a confusing thing.  What does it mean to be resurrected and to live with Jesus for eternity? 

    Yesterday at our Easter service, I heard the worship leader say this, following the end of singing a favorite hymn:  "Can you imagine the day when that is all you will hear?"

    I shuddered and involuntarily shook my head.  I remembered when my daughter Hannah told me at a young age that she was afraid of going to heaven.  I was surprised (as most people are afraid of going to hell not heaven), and when I asked her why she said, "I can't stand to think of a worship service that lasts an eternity - an eternity of sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, and singing worship songs."  In response to her comment, our family had many discussions of what the new heavens and new earth would look like, and we ended up painting a mural on one of the walls in our home reflecting Isaiah 65, regarding the new heavens and the new earth.  I wish I had a picture of that wall.

    This is a discussion that I often get into in my work with Discipling Marketplace Leaders as well:  what is the purpose of work and is there any relevance to the afterlife regarding the work that we now do?  We often reflect on the meaning of the Lord's prayer where Jesus says, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  I ask, "What do we know of what it will be like in heaven?  What does this phrase really mean?"  For that, we can go to Isaiah 65 which says the following in reference to the new heavens and new earth:
    • "I will create Jerusalem to be a delight." (v.18)  God starts with a garden but ends with a city.  A city with all of its systems and complexities.  In the parable of the minas (Luke 19) the reward for those who use their talents well is to be governor over many cities.  Cities seem to be in our future.
    • "They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat." (v. 21) Sounds like we will be building and farming and enjoying the fruit of our own labor. 
    • "My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain."  (v. 22b-23a)  We will do what we were created to do, as seen in Genesis 1 and 2 in a redeemed earth.  And we will enjoy it!
    This past week I started reading N.T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope.  He has a great section in which he says that if we are only saved to be disembodied souls floating on clouds in heaven, then there really is no point.  He says, "To snatch saved souls away to a disembodied heaven would destroy the whole point."  The redemption has to involve what was created in the first place.  God is to become King of the whole world at last.  He isn't going to give up on the original idea of creation and mandate of work.  He doesn't want to rescue us from His creation - creation was not a mistake or a failure.  He wants to (and is able to) redeem all things.  When we work and reflect His image and His glory, it gives Him great delight.
    N.T. Wright says this:This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more:  what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to roll over a cliff.  You are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that's about to be dug up for a building site.  You are - strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself - accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creators; and of course every prayer, al Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the word - all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.  That is the logic of the mission of God.  (pg. 208)He goes on to say, "I have no idea what precisely this will mean in practice.  I am putting up a signpost, not offering a photograph of what we shall find once we get to there the signpost is

    What we do now matters.  And eternity will be spent in joyous celebration of what we have been created to do.  The Hebrew word "Avodah" means both work and worship.  We will spend eternity in worship, but not as many think (or maybe fear, as Hannah did).  It will the act of worship that we were uniquely created to do, made in the image of an incredibly creative God, where we will reflect that creativity through our work.  Some of us may be governors.  Some of us may be farmers.  Some of us may be builders.  Some of us may be song-writers and musicians.  Some of us may be artists.  Just as we are here. 

    It is believed that Martin Luther said this:  "If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today."  Something to think about.  And something to rejoice in, in light of the resurrection. 

    He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  "And behold, I am making everything new."  (Revelation 21:5)
  • Being A Paintbrush

    The group in AddisOn Thursday and Friday, we were privileged to spend our time with seventy pastors, denominational leaders, church leaders, and large, medium and small business owners.

    It was a blessed time with a number of holy moments as we witnessed the Holy Spirit actively working in the minds and hearts of those in the room.

    The leaders of one denomination of 160 churches were present and after the first day they asked if they could take us out for dinner at the end of the second day.  The chair of the board shared with us over dinner that he hadn't slept the entire night after our first day together as his mind had to keep processing what he had heard from us and how significant the paradigm change was in how he viewed the church as well as business.  To begin to change the thinking about being a "church with walls" versus a "Church (people of God) without walls" was a significant shift; there was some sadness on his part of the neglect on the part of the church to not properly equip the body of Christ to be the Church from Monday-Saturday.  A second member of the board, a business man, shared with some emotion how he had never even considered viewing his business as an act of worship and had also undergone a significant and important paradigm shift in his view of the purpose of business.  They are ready, as a board, to work with DML to get this to all of their pastors and have temporarily arranged to take the last slot for the year 2017 that we have available - in August - to come back to Ethiopia and begin training their pastors. 

    Another overseer of 120 churches, who is also a pastor of a church of 2000 members, brought a long several large business owners.  He too is ready to move forward but now needs to bring along the rest of the leadership of his denomination.  And we were excited to meet a man who has an organization called "Biblical Entrepreneurship" who has been teaching many people about how to do business God's way for some time.  He has a TV program that promotes this as well and we were interviewed for his program.  He is considering being our implementing partner in Ethiopia, with his trainers becoming trainers for DML. 

    Dr. Frew, myself, Dr. Walker, and Mel FoxWe are so thankful to Dr. Frew Tamrat from the Evangelical Theological College for organizing this time and giving us the privilege to partner with his team to build the Church. 

    I leave Ethiopia for home today after a whirlwind three countries in four weeks. As I reflect on the beauty of the faces, of the countries, of the ingenuity of God's people, of the rich and deep conversations that we have had in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, with brothers and sisters in Christ, I reflect on the analogy that we use to help people understand this important forgotten truth of God's word:

    God is the Artist of this world.  The creation is the canvas.  It was created to reflect the glory and image of the Artist, with bright and beautiful colors that sing His praises.  We are the paintbrushes and the work that we do is the paint.  When God created the world, it was a blank canvas and we were called to join in the creativity of the Artist and given the paint to be fruitful with the incredible resources available in this world; we are called to multiply the creativity for individuals and communities to flourish as well, and to govern and rule over the earth by being good managers and stewards.  Because of the fall, the work needs to be done with love (Great Commandment) and with intentional disciple-making (Great Commission), but ALL that we do is done to glorify the Creator.

    In several weeks we will head to Guatemala and hope to join in the work that God is already doing in His people there! 
  • Walking in Addis Ababa

    Writing from Ethiopia, Addis Ababa is a beautiful city that sits at a high elevation with a very pleasant climate.  As I am teaching the night class at the Evangelical Theological College (ETC) I am able to take a long walk each morning to get some exercise, often 3-5 miles, up and down hills. 

    I love walking through the busy streets, past the shoe cleaners, people hustling here and there, going about their business out in the open as is so common in many parts of Africa.  It makes me feel alive.  For they most part, I am ignored.  Every now and then, children will yell "Ferenji" ("foreigner" in Amharic) or occasionally a child will yell "China" showing what type of ex-pat they are used to seeing.

    I watch the men and women tearing up the sidewalks all over Addis with pick-axes and shovels in order to bury fiber optic cables.  I smile at the women, happy to see them involved in such work,
    while at the same time noting that they are doing their work in dresses and sandals.

    I move around the large mats and shoes that the Muslim men have laid out on the sidewalk as it is time for their prayers. 

    As I walk, I think about my students in the Integrity and Finance class.  I have heard heart-breaking stories of challenges as it relates to keeping integrity, stories of both success and failure.  In a culture of high poverty (most of my students have families, and make around $200/month) and a rule of law that can be easily compromised, it is painful to hear the struggles that these men and women have to face.  It is so easy to be ethical when you have what you need.  It is much more difficult in a society where you do not.  These men and women cling to the belief that their honesty in this life will give them rewards in the next.  While we nod and say, "Yes!" the comfort is short-lived when your child is sick or you are losing the little money you have due to a decision to not pay a bribe or if you face incredible pressure from family and friends to compromise your integrity because "everyone does it."

    As I walk, I hear the happy conversations of people on the sidewalk, although I don't understand what they are saying.  I think of the freedom of commerce that takes place in front of me on the street.  But I know that just under the surface, not so long ago, that freedom was not there.  And the results of those challenges still show up today as all social media continues to be blocked by the government to stop any uprising of citizens. 

    I climb the steep hill which gives a great view of the city, in the wealthier part of Addis, with hotels and gates and parks and pools, and I think of the disparity of income from the place where I am staying, where people are sleeping on the sidewalk every twenty feet or so, covered with blankets in the early hours. 

    And I wonder about this world and my place in it.  What am I doing in Ethiopia?  What right do I have to think that I have anything to offer here?  This nation of such rich history, of such rich culture, of such beauty.

    But I keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that the things that I don't know are known by one Greater than me.  I am one small person, one face in 7.4 billion, walking the streets in Addis, wondering what my place is...surrounded by others who may wonder the same thing.  And yet somehow, by many interesting and challenging circumstances, this is where I am.

    On Thursday and Friday, we will do a two-day training for Discipling Marketplace Leaders with 50+ church pastors and leaders pre-registered to attend.  Please pray for the Holy Spirit to be present in those sessions.
  • 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 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 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.