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Blog – Renita

  • Bird Strike

    When an airborne bird hits an airplane it is called a "bird strike."  It is important to avoid a BASH (Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard) when flying.  These are real terms. It's a real thing.  Birds can crack a windshield of a plane.  Maybe you remember the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, where an airbus came down after being struck by a flock of birds.

    Nothing that dramatic happened to me on my way to Ghana, thankfully.  But the plane I was supposed to take from Brussels to Accra had a bird strike when landing, which resulted in a two hour delay as that plane was damaged and then assessed, and then another two hour delay as a new plane was made ready (because the other was too damaged), and then another two hour delay as the crew was then close to being over their allowed hours on shift.

    It's always interesting to be around a group of people who get bad news like that together.  Crowds tend to bond and do so quickly with bad news.  While they may spend eight hours in close proximity on a plane and never speak to each other, they will talk and shout and reason together when told of a delay.  There were many upset people, which is not unusual for a delay.  If you fly, you've probably seen it.

    But then it became about Africa.  In Brussels, they have a special terminal for African flights.  You have to take a shuttle to get to it, as it is in a separate building.  From the anger I heard (I didn't do the research myself) that there are no water fountains in that terminal and that there is only one restaurant in that terminal.  And suddenly people were talking about the need to file complaints and work together to make changes.

    I don't fully understand the Brussel airport because I usually fly Delta instead of United, but for this flight United was a lot cheaper.  I don't understand why they had signs up for "African flights" to go this way or that.  I didn't see those signs for Asian flights or South American flights, etc.  But in this day and age, you don't expect there to be such overt segregation, so I'm imagining (possibly naively) that there could be another reason for a separate terminal.  I don't want to jump to conclusions and judge.  But maybe there isn't another reason (I've also seen enough racism to know that it can still be so).

    And so a bird strike turns into a discussion on racism.

    And as I waited, it made me think about the impact of small things in our lives, and how they ripple out.

    300 people inconvenienced by a bird.  If each person had one person waiting for them in Ghana, that is 600 people.  A number of people talked about the functions that they had to get to and were going to miss because of this delay.  So maybe 300 more people impacted.  Suddenly we are over 1000.  The people in Togo (where we were rerouted) were yelling when they boarded because of how they were inconvenienced, and then again the same for those being picked up in Accra, after we were dropped off.  And the ripples go out. Unintended consequences.  Collateral damage.

    I think about the ripples in our lives from little things that happen.  Something said without thinking can cause emotional damage that can last for years.  A glance at a phone when driving that can take a person's life.  How quickly things can change and how frequently we have to deal with the impact of these ripples.

    And it's amazing to me that my faith tells me that God is in control of my life and that He can work things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  All these details.  All these people.  From little ripples to crashing waves.

    I don't believe in a God who eliminates waves or ripples.  I don't believe in a God who promises a cushy life with smooth sailing.  That life is coming.  It's called heaven.  For now, it's comfort enough to know that He can give strength and purpose as the waves crash over, or as the little ripples disturb the peace.

    How I live through these ripples matters.  How I am a testimony in these ripples matter.

    And so, a dead bird reminds me of the great God that I have the privilege to serve.  A dead bird reminds me of a great God who gives me purpose and peace.  And the dead bird reminds me to be careful of the ripples I make, the unintended consequences that I bring, and the collateral damage that I cause.

    I'm sorry for the bird.  But it's death was not in vain.
  • Back to West Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon

    On Thursday, I leave for West Africa.  It looks to be a busy trip as it will cover three countries in about four and a half weeks:  Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon.  Our teachings will cover all three of Discipling Marketplace Leaders audiences:  Christian universities/seminaries, Churches, and Businesses.  Our travelling team, who will meet our country teams in each place, will consist of Barbie Odom of Oklahoma, Dr. Walker of California, Rev. Johnson Asare of Nothern Ghana, and myself.  These trips take a great deal of planning and coordination with our in-country partners, and this trip has been in the works for about six months.  It is good to see it coming close.
    Our time in Ghana will be primarily with Ghana Christian University, where we will do two two-day workshops with about 100 pastors and church leaders, and then also spend one whole day with the faculty and administrators of the university to help them know how to integrate the idea of "work as worship" into the various departments of the University (Nursing, Theology, Marketing, Management, Business, and Engineering).  We are privileged to have the President of the University very much on board with this - they had been trying to integrate business as mission into their setting but lacked the tools for how to do it.   We are excited to join them.


    Our time in Nigeria will be in five different cities:  Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Kaduna, and Jos.  We will be conducting two different trainings for businesses (Jos and Ibadan), two two-day trainings for pastors and church leaders (Ibadan and Kaduna), an intro meeting with a new group in Abuja, and follow-up meetings with DML pastors in Lagos.  In addition, we will be teaching classes for the ECWA seminary in Abuja. We do ask for your prayers for safety as we travel from place to place, as the number of kidnappings for ransom in Nigeria continue to be on the rise due to economic hardships.  95% of the kidnappings are of Nigerians, and most of the time a ransom is paid, which fuels more kidnappings.

    Our time in Cameroon will be our first foray into this country and we will be starting in the capital of Yaoundé.  We were to start in Cameroon in January but due to conflict there, it was advised that we wait until July.  We have been busy having our materials translated into French.  Cameroon was colonized by the British and the French, resulting in "French Cameroon" and "British Cameroon", although for a time before that the Germans were there, as well as the Portuguese.  French Cameroon became independent in 1961 but British Cameroon waffled between the choices of staying separate, joining Nigeria, or unifying with French Cameroon.  Cameroon became a one party state in 1966, and there has been ongoing clashes between different groups from time to time since then, with the most recent struggles being the English-speaking Cameroonians claiming oppression from the French-speaking Cameroonians.  In 1990, a multi-party system was established.  There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Cameroon, which continues to be a major producer of cocoa and coffee.


    The religious affiliations of Cameroon can be seen in the graph.  Cameroon ranks at 153 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index, and 163 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank.  So there are lots of challenges, or as we like to say more appropriately, lots of opportunities in Cameroon.

    We look forward to seeing what God will do in our travels as we seek to join Him in His work.  We covet your prayers!


  • Enduring Beyond the Elephant, by Hannah

    The loss of a parent has far reaching consequences on a child, both emotional and physical.  Hannah was a very healthy child and teenager, up until Bob died.  I don't know if she would have had these challenges had Bob lived, but I do know that I am so proud of this young lady! 

    Hannah volunteered to write this blog, so please hear from her:

    In 2010, after Dad died, I wrote about how I felt as though there was an elephant weighing on me, constantly with me, and that elephant was Grief.  And, though the elephant would never truly go away, eventually I would become stronger and would be able to bear the elephant without feeling so bent, so broken, so lost and alone.

    The last eight years have been full for me- full of times of light and laughter, but also a lot of darkness and at times, it felt as though my back was not only bearing the elephant of Grief, but also the weight of constant fatigue and depression, which then dragged me mentally into some places of deeply negative self-image and insecurity.  There have been moments where Mom has said she feels like she has “Old Hannah” back, the girl that Dad said was a girl who loved life and loved to laugh.  Those moments have been few and far between.

    These years have seen me diagnosed with Hypersomnia in 2013, and then Hypothyroidism in 2016- two disorders that give the constant fatigue a name and I learned the power of giving a name to that which is harming you in order to defeat it.  The diagnosis of both of these disorders helped me beyond what I can express.  I felt more free to be me.  I still feel tired often, but no longer feel burdened by inescapable, unavoidable exhaustion.

    2017 was a year of dizziness and headaches, a concussion, and general frustration.  This, thankfully, is less of an issue now- I am able to take medication for the daily migraines which caused the dizziness and headaches initially, and the symptoms of the concussion are pretty much all gone.  I am incredibly grateful for this, for my family who got me through some incredibly stressful experiences, and for a church family that kept praying for me and loving on me throughout the challenges of the last year and a half. 

    Being made physically better, or at least making progress in so many areas, did a lot to make me feel better physically.  However, mentally, I was still struggling, and in ways of which I was not fully aware.  In 2016, I began isolating myself socially- for no real reason, other than I had graduated from Calvin and was happy to embrace my introverted side.  And I embraced it wholeheartedly.  The longest period I went without seeing anyone outside of work or church on Sundays was close to four months - and I thought I was perfectly happy with that.  I did not understand why my best friend, Grace, or my mom were a little uncomfortable with my contentment despite my lack of community and solid friendships.  
    Hannah and Grace
    I didn’t realize then what I realize now- I was deeply uncomfortable in my own skin, uncomfortable around people, and constantly feeling as though I needed to monitor myself nonstop in social settings in order to be socially accepted.  I had no confidence in myself and was incredibly hard on myself- or my mom would say, I was mean, brutal even, to myself, on a regular basis.  Being only in my own head lead to some dangerous self-talk.  I had gained weight in college, so I was constantly worried about food but unable to stop eating.  My self-confidence had never been great, and I was always worried about my weight, even when I was healthy, but at this point, I was overweight and very aware of how uncomfortable I was in my own skin.

    Mom dubbed last year, 2017, the Year of Getting Hannah Healthy- both emotionally and physically.  A little ironic, as I was diagnosed with migraines and received a concussion in that year, but regardless, we took steps to see that I was becoming a healthy adult.  We didn’t know that the process would take us well into 2018 to see real progress being made, but that is the reality.  I regularly saw a counselor, who is amazing and who I still see often, and I joined Weight Watchers, which has been one of the most unexpectedly rewarding experiences of my life.  Unexpected because I was convinced that I was unable to lose weight, unable to stop gaining weight, and doomed to feel miserable in my own skin for the rest of my life.  I have been blessed by Weight Watchers both by losing 45 pounds and by totally changing by mindset when it comes to food, as well as when it comes to how I view myself.  I began to learn to love myself before I even saw a lot of weight loss because of a great leader at the meeting I attend and slowly but surely, I began to understand that I was worth the effort I was putting into the program.  It wasn’t to make the world accept me or love me; I wasn’t changing for anyone, I was doing it because I was worth it.  I was worth feeling good and happy with myself, no matter what the end result.

    Counseling and Weight Watchers, plus the constant love and support of my family and friends, particularly my best friends Grace and Hannah, have gotten me through some dark and challenging years.  I have been blessed by being surrounded by those who love me, with a faith that has sustained me, and a God who has loved me even when I did not believe in His love quite enough to feel it for myself.  I have also been blessed by being born in America, where medical care and insurance are both available.  Being born white, and thus privileged, with two parents who were able to attend college and graduate school has helped as well, as both my mom and dad have helped me in this journey- my mom in her constant love, support, and ability to speak into my life, and my dad through the lessons of love and life he gave me before he died.  Seeking the help I needed was essential to where I am today.  I received it from an incredible counselor, as well as from Weight Watchers, which was a less conventional source but totally transformative for me.  God works through so many ways, and I have been blessed.  In a year, I will be done with my Masters in Social Work.  I hope to continue to learn who I am, and continue on a much healthier path than I have ever been on.  I have been given so much, and I know that much will be required of me.  I often think of this verse from the Desert song by Hillsong United now: “This is my prayer in the harvest, when favor and providence flow; I know I’m filled to be emptied again, the seed I’ve received I will sow.”  I look with anxious anticipation for how God will use me, now that I am out of something of a desert and hopefully able to be nurtured to a healthy place out of which I can pour into others. 
  • 30,000-Foot View

    Due to a trip being cancelled in May, I have been able to really go after some of my classes for my PhD.  I am currently in the middle of an International Law class, and while reading about law is not exactly exciting for me, I have had a few "aha" moments.

    Talking about politics at this time is difficult (maybe it is always difficult?) and we get so mired down in the issues of today and the fears of tomorrow that sometimes we miss the forest for the trees.  This class has given me a view of the forest from a 30,000-foot level and it really is beautiful. Now please don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying everything is perfect or going well.  But we do have a lot to be grateful for and if we don't take a few steps back every now and then to see a much bigger perspective, we can get lost in negativity and be filled with complaints.  So this might be helpful for one or two of you as well.

    A lot of good has happened globally in the last seventy years (1948-2018), at the end of World War II when the UN Charter was signed.  Up until this time there had only been failures at recognizing an international community, international laws, and fundamental values that are universal.  There were four main freedoms being called for in 1948:
  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Freedom to worship God in his own way everywhere in the world
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear
  • [How amazing would it have been to sit in a room and discuss the main freedoms that could be common to all people!]  
    From these freedoms the universal declaration of human rights was born, written at the lowest common denominator to be able to get all states to agree, but it ultimately led to the right to self-determination of all peoples, which led to the end of colonization worldwide within the next three decades.  Listen to this quote from one of my textbooks:  "The human rights doctrine has operated as a potent leaven, contributing to shift the world community from reciprocity-based bundle of legal relations, geared to the 'private' pursuit of self-interest, and ultimately blind to collective needs, to a community hinging on a core of fundamental values, strengthened by the emergence of community obligations and community rights and the gradual shaping of public interests (Cassese, International Law).

    Not only that, but the birth of the UN has led to the suppression of the use of force between states and has also defined, by an accepted international authority, what is legal and what is not as it relates to force.  Prior to this, there was an unfettered freedom of states to use force on each other, with no-one declaring what was right or wrong.  To have this happen in seventy years, with most of the 200 states in the world accepting these key principles and accepting this "authority," in part because of peer pressure, is pretty astounding.

    Isn't that exciting?  Doesn't this seem to be the right direction for us to be moving in this world?  To be community minded and have fundamental values that are almost universally accepted sounds like a movement towards being a global family.  Additionally, there have been more prohibitions on certain weapons, there has been banning of torture and genocide, there has been unity on the need to protect the environment, there are international courts that have accepted authority to try individuals and state officials on war crimes and human rights violations, and there are joint efforts on working against terrorism.  Not all of this has been done perfectly, and there continues to be needed work on finding ways to monitor compliance while still respecting state sovereignty, but what progress!

    One objective of the original UN Charter of 1948 had to do with the freedom of want.  As someone who has been doing business development in West and East Africa since 2005, this was of particular interest to me.  There is open acknowledgement that this has not gone as well as the movements in human rights or in banning the use of force.  There are, of course, many complex reasons for this, not the least of which was that many of the major powers had colonized many developing nations and were using their natural resources for exports without building any infrastructure in those countries.  It took three decades for colonization to end, and those nations then realized how much further behind they were due to the lack of infrastructure, including roads, water, electricity, education and health.  As these nations joined the General Assembly of the United Nations, they began to have a louder voice, requesting more favorable trade positions given their current conditions. 

    Many developing countries have agriculture as their dominant economic activity.  There can be a section of the economy that still exports raw materials for manufacturing in industrialized countries, as well as some local industry producing textiles and foodstuffs.  But for the most part, these are family size businesses and the equipment is often very basic.  What developing nations need, according to my textbook and what I affirm after working in this context for thirteen years, is trade preferences, foreign investment to promote economic activities, transfer of modern technology, and training of skilled workers.

    The good news is that most "developed" or "industrialized" nations, who caused a lot of the problems and didn't want to see themselves lose power, have now come to agree that it is in the best interest of everyone for to have opportunities to work, to grow, to create, to network, to trade, and to develop.  This too is encouraging and I continue to be thankful for the work that we are doing in Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

    Seventy years is really a short amount of time.  It is a lifetime for some but in terms of history, it is short.  Many of us don't remember or know the situation in the world one hundred years ago, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  My parents emigrated from the Netherlands after the Second World War and tell some stories about what they endured, but they were young as well.  Let's be encouraged that the bar can be raised.  People and states CAN change. Who knows where we might be in another seventy years?

    If you find yourself wanting to send me a bunch of "Yeah but..." messages, I encourage you to take a deep breath, read these words again, and let them wash over you.  Every day has enough "Yeah buts..." from the ground level, but sometimes we need to take a 30,000-foot view. 

    This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! (Psalm 118:24)

  • The Billionaire Who Wasn't

    As money is a frequent topic in my travels and teachings, it has come up more and more that the greater question that can be asked in terms of giving back to God is not "how much do you give" but rather "how much do you keep." 

    I often tell the story of a day when Hannah and Noah were just 9 and 7 years old and were discussing what they would do if they won a lottery of 10 million dollars.  As I walked in the room and overhead this discussion, Hannah looked at me with a big smile and said, "Mommy, if I won 10 million dollars, I would give 9 million to the poor!"  I should have hugged her and thanked her for her generous heart.  I should have recognized her desire to please me, as she know how her parents were striving to serve the poor.  But, in not my finest hour as a parent, I said, "Why do you need one million dollars?"  

    My point (which went over the head of a 9 year old) is that we can feel good about giving away 10% or even 20% of our income in our tithe and offerings but that doesn't mean that we are living a sacrificial life.  
    A story that comes from The Irish Times and helps to illustrate the point:Chuck Feeney today is a man of no property. He and his wife Helga live in a modest rented apartment in San Francisco. He has no car or luxuries of any kind. Actually, come to think of it, he has a very nice watch. It is plastic and cost about $15. There are no trophies or vanity photographs in the apartment to show that he has devoted his $8 billion fortune to making the world a better place.It was always so with Feeney, a brilliant entrepreneur who became a billionaire through the company he co-founded, Duty Free Shoppers, back in the 1960s. The frugal globe-trotting philanthropist routinely flew economy class, stayed in small flats, and ordered the second-cheapest white wine in restaurants. The key moment in Chuck’s giving career, one that was to enhance the lives of millions of people, came on November 23rd, 1984. On that day Feeney, his then wife, Danielle, and his lawyer Harvey Dale, flew to the Bahamas, a location chosen to avoid huge legal penalties for what they were about to do. They gathered in a rented conference room. At 4pm Chuck began signing a series of documents. Then they left for the airport. While millions of Americans expressed gratitude that Thanksgiving weekend for their material blessings, Chuck Feeney felt a profound sense of relief. He had just divested himself of all that he owned, cash, businesses and shares, and placed them into a foundation he created, known today as Atlantic Philanthropies.  It was done in the utmost secrecy. Feeney continued to manage the businesses, and buy and sell properties around the world, so everyone thought he was still a billionaire, even Forbes magazine. ‘The right thing to do’ I asked Chuck more than once why he decided to give it all away. Never one for introspection he replied simply: “It was the right thing to do.” I believe the reasons included an innately generous personality, discomfort with the trappings of wealth as a product of an Irish-American neighbourhood in New Jersey where “nobody blows their horn”, and the example set by his mother, a nurse who was always helping others.  He was also influenced by Andrew Carnegie’s essay The Gospel of Wealth, with its famous declaration that “the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor”.  After that day in Nassau, Feeney began a lifelong quest to do good things with his wealth, while growing the businesses and property portfolio to provide more funds for his foundation’s giving... ...A critical moment came in New York on March 3rd, 2003, when Feeney signed off on a decision to spend everything in his lifetime. “Giving while living,” he called it. Foundations usually dole out 5 per cent annually to maintain perpetuity. Chuck wanted to do big things, especially with bricks and mortar.  “If I have $10 in my pocket and I do something with it today, it’s already producing 10 dollars’ worth of good,” he explained to me one day in his New York office, wearing a cardigan with a hole in the sleeve. “Giving 5 per cent doesn’t do so much good.” Now aged 86, Feeney’s travelling days are over, but as he tucks into his favourite dish – chicken – in his Bayside restaurant he can reflect how his example has exploded in philanthropy. He got a letter one day from Amit Chandrain which the Indian billionaire confided he was so inspired by Feeney’s story he has devoted much of his own wealth to creating schools, hospitals and universities. He thanked Chuck for the “joyous journey” this entailed. Conor O’Clery is the author of the biography of Chuck Feeney, The Billionaire Who Wasn’t (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/chuck-feeney-the-billionaire-who-gave-it-all-away-1.3413084)I love the declaration that the "millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor."  That completely flips the world of consumption upside down.  HOWEVER, the work of generous giving needs to be coupled with competence.  How we give also matters.  The majority of the poor don't need a trustee, as they are fully capable if given opportunities and access to networks.  But they do need opportunities, a hand up, restoration of their dignity, and an affirmation of their potential to fulfill their calling of being made in the image of a creative, working God.

    One idea that someone gave me years ago (I can't remember who) is that for every year of marriage, they increase their tithe by one percent.  I have tried to live this way and found that the incremental increases were doable.

    The question of how much money I keep for myself is one that needs to be wrestled with individually before God.  May God give us the courage to have open hands before Him.
  • Let the Numbers tell the Story!

    Let the numbers tell the story!

    Every now and then, numbers can tell a great story.  The numbers below tell the story of the expanding impact of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in the first quarter of 2018 and I'm excited to share them with you!

    First Quarter Statistics for Discipling Marketplace Leaders
    • 6 countries, 22 cities, and 24 denominations participating with DML
    • 375 business leaders trained and commissioned as Marketplace Leaders
    • 27 DML workshops, training 665 pastors and church leaders
    • 5 courses taught in 5 countries, with 133 pastors and leaders taught by the DML team in colleges/seminaries 
    • 63 visits with 123 pastors to discuss next steps with DML

    Praise the Lord!  That is just in three months – January, February, and March!  We are advancing in six countries, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana and, come July, Cameroon.  Our strategy is to see DML rooted and growing in these seven countries in the next two years.
    We are equipping pastors to train and equip every member to impact every corner of the marketplace and community. God is moving in and through DML to reclaim the marketplace God has redeemed.  We are seeing pastors equipped, church members discipled and societies impacted.  We can’t do this without you!  Please keep praying!


    The God of “just-in-time” has blessed us with an amazing opportunity. As we expand, the need for funds expands. With the growth comes the challenge of raising $4,000 per month to fuel the growth in these six countries.  We thank God for a partner who has committed to a matching grant of up to $2,000!  We are happy to report that we now have $1,500 out of the needed $2,000 for the match.  We are looking for DML partners to help with the last $500/month of the challenge grant.


    Would you prayerfully consider joining us with a monthly giftof $10, $25, or $50 per month (or any other number!) to help us reach this match? If so, please go to ICM at www.icmusa.org, select Discipling Marketplace Leaders" in the dropdown, and include "match" in the comment line. 

    Thank you for your partnership, prayers, and support!

  • Earth Day 2018 - Giving Up Straws

    It's time to get serious about plastic.  I've been passionate about this for some time - my daughter for even longer.  But we need this concern to grow and action to be taken based on that concern. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute - that is 20,000 per second!  And less than 50% actually goes to recycling.

    A recent study looked at 250 bottles of water from nine countries, including international brands such as Dasani, Aquafina, and Nestle Pure Life, found plastic parts in 93% of the water.  This is in bottled water, folks; that is water that we expect to be clean and clear.




    When I travel, I always take my water bottle and water filter with me, as many of the countries I work in do not have the current capacity to recycle.  When we do workshops, it saddens me to know that the bottles and bottles of plastic water bottles that are used will likely end up in a landfill and eventually in our water.  It's not always convenient or easy (especially when teaching for eight hours in very hot conditions and drinking lots of water is a must!), but I do my best to stay away from plastic bottles on my trips. 

    We teach all pastors and business people to have a quadruple bottom line, including environmental, reminding them that Christians should be the leaders in being stewards of creation!

    But my new enemy is straws.

    Straws really aren't necessary for the majority of us, the majority of time.  They often do not get recycled.  What takes us about fifteen minutes to consume will then stay in the environment for many, many years.  And we go through millions of straws globally every single day.  Some estimates say 150 million straws every day.

    That's crazy.

    And it's easy to "just say no."

    When I go to a restaurant and order a drink, I say "No straw, please."

    If they put it on the table I ask them to take it away just in case they are tempted to throw it away later when they clean the table.

    My goal is to ask places that I frequent to put straws in a jar on each table so that people can choose to have a straw.  Or better yet, only give a straw when people ask for one, rather than the opposite.

    Will you join me in this?  If so, send me an email so that I can know who is joining me in this endeavor (reedsinthewind@gmail.com).  It's not a big sacrifice in terms of quality of life, but it can make a difference.  And if people ask you why you are not using a straw, you can tell them and invite them to join as well.

    If you are really attached to straws, there are many types of reusable straws that you use, if you wish.

    There are some restaurants who are already trying to change things up.  For example, Brick Road Pizza on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids uses paper straws.  If you know of others, feel free to email me to let me know!

    We are doing all sorts of things to the planet we live on without even asking what the side effects and interactions might be.  I think that part of our calling as citizens of this world is to be curious about the impact of our decisions, and the impact of what we use and what we choose to do on the beautiful creation.  We have been commissioned to be a manager in trust of God's estate.  We are invited to share in the income, without invading the principle of the trust.  We are to be faithful, wise, and effective stewards of that estate.

    It feels like a big job and a battle that often feels like we are losing, but we can start with our own small decisions at a personal or family level.

    By the way, if you live in Grand Rapids, we use a service called Organicycle which allows us to recycle paper towels and pizza boxes, bones and all organic waste.  Since we have winter for half the year (or longer it feels like), composting is more difficult.  But Organicycle picks up this type of waste every other week, using compostable bags for this waste.  It takes a bit more effort but that, plus recycling, has reduced our trash significantly.  Check it out!

    One more thing: my daughter reminded me that while recycling is good, it would be even better if we don't buy plastic bottles to begin with.  The process of making plastic bottles takes a great amount of water and energy; recycling just means more plastic will be made.  Just more to think about!
  • What can I say?

    What can I say at the end of a trip that spanned four countries for the DML team?

    Workshop ready to start. TV cameras for the evangelical channel capture the event.What can I say after teaching more than seventy hours in two different theological institutions, giving two two-day workshops, several shorter workshops, countless interviews and meetings across these four countries?

    What can I say that can convey to you, the faithful blog reader, faithful prayer partner, faithful encourager and supporter of the Discipling Marketplace Leaders ministry, of the impact in dialogue and discussions that we had in this last trip?
    Addressing the Environmental Bottom line.  
    Some of these trip reports can begin to sound the same.  Pictures of people in a workshop.  Class pictures.  Pictures of people in their business.  It is so tough to capture and convey the work that this blog describes.

    Fifty-six pastors and church leaders in Tanzania; 42 pastors and church leaders in Uganda; 105 pastors and church leaders in Kenya; 91 pastors and church leaders in Ethiopia. 

    As we head home, we are weary.  But we are also blessed and encouraged.  The ongoing work of support, follow-up, and discipling continues in each place as God continues to call forth His people to lead this work. 
    Yoseph (next to me) and his beautiful family.In Ethiopia, we have Yoseph (pictured with his beautiful family) who is the Business as Mission Coordinator for the Kale Heywet Church, the largest evangelical church in Ethiopia.  With over 6000 churches and more than 10 million members, we were so privileged to have the Deputy Secretary for the Denomination join us for the two day workshop.  Additionally, we had key leaders who oversee over 1000 churches also in attendance, and who are now asking for us to come back and start the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in their region.  In fact, nine of the eleven regions of Ethiopia were represented in this workshop.
    Let me share with you some of the feedback we heard this past week:
    From the Deputy Secretary of the Kale Heywet Church: "This is where we need to be.  This is relevant for the Church of today."

    From an SIM missionary, who was in marketing and advertising in the US for ten years:  "This is the most comprehensive storyboard of Business as Mission that I have heard yet."

    From a pastor who oversees 1500 churches:  "The lights have come on.  I feel guilty for not having taught this in the church before.  This is so necessary for our people."

    From a successful business man who had grown up in the church:  "I haven't been preached to until today.  You came for me to hear this message."

    From a church leader who's husband is a business person: "I had told him that what he was doing was not godly, that he was spending too much time in his business.  I now realize that I need to support him in his ministry."

    Amazing church leaders in this class at the Evangelical Theological College - such great debates, discussions, as well as laughter!I had a number of key leaders from several denominations in my class, which lead to many debates about integrity and finance, as well as the role of the Church in these changing times.God is good.  I'm sending this now from Amsterdam on a brief layover on my way home.  Looking forward to being home for a bit!
  • Easter Tidings

    I have been receiving Easter tidings from students, friends, and colleagues from across Africa and North America, yet Ethiopia is on a different calendar, celebrating Easter (and Christmas) one week later. [They are also on a thirteen month calendar, and their time is also different - 7 am is 1 am - the day starts when the sun rises...but I digress.]  I miss these holy days with family, as well as any opportunity for quiet in preparation, but my appreciation for what God has done for me grows so deep in a place like Ethiopia that I rejoice in a different way.

    I feel like words other than reflections on Easter are busy words at this time, so I go to my favorite prayer book, Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder for his words on Good Friday:

    Holy One,
    shock and save me with the terrible goodness of this Friday,
    and drive me deep into my longing for your kingdom,
    until I seek it first --

    yet not first for myself.

    but for the hungry
    and the sick 
    and the poor of your children,
    for prisoners of conscience around the world,
    for those I have wasted
    with my racism
    and sexism
    and ageism
    and nationalism
    and religionism,

    for those around this earth and in this city who, this Friday, know far more of terror than of goodness;

    that, in my seeking first the kingdom,
    for them as well as for myself,
    all these things may be mine as well:

    things like a coat and courage
    and something like comfort,
    a few lilies of the field,
    the sight of birds soaring on the wind,
    a song in the night,
    and gladness of heart,
    the sense of your presence
    and the realization of your promise
    that nothing in life or death
    will be able to separate me or those I love,
    from your love

    in the crucified one who is our Lord,
    and in whose name and Spirit I pray

    Amen

    I leave for home on Ethiopian Easter and will arrive home next Monday.  I appreciate your prayers for strength yet for this last week and safe travel back home.  
  • Making Restitution

    [Sitting in the Nairobi airport, on our way to Ethiopia where we will be for two weeks.  The internet is often not working in Ethiopia so I will send this blog a day early.  Ethiopia continues to be in a state of emergency and our workshop that was to take place outside of Ethiopia has been cancelled due to unrest.  Please pray for this country and their selection of a new prime minister.]

    (Zacchaeus) "If I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much."  Luke 19:8

    I have been teaching Integrity and Finance this past week at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kenya, and next week I will start teaching it at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  In the meantime, I'm receiving homework assignments daily from Nigeria where I taught the class.  I'm getting lots of exposure from multiple countries and denominations on this subject. 

    I really hate to say how much I am seeing that this course is needed.  Pastors who are learning so much about theology, know very little about record-keeping, finances, budgets, and the like.  The finance part of this course is so important if pastors want to achieve the strategic plan of the church, which is often prayed over intensely, but then needs to be lined up in the budget and planned for in order for it to be successful.  But too many students tell me that budgets indicate a lack of faith.  That God will provide.  That budgets constrain the Holy Spirit.  And so we go to Luke 14 where Jesus is talking about the cost of being a disciple, but his example has to do with building a building without planning and when unable to finish it, the person is ridiculed.  Not to mention the hundreds of other texts throughout the Bible where we are advised on how to handle money.  There are more than 2300 verses on money, I'm told.  It was Jesus' most talked about topic in the parables.  It matters.

    I teach personal budgeting as well as organizational budgeting, and some of my students have 75% of their income going toward debt.  That's right.  75%.  I was told that the only financial teaching that their parents gave them was this:  "Once you get a job, join a savings and loan group so that you can get loans."  A culture of loans.  Almost everyone is carrying multiple loans and they take loans to pay other loans.  Loans are taken for consumption (school fees, household furniture, etc) - things that don't bring back more profit.  It's much more insidious than I knew.  It breaks my heart because I know the burden and sense of bondage that these loans bring.

    One of the pastors in my class this past week shared how convicted he was through this class - not only for himself and his personal finances, but also for the lack of teaching his members how to have financial integrity, yet the church continues to ask for tithes and offerings.  He is determined to change this, and will start by teaching the men's ministry in his church.

    But beyond the need to teach finances, integrity is also an issue.  We look at how a conscience is developed, and the impact of culture, education, and society on our conscience.  We look at the definition of integrity, "the alignment of our inner character with our outer character regardless of consequences" and look at what God says about integrity.  There is often a culture of corruption in places where there is much poverty, with the idea that "I must do it to survive" at the root of it, but as we develop that practice, our conscience begins to change to believe that it is actually right.

    But where-ever we are, there are temptations to take short-cuts, to skim off the top, to take something here or there that doesn't belong to us.  I love this story from Rick Warren as it relates to making restitution and I think it's something all of us can examine ourselves for so that we too can have a clear conscience before God.  2 Corinthians 8:21 encourages us to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.  Read Rick Warren's story:

    A number of years ago, I decided that more than anything else in my life I wanted God's blessing. I wanted God to bless and use my life.  I sat down and said, "If I'm going to do this, I've got to clear up my past and make restitution with some people.  God, will you help me remember the people I need to make things right with?"  I started making a list and the list was about three pages.  It was amazing when I asked God to help me remember.  He did!  I remembered things that I had forgotten for years.  Things that went clear back to childhood.  Like the time I used to rip off my sister Shandell's piggy bank.  Every week she was putting the money in and every week I was taking the money out.  God said you need to get that right.  It's pretty embarrassing for a grown man to go to his sister and say, "I was ripping off your piggy bank." but I did it.  And there were other things, like when I was a teenager with some other teenagers in a car and accidently backed into a car in a parking lot and smashed in their fender.  We didn't stay around.  We just split.  We were scared.  I said that I'm going to go back to the police station in that town and see if I can find that traffic report, find that person and repay them.  Maybe you need to make a list.  Maybe you need to say, "God I want to have a clear conscience before you and before man."  Maybe you need to wrap up some stuff and mail it back, put it in UPS; maybe there are some items you need to return: office supplies, books, DVDs, CDs, your neighbor's ladder, motel towels, whatever.  Maybe you need to write a check -- or so it will be anonymous, a money order -to an employer and say, "I took some supplies".  I would suggest you use it as a witnessing opportunity, send a letter, a note, with it.  You don't have to sign it.  You can send a money order to your employer and say, "I am making restitution for ________________ because I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I want to do what's right."  Sign it underneath, "A cleared conscience."  You can't buy that kind of feeling.  The freedom and joy that comes from a clear conscience.  You can't buy it and I can't explain it to you - the joy of knowing that I can go into any city in America and say "I am Rick Warren and I have no skeletons in my closet.  I have nothing that I have not dealt with, nothing to hide."  That is confidence when you know that nobody is looking over your shoulder and you're wondering if it's going to hit the front pages tomorrow.  You know that everything in your life has been dealt with.  There is no greater feeling. To know that nobody can accuse you.  Make restitution.
    May God grant all of us the courage to make restitution and have a clear conscience before God and man!
    Graduation at Africa Theological Seminary yesterday, where I serve as an adjunct faculty.  Beautiful day!