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Blog – Renita

  • Reflections on "Happy" Days

    Writing from Bakersfield, CA, where I am joining in the festivities of the annual International Christian Ministries (ICM) banquet as well as the International Council meetings with the ICM Country Directors.

    This past week has been a week of reflection for me.

    Bob as a little boyBob's date of birth is August 9.  He would have turned 64.  As someone (barely) clinging yet to my forties, I wonder how this age difference would have impacted us today.  It has been eight years since his death and so much has happened.  I have spent a little more time in the last few weeks with Bob's mother, who was moved into assisted living last December.  I had the privilege of making what may well be her last homemade pies with her.  She will turn 90 in September and is having some memory issues, as well as other health issues.  Bob's brother Don (and wife Carolyn) and sister Sandy have been working so hard at getting her house ready for sale, which means going through decades of memories that have been collected.  The items relating to Bob have been passed on to me and my children, for which I am grateful: letters that Bob wrote to his mom, the Bibles that he gave both to his mom and his step-father shortly after he became a Christian, pictures, more books on John F. Kennedy then we will ever probably read, and other memorabilia.

    It is great to "hear" his voice again, in ways not heard before, after all of these years.  It's a surprise to learn things about him that I didn't know.  Noah is amazed by what a writer his father was!

    Mom and Dad in the 1980sAdditionally, my parents anniversary is August 10.  They have been married for 61 years.  But for my dad, his understanding and participation in the marriage ended more than eight years ago.  He has frontal lobe dementia (they now do not think it is Alzheimer's) and has been on a locked floor in Holland Christian Homes in Brampton for these past eight years.  He cannot walk. He cannot talk (except for a few words now and then).  He sometimes will show some recognition of my mother yet but recognizes almost no-one else.  For the most part, he spends his time in a wheelchair, looking at nothing.  Day in and day out.  His body remains surprisingly strong.  It still takes several nurses to bathe him as he still fights that invasion (in his mind) of privacy and decency.

    But for my mom, this marriage continues.  She has loved my dad and given her best to my dad from the age of 21 until today, at the age of 82.  She continues to fulfill her marriage vows of "in sickness and in health" as well as "til death do us part."

    It's difficult on a deceased loved one's birthday to know what to do or say.  Is it a "happy" birthday when the person left so soon?  It's difficult on an anniversary where one member is languishing and the other continues to care for this loved one to know what to do or say.  Is it a "happy anniversary" when the conditions seem so sad?  I realized as I reflected this past week, with some regret, that we should have made a bigger deal out of their 60th anniversary last year and celebrated my mom, even without my dad.  She is an amazing wife and has loved my dad through good and bad times throughout her life.

    Taking time for reflection is important.  I've appreciated my drives alone up to Bob's mom in Lake City for that reflection time.  Looking back in order to move forward has its place.  We miss how things they could be...and yet we can continue to glean from those relationships years later.

    Ecclesiastes 3: 1:  There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.
  • Introducing DML Trainer and Entrepreneur Kareyn Adulu

    Each quarter, our Discipling Marketplace Leader partners submits numbers from their activities in the previous quarter, as well as one story of someone who exemplifies the work that we are trying to do in reclaiming the redeemed Marketplace.  The story today comes from Kenya.

    When I started working in Kenya in 2013, the World Bank ranked Kenya at 121 out of 190 countries for the ease of doing business.  This year, in 2018, Kenya has raised it's score to 80!  That is significant progress!  This relates to many things but it includes the ease and cost of registering a business, access to electricity and infrastructure, access to credit, and the legal structures for enforcement of contracts.  Many business people may not feel this impact directly but it shows that the government is moving in a direction that is helping business people.  We thank God for this and continue to pray that positive momentum continues and that the high corruption score for Kenya may also come down in due time.

    This story was submitted to us by our Kenya Discipling Marketplace Leaders team to help you get to know some of our business people and trainers!  Please pray for Kareyn today as well as the many business people who are seeking to be change agents for God in the Marketplace, and to do their work as an act of worship.

    Kareyn is one of those people you can always count on to do a task or save you during a crisis. She is currently focussing on growing her business amidst some business challenges - competition and access to markets. She remains a focused woman of God and DML is privileged to have her as a trainer and marketplace leader.
    Kareyn preparing for training.
    Kareyn has a not-so-common name, at least in the way it is spelled! She is a small lady in stature, moves swiftly and purposefully.

    She is a very industrious person. She is a DML trainer, the first pick for all our event’s registrations and desk management as she is very dependable. 

    She is also so gifted in crafts- she does beadwork- necklaces, bangles, earrings, flower vases and tissue/napkin holders.

    Some of her products.Kareyn first trained at Faith Tabernacle Church in Kitale, and then went on to attend the training for trainers and she passed. The pass mark is pretty high for one to qualify as a trainer but she did very well. 

    She is a single lady, taking care of her mother who is sickly.  She often will be found shuttling between their home and her business contacts as she takes orders and delivers her wares. She runs a cottage industry, with the help of extra hands whom she contracts when she has many orders. She sources her goods from Nairobi city, over 380km away- talk of the Proverbs 31 woman who buys her goods from afar! 

    More of her products.
    Kareyn preparing to sell her products at an event.
    Kareyn (3rd person) with her pastor, Moffat Weru (far right).
    A graduating DML class from her church.  Kareyn is squatting in the front, second from the right.
  • A Crown for a Bishop and a boy

    One of the participants in our recent workshop in Ghana shared this story that her mother had told her when growing up:
    Once upon a time, there was an important Bishop of a Church who oversaw a great number of churches.  Working for him was a young man, who started to serve the Bishop as a young child.  This young man was tasked with bringing the Bishop his food, washing and ironing his clothes, shining his shoes, and running general errands.  The young man was not quick in his work, but he was very thorough and careful.  It frustrated the Bishop at times that tasks would take so long but he couldn't complain about the outcome.
    One day, as the Bishop and this young man were traveling to a nearby parish, their car was hit and they were both killed.
    Upon arriving in heaven, both were received with great joy and ushered in to receive their crowns.  The Bishop was presented his crown first - beautiful and elegant - and he humbly accepted this on his head.  But then the crown was brought out for the young man, and to the Bishop's great surprise, it was even grander than his own.  Unable to contain his surprise, he asked for clarification.  "As the Bishop who has spent his life serving and building the Church, equipping leaders and saving souls, I'm surprised that my crown is smaller and less grand than the young man who was simply polishing my shoes and ironing my clothes.
     Can someone explain this to me?"
    Jesus, looking tenderly at the young man, decided to let the young man share thoughts that he hadn't been invited to share while on earth.  He asked him, "When you were serving the Bishop by ironing his clothes and polishing his shoes, can you tell us why it often took you a great amount of time?"  
    The young man looked up uncomfortably, glancing over at the Bishop, and then looking Jesus fully in the face, replied.  "I knew the importance of my job.  I was ironing the clothes of the man who would be introducing people to you, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  I was polishing the shoes of the man who would be carrying the message that could bring salvation for eternity to those who listened.  I wanted those shoes and those clothes to be a reflection of the perfection of who you are so that when they saw them, they could see a glimpse of you."
    Colossians 3:23:24, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
    What a powerful story to give your children.  A reminder that our work has a much higher purpose than earthly masters, money, or self-achievement.  It is the Lord that we are serving while working, reflecting a portion of who He is, as image-bearers and co-creators with him.  
  • Cameroon in Conflict

    Lydia is a businesswoman from the Northwest portion of Cameroon, an Anglophone (English speaking) area.  Since 2016 it has been caught up in a conflict between the Anglophone and Francophone (French-speaking) Cameroonians.  Lydia is Anglophone.  She and her husband have a 22-year-old biological son and three adopted children ranging from 18-23 years old.  Lydia was forced to close her business on Mondays starting in October of 2016 by those opposing the French dominated government.  All businesses were forced to close as a sign of protest by the Anglophone forces.  Recently they added Tuesdays as well.  Those who disobey and open their business will be attacked.  The loss of two business days has had a significant negative impact on her business.When you add to that the insecurity and fear of being out in the streets where these forces are roaming, business is negatively impacted even more. Sixty-five villages have been razed and burned to the ground since this conflict started two years ago.  The complaints of the Anglophones are genuine; with only 25% of the population, they tend to be disadvantaged at every level of leadership.  Villages continue to be invaded by the Anglophone force, where various leaders are being kidnapped in an effort to control the area.  Thankfully, they are not killing people, but people are forced to flee when they invade.  Many of those who lost their homes are living in the bush. Lydia is very afraid for her son.  The Anglophone force is recruiting young men to join them.  “Recruiting” might be a generous term.  Those who have sons who may be considered old enough to fight are afraid for them.  Lydia’s son graduated from university and is now hiding in their home in the Northwest, while they try to get him accepted for a Master’s degree in a university in Europe or Canada, where he can be safe. More than 500 soldiers of the Cameroonian army have been killed by the Anglophone Forces, but only 50 of the English Defense Force have been killed.  When asked why the numbers seem lopsided, it is explained that the Anglophone forces are believed to be protected by a spirit who won’t allow them to die.  In response, the military is now asking for help from the spirits as well. They are tying a red rope on their guns to break the power of those spirits of those shooting at them. Yet Lydia travels many miles to attend the training we held in Yaoundé.  She told me that her heart is “weeping with joy” for the message she heard.  She loves doing business and apparently does it very well. To hear that it is a good and holy calling when done “as unto the Lord” touched her heart deeply.  She has felt guilty doing business and wondered if she should leave it to go into “full-time ministry?” She now recognizes that her work can be an act of worship and it can be her parish and place of ministry.  She left our training renewed and invigorated to do her business with God as owner and be intentional to help other business people see their work as an act of worship.  She is planning to attend our next training to be a trainer for Discipling Marketplace Leaders. I told Lydia I would be praying for her and her son.  Maybe you will join me?
  • A Quick Note

    Dear praying friends,

    It has been a busy week of teaching at the ECWA Seminary with 27 students in my class.  Some are bishops.  Some are pastors.  Some are civil servants.  Some work with international or local nonprofits.  Some are in business.  Some are Baptist, Christian Reformed, ECWA, Catholic, Lutheran, and others.  They are taking Integrity and Finance as part of the degree, Masters in Organizational Leadership.  It's always a fun class to teach, with some tough dialogue about the challenges of ethics and integrity in the day-to-day lives of people struggling with temptations, especially for those also struggling with poverty and a lack of hope in the system.

    On Saturday, we were able to lead a workshop for another of our students, a bishop of a Lutheran Diocese in Abuja.  His church has 1200 members and is a beautiful building.  He had just under 100 pastors and church leaders in attendance and it was a good day to continue to share the vision of the church being the people of God and not the building.

    Today (Sunday) I leave Abuja for Jos, to teach a two-day microbusiness training.  Dr. Walker will head to Kaduna with Dr. Gaga (our partner) to do a two-day training for about 100 pastors and church leaders.  Please pray with us for these two events.

    Jos has quieted down in this last week, for which we are thankful.  For three days, the Christians will fast (Monday-Wednesday) and pray for peace in the Plateau State.  If you feel so led, please join them.  There is so much anger and stress relating to this long-time struggle between the Fulani herdsman and those who live in the path that they travel.  Conflicts, murder, kidnappings for ransom, extortion, and hatred/fear are an all-too-frequent occurrence. One pastor confessed that she had been preaching on how we need to love our neighbor while knowing in her heart the anger and unforgiveness she holds in her heart towards those causing so much strife and hurt in this country.  There is a deep fear that Christians are going to be annihilated.  Words fall short in these times of deep despair, especially from outsiders.  We know that the church has often grown significantly during times of persecution, but that is little comfort.

    We cry out to God for peace, for strength, for perseverance, for reconciliation.  We pray for the Church to rise up, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive, to love, to point all towards the light of Christ.
    The Lutheran Cathedral which we were privileged to speak at on Saturday.
  • Problem or Opportunity?

    One of the things we like to teach is that we don't have problems, we have opportunities.  God has given us the potential by being made in His image, as well as through the resources of this world and through the body of Christ, to take these opportunities and find ways through them.

    Nigeria is currently the 7th largest country in the world by population.  The largest are (in descending order) China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and then Nigeria.  By 2050, they predict that Nigeria will have passed the USA to be the third most populous country in the world.  Problem or opportunity?

    Lagos is a city of 22 million.  It passed Cairo to be the most populous city in Africa in 2013.  By 2050, 72% of Nigeria will live in urban centers.  Problem or opportunity?

    Nigeria has 28 million businesses.  Twenty-two million of those business have no employees (microbusinesses).  In high-income countries, small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs) who have between 5-500 employees provide 60-80% of the jobs.  There is a significant lack of SMEs in Nigeria and therefore a significant challenge with employment.  Problem or opportunity?

    Nigeria just passed India to have the highest number of people live in extreme poverty.  While much of the world reduced the number of people in poverty in the last twenty years, Nigeria increased.  It is reported that 2/3rds of the population in Lagos lives in slums.  Problem or opportunity?

    We believe that the Biblical perspective is that people are not the problem - they are the solution. Made in the image of God, people are creative, have been created to work, and are problem-solvers.  The slums may have a depth of richness because of the people there, that is greater than the oil reserves.  But they need the capacity to grow and learn, and they need the opportunity to work as God has intended.  Perspective is so important.

    To be in a city of 22 million is somewhat staggering.  To consider how such a mass of people move, work, travel, and communicate is difficult to get our head around.  In many ways, it is a country unto itself.  People in Lagos tell us (relating to DML), "If you capture Lagos, you capture Nigeria.  If you capture Nigeria, you capture Africa."

    While in Lagos, we heard testimonies from pastors who have implemented Thirty Days in the Marketplace in their church.  They reported:
    • Total paradigm shift by the church as work was recognized as a act of worship and business was recognized as a calling.
    • A portion of the group trained in Lagos
    • One pastor shared how much he personally was changed by the process of teaching this as it relates to his perspective of why we were created and how essential it is to disciple people in the workplace.
    • Bible studies were held regularly on how to do our business as a mission.
    • New accountability is taking place in relationships relating to how we do business.
    • As prayer walks were done by the church in the communities, strongholds were identified and prayed over.
    • New souls have been won as a result of this ministry.
    • Some pastors reported an increase in giving as a result.
    • Business members have been anointed and commissioned by their pastors.
      Assemblies of God leadership team
    We are encouraged by this.  When people begin to see their work as worship, it changes so much.  From Lagos, we moved to Ibadan for the first time to do a two-day workshop for pastors and church leaders, as well as a workshop for business people.  Yesterday (Sunday) we moved to Abuja where we will teach at the ECWA seminary until Saturday and then have a DML workshop with the Lutheran Church where one of our students serves as the Bishop.  
    Following this, Dr. Walker with our partner Dr. Gaga, will move to Kaduna to do another two-day workshop for pastors, with an expected 100 pastors in attendance.  I am to go to Jos to do a two-day microbusiness training for one of the churches who has completed the Thirty Days in the Marketplace.  However, Jos has had a significant
    Ibadan DML Teamamount of violence with over 200 killed, demonstrations, and a curfew has been put in place.  We are hoping that things will calm down in the next few days, otherwise I am being advised by our partners not to take the risk, as the roads into and out of Jos are a key trouble spot.  Please pray for peace!
    And while you are praying, please also pray for Cameroon.  We are to go there after Nigeria and news reports are that Cameroon is moving towards a civil war between the English-speakers and French-speakers.  Our trip there in January was postponed for that reason and it had appeared things were improving.  Where we are going is quiet and peaceful, so we will still go, but some of the leaders will be coming from that area.  Please pray for their safety and for the Church to rise up in this time to be promoters of peace and helpful solutions.  There are opportunities in this too if we have the courage, compassion, capacity, and competence to find them!
      Some of the leaders trained in IbadanGreat Quote
      Attendees capturing the info on their phones
      Rev. Johnson, from Ghana, teaching from his vast experience in doing Business as Mission for more than 25 years.  But he is now a firm believer in Church-based Business as Mission and is joining us on the road to help train and mentor fellow pastors and business persons.  We thank God for him!On a church wall in Ibadan
    • "Do You Want Gold?"

      Writing from Ghana airport this past Friday, waiting for our cancelled flight to Nigeria to be rescheduled, I felt tired yet energized.  It was a long week with teaching from Monday-Friday, 9 am-4pm.  We had two different groups of pastors and church leaders, about 80 in all:  one group came on Monday-Tuesday; one group came on Thursday-Friday.  Wednesday was a workshop with the Ghana Christian University faculty and staff, doing some dialogue about opportunities and challenges, including the opportunity to engage the concept of “Work as Worship” in their Development Management programs, Nursing programs, Theology programs, and others.

      While we were praying together on Tuesday morning, Fanny (Founder and Director of Hopeline Institute) shared that she felt she heard God’s voice asking, “Do you want gold?  You have gold before you.”  She believed this was referring to the message of Discipling Marketplace Leaders and the very real need and opportunity to reach the Marketplace for Christ through the Church.  By Friday afternoon, Fanny had organized what she is calling the “DML Movement” made up of twelve key strategic leaders.  They will have their first meeting in a few weeks to strategize how to make this call to reclaim the redeemed Marketplace, through DML, a National Movement in Ghana.

      As a Director of Hopeline Institute, Fanny oversees 44 staff persons in three different units:  Training, Projects, and Microfinance.  They are a great team of men and women who are striving to do their work as an act of worship unto the Lord.  God is using them to bless and encourage so many.  How does one start a movement?  There are probably many ways, but I believe that the Holy Spirit and Fanny are a good mix to do it!

      As you may remember, DML started working with Hopeline in Ghana in 2016 in Tamale,  This past week, while I was teaching, my colleague Barbie Odom had the opportunity to travel to Tamale to visit some of the businesses who went through the DML business training and some of the pastors who have been guiding the DML ministry in their church. She was very encouraged by what she saw.  One of the business women who produces a local juice from beesap (hibiscus) shared with Barbie how her business has been growing over time and how DML has helped.  In the picture you see a coin balanced on her finger, and she shared that when she started, she was able to put one coin aside after another to save and increase the business; she has now risen to the level where she has labelled her bottles and has had good growth.
      the Northern Region of Ghana.

      Pastor Adams oversees a total of five churches in this rural area and is also a maize farmer and pig farmer.  He is pictured here with his five-year-old son in their maize field (which is struggling with the army worm), and that is one of his delightful pigs in the picture below.

      Five more churches are about to begin the training for their business people in the northern part of Ghana, and now we pray this movement of God will pick up in Accra as well through this new team of people.This week will have two days of training in Lagos (Monday-Tuesday), and then three days of training in Ibadan (Thursday-Saturday).  Please pray for strength and health for us (last week had a few health challenges), that the word of God may go out and that people may be inspired, through the Holy Spirit, to reclaim our relationship to creation and to work.
      The second group of Pastors and Church leaders at GCU
      Isn't this just the cutest picture?
    • 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.