Blog – Renita

  • Nehemiah 6: Are you a firefighter?

    One might say that we live in a time of fear:  Fear of the pandemic and its health (physical and mental), social, or economic effects.  Fear of civil war (depending on your country). Fear of Fascism/Marxism (depending on which political side you stand in the US). Fear for our children and their education, and for poor choices that they may make in light of some of the lock-downs (increased drug usage and teenage pregnancy).

    [I recently learned that the Bible says "Fear not" about 365 times - one for every day of the year!]

    As we hear these sobering and overwhelming prayer requests from our DML partners, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  It is easy to even ask, "How do we pray in light of all of this?"

    This past week, I felt like God was whispering to me to focus on the solution, and not on the problem.  For example, this week we focused our prayer time on Ethiopia and the challenges that are currently there from being on the verge of civil war as well as the pandemic.  I could spend all my time consumed with praying against civil war there OR I could continue to "build my wall" like Nehemiah.  

    After all, I'm not a firefighter. [To be explained shortly.]

    In Nehemiah chapter 6, Nehemiah is undergoing some serious intimidation by a few bullies.  Several times they called him to come for a "peace" meeting, but he refuses.  He has a wall to build.  Then they turn up the heat and make it seem like a fire is burning.  "Come quick!" they call.

    Nehemiah shows a hint of fear and prays for strength.

    But then he proceeds to do what he has been called to do.  He is not called to put out fires but is called to trust in the Lord and carry on with his calling of rebuilding the wall.  

    Sometimes I try to be a firefighter when that is not my calling.  I get the whiff of smoke and I think I must respond.  Someone calls for me to come, and I weigh the effect of not coming, versus the cost of responding.

    But being a firefighter takes special skill and training.  It is a unique gifting, not for the faint of heart.

    I think the message for me this past week was to keep building the wall.  Sort through the rubble.  Find the usable stuff and put it in.  Don't worry about the rumors of fire.  Stay focused.

    When I remind myself that I'm not a firefighter, it helps me remember my calling.

    Then, I got a chance to spend some time with church leaders from Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, and Mexico talking about discipling "the other 95%" of the adult members of our church to be the church every day of the week. And as I get to spend time with them, and I hear their joyful and positive response to this forgotten truth of Genesis 1 and 2, I am reminded that this is my calling.  And this work is part of the solution of positive change in the world, as God designed.

    Fear not.

    I'm not a fire fighter.

    Keep your eye on being part of the solution, not stewing over the problems.

    If you have a chance, read Nehemiah 6 and be encouraged.

  • Paper Clips and Ice Cream

    Sometimes I run across things that are better written than what I can do and deserve some attention, so I beg your indulgence.  Too often, I am like a toddler who drops a paper clip, and as embarrassing as that is, it bears mentioning.  

    This was written by Mary Katherine Backstrom:

    Hey, God.
    Sorry, it’s been a minute. But something happened today, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I understood Your heart a little better. You probably already know why I’m talking, because well…You are God. But I guess the whole point of prayer is to talk, so I’m gonna tell You what happened.Today, I was at a traffic light staring at Hannah, who was screaming in her car seat because a friend gave her a paper clip during preschool and she snuck it home in her clothes, and then accidentally dropped it into the abyss that is my car’s floorboard. Then, despite her desperate pleas, I wouldn’t pull over so she could unbuckle and climb around the car looking for said paper clip. That made her BIG mad. We are talking wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth mad.*sigh*Moving on.Now, if she had known that I couldn’t pull over because I was hurrying to take her somewhere special before soccer practice, maybe she wouldn’t have minded.But she was screaming too loudly about her paper clip for me to explain. “You are an EVIL mommy! A wicked stepmother! I wish I had a better mommy!”Un-freaking-believable, right? I gave birth to that little turdlet and she had the audacity to disown me over a paper clip.So, I let her mourn and scream. There was no reasoning with her, anyways. She wanted what she wanted. To Hannah, that paper clip was the most valuable thing she’d ever owned. But I couldn’t stop thinking: If only she knew what was coming. If only she knew why I wouldn’t pull over. If only she knew that I wanted to take her out for ice cream—just the two of us—maybe she would have gotten excited.Maybe she would have forgotten about that stupid paper clip.I had something in store for her that was so much better than a milligram of bent wire. But that bent wire was her heart’s desire. She could see nothing else.I was contemplating this to myself and I realized, holy cow, God. I’m no better than my toddler.I am essentially riding around in life’s car seat, clutching tight to my precious paper clips, and raging at you when one falls out of my hands. My writing job changes, but I liked my job.A speaking gig falls between my fingers, but it’s the one I was most excited about.My husband changes as a human, but I was comfortable with who he was.“My paper clips, God! Pull over and let me collect them! PULL OVER GOD WAAAAAAAH!”All the while you are watching my tears from the front seat, waiting for the wailing to stop so you can tell me,"MY DAUGHTER. Let go of that trinket. Stop your crying. I have something better just up ahead."
    So, God. I just want you to know that, in this one small way, my Mama heart understood a little more about your Daddy heart today.To be honest, I don’t want to lose any of the things I hold onto so tightly. My youth, my writing career, my children being little, my marriage being comfortable. But, if change must happen, I pray you comfort my heart and remind me that Your plans are for my good. And remind me that for goodness sake, if I can just stop wailing over lost paper clips for one stinking minute, You’ve been trying to take me out for ice cream.I think this was a prayer. Perhaps a revelation. Maybe more of a brain dump. Either way, I feel a little closer to you tonight, God.And I think that deserves an “amen”.
  • Shalom: Vigorous Well-Being and Abundant Flourishing

    Oscar Romero, in The Violence of Love, says this, "How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand their work, their job, is a priestly work...[that] each metal worker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand, is performing a priestly office!"
    Last week we had a great time as a DML team on Zoom, from the US to West Africa to Central Africa to East Africa.   All teams were able to "get away" to a place where they could rest and have a place of retreat, while spending four hours a day on Zoom for discussions.  We laughed, we shared, we prayed, we debated, and we learned.

    Our goal is to promote shalom, which we define as the vigorous well-being and abundant flourishing of God's creation in the beauty of God's presence, in a world that is in complete harmony, the way God intends it to be.

    I love this:  vigorous well-being and abundant flourishing for all in God's creation.

    Psalm 85 sums this up so well in verse 10:  Unfailing love and truth have met together.  Righteousness and peace have kissed!

    One commentary says that this verse can be described in this way: the "spiritual union of God bowing down from heaven to meet earth, and earth rejoicing up to Him, foretelling the glory of salvation for the people" (ISBE).

    God is bringing a kingdom in which righteousness and peace will fill the earth and in the meantime it is our calling to work toward this and not just wait in hope!

    Here are some of the DML teams that are seeing to be part of the process of bringing about vigorous well-being and abundant flourishing through the reclaiming by the church of the marketplace for Christ!  What an honor it is to work alongside these amazing people of God!Cameroon:  Leaders from HUTSEED

    Burkina Faso:  Leaders from Christian Missionary Alliance
    Ethiopia:  Leaders from the Kale Heywet Church
    Kenya:  Leaders from DML Kenya and the Anglican Church of Kenya
    Nigeria:  Leaders from DML Nigeria
    Uganda:  Leaders from ICM Uganda
    Ghana:  DML Ghana Movement, led by Hopeline Institute

    Ghana:  In the north, close to the Burkina Faso border, led by SIM Ghana
    Burundi:  Our newest partner, with ICM Burundi
    Tanzania:  ICM Tanzania and the Full Victory Gospel Ministry
  • Work as Worship

    This week DML will be holding it's annual team conference.  We were all supposed to be together in Ethiopia (and the team was so excited!) but alas, we now have to do our retreat virtually.  

    Each of our teams is going to a retreat place with their team, and we will be together on Zoom for 4.5 hours per day.  The rest of their time is to do team building, strategic planning, as well as resting and relaxing.  We expect there will be around 50 of us in total.  These retreats can happen thanks to the generous support of many of you!

    This has been a tough year for many of our partners, beyond the pandemic.  We covet your prayers for both ability to connect with good connectivity as well as a Sabbath rest for the teams as they are away from their typical routine.

    And speaking of our teams, our team in Ghana was very busy last week with a Work as Worship retreat as well as prayer walks.  Work as Worship retreats are an important times where business people get to share how they are doing their work as an act of worship.  We need to hear from each other about how this gets practical, wherever we work!  And prayer walks are a chance for us to reclaim our streets for Christ, and for Him to show us our cities from a different perspective.  We hear great testimonies from those who walk their city streets every day but something different happens when they walk it in a prayer walk.  Very powerful!

    These Work as Worship retreats and Prayer Walks are not just taking place in Ghana but in many of the cities where DML is working.

    Here are some pictures for you to enjoy:

    Front of the shirts say "Avoda," the Hebrew word for WORK AND WORSHIP!
    Back of the shirts say "Lives of Purpose and Impact."  Amen!
    The DML Movement Work as Worship Team!
    A Ghanaian engineer sharing how he does his work as worship!

    Praying for the Ghanaian justice system.
    Praying for Muslims in Ghana
    Prayer team bonding!

    One of many prayer teams walking the streets of their city across Africa!
  • The Theology of Sleep

    I'm reading a book called Redeeming the Routines by Robert Banks (another book given to me by my book-generous husband) and he talks about a Theology of Sleep.  

    I love this!  We have been talking about this in DML - that the role of the church is to equip the saints for the work outside the church building.  Most of our time is in the workplace, and the second highest lump of time is spent sleeping.  One-third of our lives!  I have often joked that we need to have more sermons about sleeping!

    But sleep is no joke.  Many of us brag about how little sleep we get or need.  Some of us talk about how we get up to pray every morning at 4 am.  And those of us who actually do need seven or eight hours of sleep per night (myself included) feel a little guilty.

    We think that maybe we are sleeping too much.  Maybe we will be perceived as lazy?  Maybe we are not holy enough?  Can we really be honest and tell people that we get 7.5 hours of sleep per night?

    But we also know that we were created to sleep.  Sleep is a critical biological function of every human being for so many different reasons.  Our bodies need the rest but our brain also needs the rest.  I often say that sleep is where the brain's housekeeping gets done.  The trash is taken out, the cobwebs are swept out, and so on.  If you aren't getting enough sleep, you probably feel a little cloudy, a little murky.  And it's because the housecleaning did not get done in the brain.  Below is a video by the author of Why We Sleep, Dr. Matthew Walker.  He tells us that sleep helps memories form; sleep helps to stabilize and support our mental and emotional health.  Without quality sleep, our reactions become hyperactive and irrational.    He says, "We cannot find a single psychiatric disorder where sleep is normal." Plus there is a strong correlation between sleep disruption and cancer due to the lack of "killer cells" developed.

    The Bible does have something to say about what we do with one-third of our life in this regard, but we don't hear messages about this.  I've actually heard of pastors who have told their members to not sleep more than four hours a night - to spend the rest in prayer, otherwise it's a "waste of time."  

    Psalm 127:1-2 from the Message version says this: 

     If God doesn’t build the house,
        the builders only build shacks.
    If God doesn’t guard the city,
        the night watchman might as well nap.
    It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
        and work your worried fingers to the bone.
    Don’t you know he enjoys
        giving rest to those he loves?

    Rest is a gift.  It is given by a God who never sleeps.  It is a daily reminder that we are not God.  God handles the world very well on His own while we sleep.  He doesn't NEED us but He desires us to join Him in what He is doing.  

    But we do it best when we are rested.

    So sleep.  Make sure you get good sleep.  Receive it as a blessing from God, so that you can be a blessing to others.

    Blessed to be a blessing.

    Here is the video on "Why We Sleep" if you are interested:

  • When Elephants Fight, the Grass Suffers the Most

    Last week, we were reminded of this great African proverb by our partner in Cameroon, which has been suffering with conflict for more than four years now:  When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.  Another way to put it is that the powerless suffer the most when the powerful struggle.

    Of late, in Discipling Marketplace Leaders, some of our partners and the communities they live in have been the grass, suffering under the fight of the elephants.  Countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso, in particular, continue to witness the fighting of elephants.  

    Sometimes the elephants are the politicians and political parties.  Sometimes they are ethnic groups or tribes.  Sometimes they are the police and those with power and authority.  Sometimes it is "rebel" groups, seeking for equality in jobs and education.  Sometimes it is greedy people, kidnapping at random for ransom money.  Sometimes it is a virus and the people who care more about their rights of freedom than loving their neighbor by practicing safety health measures.

    Sometimes the grass is killed.  Sometimes the grass is damaged.  Sometimes the grass is injured but the injuries are internal and unseen.

    Always, the fight produces stress.  The fight imprints on hearts, souls, and minds.  If the fight is short, the impact is not long-lived.  If the fight is long, the impact goes deep.

    The powerless suffer the most when the powerful struggle.  

    The only way through some of these things is prayer.  We continue to pray three times a week for one hour with our partners.  God is knitting us together in a way that is teaching us to pray in one accord.  Additionally, many of our partners have been holding prayer walks and "Work as Worship" retreats in the last few weeks.  

    Here is the "Work as Worship" retreat and prayer walk schedule for Hopeline Institute, in Northern Ghana, which is about 90% Muslim.  Their theme is "Prayer moves mountains."  Please pray along with us for both the powerless and the powerful...for both the grass and the elephants.  And more than anything, please pray for the peace that comes through the flourishing of all God's people and His creation.

  • The Peril and the Promise

    The Economist Magazine put out a recent report about the "peril and the promise" relating to how COVID-19 will impact the global economy.  While the COVID-19 pandemic has some similarities to the Spanish Flu of 1918, the death toll is much lower in comparison but the economic hit has been much higher.  The "great recession" of 2009 shrank the world economy by just 0.1%.  COVID-19 will have caused an 8% decline in the world economy by the end of 2020.  That is huge.

    The World Bank is estimating that 89 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty, an increase of 15% globally.  It is estimated that low and middle income economies will shrink this year for the first time in 60 years.  In the high income economies, there have been unprecedented interventions in labor and capital markets, but that is not the case in low and middle income economies.  

    These changes will bring long-lasting effects.  These economic changes will likely spill into challenges in developing countries that lead to greater unrest, emotional challenges, familial challenges, and so on.  We have heard of this already, with an increase in teenage pregnancies and domestic violence.  

    In the past week, Discipling Marketplace Leaders, with the help of our donors, was able to release another $60,000 to our partners in ten countries to do more business development.  This brings the total that we have sent to our partners in ten different countries in Africa to $160,000 USD.  We are so thankful to God for this!

    What are our partners doing with these funds?  They are working on sustainability projects!  As employment has closed down, many people are returning to agriculture, so our partners are working with various ministries of agriculture to get people going on pig farms, fish farms, goat and dairy farms, mushroom and other crop farms.  They are working "Joseph" projects, helping farmers to store their grains so that they don't sell when the market is flooded, and "Daniel" projects, helping people get better training to do their business better (for example, our partner in Nigeria is doing regular zoom calls called "Hour Farms" where they spend an hour together on Zoom to improve farming techniques).  Others are using these funds to give low interest loans to business people who are struggling to restock their businesses.

    We thank God for our partners who are using their spheres of influence to work creatively during this difficult time.  We are hearing so many testimonies of new people and areas reached and we hope to share more of that with in the near future.  

    Please continue to pray for those facing extreme poverty, with no access to governmental financial aid, medical insurance, or access to affordable credit.  And pray for our teams as they continue to work for sustainable economic growth!

  • In order to do good, you have to know how...

     In a book called The Church and Work by Sweeden and Cartwright, I found the following quote:

    “How can you love your neighbor if you don’t know how to build or mend a fence, how to keep your filth out of his water supply and your poison out of his air; or if you do not produce anything and so have nothing to offer, or do not take care of yourself and so become a burden?  How can you be a neighbor without applying principle – without bringing virtue to a practical issue?  How will you practice virtue without skill?...The ability to do good is not the ability to do nothing.  It is not negative or passive.  It is the ability to do something well – to do good work for good reasons.  In order to be good, you have to know how – and this knowing is vast, complex, humble, and humbling; it is in the mind and of the hands; of neither alone.” 

    At DML, we believe that being a good neighbor means four things.  You have to have:

    • compassion (concern for the misfortune of those around you)
    • capacity (to do able to do something about the situation, with time, treasure, or talent)
    • competence (to do whatever it is that you want to do well, without creating dependence)
    • courage (to love outside of your comfort zone)
    Over the past two years (December 2017-2019), we have been doing research in northern Ghana regrading Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  Prior to that, we did research from 2013-2015 in Kenya.  And, Lord willing, we will do another research study in a couple of years again, probably for a longer period.
    Why?  Because that's what it means to be a good neighbor.  We need to know that what we are doing is good work for good reasons.  We need to increase our competence and the only way to do that is through study and evaluation.  Iron needs to sharpen iron.  
    "In order to do good, you have to know how..."
    This isn't optional, in my opinion.  Love demands it.  Being a good neighbor demands it.  Stewardship demands it.  Too many ministries have spent too much time, and too much money, doing things that have not resulted in transformation but rather in keeping people busy.  We do things that FEEL good rather than things that DO good.  We measure activities rather than impact.  We measure attendance rather than transformation.
    "...and this knowing is vast, complex, humble, and humbling..."
    Don't get me wrong.  Measuring impact not easy.  It can be scary and challenging and disappointing.  You find out what worked and what didn't work.  
    But it's in those difficult questions that progress can be made.
    This Thursday, October 1, 2020 at noon EDT, we will be sharing the results of what we learned in this latest research, after tracking 25 churches and 608 businesses over the course of two years.  We would love it if you could join us to hear what worked, what didn't, and where we go from here.  
    To join us for this one-hour Zoom presentation, please register here.
    Our heart's desire is to see God glorified by His Church, His bride, the people of God, as they do their work as an act of worship and remember that they are the Church every day of the week.  We aren't there yet, but by God's grace, we will continue to learn and grow.

  • Everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no-one will make them afraid. (Micah 4:4)

    My daughter introduced me to the Broadway musical, Hamilton, a few months ago and I have grown to love it.  I grew up with two musicals:  Fiddler on the Roof and Sound of Music.  I think those were the only two movies I saw until the age of 14 or so.  So it doesn't take much for me love musicals.

    But this one has taken the country by storm in a way that musicals seldom do.  Many have said it has made American history alive again.  There are so many aspects that I love about it, from the intentionality in the inclusion of diversity, to the rich lessons of our history from young immigrants, from the personal pain in the story of infidelity and the loss of young life.  It's funny, touching, sad, informative, and I could go on.  While there are some liberties taken for the purpose of telling the story on stage, there is much historical truth to Hamilton.  While some are rightfully critical of the role that our founding fathers played in owning slaves, I find an aspect of redemption in the fact that this was written and acted out by mostly people of color.

    There is one song that has been playing over and over in my mind lately, when George Washington has decided to leave office and he quotes Micah 4:4:  Everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no-one will make them afraid.  Apparently, Washington loved this verse and there are at least fifty times that it is quoted from him.  [I know that this is bitterly ironic given the fact that he didn't live it out for everyone and didn't define people of color as fully human.]

    But it is a beautiful verse to think about.  It sounds heavenly.  

    First, everyone will sit.  Rest.  Relaxation.  Enjoyment.  Meditation.

    Second, everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree.  Ownership.  My own piece of land.  We all long for it.  We feel safer in it then in renting.  And this land is productive.  We work it.  It takes care of us when we take care of it.  It does what it was created to do when we do what we were created to do.  Genesis 2:15 says we are to work and care for the garden.  

    Third, no-one will make them afraid.  How many of us (especially in developing nations) own our own land and yet are still afraid?  This past week we helped two of our DML team relocate because of being afraid on their own land.  Afraid of kidnappers, thieves, those who wish to do harm.  Many are afraid of laws, authorities, policies, polluted air, things that cause us harm that we have no control over.

    But in Micah 4:4, we are resting on our own land, enjoying the fruit of the land with no fear within or without.

    I admit to fear for my colleagues in several countries.  I fear for the children growing up with such stress and turbulence that it impacts their capacity to cope and thrive and flourish.  I admit to fear for my own country and the incredible divisiveness not just politically but in the church.  I fear we are being torn apart and there seems to be no way of talking to each other or understanding each other.

    How I long for the day when EVERYONE can sit under their own vine and fig tree and feel no fear.

    And while we long for this piece of heaven, we are instructed to help to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  What is my part at a time such as this?  How am I working to bring about Micah 4:4?  Or am I involved in preventing Micah 4:4 perhaps blindly?  Am I fanning the flame of divisiveness with my speech or seeking understanding and peace?

    God, what can I do to be part of your will being done on earth as it is in heaven?

    May God help us.  He can.  And He will.  

    If not through us, then He will find a willing vessel somewhere.

  • DML Prayer Requests

    This week, I'm writing to ask for prayers regarding three important issues:  two for our partners in Nigeria and Cameroon, and one for an opportunity before us this week.

    First, Nigeria:

    Kidnappings in Nigeria are not a new issue.  But there has been a significant increase in those kidnappings, especially in Kaduna State, which is home to most of our DML team.  This past week, the DML leaders there was informed that he was on the short-list of who will be kidnapped next.  He had to pack up his family and move to another state.  Since he will need to be there for a while, he will have to get rid of all the animals on his farm and his wife has to close the health clinic that she runs.  The children need to find a new school.  This is just one family that is affected.  Please pray for him (name withheld for safety) and for his family, that they may be able to return home soon, that the kidnappings will decrease, and that the government may intervene in an effective to allow people to travel in peace once again.

    You can watch the brief YouTube video below or read this news report just to see two of many reports of kidnappings in Kaduna State.

    Second request is for Cameroon:

    Prayer is also needed for the ongoing conflict in Cameroon, which is now in it's fourth year.  Kidnappings, shut-downs, and violence have been the order of the day as the Anglophone community tries to find justice and equality amidst the Francophone majority.  Many people from the Northwest are now in Internally Displaced Person camps, which has other unique challenges.  Our colleague in that part of Cameroon has been kidnapped herself, as has her son and husband, and also sees the real challenges for her teenage children struggling to find a path in this difficult time (many of those fighting for equality are young men.  You can read a recent report here  of the challenges in Cameroon.

    At a time like this, being a good neighbor to these friends and colleagues is to lift them up in prayer.  We lament with them, are pained and angered by the challenges which they have to face daily, and seek for God to intervene.  Please join us in these prayers.  

    Lastly, we have an opportunity this week to join the virtual forum from the Global Alliance for Church Multiplication, which has about 3800 people registered from 125 countries, and give a workshop on DML.  This is an opportunity to share with those in the church planting movement about the need to equip the whole church to be the church every day of the week.  We ask for your prayer for this opportunity.

    And if you are like me and sometimes at a loss of how to pray when things are overwhelming or unchanging, let me bring in a prayer from Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace, to help us get started:

    Sometimes, Lord, it just seems to be too much:  too much violence, too much fear; too much of demands and problems; too much of broken dreams and broken lives; too much of war and slums and dying; too much of greed and squishy fatness and the sounds of people devouring each other and the earth...Sometimes the very air seems scorched by threats and rejection and decay until there is nothing but to inhale pain and exhale confusion. Too much of darkness, Lord, too much of cruelty and selfishness and indifference...Too much, Lord, too much, too bloody, bruising, brain-washing much.Or is it too little, too little of compassion, too little of courage, of daring, or persistence, of sacrifice; too little of music and laughter and celebration?O God, make of me some nourishment for these starved times, some food for my brothers and sisters who are hungry for gladness and hope, that, being bread for them, I may also be fed and be full.