Blog – Renita
Turning The Tide
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Frustration Leads to Change: Meet Abraham from Ethiopia
Greetings from Burundi, the last stop in this current trip.
At our training in Addis Ababa last week, we heard the following testimony from Abraham, who lives in Jinka, Ethiopia and travelled 600 km to attend this training.
"My father was an evangelist and he was paid almost nothing. We were so poor growing up. Yet the church structure did not allow evangelists or missionaries to do business to supplement their income. As I grew up, I was so angry at our poverty and how he was treated. It felt like no one cared if we lived or died."Abraham in the center, with some team members.
So Abraham decided that he would not merely survive, and went into business for himself. From his business, he put himself through college and worked hard.
Then in 2019, he heard the message of Discipling Marketplace Leaders through his denomination (the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church - EKHC) and he saw an opportunity to take his anger and turn it into something productive. He heard that work is a good and holy calling. He heard that it is not "secular." He heard that most people in the Bible were also working in the marketplace.
So, he started an association called "Christian Professionals Association" which encourages local businesses to meet economic needs. They now have 30,000 members and are growing rapidly. They specifically target motivating missionaries and evangelists to be co-vocational - something his father was not allowed to do. They have given trainings in 314 churches in southern Ethiopia and have trained three trainers in each of these local churches to continue this work. They have fourteen centers now, and in addition to teaching a healthy theology of work and basic business principles, they also teach about healthy marriages, ethics, and having a healthy relationship with God.
One of their major projects has been to use the natural resources around them and they have secured 51 hectares of land, with a nursery of 480,000 coffee plants, which they sell to members to help them in their own production. They also have a banana and apple nursery, and are in the process of adding value addition machinery to begin processing in that area as well.
But he was so happy to report that attitudes toward evangelists is changing and things are becoming much healthier. This association has also planted sixteen EKHC churches and have sent (and are supporting) missionaries to the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and to Eritrea and South Sudan. They hope to plant 30 more churches in the next three months!
This is how just one person who heard the message of "work as worship" channeled his frustration into positive change. And we are hearing this message over and again. As people are released to see that all things, when done unto the Lord, are sacred, there is an unleashing of potential. We thank God for this!The beautiful and fertile land in Jinka - a gift from God!
The coffee plant nursery.
The leaders for the Christian Professionals Association.
The year of planting coffee!
"The Room was Well-Preached."I have finished my third week of this trip, having had a delightful and productive time in Tanzania. We often say that it takes about three years for the message to begin to take hold in denominations and gather some momentum. For Tanzania, other than one smaller denomination, it has been five years. The leaders were frustrated many times, wondering if it was possible for people in Tanzania to "get it." And then suddenly, beginning in the fall of 2022, doors started opening. And the momentum is continuing at great speed! We thank God for what He is doing in reminding His people and His church to do work as worship!
On Sunday, I was able to bring a message in an Assemblies of God church about all of us being in full-time ministry but our placements being very different by comparing Jeremiah and Daniel. I was then blessed to meet with some businesspeople who are implementing DML in their business.
On Monday, we had an awareness creation event for about thirty influential leaders in Dar es Salaam from different denominations, NGOs, and businesses. The message was received very well.
On Tuesday, we spent the day with the DML Tanzania team doing a training of trainers. As the demand for DML grows across denominations and cities, so does our need for additional trainers! So we spent time with this team looking at cost analysis, pricing, boundaries, and strategic planning.On Wednesday and Thursday, we joined the Life Ministries ministry (Campus Crusade for Christ) in their young pastors conference. We were privileged to host workshops to share about the potential in reaching people through the marketplace, but also reminding about the life affirming call to do good work in the marketplace. It was a privilege to join them and to listen to some good messages from various bishops and church leaders in Tanzania! My favorite quote from one bishop was this, "The Holy Spirit does not substitute thinking." The Holy Spirit prompts and guides, but we still need to think and plan based on that!
My hosts for this week were Pastor Anthony and Leticia (amazing leaders whom I have written about before), pictured here, who celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary this week! They have been living and breathing DML for a number of years now and you can see how it has settled into their heart, mind, and language. On Wednesday morning, I sent Pastor Anthony a message on WhatsApp, asking him how their night was. His response was that it was very good, and that the room was "well-preached." I was confused. I thought maybe there was a church with a loudspeaker nearby that kept them up during the night (as is often the case!). So when I saw them in later, I asked them what they meant by "well-preached." They laughed and said, "In DML we teach that we are to preach to creation in all of our work! This hotel has preached well to that room in giving us a place for good sleep!" They said that they often comment on things that are "well-preached" now, as a reminder of how our work fulfills the call to "preach to all creation."
I had to laugh as they have owned this message even deeper than myself! Well-preached indeed.
Their work among the Masai has also continued to grow and expand, and they now have three groups of believers, mostly men! (They say, if a man converts, you have the family. If a woman converts, you have the woman and the children. If a child converts, you just have the child. So they are very excited to have so many men!) I've included a picture below of DML leader, James Kamau, and Pastor Anthony doing what is called "swallowship" with the Masai men.
Please continue to pray for this team as it grows and adapts to the many demands. I believe every day of June is filled with speaking engagements for them, in multiple cities! Pray for their strength and joy, and for the message to be received as from the Lord.
On Saturday, I left Tanzania for Ethiopia where we will be doing a Training of Trainers all week for the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church!
The Reed of GodGreetings from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I just arrived after being in Kenya for two weeks. God is good!
In 2005, my late husband, Robert Allen Reed, started a family blog for friends and family when we moved to Liberia. He called it "Reeds in Liberia."
When we moved to Ghana in 2009, he recognized that we may be moving more often, as God would lead, and so he started a new blog, which he called "Reeds in the Wind." This is what he wrote about the reason for this name (and this write-up is still on the blog today):
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A "REED IN THE WIND?"
From Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: The Virtue of Flexibility
Trees look strong compared with the wild reeds in the field. But when the storm comes the trees are uprooted, whereas the wild reeds, while moved back and forth by the wind, remain rooted and are standing up again when the storm has calmed down.
Flexibility is a great virtue. When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken. Being like wild reeds does not mean being wishy-washy. It means moving a little with the winds of the time while remaining solidly anchored in the ground. A humorless, intense, opinionated rigidity about current issues might cause these issues to break our spirits and make us bitter people. Let's be flexible while being deeply rooted.
PAYING ATTENTION TO THE WIND
"The wind blows where it wills." That was Jesus, who compared the spirit of God to the wind. The Reeds have followed the Wind from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Monrovia, Liberia, to Accra, Ghana...
This phrase "Reeds in the Wind" has had a great deal of meaning to us, especially after losing Bob, and continuing the adventure of following Jesus through wind and storms, seeking to be flexible while being deeply rooted.
But on my recent silent retreat, I ran into a book called The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander, written in 1944. Caryll Houselander was a single Catholic "laywoman" who struggled with poverty. The title caught my attention, not to mention the fact I was staying in a little hut in the woods that was named for the author. I thought I should give it a read. And I was delightfully surprised by what I found. And, of course, I was surprised by what I hadn't yet considered (a life truth that will continue until I die, I suspect!).
While the common reed does good for ecosystems in wet areas, it also has the capacity to be used in other ways as well. We know of the use of reeds in musical instruments, but they are also used for thatching, construction, arrows, baskets, beds, boats, and more. The book asks if we are "reed pipes that God is waiting to live lyrically through, not in doing "spiritual work" (which many of us define as doing pious exercises) but through my work, my cleaning, my caring for children, my cooking, and all the duties and responsibilities I have." It is through our ordinary life, every hour of every day, that union with God comes about.
Now you know why I like this book. I'm beginning to look at the world differently. Every object I see reminds me of the countless people who had a hand in bringing that object to fruition, and every object then declares the glory of God. Human beings, made in His image, going about their business, solving problems and working, but many are yet unaware that they do this because they are made in the image of a working, creative God. It makes me shake my head in wonder while rejoicing at the same time.A reed is the simplest of things, but it must be cut by a sharp knife to be shaped into something that can be used for the Shepherd's song. A little reed can utter infinite music.
And so it is with us. Every person has that capacity. And I believe every person needs to understand their capacity and their purpose. The flexibility that is needed is not just for standing firm in the water, although that may be our call. It also needs to be in the cutting down and shaping, for a different use, a different call that also brings glory to the Father.
I wonder about starting a new blog called A Reed for God but it is difficult to move away from something started by my late husband and co-laborer in the field many years ago. For now, I believe that there is a new chapter of sorts that is starting in me, at this time in my life, as I learn what it means to be a reed for God in every sense of the word.
There are many exciting things happening in the work in Tanzania and we covet your prayers! God is at work in the hearts of many to recognize the importance of work as worship!George, with G Natural Honey in Dar es Salaam, has seen great growth in his business since taking DML classes! Not only is he selling honey for consumption but also soap made of honey, cucumber and carrot!
This is the message he sent after we visited his store: "Thanks DML team for visitation to our office...your teachings brought us to this level." Gnaturalhoney
Pregnant with Jesus: A Mother's Day reflection
My desire to better understand the life of Jesus prior to the start of his public ministry at age thirty has been growing over time. If you have been following this blog, you will remember the post about Jesus and the death of his father, Joseph, and the subsequent responsibility of Jesus as eldest son to provide for the members of his family. His relationship with his mother, it appears, also seemed to be strong.On my recent silent retreat, I read a book entitled The Reed of God, written in the 1940s by a Catholic woman named Caryll Houselander. Caryll's description of Mary, the mother of Jesus, caught my attention and I have been thinking about it since. She writes,
Mary was at the most 14 when the angel came to her. Perhaps she was younger. The whole world trembled on the word of a child, on a child's consent. To what was she asked to consent? First of all, to the descent of the Holy Spirit, to surrender her littleness to the infinite love, and as a result to become the mother of Christ.
It was so tremendous, yet so passive.
She was not asked to do anything herself but to let something be done to her. She was not asked to renounce anything, but to receive an incredible gift. She was not asked to lead a special kind of life, to retire to the temple and live as a nun, to cultivate suitable virtues or claim special privileges.
She was simply to remain in the world, to go forward with her marriage to Joseph. To live the life of an artisan's wife, just what she had planned to do when she had no idea that anything out of the ordinary would ever happen to her.
It was, it seemed, almost as if God's becoming man and being born of a woman were ordinary. The whole thing was to happen secretly. There was to be no announcement...
...The one thing God did ask of her was the gift of her humanity.
While on the one hand, Mary was asked to do something extraordinary, at the same time, her life continued to be very ordinary. She was a wife, a mother, a homemaker. She was not exempt from any human experience. She even dealt with poverty, giving the offering of two doves for her sacrifice (Luke 2).
She was "simply" asked to give herself to God, body and soul. She was asked to bring Christ into the world.
And in many ways, we are asked to do the same. We are not asked to do something extraordinary or to be set apart...but to give of ourselves, body and soul, to the one true God.We too are asked to bring Christ into the world. We are asked to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We are asked to have the same attitude as Christ. When we help a sick friend, or do an excellent job at work, or cook a good meal, we do it in such a way that Christ may serve through us.
By His own will, Jesus was dependent on Mary during her pregnancy. He went where she went, her breath was his breath, he could not speak. In a similar way, Jesus dependent on us today. We must carry him to the workplace, to the hospitals and prisons, to the dying. There are many places that He may never go unless we take Him to them.
In fact, we may be working at a place that feels purposeless and empty, full of waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because if not for us, Christ would not be there.
And so, Christ is growing in us. He is forming Himself in us. It is not time for us to see His face. That day will come. It is a beautiful mystery.
We can carry a deep gratitude, a deep joy, a deep wonder at Christ in us - just as a pregnant mother experiences that same wonder.
Caryll goes on to say this:
The gift of Christ's body makes everyone a priest, because everyone can offer the body of Christ on the altar of his/her own life. But the offering must be the offering of a human being who is intensely alive, a potent humanness, great sorrow and great joy, a life lit up with the flame of love, fierce fasts and thirsts and feasts of sheer joy.
1 Peter 2:9 says that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood. We are part of the priesthood of believers, and our parishes are those places of influence where we spend our time.
While I am thankful for my own amazing mother this day, I am also thankful for Mary, the mother of Jesus. And I'm mostly thankful that Mary's story can be my story - it can be all of our stories (men and women alike!). May God find us to be "intensely alive, with fierce fasts and thirsts, and feasts of sheer joy" as we carry Christ into the world.
Release of paper: BAM and the ChurchOn Saturday, May 6, I left for a one-month trip to East Africa, starting in Kenya, and from there going to Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Burundi. There will be a good number of exciting meetings and trainings during these visits. I thank God for the opportunity to meet the amazing teams that are growing and maturing in each place!
In other exciting news, a paper that we started writing as a global consortium of BAM Global has finally been released! We started the process of writing this paper in April of 2021, completed our portion of the writing by June 2022, and since then it has been undergoing edits and revisions.
It is very exciting to see it come out now and we hope and pray that it will be read by many who are looking for the role that the global church can play in the growing Business as Mission (BAM) movement.The paper can be downloaded here: BAM and the Church – BAM Global.
We divided the paper into three key segments to discern the opportunities and challenges in the relationship between BAM and the Church, and in each area, we addressed a way forward. The first section explored dealt with the theological challenges, the second section explored structural challenges in the local church, and the third section explored cultural challenges. We also shared stories and testimonies of churches who have embraced BAM and the impact that is being had on the church itself.
We invite you to read this and share it with others as well. And let us know your thoughts! We would love to hear how this resonates with you!
Enough Pallets to Whet your Palate!
Maybe you have been receiving the DML emails this past month as we have been raising funds for scholarships to help pastors and business owners attend the DML trainings. These trainings release them to do work as an act of worship, with support and discipling from the church. Last year, we trained more than 3,000 pastors, 4,200 seminary students, and 8,800 business owners in fourteen countries! We couldn't do this without you! We have not yet reached our goal of raising $30,000 in 30 days for scholarships and so we submit this request for your prayerful consideration. Please go here for more information.
While the scholarships go to those who are not able to pay for the training themselves, we continue to see and hear that this ministry is needed in the global church, irrespective of income or location. The stories that DML has been telling over the past month have been focused on the majority world, but today I want to tell you a story that is much closer to home.
Bill was a member of my church in Grand Rapids. He and his wife faithfully served as the church bookkeepers for thirty years. As a former deacon and member on council, I got to know them in that capacity. I knew that Bill's wife, Nancy, worked at an architectural firm as she helped my daughter get a summer job there, but I never learned (or asked) where Bill worked. To be honest, as an accountant, I assumed he worked in an accounting firm.
But we all know what happens when we assume. And yup...that happened to me here.
Bill and Nancy have been regular supporters of DML and Bill will often send a short response to my blogs, which always encourages me. A few weeks ago, he responded to one of my blogs from India, saying that he thought recycling pallets might be a good business idea for India. Curious, I asked him where such a random idea came from. And that was when he told me that he worked for a company called Kamps Pallets for the past thirty years. After looking them up online, I immediately asked him if he could give me a tour of the place and he obliged.And wow. Amazing stuff! This company was started by the owner (a Christian) who noticed pallets in the dump here in Grand Rapids and pulling them aside to repair and sell them. It has now grown into having 400 national facilities across the US, with more than 2000 employees. This makes them one of the largest pallet companies in the country. Much of their work includes recycling everything, right down to the used nails! I watched the employees put together a pallet from recycled wood in about 30 seconds!
As I heard the story, I could hear the Christian values that underlie how this company works. I saw the scripture in the conference room. Bill told me that you don't have to be educated or speak English to work at this place, and since the work is "piece-rate pay" (which means that every pallet dismantled, built, or board cut is paid a price for the unit that is completed), they don't have to spend as much money on supervisors as everyone is internally motivated to be as productive as they can be - and they are therefore well-paid! It seemed clear to me that this company is a very large parish, with the potential to do good work that helps businesses, is good for the environment, caring for many employees and therefore their families, with a desire to serve God.
At the end of my tour, I asked Bill whether he felt the support of the local church in this work, and like most others, he said no. He had been affirmed for the bookkeeping work that he did for the church but he wasn't even sure how many people (including me!) knew what he did from Monday-Saturday.
I believe it is high time for this to change! The purpose of the church is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, which doesn't just happen in the four walls of the church, but it happens as we each enter our own mission field, in our own unique settings, during the week.
If that message resonates with you, and you would like to see people supported and discipled by their church, please join us by giving to our scholarship campaign today! And if you have already given, thank you! And if you can't give financially, please continue to pray for our teams and trainers who continue to reach as many people as they can with this empowering message.
Trees: Twisted, Tangled, yet TriumphantThe Hermitage is a retreat center, about an hour outside of Grand Rapids. I have visited this place quite a number of times over the years. In 2011, a tornado touched down in the area and impacted a lot of the trees on the 62-acre property.
Michael and I spent a few days there this past weekend on a silent retreat, and it so interesting to walk through the trails and to see the twisted shapes of the trees. I began to see the trees as metaphors for our lives and even for our relationship with God.
The tree that especially caught my attention is the first one pictured here. This tree was twisted downward, reaching toward the marsh below, in what seemed to be a painful arch. It has clearly been through something significant.
At the same time, out of several knots or splits in the trunk, new branches were growing. Amazing.
My spiritual director at the retreat reminded me to reflect the journey that I have been on throughout my life with God at the helm. The face of Renita has changed over the years. There have been many seasons of growth and change. There have been storms that caused twists and turns that were uncomfortable. Yet there has also been new life and growth after those storms. Like this tree, which bears the visible evidence of challenge, there is also beauty in the release of potential through the new growth.The release of potential is not only for me but for every person. Our journeys, our pains, our celebrations, are different but important. And the trees reflected this as well.
Here is another tree that is growing completely out of a dead tree. It is a good size tree and you can see that there is nothing below the dead tree that indicates roots going into the ground, yet the tree growing out of it is probably forty feet high! The tenaciousness of growth is not only in trees but in our own capabilities to overcome.
This is the remarkable thing about the human spirit. This is the remarkable thing about trees. This is the remarkable thing about creation. And this is the remarkable thing about God.
Below you will see a picture of several trees twisted together, arching all the way over. It was as if they said, "If we go down, we go down together." It spoke of love and commitment to me, even until death.
Creation is beautiful and it tells a story if we pay attention.
The Kingdom without the King
Understanding the Kingdom of God is one of the keys to understanding what Christianity is all about. I read somewhere that Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God more than 120 times, but of the church only three times. The ministry of Jesus was done in Kingdom terms. Andy Crouch says this, "His good news foretold a comprehensive restructuring of social life comparable to that experienced by a people when monarch was succeeded by another. The Kingdom of God would touch every sphere in every scale of culture. It would reshape integrity in business and honesty in prayer."As Christians, we understand that we are part of a tribe that follows a King who has comprehensively restructured life...and it is good! It is good for creation. It is good for all people. And it is good for the King!
The Lord's prayer calls us to pray for "thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We are to be about bringing the kingdom of heaven on earth. We are to long for and work toward the kingdom of heaven on earth, through reconciliation and restoration. That is our work!
Paul Stevens, in his book The Kingdom of God in Working Clothes, says that the Kingdom is the missing dimension in most presentations of the gospel and the marketplace. Yet it is in the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth that we see human flourishing as one of the most wonderful outcomes.
Every Christian is in fulltime ministry of bringing glory to God. And every Christian fulfills this fulltime ministry through their unique placement, in those places of work or influence where we spend our time.
Of course, as we look around the world, we see different people, different cultures, different nations in various stages of this work and therefore things can look and feel different. Some countries are still in a pre-Christian majority, some fully in Christendom, and some in a post-Christian culture.
In the post-Christian cultures, we hear that "we want the Kingdom without the king." Almost all people have an innate desire for the flourishing of all people, for righteousness and justice, and for peace. But in the midst of those good desires, we want to choose what is right and wrong for ourselves. We don't want someone forcing their views on us. We want to be able to judge for ourselves. We begin to worship freedom instead of the King.
This is not new, of course. This has been since the fall!But if our call and our joy is in announcing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, it must come with the announcement of the one true King. It is from this King that righteousness and justice flows. It is this King who is the author of peace and love. And it is this King who has designed this world for the flourishing of all.
The Kingdom with the King. The way it was meant to be. I am going on a silent retreat this week for a few days and my prayer will be that God will continue to show me where it is that I resist His Kingship while making it look like I am seeking His Kingdom.
Restoration and ReconciliationThirty-four days on the road during this recent trip to India included twenty-two days of teaching, seventeen flights over the course of eight days, and six partners in five cities.
India continues to amaze me. It is a country that is one third the size of the United States in terms of geography, but four times the size in population. I kept trying to imagine how much water is consumed daily in this country...how much trash is produced...how many coconuts are consumed daily...how much grain...etc. There are governments who struggle to govern 7 or 9 million people and this government seeks to govern 1.4 billion people. No small task. There is an immense need for infrastructure, jobs, economic and educational opportunities, and so on.It is one of 190+ countries in the world that is engaged in this time of restoration and reconciliation, caught between the "now" and the "not yet" that we think through during this time of Easter. The "now" looks at the amazing potential of eight billion people to work toward the flourishing of all people and all of creation. The "not yet" acknowledges that we fall very far short of this goal because of our own sin and selfishness. Every day we have the opportunity to participate through our work in the restoration of how it should be, from Genesis 1 and 2. Every day we have to deal with the need for reconciliation between how it is and how it could be. What an opportunity and calling!
May God continue to grant us the grace needed to embrace this calling daily, to seek to glorify Him in all we do, seeking to do our work as an act of worship.
I leave you with some pictures of businespeople I met while in India:Four men from a lower caste work two-three days, hand embroidering beads on this material for a sari.
This man and his brother have a great business of making all sorts of different size plastic containers for soaps, foods, fertilizers, etc. So interesting to watch!
A small start-up beverage business serving a local community.
Elections in NigeriaOn Saturday, February 25, Nigeria had their presidential elections. Our global team has been praying about this for the past two weeks, as it is a very important election.
Here are some brief facts about Nigeria:
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with more than 214 million people. Half of the population is under the age of 18. It is also the country with the highest number of people in extreme poverty, with 70% living below the poverty line. There are more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria and more than 500 languages. There is an almost even split between Muslims and Christians in the country (with Muslims mostly in the north and Christians in the south).Nigeria has significant safety concerns, with Boko Haram in north and central Nigeria. Kidnappings, muggings, and theft are widespread, with ongoing challenges of corruption and high unemployment. Inflation in 2022 was 19%. National debt has doubled in the last ten years, while the amount of oil production has halved.
Add to that a rush to change currency notes in the last six weeks, created a shortage of cash, leaving people no cash to make their purchases. People were unable to withdraw cash and electronic payments also stopped as they were unable to cash out these transactions. People were not able to get medical help, food, and basic needs met if they didn't have cash, despite what they might have in a bank. This has caused desperation and a lot of angst going into an election.
It's a lot for any leader to tackle.We continue to say that "people are not the problem, they are the solution." Nigeria has a TON of potential that can be unleashed to help Nigerians and all of Africa to flourish.
But figuring out how to unlock that potential is a challenge.
Saturday's election could mean a significant change, or it could be "same-old, same-old." There are two candidates who look like "same-old" while one candidate has captured the attention of the youth and seems to be drawing out record number of voters. This candidate is younger than the other two (61 years of age), a Christian, and from a political party that is not one of the main two, which is unusual. Should he win, it could bring significant opportunity for positive change.
And so we pray. Results are not expected before Tuesday and we continue to pray for honest and transparent results.
I left on Sunday for one month in South Asia and covet your prayers. I will not be able to provide a lot of details on this trip while I am gone, but it will be busy and full. I thank God for the opportunity to join Him in what He is doing! Enjoy the sunset view from the plane - what an amazing sight!