In just over a month I will embark on a life changing experience. Ok, I must pause for just a moment, I don’t like framing the next year in my life in this sort of fantastic way. As if every moment of every day, even the most monotonous, are not life changing. To call the next year of my life explicitly life changing, is not fair to all the other seemingly unnoticed life changing moments and experiences in every day life. (This, I think, is one of the points that David Foster Wallace was getting at in the video in my last blog post.) It seems however, to be a better option than beginning, “In less than a month I will begin a perfectly normal, average year of of my life”.
The facts remain. I am going to be spending the next year of my life, living and working in Kenya. It will be the first year since the 1993 fiscal year that I will not be an enrolled student. For the first time in my life I will be geographically distant from all of my friends and family. (To date, I only know two people who I will be working with in Kenya.) I will be applying the education I’ve already had and continually adding on to it. And this next year will indeed be life changing, just like every year up to this year has been life changing.
-What I’m Doing-
For those of you who received my support letter, you most likely have a vague idea of what I will be filling my days with for the next year. Allow me to provide a more in-depth description of my job. First some background: the Business as Mission (I dislike the name as it means a whole lot of different things to a whole lot of different people) is a global movement that, in it’s purest form, advocates for business people to view their productive actions as acts of worship. The whole movement is really just an application of neo-Kuyperianism. (Summarized nicely in this video.) There are a group of people within this movement that seek to use the “Business as Mission” ideal as a tool for global poverty alleviation. Organizations such as Partners Worldwide, Hope International, and Mennonite Economic Development Associates are institutions that have positioned themselves in the niche of Business as Mission to end global poverty. Historically these organizations have carried out their operations in Christian financial institutions. (Similar to the Hopeline Institute where I interned while studying in Ghana.)
Before last summer, Renita Reed, my supervisor for my work in Kenya, had worked with these types of financial institutions in Ghana and Liberia through Partners Worldwide for seven years. She began to wonder if there was a better way to disciple and develop communities through marketplace ministry. So last year she moved to Kenya, began teaching at the African Theological Seminary, and began running business training groups in the local churches. She began to notice success. Furthermore, the spiritual and material transformation was now grounded in a community, a seeming improvement over embedding the operations within financial institutions.
Several months ago, the organization Renita works for, International Christian Ministries, inquired about the possibility of scientifically studying the effects of Renita’s innovative business training program. This is where I come in. I will be studying the effects of the training program. Specifically looking into what happens to an individual’s spirituality, business acumen, and individual calling after the training. Do they tithe more or less? Do they go to church more or less? How do they feel about their business? Is their business now more or less financially profitable? How to they define success? How do they treat the environment around them? What is their view of their employees? Do they consider their day-to-day work integral to God’s Kingdom building activities?
With the help and guidance of Renita, I will be implementing business training groups in three geographically diverse locations; one more urban, one more rural, and one in-between urban and rural. While implementing the training groups we will be studying and recording the effects by creating a control group and an experimental group, giving the experimental group the training, and after some time comparing the two groups. Methodologically our study will be very similar to how a pharmaceutical company would test the effectiveness of a new drug.
-What I’m Wondering-
I find myself thinking and wondering about a lot of things regarding my life and work over the next year. Some very practical: What will my living situation will be like? Who will my friends will be? What will I do in my free time? What will living on a seminary campus be like? Some more theoretical: Why does 80% of Kenya self-identify as Christian while it constantly ranks as having one of the most corrupt public sectors? Is what I am doing better than simply giving money directly to the people? Some of these questions I will find answers to and some have very complex answers, with questions that continue to evolve.
-What I’m Praying-
I find myself praying for two specific things. The first is that I find a community to embed myself into while living in Kenya. I will be living on a seminary campus so I am excited about becoming invested into life on campus. I do feel a bit of anxiety about finding people to spend leisure time with. The second is that I am able to raise the funds necessary to make this opportunity a reality. Fundraising is not an easy task, but I do it looking forward to the day when I have raised the necessary funds and I may proceed with my work with a team of people beside me and supporting me in this special year of my life.
-What I’m Reading-
I thought I would share my current cue of books on my “to-read” list. My thought is that either this will be of marginal interest to some of you or that a couple of you might want to read a one or two of these books with me. I’d love to have a discussion partner!
Poor Economics by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee
Why Business Matters to God by Jeff Van Duzer
The Other Six Days by R. Paul Stevens
Portfolios of the Poor by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven