Kris Mauren (far right) and African guests get ready to visit GFS.

Acton University is now well underway, and on Wednesday a group of seven African attendees joined Kris Mauren on a visit to Gordon Food Service’s Grand Rapids headquarters for an up-close look at ethical capitalism. Mauren called it a great opportunity for people from countries with barren and corrupt markets to see an efficient, principled business for themselves. “The management of GFS also has a strong concern for philanthropy and international missions,” he said. “So it’s a great model of the capitalist ideal to hold up for these folks, who are used to a much more hostile economic climate.”

The group met with Gordon Food Service management for a luncheon, then toured the company’s office and factory area. Harry Ayile, formerly from Ghana and now residing in Norway, was completely blown away by what he observed. “It was like … wow,” Ayile commented with a smile. He was struck by the dedication shown by the company’s workers. “At every level, the workers are extremely well-organized, focused, and committed to doing their jobs excellently,” he said.

Ayile was astonished at how the “energetic” GFS employees took pains to avoid mistakes in the orders they were filling. “The business has a good system of checks and balances, and most of the employees have been there for fifteen years or more,” he said. “They take true satisfaction in their work.”

Comparing Gordon Food Service’s methods to the way business is done in Africa and even in Europe, Ayile said his visit couldn’t have been more of an eye-opener. “Before I came to Acton, I thought all people who did business were evil,” he said.

Ayile recalled one food-production company in Ghana that deliberately had been selling expired grain infested with maggots. “They would just sift out the maggots, package the grain, and sell it at full price,” he said. “Finally one employee caught on to what was happening and was able to produce evidence and pictures, but it went on for awhile.” Ayile called the incident typical of business practices in much of Africa, which lacks the institutional support necessary for free enterprise to flourish. When the rule of law is unreliable, incentives for greedy and corrupt behavior often outweigh the benefits of integrity. He added that many businesses “show very little respect for the consumer, as opposed to the way American businesses like Gordon Food Service care about their customers.”

Ayile and others from the group — which included visitors from the Congo, Kenya, and other African countries — all said they were very impressed with the way GFS invested in its employees and how these employees, in turn, were invested in the success of the company. Although Africa has a long way to go, Ayile said his visit was inspiring and gave him hope for the future of Ghana and other developing countries in Africa.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, June 14, 2007

A sampling of today’s lectures at Acton University – Bumped – additional lectures added:

Bonus: Kruse Kronicle gives us all a glimpse into the nightmarish dystopia that is a Michael Miller lecture:

This is perhaps the most disturbing image ever captured of Michael Miller in his natural academic habitat.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, June 14, 2007

Last Friday evening, Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), gave a joint plenary address to the Assembly of World-Wide Partners and to the CRC Multiethnic Conference.

The talk was titled, “Partnering in a Global Context: Principles and Patterns that will Shape Us,” and focused on three main sets of issues. What is the meaning of being called to mission in partnership today? What are the characteristics of the global contexts that we find ourselves in? What are principles and patterns that can shape us for effective mission partnership, including challenges for our times? (more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Diet Eman talks with Rev. Robert Sirico at Acton University

Acton University 2007 got underway last night with Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s traditional opening address, which was delivered with a major twist – the participation of Diet Eman, who joined Father Robert to describe her experiences as part of the Dutch Resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II.

Eman’s presence and perspectives added a very powerful element to what was already a very stirring address. You can listen to it by clicking here, and you may be interested in checking out some other perspectives on the night’s event as well:

  • Latino Leadership Circle: Tonight we watched a portion of the forth-coming film, The Reckoning, the true life story of Deet Amon, a Dutch resistance fighter to Nazi regime in the 1940′s who risked her life saving Jews. In a moving moment, after watching a portion of this documentary film, Father Sirico presented Deet Amon who was present to share firsthand of her experiences and answer our questions. She shared of her experiences in a Nazi concentration camp (she was in the same camp that Corrie Ten Boom was in). When asked how she could risk her life she responded, “If you feel that God expects this of you, how can you do anything else? How could you look in the mirror and brush your teeth in the morning with so much going on and not do something? Life is full of choices.” At 87 years of age Deet says, “Each one of us have to give an account for what we do with our lives. I pray for Darfur everyday.” We were all inspired by her bravery, humility and spirituality.
  • Fellow PowerBlogger John Armstrong: Diet, our Dutch guest, reminded us that this all began, while she was a very normal young woman in love with a very normal young man, because she “loved one person” enough to care and get involved in saving her life. Father Sirico then reminded us that every virtue begins somewhere, with some simple but virtuous single action, with some choice that we consciously make. The question we asked, as we left last evening, was quite simple: “Who is my neighbor and how do I express genuine virtue toward my neighbor?” This is where all true freedom and virtue begins, in knowing who we are and why we are here.
  • Head over to Kruse Kronicle for a photo diary of day 1.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Speaking of Christian education, here are some relevant thoughts plucked out of Richard Baxter’s most excellent treatise, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682):

A general observation about the importance of knowledge:

Goodness will never be enjoyed or practised without knowledge. Ignorance is darkness, the State of his Kingdom, who is the Prince of darkness, who by the works of darkness leadeth the blind World to utter darkness: God is the Father of Lights, and giveth wisdom to them that ask and seek it: He sent his Son to be the Light of the World: His Word and Ministers are subordinate Light: His servants are all the Children of Light: Ignorance is virutally Errour, and errour the cause of sin and misery. And men are not born wise, but must be made wise by skilful diligent teaching: Parents should begin it: Ministers should second them: But alas! how many Millions are neglected by both? And how many neglect themselves when Ministers have done their best? Ignorance and errour are the common Road to wickedness, misery and hell.

Regarding the contemporary situation in Britain:

I think we have Grammar Schools enough. It is not the knowledge of Tongues and Arts, and Curious Sciences which the common people want, but the right understanding of their Baptismal Covenant with God, and of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Decalogue and Church Communion. A poor honest man, or a good woman, will Teach Children thus much for a small stipend, better than they are taught it in most Grammar Schools; And I would none went to the Universities without the sound understanding of the Catechism: Yea, I would none came thence or into the pulpit without it.

How to further engage the education of children:

When you have got them to read, give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their Consciences: Such books are good Catechisms: Many learn the words of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Commandments and Catechism, by rote, and never understand them, when a lively book that awakeneth their Consciences, bringeth them to sensible consideration, and to a true understanding of the same things, which before they could repeat without sense or favour. It is the Catechistical truths which most of our English Sermons press. And the lively pressing them maketh them pierce deeper than a Catechism.

How to meet the financial obligations to educate the Christian youth:

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every years rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, the knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

My wife and I recently had occasion to discuss and decide how we would like our child to be cared for if we were both to pass away. Godly education was a top concern. Baxter often emphasizes the importance of determining how your inheritance should be spent. It’s true that the responsibility of stewardship is not dispensed with at your death. With that in mind, let’s conclude with this quote from Cyprian of Carthage on the responsibilities of parenting:

Neither should you think that he is father to your children who is both changeable and infirm, but you should obtain Him who is the eternal and unchanging Father of spiritual children. Assign to Him your wealth which you are saving up for your heirs. Let Him be the guardian for your children; let Him be their trustee; let Him be their protector, by His divine majesty, against all worldly injuries. The state neither takes away the property entrusted to God, nor does the exchequer intrude on it, nor does any forensic calumny overthrow it. That inheritance is placed in security which is kept under the guardianship of God. This is to provide for one’s dear pledges for the coming time; this is with paternal affection to take care for one’s future heirs, according to the faith of the Holy Scripture, which says: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed wanting bread. All the day long he is merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” And again: “He who walketh without reproach in his integrity shall leave blessed children after him.” Therefore you are an unfair and traitorous father, unless you faithfully consult for your children, unless you look forward to preserve them in religion and true piety. You who are careful rather for their earthly than for their heavenly estate, rather to commend your children to the devil than to Christ, are sinning twice, and allowing a double and twofold crime, both in not providing for your children the aid of God their Father, and in teaching your children to love their property more than Christ.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Last Friday afternoon I attended workshops on the theme, “Christian Education in Ministry,” at the Assembly of World-Wide Partners conference. Facilitated by John DeJager, two speakers were featured in these workshops. Comfort Enders is a lead-teacher at an educational initiative in Liberia, Kingdom Foundation Institute. Dr. Gaylen Byker is president of Calvin College and an expert in Christian education around the world. (more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Here’s a map of the US that replaces state names with the names of countries with similar GDPs. Pretty fascinating stuff in that it allows a look at just how huge the US economy really is. And it’s a gold mine for trivia buffs…

The Friday morning plenary address at last week’s Assembly of World-Wide Partners was given by Ruth Padilla deBorst, a 15-year veteran of work with Christian Reformed World Missions. Padilla deBorst’s talk focused on relations between the global north and global south, “Together in Missions in the 21st Century.” In the following I’ll summarize her talk and intersperse the summary with some of my own reflections. One general comment, with Acton University beginning today: the valuable uniqueness of a conference like Acton U comes into sharp relief given the economic, political, and ideological attitudes on display at an event like the Assembly of World-Wide Partners. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 11, 2007

Here’s an interesting take on compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

Last Friday I attended a day’s worth of events at the Assembly of World-Wide Partners of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. I was volunteering to write up summaries of some of the elements of the conference. I was assigned three items: the Friday morning plenary address by Ruth Padilla deBorst, “Together in Missions in the 21st Century”; the Friday workshop sessions on “Christian Education in Ministry”; and the Friday evening plenary address by WARC general secretary Rev. Setri Nyomi, “Partnering in a Global Context: Principles and Patterns that will Shape Us.”

In a series of posts through this week, I’m going to add my reflections and analysis to these summaries. Before I get to those events in particular, however, I want to say a little bit about how Friday morning opened.

Before Ruth Padilla deBorst gave her talk, two representatives from the Micah Challenge addressed the packed audience. First was Michael Smitheram, who is International Coordinator for the Micah Challenge. He introduced various folks attending the conference who are involved in the Micah Challenge’s work. He also provided a summary of what he thought the mission of the Micah Challenge was: “In the Micah Challenge, the body of Christ is finding its voice as a global constituency for the poor.” To be clear, by “constituency” Smitheram means a political constituency. We’ll get back to that point a bit later.

The second representative of the Micah Challenge was Rev. Joel Edwards, President of the Evangelical Alliance (UK) and International Chair of the Micah Challenge. Rev. Edwards discussed three “miracles” in the fight against global poverty:

  1. Jubilee 2000, a historic “miracle,” in which God galvanized the world to engage poverty, with the church at the epicenter.

  2. Governments pledging to halve absolute poverty (MDGs)
  3. The Micah Challenge.

Rev. Edwards clarified the genesis of the Micah Challenge, as the result of combined efforts of the Micah Network and World Evangelical Alliance.

Heading toward 2015, the Micah Challenge focuses on eight “covenants” with the poor (corresponding with the eight Millennium Development Goals), which go beyond “checkbook Christianity” to address heart and lifestyle changes (Micah 6:8).

“If we fail our promises to the poor,” says Rev. Edwards, “The world will be in a spiritually catastrophic place in 2015.”

I got the distinct impression that the Micah Challenge is really just the overtly religious equivalent of the ONE Campaign. There’s not much that is identifiably Christian about the aims of the Micah Challenge. The differences really lie in the motivation and basis for the Micah Challenge, which are clearly Christian.

But there needs to be a difference between something like the ONE Campaign and the Micah Challenge not only in the motivation (secular vs. religious), but in the telos. For a Christian, as I’ve said before, achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is not enough: “The service of the body must be done in view of the greater purpose of Christian missions: the salvation of souls. And this is something the government simply cannot do.”

To challenge Smitheram’s idea about the role of the Micah Challenge, the church’s work cannot simply be reduced to that of another special-interest group or political action committee, even if the poor are those who are ostensibly represented.