Long-time publications editor makes Biblical case for MEDA’s mission
As Printed in The Marketplace – January/February 2018
MEDA’s work providing economic opportunity in developing nations is a deeply spiritual vocation that is desperately needed by a hurting world, long-time staffer Wally Kroeker told the agency’s annual convention.
“I believe MEDA’s work is as Godly and missional as it gets,” Kroeker told over 300 supporters who gathered in Vancouver in early November. “Seriously folks, the world really, really needs our consistently transformational message. We exist for times like these.”
Kroeker, who edited The Marketplace magazine for 32 years until his retirement this summer, gave the opening plenary speech at MEDA’s 2017 Business as a Calling convention.
Using the event’s Building Bridges to Enduring Livelihoods theme, he spoke of “powerful girders of faith” that are foundational to MEDA’s efforts to create business solutions to poverty around the globe.
Kroeker, author of several books about faith and work, says the spiritual underpinnings of MEDA’s efforts are found in the first page of the Bible, “where God is depicted as a creator and sustainer, maybe even an entrepreneur.”
“Made in the divine image, we too are in the business of creating, sustaining and innovating.”
When a member of a Mennonite mission agency once dismissed Kroeker’s description of MEDA’s work by saying the work is not explicitly spiritual, and therefore not a ministry, he was forced to stop and ponder the question.
“Helping women grow soybeans in Ghana? What’s spiritual about that? Are soybeans even mentioned in the Bible? How about cassava? Or the cherished MEDA strategy of value chains? I have not found it there yet.”
Still, Kroeker thinks a broader perspective supports his view of MEDA’s spirituality.
He explored the Biblical concept of Shalom to make his case. Commonly understood as peace, the term means much more than absence of conflict, encompassing God’s will for humanity, he said.
Shalom covers poverty, abundance, war, ecological wholeness and right relationships. MEDA’s “particular path of justice for the poor is to unleash entrepreneurship and help them seize economic opportunity to enlarge their bandwidth and bolster their well-being. This is how we make straight that which is bent; heal that which is sick; water that which is dry; bring life out of that which is barren.”
MEDA aims “for a profound and holistic manner of witness, a word fitly spoken for the circumstances. The Good News, as we see it, is not only good news for individuals, it is also good news for society.”
The core values informing MEDA’s work are both rooted in Christian faith and echoed by other religious traditions, he said.
Biblical concepts that are central to MEDA include:
• Understanding the creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship that emerge from God’s character, and recognizing that as people made in the divine image, “we, too, are in the business of creating, sustaining and innovating.”
• Affirming and enhancing life while avoiding things that harm or diminish life
• Supporting the notion of peace and justice by using entrepreneurship to provide holistic well-being
• Honoring the Biblical idea of community by being “good neighbors who value partnerships with the poor and others regardless of gender, race, class, ethnicity, nationality or religion. When we form partnerships, we remember the writer of Ecclesiastes who said a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
• Being careful stewards who work at “astutely managing human, financial and environmental resources through accountability, sharing, discipline and due diligence.”
People in business can serve God with gifts that are unique to them. “These gifts are skillsets entrusted to us to use as stewards in sustaining creation.”
Much of Jesus’ ministry took place in the arena of work, as 112 of his 122 public appearances were in the marketplace rather than the temple. Fully 38 of his 48 parables recorded in the New Testament related to marketplace themes.
“Our daily work matters to God. It is God’s will that people grow and distribute food, build houses, set up IT systems, make furniture, operate stores, drive trucks, keep books and sell shoes. By operating businesses that provide goods, services and jobs for society, we become co-creators with God.”
Kroeker contends that MEDA has “demonstrated missional innovation,” redefining generosity beyond wealth redistribution to model “a more mature term, namely wealth creation.”
MEDA has expanded the understanding of ministry, showing that “not all ministry is sequestered within the walls of the church or denomination.”
Kroeker gave several examples of MEDA ministry in action. In Ethiopia, some rice farmers were sitting and talking under a canopy of acacia trees. They were unhappy about their relationship with processors “who they felt were ripping them off.”
Improper equipment broke rice kernels, reducing farmer income. For their part, the processors were unhappy about farmers putting stones in the rice bags so the scales would record a heavier weight.
MEDA arranged meetings between the two sides so they could understand each other. Those conversations helped improve the bottom line for both sides, and led to more harmonious relations. Kroeker learned that many small businesses suffered from a lack of trust, with Muslims and Christians neither buying from each other or eating together. “In Ethiopia, thanks to MEDA, there was an emerging new truce between Muslims and Orthodox (Christians). I would call that a spiritual outcome, sorely needed in our day.”
Years ago, Kroeker, along with his wife Millie and MEDA colleague Marlin Hershey, met soybean farmer Prudence Bato during a visit to a soybean project in Ghana. Bato had started growing beans to feed her children more nutritious food, bolster her family’s income and to save enough money to become a teacher through distance education classes.
Bato told the visitors: “In the future, I will be somebody.” For Kroeker, that comment was “making a theological as well as an economic assertion.
“She aspires to make real the divine spark that we hear about in the first chapter of Genesis.”
During the Thursday evening dinner, Kroeker was given a photo of Bato, who has now achieved her dream of becoming a teacher/farmer.
When Kroeker considers MEDA programs, he asks: “If God were here, right now, would God be doing this? And to me, at least, the answer comes very quickly. Yep, this is what God would do. This is what God wants MEDA to do.
“I believe our work is solidly part of God’s will. That leads me to conclude: The world needs more MEDA.” ◆