“Tom, you’re no longer strange to me.”
What in the world did Ivan, my close friend of two years, mean by that?
My wife, our two middle-schoolers, and I had moved into a country that every national who had the chance was fleeing. Food was scarce. Utilities were sporadic. Unemployment was skyrocketing. Corruption was rampant. New criminal gangs were terrorizing the populace as they were fighting each other and carving out their territories.
Our move from the suburbs of America to this collapsing country didn’t seem odd to me. It seemed more like an adventure to make a difference in the world by distributing humanitarian aid and leading bible studies with young adults who had never seen a Bible.
I met Ivan and his wife on our first day in his country. They were both college graduates and were unemployed. I hired them as our language tutors, our interpreters, and our first employees. We shared life with them for hours on end for 5-6 days a week for two years.
The bible studies seemed to be going well. Ivan was translating the materials from English into his native language. Using his artistic ability he also illustrated them with pen and ink drawings. Ivan was a new believer himself so our times in the Word were rich and special for him.
I thought I was really connecting with Ivan, so what was that comment about me, “no longer being strange?”
After our first 18 months in the country, I changed my focus from humanitarian aid to missional enterprise (BAM). As the enterprise grew we were able to employ more and more people. Job creation took the place of humanitarian handouts. Gainful employment restored dignity and removed the stigma of inferiority.
The needs of our enterprise began to create auxiliary enterprises that provided employment for more people. This ripple effect of wealth creation made more sense to Ivan than our previous attempts of propping people up with bailouts.
So why did Ivan think I was strange? When I asked him he gave me two reasons:
He also gave me two reasons why I was no longer strange to him:
It makes me wonder how many others have thought of me as strange when I thought I was just trying to help.
- Missional Entrepreneur, GEN Desk Contributing Writer
We often praise individuals who are entirely themselves, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps and achieving success. We are exhorted through scriptures like Psalms 139:14 to stand as individuals and focus on how God has created us.
“ I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
It is true how God has uniquely crafted every person. But if we are imposing or separating ourselves from others through our "uniquely individual" perspective, how do we address "adapting" to engage the values and customs of the other cultures we are seeking to live and disciple among?
In “The Missional Entrepreneur,” Mark Russell addresses a crucial topic regarding the necessity for missional entrepreneurs to understand and respect their new cultural context.
In the past, many missionaries sent to the "lost " were Americans. As Americans, we have been raised in an “Individualistic, Universalistic, and Monochromatic” environment. In other words, Americans are taught and naturally bring to the mission field how to:
The cultural values Americans have been raised in are viewed differently in the cultures they are seeking to live and disciple among. For example, Asian and Latin American cultures often function as “Collective, Particularistic, and Polychromatic” socities. This challenges missional entrepreneurs to:
Understanding and abiding to these cultural adaptations is not denying your self or your heritage. “Contextualizing” is living out the calling to serve as a relational and personal witness, to give up our self, and to love others first in a new set of cultural values. Paul describes his journey as:
"For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Every missional entrepreneur will face the challenge to remain comfortable and stagnant in their own cultural context. Yet, remaining unwilling to see the world through a different perspective, or understand the customs of different cultures, will weaken our ability to see the gospel of Jesus and his Kingdom advance through generations of laborers living and discipling among the lost.
- GEN Desk Director
Consider Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier for further reading on cultures, adaptation, and contextualization.
As I walked down the hill out of the abject poverty of the Roma (Gypsy) district in a southern Bulgaria town, my stomach began to turn. The smell, the filth, and the despair were all overwhelming. While trying to keep my stomach content where it belonged, I prayed.
Noticeably, I sensed Jesus saying, “I am up there.”
My perspective changed. The powerful filth and smell suddenly dissipated. Jesus was present and his promises alive, even in the lowliest of places, to redeem and restore people who are precious in his sight. And He’s inviting laborers to bring His kingdom to these undesirable places.
This experience was at the tail end of a seminar on social enterprise sponsored by The Navigators’ Global Enterprise Network in Central and Eastern Europe. Over 50 Europeans sought input from Christian experts in social enterprise from around the US and Europe. Everyone was united on how to bring the hope of the Gospel and answers to address the desperate poverty.
Two themes emerged:
In post-Christian secularized Europe, the Bible has been discarded as old-hat. There is rampant mistrust toward the church. Pastors and missionaries have no respect in society. And generally the Gospel is seen as wishful thinking.
Everyday life is the greatest opportunity to share about Christ. But in order for this to happen, the messenger needs to be normal to the listener. A key means for the messenger to gain this heart access is through enterprise. When followers of Jesus own and run enterprises, they are afforded opportunities to be Jesus in everyday life to everyday people and bring real answers to things like poverty through work.
An added bonus: We’ve discovered that when you connect a secularized person with the needs of the poor or marginalized, that person starts asking questions about the meaning of life, purpose, and faith. Throwing open the doors for the answers found in the truths of the Gospel. Enterprises aiming to help people in need become a vehicle for the Gospel to be demonstrated.
Currently, the Global Enterprise Network in Europe is starting and supporting enterprises that serve handicapped children, provide jobs for the homeless and addicts, and promote education for Roma children. We long for greater impact as the movement grows. After all, Jesus is there among the desperately needy.
- GEN Consultant
GEN Desk Commentary –
What kind of enterprise do you feel would best help address poverty?
This somewhat cynical yet somewhat honest question still haunts me.
I’m not the only religious professional who’s been asked that question. I recently heard about two vocational Christian workers who were sharing the Gospel with a university student. The university student was ready to receive Christ. Right before he prayed he asked, “If I pray this prayer will you get paid?” In essence he was asking if they worked on commission.
Even the Apostle Paul was accused of lining his pockets by preaching the Gospel. He wrote much of First and Second Corinthians to defend the purity of his motives. In Acts 20:33-34 Paul said, “I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.” In First Thessalonians 2:9 he said, “We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”
Paul, the missional entrepreneur, could honestly say, “No one’s paying me to change you. I’ve got a day job.”
However, Paul was not opposed to receiving what we call donor income. In Philippians 4:18 Paul said that he was well supplied by the financial gifts from the church in Philippi.
In some cases he actually sought donor income. Paul asked for financial backing from the believers in Rome (Romans 15:23, 24). Paul, the apostle, needed donor income to pioneer new ministries and was not ashamed to ask for help.
I would submit that Paul used a hybrid funding model. At times he earned his living through his enterprise. At other times he sought gift income.
Bigger than the funding model is Paul’s motivation. He never sought money for himself but for the sake of the Gospel.
- GEN Desk Contributing Writer
GEN Desk Commentary – we want your ideas!
What's the right balance of business income, ministry donations, time to run a business, and ministering to people? What conflicts arise when thinking of these comparisons?
“So you’re really staying!” was our friend's reaction with a noticeable sense of relief and excitement.
Our conversation came after living in Japan for five years, enrolling our children in Japanese school, and learning the language. We assumed surely after those steps, we had communicated to our friends a desire to be invested in their culture and lives. But there was something missing as they waited for an abrupt and unexpected departure.
We realized there is something about working with a college club that had kept us from being viewed as committed members of society and life in Japan. However, we noticed an instant change while sharing our vision to start a business in Japan. It communicated our commitment to relationships and opened opportunities for our friends to participate. This friend in particular excitedly shared her own ideas and expressed desire to serve and help us. We believe that part of her reaction was her new ability to understand what we are doing vocationally, which also allowed us to move forward relationally.
As we have prayed over making the transition from "traditional missions" as full-time campus ministers to missional entrepreneurs (by pursuing a direct-trade coffee roaster and shop next to the university), we have felt like we are in a process of aligning what we believe with what we are doing.
Many of the ways God had been opening doors for us fell outside of our assigned ministry as collegiate staff, which gave our lives a slightly fractured feeling. The lack of alignment pushed us to explore the idea of an organic and incarnational ministry that goes to where people naturally reside contrary to an invitational ministry that calls students into a club outside of their day-to-day life.
As business owners, we believe that we will be able to be a better living witness of the gospel as contributing members of the community than as peripheral oddities with a job frequently misunderstood by the majority of the Japanese population. We believe that the whole of life can be sacred – whether roasting coffee, changing diapers, or working as a salaryman – and is a misunderstanding of the Gospel to only view time directly tied to Bible study and church as valuable. There is a great temptation to consider the remaining time as something simply to be survived or in competition with what “really matters.”
We hope to be change agents to what it means to be Christ’s followers in Japan by entering the business world and roasting, brewing, and selling coffee to the glory of God.
– Bryan and Jamie
GEN Desk Commentary –
How do we better incarnate the gospel in the setting God has us now? Please share your thoughts or comments below.
In environments distrustful of business receiving the blessings of community leaders becomes paramount. While it is always a benefit in establishing any mission-planting to receive the blessings of key leaders, where business is viewed as suspect, sharing your vision, your intentions to bless, and the promise to treat the people of this location with dignity, respect and justice can actually be used to bring community leaders on-board quicker than in other situations. However, one of the things that these leaders will be interested in knowing is how long do you plan to stay and what will you leave (enough large corporations from nations across the world have entered local environments and after a short period of time left, leaving everything from environmental chaos to workers who are physically broken and unable to return to their previous vocations). Part of what you must share is a promise to stay within the region beyond the first difficulties. In business-averse environments the willingness to incur early-stage business losses is important if the people are to ever again welcome a business to their setting or see it beyond a launching phase. Of course there are always limitations – we are running a genuine business, not a charity – but building in plans for how long you can suffer financial losses is important, and it is important to clarify that with local leaders.
Finally, and this is true for all missionaries, but for business enterprise missionaries even more so, your lifestyle is something that will be closely watched. In much of Latin America the wealth has remained in the hands of the few for generations, and these people who own much of the commerce-generating activities, live at level far above that of their workers and consumers. While this is less-true in other-parts of the world, the general rule is that business people live in great wealth while those who are the back-bone of the wealth production suffer. Living as close to the level of the community, your workers, and consumers is essential in communicating that your for-profit enterprise is a different thing than that which they may have seen before. And so are you.
Before you can even have the chance to begin to operate, begin to incarnate the Gospel the enterprise God has called and empowered you to do, the environment where you plant your business can make or break your ability to not just be financially viable, but to incarnate more than just the gospel of western business imperialism of “greed is good.”
Around the world, from the middle of New York City to the side alleyways of Addis Ababa, businesses operate and bring goods and services to people who need and want their products. But strangely, across the globe, the perspective of the business person is not one of a great servant to society. In fact, in many parts of the world surveys show that businessmen are viewed as greedy, unconcerned about workers and customers, and sadly, in much of the world – corrupt. This of course is nothing new – the scriptures give us warnings about accurate scales and the containers for measuring the dry materials and liquids (Leviticus 19:36, Proverbs 11:1;16:11;20:23, Hos 12:7, Amos 8:5, Mic 6:11).
From the beginning of time, those who are at the heart of economic activity have often been viewed as exploitative rather than bearers of goodness, righteousness, and hope. Even in large parts of the formerly Christianized West, Christians themselves see the pursuit of wealth as going against the intentions of God. The view is that profit comes from some way of gaming the system, and thus signals the damaging of one of the parties. It can, perversely, make in the initial period, the idea of incarnating the Gospel through business a more difficult, a more challenging way to enter into the society as a bearer of the Gospel.
Realizing these challenges there is a lot that must be done, beyond the scouting for the establishment of a start-up business in the setting you have chosen. First, it is essential to determine how people in your chosen location view business, profit, and outside organizations in general. Becoming aware of the business/profit related challenges before you is essential in determining whether a business enterprise is the proper venue for incarnating the Gospel. If the calling you have received is to a particular people and place, and they view business and profit-making as deeply troubling, it may make sense to establish a social rather than business enterprise (school, medical facility, etc.). If the call to do business remains clear, regardless of their current feelings and experiences of business, then the next steps are essential.
While it is true that there is almost nowhere in the world that would not benefit economically, socially, and spiritually from the planting of a missional business enterprise, realizing the barriers to being perceived as a blessing are vital. Our desire over the next years and even decades are for this community to recognize your business as an expression of the Kingdom of God, and not just another attempt to build our own financial kingdom on the foundation of their community and its people and environment. (Part 2 to come in August)
- GEN Desk Author
GEN Desk Commentary –
What do you feel needs to happen be part of a business to effectively incarnate the gospel?