business planning

Education and Identity: Managing Connections to Christian Networks

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Dear BAM Mentor,

How do you manage your associations with Christians and Christian networks – both national and international – in light of security concerns? My ideal is to maintain my relationships with churches and Christian organisations (and indeed receive vital support/services from these); and I want to be well connected into the local church. However, I am concerned about how those connections may endanger my business. How have you managed both the relational side and other more formal associations you have with organisations or churches?

~ Feeling Cautious

Dear Cautious,

I personally believe that there are two key areas that you need to focus on as you consider your associations with Christians and Christian networks while working in a hostile environment. You should concentrate on education and building a strong identity.

Ever since we moved into a restricted access country, we have been working on educating all of the different parties involved in our lives. Most of our sending churches had only dealt with traditional missionary models, so we had to talk with them about:

  • How they communicate with us in email
  • What they could post about us online
  • How they should refer to us during their services.

During the first few years, we had to be vigilant about what they were writing in their online bulletins and websites. Over time, they have come to understand the seriousness of their actions. One simple way to make your point clear is to share real life stories of people who have been questioned because of “church mistakes.”

Educating our churches was not the only area that we needed to work on. We also had to educate our local contacts (both believers and non-believers). From the very beginning, we tried to appropriately educate them on our identity. Obviously we did not share about the missionary agency and churches behind us, but we tried to clearly explain who we were and what we were doing. We had to learn how to honestly address questions like:

  • Why did you come to this country?
  • What are you doing here?
  • Are you a Muslim?

The key to being able to answer the above questions ties in with my second point. You must develop a strong identity. I believe that developing a strong identity is three-fold. You must be boldly Christian, culturally appropriate and exceptionally professional.

Before I hit the three areas, let me share something from my heart! We should have no duplicity in our lives. If we say are are there to open a business, then open a business. If we tell our friends we are NGO workers, then do the best possible NGO work. Saying one thing and doing the other is one of the fastest ways to cause problems for you and the local church.

From the very beginning, people need to know that you are a follower of Jesus Christ. I feel strongly that you should try to make sure every single person you meet understands that you identify with Jesus. You may wonder if that could be a security risk? From 15 years of living in the Arab world, I have never had anyone act shocked when I tell them I am a Christian and follower of Jesus. They actually assume that all westerners are Christians, so I might as well clearly identify myself as a “true Christian.”

The second area of your identity is being culturally aware. I believe that the better your language ability is and the more you understand your local context, the stronger your long-term identity. You will understand how to read potentially volatile situations because of your local knowledge. You can use your local language to clearly explain yourself in all situations.

The final piece of identity is being exceptionally professional. As Christians working in countries hostile to the gospel, we must work with excellence. Unfortunately we have all heard of “tent fakers.” Why do we think it is all right to “act” as if we are doing business? Is that honoring to the Lord? The fact that we are fully funded by our business allows us to be even bolder in our identity as Christian professionals and business people.

I strongly feel that Christians should be an example in our words and our actions. Let us strive to be excellent in our professions. As we model excellence in our professional lives, it helps to break down any questions or concerns that the local authorities may have about us. It gives them a box to put us in.

Once you have a strong identity (Christian, cultural and professional), you will not have to worry about keeping your lives separate. I can honestly tell my local friends that as we were praying about where to live and do business, God led me to their country. I have nothing to hide. It not only allows them to know that I am a businessman but more importantly that we listen to God’s leading in our lives.

Ultimately our security lies in the Lord’s hands. We do our part but need to realize that he may choose to have us thrown into prison to bring glory to Himself.

In conclusion, we also need to model strong identities to our local brothers and sisters. They need to understand what it means to live as a bold follower of Jesus while working in their communities. Would you be able to say as Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3, “On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate?”

by Toby Miles

Toby Miles is serving as a Guest Mentor for our Ask a BAM Mentors column this month.

 

More on this topic from Peter Shaukat:

This is first and fundamentally a theological-missiological issue, secondly a relational issue, and thirdly a risk-related issue. Let’s tackle the question in this order.

By “theological-missiological” I mean that the question takes us to the core issues of spiritual warfare, identity with the Kingdom of God, and the often overlooked and neglected matter of suffering for the sake of righteousness, in fulfilment of God’s purposes. The point is that, ultimately, our security is not our concern! We are engaged in a spiritual warfare, in which the advance of the Kingdom of God is often painfully slow and subject to setbacks, and that suffering, even to the point of shedding blood, let alone expulsion, is the New Testament norm. It’s commonplace, but profoundly erroneous, to assume that because we are doing something as value-added as business, we have therefore some sort of iron-clad guarantee that we’ll be exempt from the same tests, trials and trauma of any other missional effort. [Read More…]

Toby Miles currently lives with his family in a closed country and has been involved in businesses as mission for the last 14 years. Toby’s passion is to help create access for other Christians looking to be salt and light for Jesus through legitimate businesses. Enjoy other articles by Toby at www.bamedu.com

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