We asked people working on the front-lines of BAM in different parts of Africa to share some of their experiences and perspectives. They see business as a powerful means to share the message of the Gospel in the marketplace, deepen the impact of Jesus’ teachings on society, tackle evils such as poverty and corruption and mobilise the next generation of African Christians to transform their own nations. Here are six BAM views from Africa:
BAM is crucial in South Africa as a key to two major challenges: discipleship and economic empowerment. South Africa is said to have a high percentage of Christians, however, like many other parts of the world, sin is a key challenge. Corruption, sexual immorality, crime and other evils are on the rise, indicating that Christianity has not been making the kind of impact on society as it should. Business as mission could therefore provide an avenue for regular discipleship in the marketplace, as believers model Godly character and leadership.
South Africa also has a high percentage of poor people, although it is Africa’s most advanced economy. BAM – especially ‘BAM at the base of the pyramid’ – may be the key to large scale sustainable economic empowerment, particularly through the establishment of SME sized companies in rural areas.
Henry Gwani is originally from Nigeria, now working in BAM in South Africa
Our BAM business is a business training and mentoring business, teaching people how to start and run a business and to show them (Christian or non-Christian) what the Bible has to say about work and money. In the last 12 months we have been to Madagascar, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. What we see in these countries is a decline in the formal sector and so even well qualified people need to be entrepreneurs as there are very few jobs. The degree of corruption is escalating to where in many countries there is limited enforcement of their legislative and tax system. We also see imports of goods that could easily be manufactured in-country. If we want to see people uplifted out of poverty, they need to become entrepreneurial and if we want these businesses and the economy be sustainable, we need to see an end to corruption. This can come through business done by God’s principles. Corruption and handouts threaten to destroy Africa!
We work in BAM training and mentoring in Africa because:
1) We want to see people come to faith in Christ and grow to maturity in Christ.
2) The prosperity gospel threatens to tear the church in Africa apart, so we want as many opportunities as possible to teach authentic Christianity and the truth about what the Bible says about money.
3) We want to see an end to corruption through business practices based on Gods word
4) We want economic and social transformation to occur through entrepreneurship and thriving small business activity, especially in the manufacturing sector.
Sub-Saharan Africa is still largely open to the Gospel, so we have a great opportunity preach, teach, empower and uplift. Through business as mission, we are in the marketplace, influencing thinking and witnessing. Many people are skeptical of the church due to false prophets and money-making schemes but through BAM we can show people what authentic Christianity is all about. As we empower and uplift, we build strong, high-trust relationships so that when we share our Hope in Christ, people listen and take what we have to say seriously.
Brian and Ruth are South African BAMers who train and mentor in business all over Africa
Missional business is very important for Africa in terms of influencing the culture. This is so because commerce allows for a Kingdom-minded businessman to meet and build relationships with many people and to begin to influence how they think.
I am Ugandan, and I operate the Business Development Center in Kampala, my home city. One morning after hosting a BAM breakfast in 2011, a gentleman stood and said “Moses, I have listened to you on the subject of why it is good to engage in business, and engage in it in a Kingdom way, three times now, and I am convinced. But what now? I don’t have the skills to start and run a business.” I didn’t have answers for him at the time. But through a series of events, I was connected to Regent University in Virginia Beach, USA. We began to train and teach people through a curriculum developed by the Regent Center for Entrepreneurship. We do this as a business and today we have trained over 156 entrepreneurs with a Kingdom mindset. We hope to affect the culture of a city riddled with corruption.
I see a lot of opportunities to do BAM in Uganda. Mostly because no one is hostile to the good news of the gospel of Jesus, at least not actively so. Uganda also is the world’s 2nd youngest nation, with over 50% of the population of 37millin under 15 years. There is tremendous opportunity to influence this group of people, 85% of whom will be employed by small businesses. There are some challenges too. There are not enough role models and not enough trainers to meet this demand.
Moses Engwau Okudu is a Ugandan working in business incubation in Kampala, Uganda
A Brazilian colleague went to a Central African country two years ago. Two single ladies had already planted a church there and his task was to plant the second one. He is a pastor, but also has a soccer coach certificate. After seven months, he still didn’t have a visa, and became afraid that he would be expelled. One day he saw some men in their 40s like him playing on the city’s soccer field. They invited him to play with them, and he did so several times, until he discovered that the “owner” of the team was a son of the president of the country.
What should he do? Avoid the man, because he had no visa? Or ask him for help with the visa? He tried the second option. The man answered, “We like soccer very much in this country, and we need somebody to train the little ones. How much do you want to earn?” Now he hesitated again. Should he accept? What about his church planting project? I told him that the church would be an automatic consequence of this employment opportunity, with all the contacts to boys and their families. He took the job, and has already a Bible study group in his house.
I asked him: What advantages are there in being a missionary and a professional at the same time? He told me, “There is no need to worry about documentation, because the football school takes care of this. Usually it takes a long time to get a stamp. They make you wait until you give them a tip. You pay big fees, and they don’t give you a receipt. For us it used to be the only way to stay legally in the country.” He went on, “Finances are another advantage. As a professional, you can help other missionaries financially, you can be God’s tool to open new doors for other ‘professional’ missionaries [another coach will join him soon]. You have access to places and people to whom the church normally would have no access.”
What about relationships? “There are two sides to this. You are loved and hated, are admired and are a scandal to some. You can be a blessing to may, but there are always a few who don’t understand. Many Christians here admire my sports ministry, but some pastors don’t look favorably at what I do. Those that are anti-Christian who work with us in the football school don’t accept our Christian posture, while others admire, copy, follow and support us.”
I asked him more about why pastors don’t like what he does, and he shared, “They say that I came to work with the church and now I’m making money. They are suspicious because it happened before, at one time missionaries didn’t have to pay for visas, so many people came into the country saying their were missionaries, only to do business.” How would you sum up your experience? “Being professional is powerful because it can help you preach the Word in the church and in your professional field.” His wife added, “We have access to people we never thought we would. I’m making friendship with the wife of my husband’s colleague. She is Muslim. They are from another country, their 4 years old son lives there with his grandmother. The boy came for the holidays, and as I talked with her about the preschool we are opening, her eyes glowed.”
Hans is a Brazilian who did BAM in Angola and now is back in Brazil helping to mobilise and support professionals and business people in the mission field.
I was stuck on a roundabout, the blazing hot sun pounding the top of the rickety cab I was in. It was 2009, and I was completing research in Kenya on how to ease bottlenecks in the private sector to stimulate economic growth as part of my Masters at the Harvard Kennedy School. I was coming from downtown Nairobi where I had been interviewing members of the Ministry of Finance, and it was there that my cab shook pitifully and then crept to a halt. After sitting in the sweltering heat for over an hour waiting for the cab to be fixed, I made a decision to buy my own car. After all, I was told the re-sale value for used cars in Kenya is excellent and, unlike in America, nothing goes to waste. So, I talked to a wise Christian Kenyan friend who said “the one piece of advice I can give you is that if someone tells you he is a born again Christian, don’t buy your car from him. He is almost certainly a con artist”. I laughed at first. A funny joke to be repeated at a dinner party.
Or was it? Could this be true? Had participants in the marketplace in Kenya prostituted Jesus’ name for economic gain to the extent that claiming to be a Christian now had a negative connotation? If this was true, it was a tragedy of epic proportions. Everywhere around me I saw potential in Kenya. I saw a growing middle class with educated, proud young professionals ready to change the trajectory of their country. I saw companies creating innovative market models to meet new consumer needs and scaling at a rapid rate.
But, the more time I spent in Kenya, the more I realized the extent of the problem. It is a country that has more churches than my native Texas and has 85% of the population claiming to be followers of Jesus, but yet is also ranked in the top 30 most corrupt countries in the world. How did this add up? I realized there was certainly an economic poverty problem in Kenya demonstrated by an endless sea of tin roofs in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, and the 40% unemployment rate. But, there was a bigger and related poverty too: A poverty of leaders that would reflect Christ’s light and lessons in the marketplace and in the government. Nearly all Kenyans know about Jesus. Nearly all can quote scripture better than I would ever hope to. But, there was integration issue. Life on Sunday and life on Monday were as different as life on Mars and Venus.1
Courtney Rountree Mills is an American who founded Sinapis in Kenya to empower aspiring entrepreneurs with Kingdom-focused business training, mentoring and access to capital. More stories from Sinapis
I see that the growth of business as mission in Africa should open up opportunities in many different areas, including growing the number of SME sized businesses, discipling Christians at a deeper level to integrate faith and vocation, break unhealthy cycles of financial dependence, promote justice and peace, and fight corruption.
BAM in Africa provides an opportunity to extend the impact of micro-enterprise development (MED) that is widely embraced by many NGOs. MEDs have had success in identifying entrepreneurial capacity among the poor and BAM can take those who have the proven potential to expand into SME sized business and larger. The result can be the creation of jobs for those who don’t have the capacity to start their own business. BAM should continue on from the MED training programs, incorporating additional mentoring and partnership to include topics of management, larger scale production, branding and marketing, and so on.
BAM also has the potential to be a discipleship strategy of the African church. There are many countries across the continent of Africa where Christianity has been firmly established, however poverty, disease, adultery, alcoholism and corruption remain. BAM is an opportunity for pastors to add to their impact within the community by equipping their members to have an impact in institutions outside the church. This should include shepherding businessmen and women to incorporate biblical principles and ethics into their everyday lives, teaching the value that goods and services provide towards human flourishing and the important role of business in creating productive job opportunities that increase a person’s dignity and hope. Introducing the idea of BAM into churches should provide a natural opportunity to discuss topics currently absent from the pulpit that can have tremendous social and spiritual impact.
BAM in Africa also provides an opportunity to help break an unhealthy dependence on donations pervasive in current mission and development models. This can happen in several ways. Pastors can be trained to be bi-vocational, allowing them to support themselves and their families in addition to the salaries they receive from the church. Tithes and offerings increase with the additional income brought to its church members through BAM companies. Owners and employees of companies have the opportunities to pay for their own family’s school fees, medical expenses, food and housing, etc., instead of relying on sponsorship programs.
BAM in Africa can also be a catalyst for justice and reconciliation. A BAM café in East Africa attempts to address the historical racial divide between blacks and whites by bringing them together for a meal. In a location where people gather in either high end restaurants paying for expensive cappuccinos, or in shops with less costly local food and tea, this company offers a menu and environment welcoming to both. Additionally, thes African and US partners see their business as an opportunity to be a positive example to the local government and businesses in dealing with corruption. They cite many efforts to fight corruption as negative, pointing fingers towards the wrongdoers, whereas they believe a better approach is to demonstrate a financially successful business model while paying their taxes on time, adhering to codes and laws, practicing honesty and transparency with suppliers, and being above reproach in their employment practices and compensation.
Brian Albright is an American BAM practitioner and academic who has been involved in international development and business in East Africa since 2004.
With thanks to all the BAMers in Africa who kindly contributed their perspectives.
BAM is a global phenomenon. God is on the move around the world, calling men and women from all continents to start businesses for His Kingdom purposes. To highlight just some of what He is doing, and emphasise that business as mission is a global movement, we will take a tour around the BAM world for the next six weeks or so. We hope you enjoy the trip!
Photo credit: BDC in Uganda by Media Might Photography
1 – Excerpt from “Don’t Buy a Car from a Born Again Christian”, by Courtney Rountree Mills, Executive Director, Sinapis.