We asked three BAM practitioner at different stages of their BAM journey to share how their thinking has changed enroute.
Carlos in West Africa
My wife and I initially came to West Africa as ‘traditional missionaries’. After 3 years of pastoring a church we came across some real challenges. The country where we live is 95% Muslim. Since we’ve been here, we have witnessed a number of evangelical churches being torched and ransacked. Muslim background believers (MBBs) have lost their jobs, their families and have even been physically abused because of their faith. That is not the only challenge, anyone that has spent any time in Africa will inevitably be confronted with the harsh realities of poverty. Jobs are already scarce for any African, let alone an MBB. Unfortunately, most churches are not setup to meet this need.
We started praying for another way to serve Jesus here. That is when the Lord put in our hearts to start a business. With a business we could provide jobs to MBBs and pre-believers, having contact with them eight to ten hours a day in a non-threatening environment.
For many years, I was a bi-vocational minister so the sacred-secular line has always been blurred to me. My wife, on the other hand, had been in ‘full-time ministry’ for over 25 years! The idea of starting a business was foreign to her, even sacrilegious. She still struggles a little with the idea, but there have been a couple of situations that have made her more open to business as mission.
Early on in my relationship with my guards ‘Cheik’ and ‘Abdul’, I started encouraging them to save. They were hesitant in the beginning, believing that it would be impossible since they earned so little. I would say, “Give me just 1,000 francs (about US$2). I will hold it for you.” The next month they would give me 2,000 francs. On each pay day I would challenge them to save. To make the story short, Cheik has bought 3 bikes and Abdul is now married because he had saved up enough for the dowry. They have repeatedly said how thankful they are in having someone help them with the finances. Whenever their family member gets sick, we pray for the Lord to heal them. We give them gifts whenever we come back from travels (a West African tradition), we throw them a party on Labor day and invite their fellow guards. Our relationship with them is no longer strictly professional.
I’m starting to realize how detrimental the saying, “Never talk about religion in the workplace” is, both for us at home and now as expats abroad. Because of this ‘rule’ we became afraid to share Jesus with our co-workers. Much of the non-western world doesn’t make that distinction. We should be free to speak of our hobbies, our family, and our Lord in the workplace. As BAMers we have seen the benefits of doing this on the mission field.
Gabriella in China
We have an import-export business that has been growing steadily since we started it nearly 10 years ago. In the beginning I was really reluctant about being in business. I even asked some clients to keep quiet about us in our early years, I told them I don’t want the business to grow too much! I come from a Latin American culture where being a missionary is well understood and valued. I somehow felt that business was a necessity that perhaps got in the way of the real purpose for being in China. I resisted business, I didn’t want to admit that I was a business woman. In our organization whenever there was a meeting for those involved in business, I kept away. However, what kept me going in business were the opportunities I had for sharing the gospel through relationships. I saw that I could be a witness through my natural life and be in places, with people, that I would otherwise have no contact with, such as other business owners and Communist Party officials.
After 6 years of being in business in China, I came to do the IBAM course in Thailand to learn more about God’s purposes for business. I was completely shocked! I mean my thinking was turned completely upside-down. I realized how limited I had been in my thinking and my mind was really opened to how God can use business for His Kingdom. Wow, I discovered that it is really possible that God has called me to business!
Since then I have been working with a completely new vision for the business. Four years later we recently started our third company. I have discovered that if I really want to be in the place God wants me to be, if I really want to be a missional business, then I have to seek God in everything. He has shown me who I should buy from, how to finance the company, which factories to work with. Every step is a step of faith. Read more of Gabriella’s story.
Grant in Kenya
I was sitting in a tin shed with a person who called this shed home. There was no running water, no electricity, and no sewer. Our charity was supporting Jenny’s education, the daughter of this person who called a shed home. As I sat in the dark, with the smell of burning in my nostrils, I looked round this home which was no bigger than an elevator and I thought; what happens to Jenny when she finishes school? Does Jenny go on into a well-paid career, or does she go and sell vegetables on the street corner and contribute to the rent of this tin shed.
I was in a village in Kenya. A big problem in Kenya that the supply of labour far exceeds demand and so business owners pay very little, because they can get away with it. So we decided to start a Real Estate company that buys land and constructs. We structure pay so a tradesperson earns according to what they do, not a day rate. This structure facilitates an energised person to earn a better wage, whereas a lazy person earns nothing. To that we add profit share and health care. Furthermore our company is structured to have a rolling program of apprentices, giving constant on the job training.
Jesus said whatever you do for the least of these you do for me. That is my motivation. The burden God had given me was to show God’s love to the poor and alleviate poverty. But my thinking had to change. Now I think, let’s tackle the cause rather than the outcome, let’s prevent the leg from breaking instead of putting plaster on a shattered bone. Let’s facilitate self-worth, rather than dependency on a donor. Let’s show Christ’s love in a way that has lasting impact after I am gone.
I think a lot of people still see our business as charity work and not a commercial activity. The reason for this is that we first started a charity and most people think you are either a charity worker or a business person – they find it hard to understand that you can achieve these aims effectively through business.
With thanks to Carlos, Gabriella and Grant.