BAM as an Effective Strategy in Urban Asia: Reaching a Tipping Point

by Francis Tsui

>> Read Part 1, How Business has Transformed Nations and Lifted People Out of Poverty in China and East Asia

Continuing from Part 1, this article explores BAM as an effective mission strategy for missional impact in urban Asia, especially as we aim to reach a tipping point for macro impact through BAM companies.

Increasingly Asia has been transformed right before our eyes, and people’s lot has greatly improved over the last century. From a missiological perspective, urban East Asia has transformed into a totally different mission field compared to just decades ago. The fast transforming Asia powering into the twenty-first century certainly needs a new missiology and a new missional paradigm to raise up leaders to keep mission relevant and effective.

It is against this backdrop that the global church – with its mission leaders and workers, including those from Asia – has to contemplate and reassess their understanding, approaches, and strategies for the new Asian harvest fields. The gospel message remains the same, yet the church needs to search the heart of God to ask how the missio Dei is relevant in such a changing time and to a transforming continent.

Affluent and Open

The mission fields in Asia are no longer just remote, isolated, exotic destinations. In the last two centuries, in many Asian countries, the church has survived and the mission work has thrived through poverty and persecution. Yet, many are now asking how the harvest fields in Asia will survive affluence and openness.

Throughout Asia, people are nearer to each other, not only physically but virtually. Whether it is in the urban or the rural areas, technology has brought people closer. It was only in August 1991, almost exactly thirty years ago, when the World Wide Web became publicly available. In just about two decades, the advent and then proliferation of the internet have brought people together in ways no one could have imagined before. One could easily surmise the easy access of online experience in the cities. Yet, even before the introduction of smartphones, when it was still at the 2G technology level, China and India had already started to equip their mobile communication network and empower their rural population to get connected to the internet.

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How Business Transformed Nations and Lifted People Out of Poverty in China & East Asia

by Francis Tsui


How have businesses, especially SMEs, transformed nations and lifted people out of poverty in China and East Asia? What were critical and contributing factors?

More than 1.5 billion people, about 38% of the population of Asia or 22% of the world population, live in geographic East Asia. The region is one of the world’s most densely inhabited places, with 133 inhabitants per square kilometer (340 per square miles), being about three times the world average of 45 per square kilometer (120 per square mile).

In recent decades, at least up till the Covid pandemic, East Asian economies are increasingly one of the key global growth engines with a sustained high single to double digit economic growth and development, and are fast emerging as a manufacturing and information technology hub of the world. One of key characteristics of the East Asia region is the presence and contribution of a large small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector comprising the majority of enterprises in all the region’s economies, and especially in the region’s urban scenes.

A New Consumer Culture

The rise of the East Asian urbanization phenomenon has one distinct characteristic. While urbanization in North America for the most part goes horizontal as cities sprawl, urbanization in East Asia goes vertical, with buildings scaling tall. It is now very common to see residential apartment buildings in excess of fifty stories tall or higher in places like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, or even Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. The result of such a mode of urbanization is that a huge number of people are packed into a rather small catchment area. People’s proximity to each other has become closer. Never before have we seen higher density of people within shouting or maybe even whispering distance with each other, which is very conducive to accelerated entrepreneurial economic activities.

The urbanization and modernization of some of the largest cities in East Asia ushers in new lifestyles. The birth of an urban middle class among the baby boomer and Gen X generations breeds for the first time a leisure class or a leisure lifestyle. Roaming about on the streets or in shopping malls, exercising in gyms, attending concerts or cultural events, or hanging out at coffee shops are activities unheard of possibly just two generations ago for anyone in Asia. Nowadays, these have become common pastimes. A new consumer culture has emerged out of over half a century of a mostly peaceful political environment, without major wars, and significant economic progress for many developing economies. The gradual rise of disposable income level among East Asians means that most people and families have more to spend. Indeed, East Asia is at a historic moment of major wealth creation and generational transfer. All of these exciting developments have created fertile soil and opportunities in multiple dimensions, including the emergence and maturation of SMEs. It has also brought about new possibilities for mission.

A Lift Out of Poverty

The emerging role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is also an indicator of the economic prosperity that helps to lift people out of poverty. And, the SMEs in East Asia and China have indeed scored spectacular success. In the last 30 years, according to the World Bank, East Asia accounts for two-fifths of global growth, and, during the same period, the number of extremely poor people living in East Asia fell by almost a billion. This is also the same period we saw SME businesses grow in leaps and bounds in East Asia and China.

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Let’s Make Business as Mission Both Global and Local

As part of our continuing series on ‘BAM: A Global Glimpse’ we revisit this article by Joseph Vijayam.

In 2013 I was on a business trip in Jakarta. One afternoon my host asked if I would join him for a gathering of believers in his office building. To my surprise, this was not a small gathering of believers; it was a full-fledged worship service with songs, intercession, testimonies, and a short sermon with over 100 people in attendance. During the time of testimonies, people were sharing about their needs, including those at work, home, and in their communities. One of the business owners in the room shared that he sees himself as a pastor to his co-workers. At that moment, I realized that here in one of the megacities of Asia, weekly church service had taken a new form. The venue was a business conference room, the people in attendance came as individuals rather than families, significant time was spent in sharing of testimonies by new believers, and the time of their meeting was on a busy weekday. Every aspect of the event perfectly fit the needs of first-generation believers working in high rise offices in Jakarta. 

Though the purpose and function of the Body of Christ have remained the same, its local form has changed from age to age and from one culture to another. What I experienced in Jakarta was a unique expression of the local church that is ideal to the city of Jakarta for this generation. If the gathering of believers can take different forms, can our approach to bringing people into the Church be just as creative and specific to their situation? Not only do I believe that it can, I think it is essential.  Read more