Business and the Body: Burgers, Burma and Keeping Connected

From the rooftops you can see it. The personality of the land shifts as the row of buildings stretches towards the river shore. There is a gap there, the space for the river that marks the border, and on the opposite shore the skyline is again lifted by buildings. The buildings on either side of the border hide secrets behind their darkened windows and signs. These are the real stories behind the international headlines about war and human trafficking, about refugees fleeing persecution. The stories are reflected on faces around town – the people that have ended their journey at this border town where the river divides Burma from Thailand.

Set into the curve of the river on the Thai side is a small city, unremarkable by Asian standards. Bustling with local Thais, NGO and aid workers, adventure-seeking tourists, and the quieter but prominent refugee community; the unspoken undercurrent is ‘we’re all here, hoping for the best, and doing the best we can.’ It’s a promising setting, ready to receive the incoming ‘Friendship Highway’, which is said will unify these Asian countries with trade partnerships and tourism. New buildings and malls dotting the cityscape are the first evidence of a hoped-for economic boom. The new road is not all good news. It will also provide a thoroughfare for the darker trade of humans, vulnerable to poverty and traffickers.

There in the middle of the city, in a quiet neighborhood buttressed by a mosque and a small convenience store, stands Famous Ray’s, a hamburger restaurant. Nearby is its sister businesses, a bike shop. From within the building, just before opening each day, the sounds of songs of worship float out into the street, and then quieter pauses for prayer. This is a business, but also a community.

Sharing the story of Famous Ray’s, could be a bit like sharing a story of a foot, and how the foot went on a great adventure. The story isn’t really complete without knowing that the foot is connected to a body, and it is the body that is on the adventure. Famous Ray’s is part of a body known as the Outpour Movement, a ministry based in Mae Sot. Now with a growing team, the movement is composed of many parts, that each function with their own individual gifts.

As a whole, the Outpour Movement is laying the groundwork for development in this small community, placing stakes in the ground in the areas of education, skills training, arts and community events, orphan care, as well as the retail and restaurant businesses. The vision is broad, with the ultimate goal to transform, disciple, employ, and empower the children and young adults of oppressed people groups who transcend the Thai and Burma (Myanmar) border.

Each of the 14 team members in Outpour is empowered in their unique gifting, stepping into various opportunities in Mae Sot. Sharing labor, sharing resources and building one another up, the body is producing fruit. Famous Ray’s is woven into that, part of the bigger purpose of establishing businesses and ministries that will bring jobs to the oppressed communities, provide basic humanitarian and educational services, and plant a strong Christian body in the city.

Famous Ray’s came about because of the natural combination of entrepreneurial, business, and missions-minded people in the team. A gourmet burger restaurant based on solid business sense and Kingdom values was a natural fit with both the team’s passions and their purposes. Famous Ray’s aims to be the best place in town to get a burger, where people are welcomed into a warm atmosphere, with friendly staff and delicious food. It also wants to provide its local Burmese and Thai staff with a steady income and a sense of value and hope; they love their staff and pray for their personal spiritual development.

Strengthening the body of Christ in Mae Sot and fighting against injustice are dual priorities for the Outpour team. The reality in the region is that countless undocumented people fleeing oppression from Burma are often forced into sex and labor slavery. Poverty and instability cause abuse, which is culturally shameful and often overlooked. Outpour and Famous Ray’s are working against this on numerous fronts. They are growing a creative center for youth called ‘SEEds’ within the bike shop and restaurant businesses to increase job skills and see personal development and discipleship. Currently, they are in the process of constructing a new expanded facility, made up of several buildings that will house both businesses and the creative center, providing enough space for new initiatives. Looking to the future, the Outpour team is seeking to develop an Emergency Placement Home that will offer counseling and training to help combat human trafficking, abuse and oppression for the displaced youth along the border. The team have also partnered with local children’s homes to teach the older kids job skills, and in one of these homes they have planted a church.

Through their business training and leadership development programs, the team has has seen a multiplication of enterprises founded on biblical values, as graduates go on to start new offshoot businesses and ministry initiatives. Prayer and discipleship in the context of the business has been a direct way of building the body of Christ in Mae Sot. Surplus profits from the two businesses have also helped resource other Outpour ministries, as well as funding church planting and church strengthening activities both in Thailand and Burma. Famous Ray’s is connected with others in Mae Sot, in the Outpour Ministry and in a wider network, working together to bring light into dark places, and to bring freedom to the captives.

Poppy Jasper serves as the Assistant Editor and writer for the BAM website and has a passion for storytelling and missions.

Photo credit: A.Drainville via Flickr