Business and Shalom

by Roxanne Addink de Graaf

Business and Shalom are seldom seen in the same sentence. Shalom is a word more often heard in church than in the marketplace.

However, just coming from a visit with entrepreneurs in Liberia, I’m more convinced than ever of the vital role of business in bringing about true shalom, the shalom God calls us to build here on Earth. Shalom should be a driving force behind the mission of every business, and shalom provides an excellent framework for a wholistic, multiple bottom line kingdom-building business.

The Biblical vision for “shalom” goes beyond our common understanding of peace. As the Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff writes, “Shalom is the human being dwelling at peace in all his relationships: with God, with self, with fellows, with nature… shalom is not merely the absence of hostility…at its highest it is enjoyment in one’s relationships.” (from Until Justice and Peace Embrace, Wolterstorff, 1983)

Relationships are at the heart of shalom, and the marketplace is a place of relationships. We will not achieve a true vision of shalom if we don’t achieve shalom in business, and as Christians in business, we need to be leading this crusade.

Wolterstorff goes on in his essay to describe shalom as a rich and joyous state of right relationship (justice), delight in service of God, the human community and the creation around us. Shalom is not a peaceful spiritual state where physical needs aren’t met, where people are still hungry, injustices prevail or work is no more. Rather, our right relationship with nature involves work and reward. Wolterstorff reflects that the Biblical shalom includes “shaping the world with our labor and finding fulfilment in doing so,” as well as enjoying the fruit of our labor, celebrating with “a banquet of rich fare for all the people.” (Isaiah 25:6)

So how can this vision of shalom guide business? It reminds me of the advice of a friend from Zimbabwe who, after listening to a long debate about the mission of business, said, “We just need to do business as Jesus would.” I think shalom is a valid framework for how Jesus would do business. You can assess if your business is driven by and resulting in right and joyous relationships with God, self, others, and Creation.

Going back to my recent visit to Liberia, I witnessed examples of business and shalom. Liberia is a country still coming out of the devastation of a 20-year civil war and more recently a deadly Ebola epidemic. The people of Liberia have experienced life without shalom, and are now deeply committed to peace and restoration of their nation and its people. The entrepreneurs I saw (clients of LEAD, INC, or “Liberia Entrepreneurs for Asset Development, In the Name of Christ) were beacons of hope in the pursuit of not just peace, but full shalom in Liberia.

In Liberia, we saw businesspeople growing their businesses and proud of employing dozens in this economy with over 85 percent unemployment. There were testimonies of business profits educating children, feeding families, caring for the sick and building churches. One rural women’s cooperative had created so much economic activity in their community that they were able to attract, and become shareholders in, a community bank—the first bank established in that town after the war.

Another businesswoman was using the front of her retail shop to provide small vending spaces for youth to do business, at no cost, “just to give them something to do other than hang out on the streets.” Every business story we heard had faith woven into the fabric of how they do business and how they treat those they do business with. As the owner of a small clinic said, “this is all about being able to serve the people in my community, it brings me joy every day.”

These entrepreneurs are agents of shalom, working in and through the marketplace to rebuild right and joyous relationships with God, self, others and creation in Liberia.

How can you and your business answer God’s call to be an active part of building God’s vision for shalom?

Roxanne Addink de Graaf is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Partners Worldwide, and editor of the BAM Think Tank’s BAM at the Bottom of the Pyramid paper. Partners Worldwide is a faith-based global network committed to pursue business for a vision of “a world without poverty, where all have life and have it abundantly.” The team at Partners Worldwide will be providing a three-blog series this month, focused on business and shalom.

This first installment of the series features Partners Worldwide’s work in Liberia, with their local partner, LEAD, Inc., a faith-based microfinance and training partner. LEAD, INC is recognized as the premiere local agri-finance provider and a deeply respected business training institute in Liberia. They are known for their hard work, honesty, innovation and most of all, deep compassion for the people and communities of Liberia that they serve—an institution building shalom through business.