The Business is the Mission? A Story from History

By Robert McArthur

The Year: 1758

The Month: April

The Situation: Sending thirty cash-strapped Moravian Missionaries to Suriname

Additional Requirements: a shipment of stripped linen; and one Moravian, Jonas Paul Weiss, to do some hard thinking on economic activities in missions, to articulate and pioneer this way of doing missions.

Long Term Results: Over two centuries of successful missionary commerce.

The Story: For the experienced businessman, Weiss, business offered as many opportunities for Christian witness as for profit. [1] His business brain and passionate missionary heart thus laid the foundation for what is now two centuries of missionary commerce.

It was however Sarasin, from another likeminded mission, The Basel Evangelical Mission Society who, in a letter to India in 1854, articulated best the principles of this ‘missionary commerce’ when he wrote:

“The Business arm of the Mission is not just an aid to missions but it is the mission itself

  • a mission not through preaching but through the power of example
  • a mission of revealing Christianity in practical life situations
  • a mission doing everything possible to make godliness visible
  • a mission that shows Christianity to have promise not only for the life to come but also for this life.” [2]

Like the Moravians, as Basel’s commercial activities developed they realised their value, as a ‘Reibungsflache’ as they put it, a friction surface in the community. That is: a power to influence and make an impact on the people. [3]

In spite of the serious challenges and difficulties it created, missionary commerce would, in the years that followed, provide huge sums of money for the respective missions. But without a doubt, the greater significance was that it provided a form of transformative missionary endeavor that truly entered the warp and woof of society’s fabric. In so doing, it provided an entry point to the very heart of the community. Ultimately it became the base and nucleus for the group’s largest and strongest congregations. For the Moravians, it was Paramaribo, Suriname where, the traditional missionary approach had dwindled, but the commercial approach flourished. By 1926 there were 13,000 members worshipping in 7 church buildings, the largest Moravian congregation in the world. All related to the power and depth of the commercial approach.

For both the Basel Mission and the Moravians, Missionary Commerce would become a vital reality. The Moravians gave three reasons why it was so powerful:

1. The Apostolic example of Paul, the tent-making missionary

2. The entry into and identification with the community provided by economic activities which prevented the mission from remaining an isolated, encapsulated ghetto

3. Two hundred years of historic fact, which it can successfully place in the balance against any merely theoretical arguments [4]

As Basel, working in Africa and India, put it: “making more and better Christians and more and better tiles were all part of the same day’s work.” [5]

Like the Moravians they understood as the Moravian Weiss put it “Demonstration is as important as proclamation in the Christian World Mission” and Christian businessmen practicing their ‘faith active in love’ in the daily affairs of the market place were (and for us today are) a powerful audio-visual aid to Christian mission.” [6] This is not only in church services but also where it really matters: in the marketplace and on the plantation.

In fact, Danker points out that “by the late C19, a Moravian director of missions would go further and insist that Moravian religious principles not only tolerate but demand the combination of commercial and missionary activities and denounced any effort to regard certain activities as more Christian than others.” [7]


First published by Business 4 Blessing, reposted with kind permission.


[1] Danker, Profit for the Lord Wipf and Stock publishers, Eugene, Oregon, April 2002, p 53-4

[2] Danker, p102 quoting Jahresbericht der Industrie-Commission der Evangelischen Missionsgesellschaft in Basel vom Jahre 1853, p 3-4

[3] Danker, p129 from a conversation with the writer ( W Danker) Jan 31, 1967 at the Basel Missionhaus, Basel, Switzerland

[4] Danker, p64 quoting Albert Herman, Merchant, Mission and Meditation: The Romance of a 200 year old Suriname Company p 209

[5] Danker, p126

[6] Danker, p55 quoting Jonas Paul Weiss “Letter to the Brethren and Sisters in Suriname” dated April 1758 at Hurnhutt,

[7] Danker, p74


Recommended Reading:


Book: Profit for the LordProfit for the Lord: Economic Activities in Moravian Missions and the Basel Mission Trading Company
William J. Danker  

Wipf & Stock, 2002

Danker’s informative book is a study of the Moravians and the Basel Mission Trading Company, particularly on the economic structures they created to support their mission work.  The author contends that the Church’s ministry in the world must  include ministry to man’s economic needs and hopes that it will “help free Christians on mission frontiers on all six continents to find the forms that will carry out the tentmaking mission of the Church in the marketplace today.”