Business as Missions (BAM) and its ‘cousin’ Business for Transformation (B4T) are here to stay. They have been around for a while and with many countries showing increasing resistance to the traditional missionary role it is wonderful to see the church, and this generation of gospel workers, taking BAM more seriously. It truly will be an integral part of seeing the Great Commission completed. So it must be done well.
For decades missionaries could forego the need to ‘figure out’ an entry strategy. (Although even Judson was run out of India due to the British East India Company.) When Beth and I went to PNG in 1979 that was not the case, but things have changed. Today having a legitimate identity to get gospel workers into a country, and keep them in that country (legitimately), is no small challenge. To do Great Commission work, workers must be able to spend years in those remote locations.
One issue with BAM, especially in its early days, was ‘cover businesses’, which were basically fake businesses. Acquiring ‘business visas’ that got missionaries into a country, but the missionary was actually not doing what was on his visa. Those days are mostly over, but not completely. Due to the fact that countries are cracking down on illegitimate visas coupled with the realization that the lack of moral integrity surrounding gospel workers lives was undermining to their ministry, BAM workers have had to set up, invest in, and run their business endeavors with much greater legitimacy. This is encouraging. The following linked article speaks to this issue of integrity, highlighting the need to carry out the visa requirements that gospel workers are living on overseas: The Non-Negotiables of Missionary Integrity. As the author states in this article…“Sadly, some missionaries don’t do any of the work they say they do.”
Another issue that BAM needs to take more seriously is not ‘setting up shop’ in locations where the gospel is already available. When we consider the mandate of our Savior to make the gospel available in every tongue, tribe, and nation it is still the case that most BAM workers are doing their businesses among language groups where the gospel is available. We need to resist the urge to ‘just get the business going’. This is a real blind spot to many in the BAM world, and it’s understandable. Doing a solid business anywhere is hard. Thousands of businesses go belly up here in the USA every year. Doing business in a foreign country, with language and cultural barriers, shifting government regulations, hiring and firing practices that are puzzling to workers from the West, bribing vs. taxes issues that have a labyrinth of ways to stumble badly…all these are incredibly hard issues to get right the first time. It is amazing that so many BAM endeavors have been done so successfully by godly folks who seek to bring Christ to the nations! But in saying all of that, BAM advocates would do well to strategically place those businesses among language groups that currently have no gospel work being done among them. Location matters.
And, most serious of all, it would be beneficial for BAM workers to keep squarely in view that starting local churches are the goal of all of this. It is wonderful to create jobs, see the standard of living increase, and for gospel workers to be accepted as contributing parts of the community. It is more wonderful still when due to those BAM workers men and women come to faith in Christ! But we must keep our ‘finish line’ clearly in view. Leaving behind communities of Christ followers and churches that are healthy and reproducing must continue to be the ultimate measuring rod for our efforts. For the overseas workers, the churches they are sent out from, and the agencies they serve within those 3 issues should be paramount.
In our BAM module here at Radius we address all of the issues spoken of above and we also are encouraging our students to understand the significant benefits of having a real business. To name a few (a) Natural relationships with people who are comfortable relating to you as a normal person who is working hard all day to make a living, as they are; (b) Honesty and integrity before the public and the government because you’re actually doing what you said you’d be doing in your business; (c) Modeling to your future believers as they see you as a normal person who also has to work hard every day to make a living; (d) Being a blessing by creating employment in your town and community.
At Radius we are training long-term workers, and the reality that 3/4 of our graduates work in ‘closed countries’ does cause us to take this area of preparation seriously. BAM workers from overseas, businessmen and women from here in the USA, and hours of teaching by our staff on the issue of access and identity are consistent components in our course. We must address the question “Am I lying when I say I am here in your country to start a business’”? Well, YES you are, if you are not ready to put the effort and hours, financial capital, expertise and technical development into actually doing that business and doing it with integrity.
For the team…brad