Interesting editorial today on business missionaries, Earning Commissions on 'The Great Commission':
Christian missionaries have always brought institutions from home and planted them in foreign lands. Schools, hospitals and social services are staples of missionary activity. But recently those who spread the faith overseas have realized that it's not enough to educate and provide health care. In the midst of a world-wide recession, people need jobs, and a growing number of missionaries—many of them working outside traditional missionary organizations—are taking their business skills and starting for-profit companies in the mission fields.
Missionary activity is in decline because of the recession. The Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church, two of the largest Protestant denominations, are making steep cuts to their missionary institutions. Yet Jesus' command to disciple all nations still pulls strongly on the hearts of many Christians. While mission agencies are tightening their purse strings, many business owners are turning to their practical, 9-to-5 skills to help fulfill this Great Commission.
The Business as Mission movement began in the 1990s, when globalization allowed Christian business people to build companies overseas. Often they did so without the help of churches. This missions model required some initial capital but no long-term subsidies. Business missionaries could become integral parts of a community, build trust with locals through business relationships, and minister every day of the week—not just Sunday—to employees, vendors, suppliers and customers. In the late '90s Neal Johnson was at Fuller Seminary in California planning a career change. He'd worked overseas in banking and law for decades, and he wanted to combine his business skills with missionary work. But his initial dissertation proposal on business as mission was rejected. "I was told it was not a subject for someone pursuing a Ph.D.," he said. Eventually, the committee relented. Today, Mr. Johnson is the dean of the business school at Bakke Graduate University—an international Christian school based in Seattle but offering courses from Hong Kong to Hungary—whose business program focuses solely on training students to integrate faith and missions with business. When I spoke with him, he was teaching an MBA course in the Philippines.
In the past decade, the movement has exploded, at least in interest among missionary agencies. Steve Rundle, an economics professor at Biola University in California, has been studying business as mission for 15 years. Prof. Rundle says that much of the movement is still informal, led by individual entrepreneurs. Because many business owners work outside of traditional mission agencies, it can be hard to quantify their numbers. But surveys of U.S.-based agencies found that about 5% of their missionaries are working in business, up from almost nothing 20 years ago. At a handful of agencies, as many as a quarter are using business as mission principles of profitability, the production of marketable goods and services and integration of Christianity and evangelism into the business.
The normal model of mission work, at least as we have experienced it, is of full-time professional missionaries doing mission work in a far away land supported by the offerings of Christians back in the U.S. I think I like this idea of missionaries starting businesses in foreign countries and supporting themselves while integrating themselves into the community plus perhaps providing jobs to the community they are ministering in. Instead of some Westerner coming to your country and telling you your religion is wrong, you have a neighbor and someone who lives in your community as part of your community.
What do you think?