In the early 1980s, I was young and zealous. I was deeply committed to Jesus and the Great Commission. I had a Message that every person on earth needed to hear. I was filled with faith and ... naiveté.
My goal was to do evangelism, discipleship, and church planting with oppressed people who did not know Jesus. My wife, two toddlers, and I moved into a restricted access nation. The country was closed to traditional missionaries. I needed an identity that was acceptable to the repressive regime so they would give me a visa to live there.
I became a businessman and got a work permit. I had an impressive letterhead and business cards. I did not have a real business. I was a ‘tentfaker’. Contrary to the Apostle Paul who actually made tents (Acts 18:1-3), I was a pretender.
The charade was doomed to fail from the beginning. The discrepancy between what I told people I was doing (business) and what I was actually doing (ministry) began to burden me. The lack of authenticity and integrity weighed on my conscience. How could I teach Truth and expect others to live by it, when I was being untruthful about my identity and activities?
My duplicity also became apparent to the authorities. They asked us to leave the country. The crucible of reality forced me to rethink my theology and my practice.
We returned to the States and I re-tooled. I got an MBA in International Business. I also developed a more biblical theology of work. Within three years, we again moved overseas to a different closed country.
This time around, I was committed to live out a viable identity in the country. Our business ventures met a real need. We made an authentic contribution to our clients, their families, and their communities. The government loved us. Internally, I was at peace, knowing that I was working and ministering out of integrity and truthfulness. We were also having a positive spiritual impact.
By the grace of God, I helped to establish three separate financial institutions that are still operating today. Many of the people we ministered to in the context of those businesses are walking with God and ministering to others 25 years later.
I’m thankful that God had mercy on me and transformed me from being a deceiver, albeit well intentioned, to being a bona fide missional entrepreneur.
- GEN Desk Author
GEN Desk Commentary –
This real-life story illustrates some of the basic principles within GEN:
How do these principles resonate with you as you think about missional enterprise?
5/13/2014 05:21:10 am
Often we think of the purpose missional business in terms of the access it gives us to people in closed countries and access to the hearts of people in secular countries. However, you bring up a good point of how missional business gives us wholeness within ourselves--the peace you mention. With missional business, I have, in one sense, access to my own heart. My own integrity is important if I want others to know and believe truth. Good article!
5/14/2014 12:21:08 pm
I believe that Donald McGilchrist once said, "How can we witness to the Gospel of Truth while lying about our identity?"
5/15/2014 05:16:21 am
Thank you for your honesty and insights into key lessons learned, both personally and professionally. Thought about Prov 11:11a - By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, We want and need to be both a blessing (vessel of grace) and upright to make an impact.
5/15/2014 05:24:56 am
The wholeness and integrity associated with peace that Ken mentions as described by the author...take a look at Isaiah 9:6,7 in The Message: "For a child has been born--for us! the gift of a son--for us! He'll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there'll be no limits to the wholeness he brings..."
"I developed a more biblical theology of work." This is surely the crux. It isn't easy for us to reprogram a long-held assumption that "the ministry" is what really counts and that one's employment is merely a way to earn money. God is the Worker who designed us in His image to be workers.
5/22/2014 04:07:01 pm
Don, good word. So many of us have had the same experience. We think that as "tentfakers" that people believe us, but few believe our words they believe our actions and our actions tell them we are not really business people! So is it any wonder that they also do not believe us when we share the Gospel? The quality/integrity of the messenger, does affect the receptivity of the message; 100s are discovering this. Missions needs to be done very differently.
5/24/2014 05:50:46 am
What a poignant story and vivid example of the journey many of us have been on. Through your pace-setting, as well as that of others, we are now in a much richer place, living out a fuller expression of the Gospel with authenticity as we seek to Advance the Kingdom of God. You paid a high price and I thank you; and I thank God for faithfully leading us into a more complete understanding of "ministry".
5/27/2014 04:59:15 am
The author's story is one we have heard many times. Our zeal to get the Gospel to people was a good thing. But duplicity is never acceptable, not just because people will discover and feel betrayed, but because the Gospel is one that is honest about its challenges and demands honesty and integrity (as much as fallen humans can go so in the power of the Spirit) from its messengers. I applaud the author's honesty and hard work the second time. All those who are thinking of just getting in-country, using a fraudulent business (and that includes biz that can never survive without a steady flow of donor dollars replacing sales), I urge you to go the extra mile - get the training (I have an MBA, its hard work, but very helpful), find a real business model that will show the blessing of the Gospel even in just the operating of your business, and work hard to make an economic and social differences in your community, as well as a spiritual one. Thanks to the author for the challenge. We read the book of acts and think the Gospel should move quickly...but the story cover 30 years or so. Deeply rooted generational Gospel movements take time and take incarnating the Gospel - doing genuine business is one of those ways.
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