INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CAREERS FOR GOD'S KINGDOM
Globalization has significantly impacted the developing countries of the world for better or worse. These countries are characterized by low income, social inequality, poor health, inadequate education, and therefore a general sense of malaise and hopelessness. Many of them are unreached nations in the 10/40 Window.
The Gospel as Good News must address both the spiritual and socio-economic poverty of the people. To do so, we need many believers in business, who will answer the call to offer their international careers for the cause of God’s Kingdom.
Good business strengthens ties between nations by bringing people together in mutually beneficial exchanges, thereby contributing to peace and stability. It also boosts the economic sectors and creates jobs that improve people’s livelihoods. Business is not just a door opener for the Gospel. It provides natural contacts to do life with the nationals, giving them daily opportunities to witness the Gospel in action.
Call to Believers in Business
Business people, their skills and experiences are needed in partnership with church planting missionaries. As far back as 2004, the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business As Mission had noted:
“The task before us is quite challenging and includes the need to create jobs, new business startups, access venture capital, business know-how, access to markets and clear business ethics. Drawing on the same existing resources for traditional missions will not be enough. However, there are thousands of people in churches worldwide, with the right skill sets, experiences and contacts that can make a significant difference cross-culturally through business as mission (BAM). Mobilizing, deploying, equipping and supporting them effectively will release untapped resources for the mission of the Church.”
But the reality is this: The Christian business sector is still a largely untapped resource. How can we advocate and engage business people to take action?
Engaging the Next Generation
The GLS Business Case Competition is one small step to inspire and mobilize business minded young people of the next generation. Students serve as consultants to offer recommendations for marketing and outreach to a missional business in South Asia. In the process, they learn about the challenges and rewards of BAM in the early stages of their careers. Creating opportunities for internships and apprenticeships on the field are the next steps.
Young people also need to see and be inspired by examples—real life stories of others with whom they can identify. They need to be able to say: “I am no missionary hero, but I can see how I may do this too.”
We will share three stories to illustrate two approaches to international business careers for the Kingdom. They are stories of ordinary young people who have experienced God’s extraordinary grace and faithfulness as they follow him in obedience.
Three Stories Two Paths
The first two stories describe tentmakers who work for international companies in China. This is the corporate path, which is possible in big cities with more developed economies. The third story describes a couple who serve in a less developed Muslim country that resembles China thirty years ago. This is the entrepreneurial path. They started their own businesses when professional jobs were simply not there.
The two tentmaker couples left for the field in their twenties. Their international careers essentially developed on the field as they served in an urban church setting. The entrepreneurial couple had more established careers and startup experiences before they left for the field in their mid-thirties. While running their own companies, they were part of a church planting team.
In all three stories, God’s sovereignty and grace are a big part of their journeys. Nonetheless, they must bring to the table personal commitment and courage, faith in God to do the impossible, and all the professional skills and savvy they are blessed with.
MEL & JANE - CALLED AMIDST CAREERS ABROAD
Spring of 2011, first year out of college, Jane was sent by her company to China on a 3-month rotation. Within a few weeks, she had led her language tutor and her masseuse to Christ. They brought their friends and cousins to cook dinner and study the Bible together at Jane’s apartment every Thursday night. Some of the women were young professionals like Jane. In time, many more of them came to faith.
Jane was reminded of her childhood promise to serve God in China someday. That day had come. She secured an international posting with her company, which allowed her to stay in China for four more years. She grew professionally, saw the local women mature in faith, and organized women’s conferences for her city. She also met Mel, and got married in the spring of 2015.
Now Mel had joined several GLS programs during his college years. He went to Central Asia, summer 2003. He studied Chinese in Beijing, and interned under the supervision of a GLS associate, who worked there. Upon college graduation, Mel was promised a job with a California company that would start in the fall. So he joined the GLS summer study abroad program to learn about China’s economy and international relations.
Half way through the summer, his new job vanished as the 2008 financial meltdown began. Being Chinese American and bilingual, with some China work experience under his belt, Mel found a job in a coastal city. Over the next 3-4 years, he did well in a boutique consulting firm. Later, he joined a Fortune 500 company, and continued to mature professionally.
Although Mel was working and serving in China, he was unsure about his calling. His being in China seemed circumstantial. After a 40-day fast from meat to seek the Lord, he had peace about staying on in China. A year later, he met Jane. As their courtship began, the importance of being equally yoked in their calling became a major issue they had to work through with the support of friends and mentors.
God spoke to Mel through a missionary’s Sunday message, and again at a conference. His eyes were opened to recognize God’s hand in his entire China journey. It was providential, not circumstantial. He should not question God’s calling because of self-doubt or the fear of failure. Grateful, and free in his spirit to see the truth, Mel took the simple but significant step of embracing the life God has given him in business and service overseas as his calling.
God’s Plan Unfolds
Getting an MBA was Mel and Jane’s next step in preparation for long-term tentmaking missions. They labored over which schools to apply to. When they got engaged, they asked all their friends to pray that they would end up in the same city.
Four months before the wedding, while home for Christmas, they both received acceptance letters from the same business school. The best Christmas gift indeed!
At orientation, they discovered that a number of their fellow students were from China. In no time, they started a small group Bible study in their apartment, doing what they loved to do when they were in Asia.
Business school is a highly competitive environment. Job search in the second year was a harrowing experience for most students, especially when they knew they could be competing with fellow classmates for the same jobs. Mel and Jane’s faith was tested again. Would they end up with jobs in the same city? Could those jobs take them back to China?
They applied for jobs with multinational companies that targeted China as their growth market. Mel and Jane’s China resumes might give them an edge. But again, nothing was certain.
Their future was, as always, in God’s hands. He knows what it takes to get them where he wants them to be.
While waiting for the results, they reached out to encourage and pray for fellow classmates. These were amazing opportunities for personal ministry and witness.
The Perfect Match
Come December 2016, it was déjà vu. Shortly before Christmas, the phone calls came. Mel and Jane both received offers from the same company.
They will work at its U.S. headquarters for 1-2 years. Then they will be sent to the company’s China head office, located in the city where Mel and Jan met—their old stomping ground. The perfect match indeed for God’s children committed to using their business careers for His Kingdom!
Mel and Jane are grateful for the networking, mentorship, and support from the GLS community along the way. Looking into the future, they know there will be uncertainties, things beyond their control. But as they dedicate their marriage and careers to God’s service, He will direct their steps, and make what seems impossible possible.
LEE & DORA - A CALL YEARS IN THE MAKING
Lee’s call to tentmaking took ten years to materialize. He left China at age 3, and returned at age 18, his freshman summer on our student exchange program. Lee knew then and there that he must go back.
Lee is a planner, intentional in his preparations. He was active in campus ministry as a student, and was volunteer staff for InterVarsity while working as an engineer. Then he went for his MBA and got a job in consulting. During the long years of preparation, he took short-term trips to keep his China vision alive, and to stay connected. On one of these trips, Lee met Dora. Dora was in IT, and finishing her MA in Education because teaching credentials are highly valued on the mission field.
One day, Lee’s buddy, a fellow GLS summer program alumnus, called up from China, inviting Lee to join him at a multinational company there. At the time, Lee was offered a job at a global company that promised a prestigious, fast track career with an enticing package. But the job could keep him in the U.S. indefinitely.
Lee struggled and sought counsel from GLS mentors, who had been tracking with him through the years. Over preparation could be a problem for planners like Lee. After searching his heart, and with Dora’s full support, he took the job with the pay cut, and moved to China.
This is their 8th year as tentmakers. Dora teaches elementary school and directs its Character Program. After four promotions in eight years, Lee is now VP of Sales & Commercial Operations at his company. They co-lead a Bible study fellowship of local professionals with young families. As adoptive parents, they also lead domestic missions trips to introduce local believers to orphanage ministries. Finally, being a few steps ahead in life, Lee has been a good friend and mentor to Mel in his career, courtship, and walk with God. (See Mel's story.)
ED & ZOE - WAKE UP CALL TO THE ORIGINAL PLAN
Ed grew up wanting to be a missionary. Through childhood comic books and guest speakers at conferences, he saw missions as heroic adventures in exotic places. One retreat speaker was engaged in sports missions and shared the Gospel around the world as a basketball player. That too seemed cool. Becoming a missionary had been for Ed a serious career plan since middle school.
Zoe grew up in church too; “a church brat,” she called herself. Bored with Bible stories, she was intrigued by missionary stories. Her Sunday School teacher was shocked when Zoe wrote in class that she wanted to be a missionary when she grew up. Zoe was serious too.
When Ed and Zoe met in high school and started a long distance dating relationship, they aspired to go overseas after they graduated from university.
Silicon Valley Heroes
While waiting for Zoe to finish college, Ed started working in the Silicon Valley. It was the early ‘90s. The World Wide Web had just gone live. Ed’s first job was with an online info company. He got to research the internet, learn html and different coding languages, develop some of the earliest websites. It was an exciting time to be working with leading innovators and the best minds on their way to becoming the titans of the internet world of business.
Ed went from one startup to another, giddy from the thrill of innovation and boundless opportunities. Success was just a matter of time with prestigious venture capital firms eager to fund these companies.
Wake Up Call
Zoe graduated a few years later, and they got married. Time flew by. Over a ten year period, Ed was in several internet companies and a couple of early stage startups.
One Sunday, a missionary spoke at their church. “Everyone,” he said, “should be involved in missions, even if most of you won’t be going overseas. But then, there are some, who have been called to go, but you are STILL sitting here today!”
Zoe came home and asked Ed, “Are we called to missions or not?” He paused for a moment and replied, “Maybe not.” Zoe said nothing. But she began to pray that God would do something.
In 2001, a former classmate of Ed’s died suddenly. It made Ed stop to reflect. His friend was on a similar career path as he. They both had young families. But his life was cut short abruptly.
Upon learning about this tragedy, Ed woke up with a complete change of heart. All of a sudden, things which seemed so important to him had, in an instant, become worthless. His hot pursuit of success and the next innovation for IPO felt distasteful.
“This is not my path for you,” he heard God say, reminding him of his commitment to missions long time ago.
Still IT & Business
After many years in a creative access country, Ed and Zoe are back in the U.S. to help their children transition to college. Ed is remotely managing his software company and Zoe a printing business. He skypes weekly to mentor a local believer, who now co-leads the church plant that Ed and Zoe were involved in.
God gifted Ed and Zoe with business savvy and IT skills, all of which they are using for missions.
Ed taught IT at the local university and hired his best students to work for his company. He trained them well, and several moved on to higher paying jobs. He had both local and foreign clients, and became known for products and services of wide reaching social benefits.
Zoe has always liked business since high school. She completed her MBA while raising their children and running her printing business on the field. Her company helps bring Christian resources to the people in their own language.
It is hard to do business in developing countries where talents, infrastructure, business friendly regulations, ethical government practice, reliable power, and political stability are all in short supply. But when the business can offer much needed jobs, train young people, create opportunity, encourage innovation, and raise hope, it makes the hardship worthwhile. It also makes the Gospel visible, tangible. Ed and Zoe are part of an indigenous faith community from its birth, and continue their relationship with its local leaders through technology and annual visits.
The Right Plan All Along
Jeremiah 10:23 reads, "I know Lord, that our lives are not our own, that we are not able to direct our paths.” Looking back on their family’s journey, Ed concluded, “God’s calling is clear. This is His plan, for I know that people’s lives are not their own, and God’s original plan for me was right all along."
Not So Big A Step
Ed and Zoe are willing to take their business careers wherever God sends them. Day to day, what they do on the field is no different from what they would do in the Silicon Valley—project management, business strategy, marketing, HR, etc. Business As Mission simply formalizes one’s intentionality to share the Gospel in the context of reaching unreached peoples. Work and witness should be one. When work and witness are one at home, it is not so big a step to take it overseas.