From Conman to Contributor

From time to time, we highlight the experiences of various missional enterprise practitioners in a series we call M3 Journeys. This week, we feature a re-post of an article from the Navigators Business as Mission Blog, written by a veteran practitioner of missional enterprise, recounting his early days in overseas missions.

person in black knit cap and gray sweater
Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

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.

Verse(s) of the Week:

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:12

Let’s ask God this week to reveal to us ways to keep our conduct honorable in the contexts in which we live and work.

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