Why Business As Mission? That’s a legitimate question. Couldn’t all the mission that BAM achieves be realised through conventional ministry, and/or the church?
My answer would be, ‘maybe’. What I do know is that BAM has some advantages over conventional ministry. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
In the article ‘BAM Success…‘ I tell the story of when I helped to start a bakery right in a South African township.
This BAM project was an instrumental project for me as it demonstrated the reach of Business And Mission and many of the advantages that it has over conventional ministry.
To understand the significance of this project, it helps to review a bit of history:
In the dark days of apartheid, where the white South African rulers brutally oppressed the black South African majority in the country, the white South Africans would live in the cities, and prohibited the black South Africans from doing the same. Whilst white South Africans enjoyed the benefits living in cities with all the modern amenities, they still needed the black South African labour to keep it all running. The solution? The white South African’s located the black South Africans into shanty towns, called ‘townships’ on the edges of their cities.
These townships were places where the white South Africans we knew, would never dream of setting foot. It was considered too dangerous, too underdeveloped, too dirty. To us, that seemed like exactly where we should be ministering.
That presented some unique hurdles. There were almost zero Caucasians in these sprawling townships. For example, there was one Caucasian man who lived there that we knew of. In fact, everyone knew him. (He was a police officer and his wife was a black South African.) The fact that everyone in a township, numbering hundreds of thousands, knew who this one Caucasian man was, shows how few Caucasians there were.
Owing to the years of apartheid, there was a natural distrust between groups there. So how would we, as western Caucasians, minister effectively amongst the black South Africans if there was no trust?
The Reach of BAM
If we had done conventional ministry, we might do something like walk around with bibles and engage people to see if they wanted prayer, or invite them to gather to learn about Jesus. This, I’m sure, would work over time. However, it would likely take a LONG time. It would take time to gain the trust of people and allow them to open up.
There’s nothing wrong with this method. However, what was eye-opening to me was how, by running a business instead of a ministry, things were different.
We had opened a bakery, and because we were not asking people to trust us, but rather offering them a good product that they wanted and needed, it meant that it didn’t matter as much that I was Caucasian. For the people we were selling to, I was just the bread-guy.
We learned that by performing a business task and making sure we treated people well, and provided good products, and a reliable service, people trusted us.
Very quickly, the Caucasian workers started to develop friendships with their regular customers that led to ministry. In one case, a regular customer announced they couldn’t take their order for a few days. When our worker asked why, the customer revealed her brother had been tragically murdered. This then allowed our worker to minster to her.
In another case, one of our regular customers died herself. Her husband, happened to be a local political leader and invited our sales person to the funeral. Can you imagine? A missionary invited as the only Caucasian to a political leader’s funeral for his wife? This all from selling bread.
The power of BAM is that business can more easily reach strata of society that traditional forms of ministry would have a harder time accessing.
Of course, there are many other benefits that BAM has to offer. The reach of BAM, however, is something I think is drastically underestimated and undervalued.
People seem to intuitively understand that BAM projects create jobs, create funding, can get workers into restrictive access countries. But it’s the power of BAM to get the gospel to cross class, racial, and socio-economic lines that I think people should take note of. In my experience, having been both a BAM practioner and a traditional missionary, BAM has real advantages over traditional outreach in this area.
For a world that is desperately in need of God, BAM might just be the way that most of the world gets to meet Him.
May God get the glory.