AN INTERVIEW WITH TWO OF PIONEERS UK’S ‘BUSINESS AS MISSION’ MISSIONARIES
Pioneers: Hi, Tom and Alex. Thanks so much for being willing to share with our readers your experiences of Business as Mission. Let’s start by hearing about your business and business model.
TA: We decided to create a business to provide electrical consulting services to local businesses and individuals. On receiving a maintenance/installation project, we contract local subcontractors to work on the project. Some of the work we have got involved with includes working with local electricians to see integration of electrical systems with complex issues. Our business model is very changeable too and depending on opportunities, we do things from language training for engineers to quoting for a residential solar panel installation.
Pioneers: Why did you choose this sort of business for BAM?
TA: We chose this particular business following lots of prayer, local research and a background in electrical design. During survey trips, we had seen the need for electrical safety to be improved. We live in a rural setting, and often those working on electrical projects don’t have the training, experience or resources to complete electrical work to an acceptable standard. So our business of helping locals to develop in understanding and producing safe systems to standards is a great niche that we can fill. As we have developed working relationships with local tradesmen, local expertise has grown, which is really good to see. For instance, one tradesmen who worked for us reached out to his contacts to resolve a difficult wiring problem, and we resolved it by God’s grace! We ideally want to work ourselves out of a job, to see locals having safer working practices. We are definitely working toward indigenous sustainability, and developing the skills of tradespeople really helps that. Finally, we spend lots of time building relationships and planting seeds of the Good News during interactions with many tradespeople, equipment vendors, property managers, etc.
Pioneers: What challenges/obstacles/difficulties did you have, if any, in setting up your business?
TA: A major initial challenge was to find the right initial niche; large businesses already have relationships with other electrical businesses, and to develop a reputation for good work meant that we had to start somewhere, so there was a lot of ground work to find smaller clients. In addition, there is real physical risk involved in working with incomplete wiring; you don’t know what you don’t know! Anything could happen! But the Lord has protected us so far, and has been growing our skills in diagnosing problems, resolving them and working through solutions.
Pioneers: How have local businesspeople, clients and friends accepted or viewed your business?
TA: Our neighbours have accepted that electrical development is needed, and there is excitement about learning and cross-pollinating practical skills. There have been challenges with clients, particularly when the lights go out, but by the Lord’s grace we have come through difficulties stronger by learning from experience!
Pioneers: Now that you’ve been doing it for a while, what do you see as the positives and negatives of Business as Mission?
TA: Positives: BAM is a great way to meet people from all walks of life, a great way to promote indigenous sustainability, and to use God-given skills on the field for His glory, among unreached peoples. Negatives: There are stresses in running a business including prioritising time, and meeting clients’ expectations.
Pioneers: Some purists might say that Business as Mission is not the same as church planting. What is your response to that assertion?
TA: Firstly, pragmatically, in a ‘creative access nation’ like ours, it is impossible to do traditional church planting in situ without a business – authorities have expelled people in the past because they were ‘only’ church planting. Secondly, I’d encourage people to think about church planters of the past: Paul was a tent-maker by trade, working throughout the week and preaching on the Sabbath (Acts 18:1-4), In addition, the Bible says that Paul and his band worked day and night ‘while they proclaimed … the Gospel of God’ (1 Thessalonians 9-10). More recently, William Carey and other BAMers helped Indians produce printing presses (See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serampore_Mission_Press). Plus, a field worker will interact with vastly more people within a ‘normal’ working life than they would otherwise.
Pioneers: On a more personal level, then, has your business actually facilitated mission, and if so, how?
TA: Yes – there have been great opportunities to speak of the Lord! When we’re driving with a tradesman, or when testing switchboards, conversation has often flowed to awesome topics. This has resulted in a tradesman reading and engaging with the Word. As we continue to build relationships with clients, tradesmen, and a whole range of people from all strata of society, we are able to shine like stars in the world, holding fast to the Word of life (Philippians 2:15). We continue to have opportunities to speak with those who have never heard the Gospel.
Pioneers: Another objection to BAM is the financial imbalance between the BAMer and the local people. Do you feel that there are any moral issues related to making a profit off people you’re also trying to minister to?
TA: Profiting from people we’re trying to minister to: not really as we have extremely low margins, and we are still needing financial supporters in the West to help us live and speak for Jesus here. The profit we do raise is partly going back into the business so that we can continue being here developing local skills. Finally, all profit we do make is spent in-country, so that the local economy is supported, and so benefiting the local development, and indigenous sustainability.
Pioneers: Have there been any unexpected benefits of running a business on the mission field?
TA: We have some friends who are working with another unreached people group, and they amazingly shared their contacts as we sought investors. This unity really has helped us, sustained us, and inspired us in seeing the world reached for Christ. It brings us such joy to have people behind us in the West, and this has brought us encouragement so much beyond what we expected when we initially started the business! There seems also to be the possibility of consulting with other Pioneers field members who are struggling with electrical issues worldwide through our internal Pioneers forums or meeting at conferences.
Pioneers: Finally, what advice would you have for anyone thinking about starting a business on the mission field?
TA: Seek the Lord, seek a multitude of advisors (including an advisory panel of 4 people who could be mentors as you start thinking of setting up a business), and pray, pray, pray!
It is really helpful to be on the ground and see what needs your business could fulfill. We did a Business Canvas mind map which really helped think through how Business AND Mission combine. We would really recommend thinking about how God has wired you and what you enjoy doing, and that can really help sustain you through tough times in starting up and running a business. In addition, the more experience you have in any form of business, the better. This helps you to navigate client relationships, be a boss, and find creative ways to meet challenges like Covid.
Pioneers: Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights with us, Tom and Alex. We pray that God will bless your business, AND your mission, and that He will use it to bring about good things in the lives of the people you’re serving.
Cover photo by Jonas Verstuyft on unsplash.com