Lately I’ve been reading a really good e-book called The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission, by Mark L Russell which I highly recommend even if you’re not called to missions. Or not called to the business world. Or both, or neither, whichever. Either way, it’s not just for missional entrepreneurs.
I’m reading it from a perspective of living in a foreign culture and having spent the majority of my time abroad living on support, and only in the last couple years starting to be more entrepreneurial in my methods of income. My method is not a business or something on the ground in my host country but entirely online using a laptop and things I do from home. As a result, it doesn’t matter where in the world I am so long as I have internet access.
What Are Missional Entrepreneurs?
I’ve asked the question before about what makes someone a missionary? The difference between myself and many of the types of missional entrepreneurs profiled in the book, is oftentimes they’re starting ‘cover’ businesses or companies as a reason for being in the host countries they feel called to. They open coffee houses, and brick and mortar stores. He doesn’t so much profile what some missionaries do to go to “closed countries”–or as Russell calls them “creative access” countries. Even then, he mostly profiled missionaries doing a variety of things in the same location, Thailand.
At the time of writing this I’m not very knowledgable about whether Thailand is considered a creative access country, but the culture is primarily Buddhist and several of the people he interviewed had entered the country on business type visas and not religious ones. He also interviewed lawyers, immigration officials, and government workers, and his findings, at least in this culture, were quite interesting.
Many missionaries assume that if the locals get suspicious, the locals will assume that the missionaries are missionaries. However, this is probably not the case. As I did my PhD research in Thailand, I conducted general interviews with a lawyer, a customs official, and the spouse of a police officer on global business. I asked them about the presence of many foreigners in the country. Interestingly, they pointed to two chief concerns they had with people who could not prove their purpose for being in the country: pedophilia and drug trafficking. These are two things most missionaries do not want to be associated with. Yet, for the local Thais, these concerns about foreigners are well founded. During my time in Thailand there were high-profile arrests of Westerners guilty of these two aforementioned crimes.
In other words, oftentimes the very fears some of these missionaries had about being found out as missionaries and not really entrepreneurs, were all in their own minds. The locals had other suspicions and were not actually in fact antagonistic to the Gospel. It’s not even that Christian missionaries head to these locations and it’s dangerous or the Gospel is forbidden and therefore making it necessary to obtain other means for entering the country. Instead, some of these missionaries don’t want to be identified as ‘missionaries’, but would rather relate to the common man and feel they’d have more access to the average individual if they were around people 5 days a week for a prolonged period of time.
However, oftentimes these missionaries were frustrated because they were so occupied with the shell business and not doing any of the ministry they went to the host country to do. The figures were staggering in that they actually accomplished less than they intended on.
There’s also the integrity and believability as the government would become suspicious of the activities of some of these cover businesses, when its owners seemed to never be working, constantly having meetings in their homes, and would have other ‘workers’ come from their home countries to spend a year or two learning the language and then when asked what they’re going to do in the country, they’d respond by saying “we’ll work in the coffee shop.”
I’m not saying there’s a specific right or wrong way to do it, but the author brings up good points and valid critiques of motives and approaches. The end result of some of these business covers has had adverse effects for entire groups of missionaries in some regions.
After uncovering a fake business, governments are apt to change visa regulations, which can cause problems for all foreigners, including those who are running legitimate businesses. Visa hassles drain precious energy and money from missional entrepreneurs who really need it. It is a real tragedy that fellow Christians frequently are the root cause of these visa hassles.
Some bad apples ruin it for the rest of us.
Are there any possibilities that people view you with more respect than you think?