business as missions ENGAGING THE MARKETPLACE by stephen groves
It’s business as usual at a candle factory in the middle of India. Workers quickly move back and forth between their stations, supervisors shout instructions and a management team strives to carve a niche in the market. But behind this small company is a big message. In fact, it may hold the key to the next explosion of the gospel. In Pune, India and locations like it all over the world, business people are becoming missionaries, and missionaries are becoming business people. Through a concept known as “Business as Mission” (BAM), Jesus’ message of love and justice is being proclaimed across all levels of society: in factories, in offices and on the streets. BAM is a business that serves to spread the Gospel. “BAMers,” as they call themselves, confront injustice, promote development, share God’s word and integrate into a culture, creating a model for holistic transformation of society. This takes visionaries, people who wear the dress shoe of the entrepreneur on one foot and the sandal of the apostle on the other. Men like Frank Bakker, the Managing Director and pioneer behind Chikali Great Commission Engineering (CGCE), the candle-producer from India. Frank has a background in industrial design and had a successful career in the Netherlands when God called him to use his entrepreneurial spirit and expertise in India. “In order to confront injustice, you need a really good business; you have to make sure your business is real and that your product is real,” Bakker explained. Today, CGCE is a beehive of life. Workers are producing decorative candles, as well as developing new products such as foldable chairs and tripod stands. The company has given new hope to its employees, many of whom are widows from the lower castes.
Using innovative teaching tools, the company witnesses to their employees. “We pull out parables from the products they are working with,” said Bakker. “If they are making candles, we use it in a parable. Their life is like the manufacturing template for the candle, and if they go out of it, it is like straying away from God. Everything we do, everything we say, translates to God’s message.” The message has real effects. “One of the employee’s husband died of AIDS, and she is HIV positive. She was excommunicated and kicked out of her home and lived on the streets. She ended up on our doorsteps and asked for help, so we gave her a job in the candle-making department. She had no resources so we had her stay at the orphanage. She was on the verge of giving up,” Bakker told of one success story. “Now she oversees candle-making. The injustice done to her is definitely broken, and she loves Jesus.” The company is also a model of sustainability. They run an orphanage for HIV-affected children, and are planning a home for HIV affected people, as well as an education center. But the ministries are not dependent on foreign donors. “We generate the resources for the ministry from the same soil as the company,” explained Bakker. As an estimated two billion young people will be joining the work force in the next twenty years, BAM’s strength lies in its ability to span the spectrum of society. It breaks down the sacred-secular divide to reach people with the Gospel. It witnesses to the young graduate looking for a job, the successful businessman trying to integrate into a global market, the corrupt official used to taking bribes, and the downtrodden orphan whom society has turned its back on. Early Christianity spread in the market-place, along trade routes. The hope of Jesus Christ was not preached from a pulpit, but integrated into daily business. Its time to return to that call.