In the City of C, people don’t quite understand missionaries or the church, in large part because of how they see missionaries living their lives.
In this Islamic part of the world, Christians are a tiny minority of the larger population.
And most examples of what a “Christian” looks like is an American who seem to have money, but no apparent job. They seem to spend a lot of time just hanging out with people rather than working and living normal lives.
Thomas, a pastor of a tiny church in the City of “C,” converted to Christianity from Islam as an inquisitive young man, searching to know who God is.
In the years that followed he studied at a seminary, planted churches, ran seminars, worked with missionary organizations, and saw countless missionaries cycle through his city.
And after years of experiences with various ministries working to spread the gospel in his country – he has seen the church grow barely at all.
If you want to reach his country, stop thinking that gathering people around a guitar to sing translated American worship songs will truly save souls.
Instead, he argues, send business people who can work jobs and participate in the local church as part of the local church. Send people whose lives naturally connect to the economy and culture.
A Better Way
Recently appointed Serge missionaries, Matthew and his wife Jamie met in C during a two-year stint as missionaries some years back. They fell in love with the city and with each other, and by the time their terms were finished, they were determined to return to C for the long haul.
But they knew that for their lives to make sense to their neighbors, they needed a legitimate, secular identity.
After their missionary apprenticeship, Matthew returned to the US and worked at an upscale coffee shop, honing his skills in the coffee industry, while dreaming of the day when he could return to his beloved city, and somehow combine his passion for coffee with his love for the gospel and the people of C.
Now, Matthew is beginning that journey, spearheading a Serge team in the City of C, and starting a coffee roasting business as a “Business for Transformation” enterprise.
“Roasting involves minimal labor, it is the greatest profit point in the supply chain, and the business model lets us impact a wider number of people,” says Matthew. “Our vision also is to provide training for people who buy our coffee. That leads to other opportunities to build relationships with people all over the city, and even eventually outside of the city as well. I think it’s a business model that could impact the whole country.”
>>>Read more about Serge’s work in Business for Transformation.>>
A Better Perspective
Often in “closed countries” the typical practice for a missionary organization is to establish a “platform.”
That’s basically the trade term for a front company which just gives the missionary an excuse to be in the country.
But many sending organizations restrict their workers from putting more than 10-15 hours per week into their platform, because to put in more time would retract from their “real work.”
A big criticism that comes up for “platforms,” is that the missionaries often have no actual financial stake in the company, so, in Matthew’s words: “They end up treating the business like it uses play money.”
Matthew’s plan is very different.
Matthew wants to start a real business, not a front.
And, far from seeing the business as a necessary evil which takes away from the time he can put into the “real work” of proclaiming the gospel – Matthew sees the business as the best way to proclaim the gospel in word and deed.
He is intentionally building a business that allows him to build relationships with people all over the city, have conversations, speak into their lives, and proclaim the gospel in an organic, relational way.
In this way, Matthew not only has an actual, legitimate reason to be in the country, but he is able to participate in the church and the culture as an example of a Christian life that is actually accessible to people.
“The last time we were in C, we had already kind of made the decision that we were not coming back primarily identifying as religious workers,” says Matthew.
“And what surprised me was how excited the people at the church that I used to go to were. Like, visibly excited about it.”
“Because you could tell before they never knew quite what to do with me. There was kind of this: ‘I don’t know quite how you fit in….’
“But now they’re like ‘Oh! You’re starting a company. You’re putting down roots. You’re living your life with us.'”
Learn more about Serge’s work in Business for Transformation.