God in the Marketplace: Business for Transformation in North Africa

By Dargan Thompson on March 21, 2018

It was a college class that first convinced Peter Steward* that “God’s heart is for the people who are least reached.”

He felt called to overseas mission work, and found himself drawn to the Arab world—particularly to an area in North Africa where less than 1 percent of the population is Christian.

In the country Steward wanted to reach, evangelism is illegal and Christians cannot worship freely. The country is closed to traditional missionaries. In order to have a lasting impact, foreigners have to have a legitimate purpose for a long-term visa.

For Steward, the answer came in the form of business. With help from Serge’s Business for Transformation initiative, he started a small hospitality business. His company is more than just a cover for mission work; it’s a way to benefit the local economy, provide jobs, and naturally build relationships within his community.

“Business opens doors to communities,” Steward said. “Everybody wants jobs. I think it’s the best answer for people who want to do work overseas.”

Steward is one of 18 Serge Business for Transformation missionaries. He and his family have lived in North Africa for seven years, and his business now employs more than 60 people.

Running a business gives Steward opportunities to interact with his employees in meaningful ways throughout the week. In staff meetings, he and his employees discuss the company’s core values: sacrificial love, honesty, hard work, trust. In talking about work issues, Steward said, they often end up talking about heart issues. Leadership development, employee evaluations, and training are natural opportunities for discipleship.

In many ways, Steward explained, his goals are similar to those of someone working in church planting or traditional missions. He wants to see his employees grow in health in all areas of their lives—spiritual health, financial health, relational health, and more.

“I don’t have as much access to do Bible studies,” he said, “but feel like have more access with employees to ask about families, jobs, how they are doing with money.

“There’s no topic that’s off limits with me,” he continued. “There are so many opportunities to shine the light of God in the workplace. My prayer is that some of these people come to faith in God in deeper ways.”

Steward doesn’t have a business background, and he said doing business in a different culture and language has its share of challenges. His company has faced financial issues, lost clients, and had to make difficult hiring decisions. Doing business overseas can feel uniquely lonely, he said.

However, being part of Serge’s Business for Transformation initiative connects him with a community of people facing similar challenges. His company could not exist without Serge, he said. Having financial backing in place through Serge allowed him to experiment with business in a way he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. He can grow his company without the pressure of having to quickly make a salary to support his family.

Serge has also connected Steward with a variety of business coaches in the form of CEOs, lawyers, accountants, and more. Steward said that the amount of free coaching he received through Serge was “invaluable,” especially early on as his company faced many big decisions.

Steward’s business is profitable and growing rapidly. His dream is to eventually have 1,000 employees in 10 different countries. He wants roughly 25 percent of his employees to be Christians—locals or expats he brings in to help serve. Working alongside employees of different religions provides natural opportunities for employees to understand one another’s perspectives and faiths.

“The more people we can employ, that equates to more possibilities for relational impact,” he said.

Ultimately, Steward said, the goal is for employees to fully embrace their God-given design. Whether or not their spirituality changes, he believes the business can have a marked impact on their lives.

“We want our employees to be a blessing to the country because they worked in our business,” he said.

Steward stressed that business is not an ancillary calling. All work, whether directly church-related or not, is God’s work. Steward said he longs to see more people embrace the business for transformation model. He asked for prayers for more laborers in the harvest.

“We need people to catch the vision that God can show up in the marketplace, and not just in the four walls of a church building.”

 

*Names have been changed for security

Dargan Thompson

About Dargan Thompson

Dargan Thompson is a freelance editor and expert snacker based in Florida. She previously worked as web editor for Relevant magazine.