Remember the Soviet Union? It was communist country with a planned centralized economy, violations of human rights were prevalent, and it also lacked freedoms to act in the market place. I was there – witnessed a dysfunctional state first hand. It was like a giant statue with feet of clay, and it did eventually fall over and implode in December 1991.
One country became 15 countries. One currency became 15 currencies. One grand artificial and dysfunctional economic system crumbled and 15 new nations had to re-group and try to adjust to a market based global economy.
I kept traveling to the now former Soviet Union, and kept working in Central Asia, in the ‘stans’: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and so forth. But it wasn’t just geopolitical changes and turmoil. A lot of Christian agencies came to the region from all over the world. We also witnessed a quite remarkable growth of people from a Muslim background becoming followers of Jesus.
At the same time there was an exponential growth of unemployment and underemployment. It was on a scale that most of us find hard to fathom. With it came all kinds of social problems. How could we as followers of Jesus respond to this need? Business people were needed. But churches and mission agencies did not call upon the people qualified to address these challenges.
So in the mid-90’s we started to explore how we could engage, equip and connect Christians in business with the needs and opportunities in the Central Asia region. We started the Central Asia Business Consultation and ran it for ten years. The lessons learned, including developing processes and networks to listen, learn, share and connect, were foundational for the development of the global think tanks on Business as Mission.
A second game changer was the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. If our sole success criterion is church planting and growth, Rwanda was probably the ultimate success story in the history of church and missions. It went from 0 to approximately 90 percent of the population becoming members of various churches in about 100 years. But in the spring of 1994 about one million people were killed in just a few months. It literally was Christians killing Christians. Rwanda had people in church but not church in people. The gospel had not transformed ethnic relations, politics and media.
These tragic events forced me to review our mission. What is the mission of the church? How can we serve people and nations towards a holistic transformation, believing that God can transform individuals and communities, churches and nations? What does it mean to be a Christian in the marketplace? How can we do business as mission, law as mission, education as mission, and city planning as mission? How can we serve God and the common good? What does it mean in practice and what are the lessons learned regarding seeking the Shalom and prosperity of cities and nations? (Jer. 29) How do we affirm, equip and deploy business people to exercise theirs gifts of wealth creation for the nations? (Deut. 8)
20 years ago we could not credibly talk about a global BAM movement. Today – by the grace of God – we can. The two global BAM think tank processes, starting in 2002, have been instrumental in bringing about a global cohesion and understanding of the BAM concept. They have also created an unprecedented connectedness of people and ideas.
It has been an exciting journey, both surprising and overwhelming. But it is a true privilege to be a part of global community who are on a rediscovery journey of Biblical truths on work, justice, business, profit and creating in community for community. We are witnessing a great reawakening in the church worldwide. May this lead to a reformation, as we shape and reshape our businesses for God and the common good.
PS. See also previous article: Rwanda: The Death and Resurrection of a Nation
Good books on Rwanda:
* The Angels Have Left Us, by Hugh McCullum
* The bishop of Rwanda, by John Rucyahana
* Rwanda, Inc.: How a Devastated Nation Became an Economic Model for the Developing,
by Patricia Crisafulli & Andrea Redmond