What I think I like best about engaging in missional business is an idea I call dynamic development. Dynamic development is a mindset that allows all the differing members of a business relationship; employer or employee, customer or stakeholder, to be challenged and transformed.
We didn’t set out to start business, income generating projects or even engage in community development. Our heart was to tell people about Jesus in a real and authentic way. When we landed in Tanzania, we quickly realized the quickest way to be authentic was to simply roll up our sleeves and do things that Tanzanians were doing. You can learn a language in a class room, but you feel the heart beat of those words when you are walking through a smelly fish market, crowded into a public mini bus or helping your neighbor dig a garden. When you use a local phrase, standing under the hot sun of an African sky, sharing in the work with your friends, you gain credibility. To get to that point, you must be developed.
Giving with Understanding
There has been a lot of debate about the need and purpose for development in Africa. Much has been written about the negative effects that development has had on the continent. I feel as though those negative effects are largely due to the ‘haves’ giving to the ‘have nots’ along a one-way street. The gift could be anything, food, money, ideas, networks and programs; but given without out understanding, greed, dependency and disempowerment can be the unintended results. Yet if the giver gives with understanding, allowing themselves to be developed in the process, the result could be far better then what was intended. Jackson was a young man who taught me this very thing.
Community dynamics in Tanzania require that everyone have a guard at night. As we invited a few candidates to take one of our night positions, Jackson sat on the couch with a large comfortable grin on his face. He wasn’t as big or qualified as the other candidates, but as he left that day, my wife was convinced that he was the guy for us. He didn’t disappoint. Jackson was always cheery, helpful and able to accomplish any task given to him. It was after a few months that I found out Jackson’s true worth.
I started a small building project and I asked Jackson if he wanted to earn some extra money. As we started the project, I realized that Jackson was superb with measurements, quantities and craftsmanship on the site. It was then he told me that German Missionaries had trained him in carpentry. Jackson stopped being a night guard that day. At the same time, we began a recycling project on our property. The economy of our community was based largely on tourism. Naturally there was an excess of empty wine bottles and we thought perhaps we could capitalize on the abundance of free materials. Jackson fit perfectly in our little workshop.
Our idea was simple. Cut a wine bottle in half, round of the rough edges and create a rugged drinking glass that matched the ‘Safari Style’ of the tourism industry. Profits would then be turned over to our national church to assist in community projects like water wells and primary schools. We worked hard to find clients and sell the product while Jackson created faster and more effective ways of producing the product. He was brilliant in the workshop. Day in and out we would work together, cut bottles and talk about whatever. My wife would often come out to the shop with a sketch or an idea. Jackson and I would work to see if her idea was possible to create. Those were truly good days.
We had an opportunity to participate in a local Christmas fair where we displayed and sold our products. During those two days, Jackson was right there with us, talking about the product and closing deals as well. His people skills were on par with his craftsmanship. I was beginning to see that Jackson was a deep well with much to be discovered. The biggest discovery came about 8 months into our project.
One day in the workshop, Jackson began talking about the local church we was volunteering at. He was working with the pastor to create a specific program for the kids. Kids Church wasn’t really a thing at that time so his efforts were being recognized. “I feel I need to go to Bible School,” Jackson told me. “Can you help me?”
Asking for help like this is very much apart of Tanzania culture and as an employer; I bore a responsibility to consider the request. The problem was that the project was really beginning to take off. In my mind, Jackson was too valuable to leave. I told him to pray about it over a few days and let me know what God had told him.
It was no surprise that after a few days, prayer had actually solidified the idea in Jacksons mind. My reaction to this news wasn’t very good. “Well,” I told him, “I need you here. If you want to go to school, I’ll help you. But you have to give me 6 more months to find and train another guy like you. You are valuable to this project.” Jackson was unwavering. “ I feel like I need to go now,” was all he said to me. So I gave him an ultimatum. “If you give me 6 more months, I will pay for your school. If you decided to leave now, I will give you no help at all. Why don’t you go home and pray about it and let me know what God says to you.” I thought I was so logical in my thinking.
After a few days, the answer was the same. Jackson was clear that God has spoken to him and it was obvious that his track was towards children’s ministry. I also took a few days to pray about the situation. I needed Jackson for the project. It felt like so much was riding on him. But the conviction that Jackson felt for ministry slowly worked its way into my heart. It was undeniable. Jackson was to go to Bible School and I was to help him. I committed to Jackson. As long as he produced good grades and maintained a good standing with leadership, I would help him through master’s work if God opened the doors.
The result of letting Jackson go was far greater than I could have thought. We actually found two more guys who worked great in the project. Jackson and his knowledge gave me inroads to the bible school and we began to disseminate our ideas about recycling and business among the students. Jackson did so well in school, he was asked to be apart of the development committee of campus. From there, he started to get invitations to hold seminars on recycling across Tanzania. All the while he never once stopped working with the kids at his local church. When he graduated, Jackson received several invitations to work at well established churches.
As Jackson’s story unfolded, I realized that I was being developed. Sure, we had a good idea that was fun, creative and transformational. But that idea, cooped up in the workshop limited the effect. Jackson as a night guard would not have touched Tanzania. Through dynamic development, God changed us both and the impact was multiplied many times over in Tanzania.