God as Business Owner
The author (R) with Heidi Wakunai.
At the close of a Business as Mission workshop in Papua New Guinea, I looked across the roomful of smiling faces and asked, “How have you sensed God moving this week?”
Heidi Wakunai quickly raised her hand. With tears in her eyes she told how God had spoken to her through the workshop. Years ago she had been involved in full-time Christian ministry but had left it to try and secure greater financial stability for her family. Now she felt God saying she could do both through business as mission. “I am leaving after this week’s training,” she said, “with hope and a new challenge to see what God might do.”
And she was not the only one! The team and I were overjoyed to see the excitement and hear the stories of the 29 participants during this week-long workshop held in Port Moresby in April 2011. The training was a joint effort of the Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association (BTA), SIL Pacific Area, and the Business as Mission (BAM) team from JAARS.
Simon Savaiko, BTA’s literacy coordinator, told the group, “This is one of God’s answers to my prayers … how to support translators and literacy workers in Papua New Guinea. God opened my eyes to see how we can confidently do business to support the work of God in PNG.”
During the workshop, my husband, Mike, teammate Scott Herring, and I taught scriptural business principles, practical financial matters, business and ministry plan creation, and more. The diverse group of participants included several BTA members, leaders from local partner churches, experienced business people, and women running small home-based businesses, yet each one came with the same goal—to learn how to combine business and ministry to the glory of God.
One woman said, “I had a bad impression about business as a whole, but you blessed me, showing me that when God is involved, the business itself can help you minister to those you were unable to reach before.”
And a young man commented, “Wow! The lights came on! I really wanted to do business to extend the kingdom of God but didn’t know how to start. Thank God, he knew my heart and sent his servants to broaden my understanding of how to get started in business as mission.”
One topic everyone wanted to discuss was the impact of their culture on business practices, especially the “wantok” system. Family and clan, as well as close friends, are considered your wantoks (from “one talk”—someone who speaks your language). We discussed how this cultural network can help businesses by providing possible employees and customers. We also talked about the hard reality of wantoks having rightful claims on profits or money for growing the business. Cultural pressure dictates that people who do not meet the needs or requests of wantoks—according to their perceived ability to give—risk being ostracized.
We discussed several possible ways to deal fairly with this cultural practice. Most participants embraced a totally new concept that we suggested: make God the owner of the business. If they truly served as stewards of his ministry, then wantoks would also respect the business and its restrictions. This radical shift in thinking could have a widespread impact—on employees, customers, families, communities, and even the nation.
Elizabeth Thomas from BTA heartily agrees, “God has shown me that it is possible for me to go into business as a ministry, but God has to be the owner; I have to be the steward.”
Heather Eastwood currently serves with the Technology Advancement team at Wycliffe Associates USA, creating Business as Mission projects with partner organizations.