In doing B4T in corrupt countries, we need to understand the law is next to meaningless. The keys to longevity are good business that is adding tangible value to the local community and having good relationships with a few key government officials. You cannot expect the government officials to uphold the law. But you can expect them to uphold relationships.
Often we think the government does not know what we doing. This is rarely the case. We need to live and act, talk (on the phone or internet) and write (letters and emails) as if we are talking to the government. One Filipino couple we worked with in China received a contract to teach English at a large university in NW China. The contract stipulated that this couple would receive free housing, meals in the school cafeteria, and CNY2000/month (around US$300). They had minimal financial support from outside the country, so they accepted this offer, excited to be living and working in an area full of the minority people they felt called to reach. Upon arrival, the couple was provided with adequate housing and meals, but after 4 months they had not received even one reminbi. So they went to the department head to complain. He took them to the vice-principal of the university. When they explained their situation, the VP replied, “You expect to be paid? All of the English teachers in China are missionaries and get money from outside the country. You mean you don’t get money from outside too?”
Missionaries I’ve met that have been kicked out of or asked to leave; Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and Morocco – to name a few. All reported the government “somehow” knew all about their ministry outreach including the mission agency each person belonged to. A few were shown emails, or skype conversations proving they were missionaries. But with most, the government just cancels your visa without giving any reason. Yet trust me, they have just reasons.
Sometimes people are kicked out not because of what they’ve done, but because of who they associate with. One expat worker had a growing business and worked at developing a strong relationship with two key leaders in the government. When informed he had to close his business and leave the country he went to his friends in the government for help. After investigating they said, “We are sorry, but we cannot help. There’s nothing in your records to cause us to kick you out of the country, however, because you have been associating with people who have no clear identity and who are being asked to leave, you must leave too.”
The situation was this, several couples on his team had moved into a very poor part of the city because they were called to reach the poor. It was unheard of for Westerners to live in that part of town. They explained to locals they lived in a poor area to save money. However, they sent their children to the international school which charges $6,000/year! The missionaries were living a life style that was inconsistent with their background. We need to take care to ensure both our life and work is consistent with our identity. This, plus the fact that few of them had a job, which justified their living in the country, led to all of them being kicked out.
In at least two instances the government had access to the bank account information of the expats. Our finances and lifestyle must be consistent.
In another country, one friend had a platform (a fake business) advertising that he was doing “consulting.” All of his clients were other missionaries. When arrested, he questioned why the government had a problem with his work as he had a registered business. The officials told him, “We know all of you who are consultants, or trainers, are really here to do missionary work. Consultant is just another term for missionary.”
Many people build a business that is understandable to themselves and to Westerners. This is wrong. The business needs to be understandable to the locals, it does not matter what we think. The locals must see the business is real – having a real impact on society. And once it is real, don’t wait for them to come to you, go to them. Show them the business and tell them about your business.
Understanding the culture and being transparent in all we do is core to successful B4T. We have two eyes, one sees the spiritual, one sees the business. We have two ears, one listens for the spiritual, one listens for the business. Jesus puts it this way, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.