A century ago, about two-thirds of Christians came from Europe; the rest were from America. By 2030, 80 per cent of the world’s believers will be in the Global South or majority world, a term for nations formerly known as Third World or developing. This means that Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and much of Asia will have the largest pool of potential missionaries. Seang Pin’s team from OM’s Global South Initiative (OM GSI) intends to empower these people to share the gospel.
A path to something different
For much of her life, Seang Pin went for the conventional. She read law and started her career practising corporate law. Her next job at the in-house legal department of an international bank would start her on the road away from the tried and tested. This played to Seang Pin’s strengths.
“I’m the type of person who really has to do new things.” She would spend the next decade in investment banking but was burnt out before she turned 40. She admitted that she now believes doing a job well is in itself meaningful. But the “extreme reaction to her environment” back then was just the right push to make her rethink her career.
Unexpected road to missions
After Seang Pin’s plans for a leadership development consultancy for non-profit organisations fell through, she learnt more about OM’s new initiative to bring believers from the Global South into the mission field. It was work that required breaking traditional models of mission — something right up her alley.
Within a year of joining the OM team, the original approach was sharpened to focus on business as missions. The objective was to equip Global South missions workers with the skills and start-up funding to run businesses as a means of outreach as well as financial sustainability.
This form of missions works through integration where a missions worker chooses a business that allows him or her plenty of people to contact. As the Jesus follower goes about their work or life, they weave the gospel into their conversations, and Bible study groups in homes form the foundation of the church.
One particularly successful OM business in Asia has incorporated business and the Bible in organic farming. The farm also teaches farming methods with “God’s story woven into it.”
The missions workers are sent to rural regions to use farming as a way of sharing the gospel. It is a lot like being a Christian in the marketplace; what makes it missions is that it is being done intentionally and among the least reached.
Lessons from the Global South
The businesses that thrived were often small ones that arose from personal interests. Now the question they ask missionaries is “What is in your hand?” Such a model allows for anyone to become a missionary, as long as they are willing.
“When we think about missionaries, we often think about the ‘haves’ going to the ‘have-nots’ … with their education, their expertise, wealth, resources and Christian traditions and know-how,” explained Seang Pin. “We must be open to many more mission models, such as Kenyans going to Japan as nurses, English-as-second-language teachers, hip-hop dance teachers or business people.
“It cannot be that the Kingdom of God can only be extended by atas (posh) people. Justice demands that God’s mission force not exclude believers who may not have fancy degrees from First World countries.” These missions workers would also be more relatable to the unreached people of the world — truer to the biblical model of the Kingdom of God.
The other mindset shift is in the area of financial sustainability. Traditionally, missions workers were expected to raise their own support. “We are trying to send people who do not come with money. … If we do mission in a way that doesn’t depend on having excess money, you can multiply.”
A paradigm shift ahead
OM GSI has since helped same-culture workers like Simon in Zambia to start a self-sustaining business in a clearing and forwarding company. Simon testified, “This company is there to provide excellent services. We have three employees. We have been training them on how to run Discovery Bible Studies. My main focus is to help these workers to know Jesus.”
Likewise, same-culture worker Ketty has been supported to start a self-sustaining hair salon business in Zambia. Ketty said, “I noticed the need in this community. Most of the women here do not have a place to do their hair. So I thought I could use this business as an opportunity to reach out to them because of the lifestyle they lead. Most of them are prostitutes.
“If I can interact with them as they come to make themselves beautiful, I can say to them, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ has made your heart beautiful.’”
This is where the work may be heading in the next few years. The hope is that the people in the Global South like Simon and Ketty will take the lead in this. Seang Pin does not yet know how they are going to pivot but she welcomes the challenge. “The most fun problems are those that can’t be solved in a few years.”
“We can’t just try to increase input such as money into the same old ways that we do missions. We need to change the whole way we do missions,” says Seang Pin.
“I feel sad when people approach this issue from the standpoint of how we must help the Global South because they are unable. They have a lot to give. They are very resilient. They pick themselves up when they fall. They can be very creative. They know how to get more done with less. They learn on their feet.”