“Should we tithe the money we earn from cheating?” “If I became a Christian, I would have to become an honest businesswoman – then where would my business be?” asked a woman in another city, who was discussing the implications of becoming a Christian.
We are an average Kiwi family. We try to balance work and church life, friends and visitors, and wonder if the kids should spend less time on the computer and more time doing their homework. Yet one difference is that since 2001, we started running a small software company which tracks medicines in a mountainous country of South Asia. Through many conversations it often feels like we’re not measuring up to expectations of what it means being on the field. Many perceive that we should be teaching theology; slicing and dicing the sick; watering the thirsty. The response we get is – “That’s great about your business, but what are you actually doing for a ministry?”
Our impact is not on the numbers of those converted yet through the interactions we make. People see how we act, what we buy, what we think, how we relate and it is this that transforms the lives.
We want to see lives that are a bit like distant thunder, and a bit like the first spring petals – lives and communities that clearly demonstrate that “the times they are changing”, that the world that’s coming is going to be very different to what we know now. We want that sound, that smell, to permeate every area of society – even the business community.
The country has a rapidly growing Christian population, a culture based on distrust, and a rather sick economy. In the midst of this, we’re just one small company trying to be a signpost that there’s a different way. Being involved with a business as part of one’s calling isn’t a second-rate option. Business is our ‘mission’ – the task we’ve been given – and we’re quite enthusiastic about it.
In so many ways the business world is setting the agenda for how the world works, thinks and lives
Value in people and work
One of our aims is to develop our staff in their understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in the workplace. We have a mixture of Hindu and Christian staff. We hope that in working with us they’ll have picked up some of the things we care about, things like: valuing people for who they are as well as for what they produce; honesty; and treating our small clients with the same attention we give the large ones.
Once, one of our Christian staff was recounting his experience of a tax inspection at another office he worked in. The tax inspector had caught them running two sets of books – one with GST and one without. “So, what do you do now?” I’d asked, expecting that they’d felt guilty and mended their ways. “We hide the second set much better now,” he informed me.
Our hope is that we will also be a positive example in our society of a different kind of business. People of all sorts- clients, officials, other businesses, neighbours watch us. We hope that what they see is at least a pale reflection of the One we follow, and a rather strong contrast with the dominant business culture. In all this we get a steady stream of opportunities to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing. In New Zealand it often seems like sex is the trendy topic, and discussing religion is taboo – in our part of the world it’s the other way around!
As for the unanswered questions about what we’re doing, they centre around the stories that businesses and business people tell. The Western world mindset of “Study hard to get a good job. Work hard at your good job to earn lots of money. Spend all the money you earn on products that will define you as a person and make your life effortless, enjoyable, envied and elongated.” Of course we Christians know that’s less than accurate, but it’s quite hard to be in business without participating in that lie in some small way.
We hope that we express enough truth and grace that the other messages get ignored!