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Business professionals gaining vision for international outreach

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Overseas, the sound of a gate closing often signals the end of the workday when many business, healthcare and engineering professionals retreat into gated homes and communities.

For missionaries, though, it can be a despairing sound.

“We try reaching out to our neighbors but it’s hard because they work during the daytime,” says Derek Samuels*, an IMB financial administrator in Santiago, Chile. “My wife met the housekeepers and we wave to the neighbors every time we see them. Then they go inside and close the gates behind them.

“It’s hard to build relationships at that level.”

Samuels’ family isn’t alone, says Devah Millsap*, a communication specialist in IMB’s Office of Marketplace Advance.

In many countries around the world, she notes, “It is difficult for IMB personnel to build relationships with business professionals. We don’t make sense to business people. They don’t have the time or the desire to mess with us.”

Instead, business professionals connect and relate best to other business professionals — not only those with shared interests, experiences and socio-economic status but with whom they interact on a daily basis. Although Samuels — a CPA who formerly worked for a multinational accounting firm — has the professional credentials to relate to business leaders, the difficulty comes in daily access. He simply no longer runs in those circles.

For this reason, the International Mission Board is seeking to connect with Southern Baptist business professionals in the international marketplace who understand God’s global purposes — professionals like Paul Hart* and Shane Olson.

Hart, a business owner from Hendersonville, N.C., is a frequent traveler to Central Asia. Laboring alongside Christian workers, Hart undertakes a number of projects — from digging wells and teaching children to discussing his business — as he builds relationships among an unreached people group in a hard-to-reach region. He also is a fierce advocate for this people group in his community and church — First Baptist in Hendersonville, N.C.

“God is using my position in business to allow me to share,” Hart says. Whether among his new friends in Central Asia or customers and church members in North Carolina, “very few days go by that I don’t get to share who I am, what I’m doing and what God is doing.”

Hart is one example of the type of business leaders that Marketplace Advance wants — frequent travelers who are “engaged in the work and casting vision within their church,” Millsap says. “He raises the possibility that you can live in the States and really engage the people.”

Shane Olson falls into a different but equally important category — those with the opportunity to live in another country and work for a multinational corporation.

Olson, an engineering executive for General Motors residing in Asia, lives in an unreached area of the world and interacts daily with business professionals who may have never heard the name of Jesus. In addition to living out his faith in the workplace, Olson also seeks intentional partnerships with Christian workers where he lives.

After relocating to Asia several years ago with his family, Olson began meeting other professionals equally passionate about God’s global purposes. He realized the need to provide “outlets of eternal significance” — beyond the exotic vacations common to the expatriate community — for his family and others. The result was “Gathering Together,” a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to connect business professionals with people in need. Because Olson is a Southern Baptist, his projects often involve working alongside IMB personnel, and an IMB representative serves on the Gathering Together board of directors.

One of Olson’s goals is to bridge the “great business and mission divide” — a divide which is a subtle yet precarious perspective that the sole purpose of a lucrative secular job is to support the church through tithes and offerings. A senior pastor, for example, may “court” a wealthy business leader within the church to give financially to the budget or special projects. The business leader happily complies, believing he has fulfilled his Kingdom responsibility.

Financial support is an important privilege, yet there is more to it, Olson says.

“A secular profession shouldn’t be seen solely as a means of resourcing spiritual work,” he says, “but as a path toward the location or sphere of influence that God intends as my personal mission field.”

For now, Olson’s personal mission field happens to be in Asia where General Motors assigned him and his sphere of influence includes his relationships within the expatriate community.

“We’ve had many work colleagues, expat friends and church members join us on service trips and projects” through which they find “meaning and fulfillment,” Olson says.

Through his experiences, Olson has learned that business professionals and Christian workers “can sharpen each other … and create a very blessed partnership” to meet spiritual and human needs around the world.

Millsap hopes the IMB Marketplace Advance initiative will provide a framework to foster these types of synergistic relationships — with Southern Baptist business leaders serving as the link between international business and the global mission. She likens it to the type of relationship the apostle Paul had with Priscilla and Aquila — key partners who supported and furthered his work.

These partners “are just as crucial to fulfilling the Great Commission as a full-time missionary,” Millsap says.
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is an IMB writer. For more information on becoming a Marketplace Advance partner, visit imbgsm.com or email [email protected].

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  • Tess Rivers