Monday, September 6, 2010

The First Enterprise: The Garden of Eden

If I haven't told you before, I will tell you now: I have a great mom. I describe her as a saint but if I told you why, it would make her blush. She is one of the most gracious, loving, generous, and forgiving persons I know, who loves her Lord and Savior. My father has serious dementia now, with about a 30 second short-term memory and she is giving him full-time care, which is not an easy task.

Ever since I moved to Africa, our communication has actually improved. We talk every week for about an hour. When I'm in Michigan, we talk less. Weird. Anyway, she challenged me the other week to write more in the blog about the actual work that I do. She said that when we spent time at the cottage over the summer, I told her numerous stories that helped her learn more about the work and she thought it would be good for me to relate those stories in the blog. So, I'm being obedient to my wise mother and will tell some stories.

One of the things that I have done over the years is to teach and help create a curriculum for Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs). This twelve week class is designed to help SMEs create their business plan, a road map for growth, with the end goal being job creation for poverty reduction. As we go through the class, we break their business down into four components as shown in this image:We spend a few weeks discussing the foundation of their business, which relates to sound foundational business decisions that must be made regarding business operations. This includes Business as Mission (BAM), Cultural Worldview versus Biblical Worldview, Business Ethics, and their Mission and Goals. The next few weeks discuss the walls of their business, which has to do with separating themselves from their business, establishing boundaries with family and friends, and handling personnel and management issues. The following few weeks are spent making sure that the business is welcoming to customers by making the windows and doors attractive, which involves customer service, marketing and pricing. And last but not least, we deal with the roof, which if not secure or leaking in any way, can spoil the whole business, dealing specifically with book-keeping, income statements, and balance sheets.

Liberia has taught this class several dozen times to thousands of business owners. Ghana is in the process right now of teaching their second class to about 40 SMEs. Last week, I taught the class on Business as Mission and today I will share with you a story that I usually give.

A little background first: We predominantly work with Christian businesses, although the class is open to all. (We let people know that we are unapologetically Christian, with Biblically based materials, and they can chose to come or not. There are several Muslims in this current class, but most are Christian.) Many Christian business people around the world do not feel affirmed by the church in their calling. They are often viewed as having the ability to give financially, but not a lot of other gifts that can contribute to Kingdom work. We try to turn that idea upside down in a number of ways, and one of the ways that I start the dialogue is by re-framing the story of the Garden of Eden. Pastor Sam Reeves always encouraged us to put on our "spiritual imagination" which I do for this story - hopefully no one will take issue with some creative license. [It's interactive when I am teaching, so I will modify it a little for this context.]

Once upon a time, a long time ago, God decided to establish an enterprise. He called it the Garden of Eden. This enterprise had three purposes according to Genesis 1: 28-30, 2:15: 1. agriculture, both crop production and animal husbandry ("be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth; I give you every seed-bearing plant"), 2. environmental stewardship ("work it and take care of it"), and 3. a management firm ("subdue the earth; rule over it"). He then appointed Adam to be the manager of this enterprise; God was (is) the owner. He recognized that Adam needed a helper and, not wanting to burn out His only employee, Eve was created. This business was declared "good" by the Creator, and remember, this was before the fall. (Implication is that work is good; business is good; the new earth will have similar work for us!) As a responsible owner, He checked in very closely with his managers every evening to see how things were going.

Unfortunately, corruption entered in. (Side note: Many West Africans believe that African leaders are the only ones who are corrupt. Corruption goes back to the very beginning and has infiltrated all people groups - some are just better at hiding it than others.) As managers, Adam and Eve were allowed to have access to the entire company, except for one area. Being the "responsible" managers that they were, they thought that maybe they could help the Owner run it better if they had access to everything. So they put their hand where they shouldn't. Thankfully, the Owner was attentive and immediately knew that His managers had failed Him. Being a God of Justice, He couldn't allow these managers to remain and they suffered the consequences. Even though the management has changed, as has the original location, the business is still operating, although the consequences of those first corrupt managers are still felt to this day.

The moral of the story? There are several:
  • God created business. God believes work and creativity and productivity and management is good! There are numerous business persons in the Bible whom God used to do His Kingdom work - not in spite of their business but often because of their business!
  • Running a business is difficult - especially when you have human beings working for you. Owners must be diligent in their duties, both in protecting their employees from being overworked and also in checking in regularly to encourage and to make sure things are handled correctly.
  • God is the Owner of all business and all work; we are at best the managers. How would this world look if businesses actually operated that way? Or even just the Christian businesses?
We do a BAM devotion every week - there are some great Bible passages about business that really seem to turn our current perception of business on its head. I love seeing the light-bulbs go off with these entrepreneurs as suddenly they recognize that their business can be a mission, a calling, something of and from God.

And now for your "awwwwww" moment, a brief video that Hannah shot of the puppies. Note Jack, the father, getting to know his children and appearing somewhat nervous about it.