BAM as an Effective Strategy in Urban Asia: Reaching a Tipping Point

by Francis Tsui

>> Read Part 1, How Business has Transformed Nations and Lifted People Out of Poverty in China and East Asia

Continuing from Part 1, this article explores BAM as an effective mission strategy for missional impact in urban Asia, especially as we aim to reach a tipping point for macro impact through BAM companies.

Increasingly Asia has been transformed right before our eyes, and people’s lot has greatly improved over the last century. From a missiological perspective, urban East Asia has transformed into a totally different mission field compared to just decades ago. The fast transforming Asia powering into the twenty-first century certainly needs a new missiology and a new missional paradigm to raise up leaders to keep mission relevant and effective.

It is against this backdrop that the global church – with its mission leaders and workers, including those from Asia – has to contemplate and reassess their understanding, approaches, and strategies for the new Asian harvest fields. The gospel message remains the same, yet the church needs to search the heart of God to ask how the missio Dei is relevant in such a changing time and to a transforming continent.

Affluent and Open

The mission fields in Asia are no longer just remote, isolated, exotic destinations. In the last two centuries, in many Asian countries, the church has survived and the mission work has thrived through poverty and persecution. Yet, many are now asking how the harvest fields in Asia will survive affluence and openness.

Throughout Asia, people are nearer to each other, not only physically but virtually. Whether it is in the urban or the rural areas, technology has brought people closer. It was only in August 1991, almost exactly thirty years ago, when the World Wide Web became publicly available. In just about two decades, the advent and then proliferation of the internet have brought people together in ways no one could have imagined before. One could easily surmise the easy access of online experience in the cities. Yet, even before the introduction of smartphones, when it was still at the 2G technology level, China and India had already started to equip their mobile communication network and empower their rural population to get connected to the internet.

Once smartphone and 3G and 4G mobile communication technology became widely accessible in Asia, nearly everyone from the very advanced economies such as Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, to the humbler and maybe even illiterate rural farmer, became connected. Connectivity means flow of information as well as facility of relationship. WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Skype, Zoom, Gmail, Outlook, Facebook, Weibo, Instagram, and the list goes on. Virtual education, remote medicine, and webinars become not only new shared vocabulary, but also shared experience and lifestyle. Mobile transaction and cashless payment have also become the new norm and accepted practice. All these have prepared the field with both tools and inspiration for entrepreneurs (or any enterprising ones) to venture into mission as well as business, notably in the SME sector.

From Surviver to Seeker

In this 21st Century Asia, more Asians have become much more sophisticated and enlightened than ever before. Those living in urban settings have also become more cosmopolitan in outlook. Indeed, Asians are awakened, empowered, and seeking beyond the immediate. Asians are inspired and their aspirations have broadened.

As we reflected on in Part 1, Asian countries for the most part have helped their people to gradually do better in their quality of living — lifting millions from poverty, and improving the per capita GDP incrementally. The betterment of living standards inevitably triggers the quest for an improvement of the quality of life as well. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when people’s physiological needs are being met, they become motivated to achieve higher level needs. When fundamental needs are satisfied, the desire grows in people to achieve higher level of needs. [1]

For some Asians living and thriving in the last half of the 20th century, betterment implied moving away from poverty, attaining economic security, or even accumulating wealth. However, now those people are looking to achieve a sense of fulfillment. That might not necessarily mean jumping right up to actualization on Maslow’s pyramid, but it is natural for people begin to seek emotional fulfillment or begin a spiritual quest once basic needs are met. In many ways, urban Asia gathers seekers and dreamers.

The Harvest is Ripe

There are indeed many different ways and possibilities to bring the gospel to the people through their local culture, and not to be co-opted or corrupted by it. Over the years, in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and even China, there are ministries that reach out to the marketplace, such as the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship. Doing mission in Asia has already moved beyond the traditional paradigm, and happens far beyond the confines of churches and homes. Currently in Asia, ministering the gospel happens in many places, and only the sky is the limit.

The harvest field in East Asia is a landscape ripened for BAM activities like never before. The prosperous marketplace is vibrant with enterprising SME startups as well as seasoned business owners. BAM practitioners, like these businesspeople, are as much leaders and opportunistic risk takers as their counterparts in the marketplace. BAMers are often entrepreneurial and know how to find entry points and how to leverage their opportunities to bring missional transformation to where they are being placed. Ordinary businesses are positioned to bring economic transformation to the community, but a BAM venture has the potential bring transformation in multiple areas – from economic to social to technological, as well as spiritual – and at all levels, from individuals to the wider community. They are already living with a missional mindset and thinking missional strategy when they speak of having an impact on quadruple bottom lines. [2]

Mobilizing Marketplace Christians

Christians in the marketplace in Asia are already out on the cutting edge of the harvest fields and in clear view of this generation of Asians who are now seeking meaning and fulfillment for their lives, longing for hope, faith, and love. Many marketplace Christians want their lives to count for eternity and are ready to be motivated and mobilized to see their professional lives and ventures become effective tools for mission.  They are often in the best position to compassionately respond to the needs and opportunities of the lost right in their midst. Through the BAM ventures, they are being called into incarnational mission, to bring forth holistic impact through their words and deeds in their everyday lives. They who have to experienced the transformational power of Jesus in the marketplace are able to bring transformation to others, and help to usher in the Kingdom on earth in all nations.

In many creative access nations in East Asia, it is getting more challenging for conventional missionaries or mission workers to reach into all levels of society. However, these places welcome business people or those with certain professional training to visit or to take residence. Often, they are allowed to take employment or to open up their companies with professional visas permissible for personnel that would bless them with technology transfer. This would be a most fitting and opportune mission landscape for anyone who wants to build a BAM-focused small or medium enterprise (SME).

The gospel is to be articulated and communicated through people, with their unique voices and presence in their local community. Just as Newbigin conceived: “The only hermeneutic of the gospel is a local congregation that believes it and lives by it.” A crucial task of the mission enterprise should therefore be empowering Christians in the marketplace to live by the gospel and intentionally position their business ventures as participants in the missio Dei, as ministers of Christ to their neighbors. As the world continues to spin around us and new challenges become close and present reality, mobilizing ever more SMEs to be intentional BAM companies is a vital approach to mission strategy in twenty-first century East Asia and beyond.

Footnotes

[1] A.H. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review 50, vol. 4 (1943): 370-96.

[2] “The Quadruple Bottom Line of Business as Mission (BAM) aims at holistic witness to the gospel that brings about economic, social, environmental and spiritual transformation to bless the unreached.” “The Quadruple Bottomline of Missional Business: Business as Mission,” Go Live Serve: What to Do with Life, July 23, 2018,

[3] Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 146.

Francis K. Tsui is from Hong Kong and has been active in Asian mission in the last two decades serving as faculty, mentor, and Board member with Asian Access and AsiaCMS. He holds multiple higher degrees in modern Chinese history, business administration, as well as mission and leadership studies. Recently, Francis has completed and received his DMin degree from Fuller Seminary.

 

 

 

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

BAM as an Effective Strategy in Urban Asia: Reaching a Tipping Point