Let’s Get Local: Developing Both the Localization and Globalization of BAM
by Joseph Vijayam
In 2013 I was on a business trip in Jakarta. One afternoon my host asked if I would join him for a gathering of believers in his office building. To my surprise, this was not a small gathering of believers; it was a full-fledged worship service with songs, intercession, testimonies, and a short sermon with over 100 people in attendance. During the time of testimonies, people were sharing about their needs, including those at work, home, and in their communities. One of the business owners in the room shared that he sees himself as a pastor to his co-workers. At that moment, I realized that here in one of the megacities of Asia, weekly church service had taken a new form. The venue was a business conference room, the people in attendance came as individuals rather than families, significant time was spent in sharing of testimonies by new believers, and the time of their meeting was on a busy weekday. Every aspect of the event perfectly fit the needs of first-generation believers working in high rise offices in Jakarta.
Though the purpose and function of the Body of Christ have remained the same, its local form has changed from age to age and from one culture to another. What I experienced in Jakarta was a unique expression of the local church that is ideal to the city of Jakarta for this generation. If the gathering of believers can take different forms, can our approach to bringing people into the Church be just as creative and specific to their situation? Not only do I believe that it can, I think it is essential.
Globalization AND Localization
Interestingly, the business world understands and implements localization of business strategies, method, and practices. According to the Globalization and Localization Association, “Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market.” A good example of this is the Chicken Maharaja Mac in India in place of the Big Mac (made of beef) in the USA.
What about business as mission? Surely we ought to be more interested in localization than the average business because we are interested in both business and mission. The argument in favor of localization for business success is obvious from the example of every global brand. Localization for mission purposes is even more compelling because of the following reasons:
1. God is the God of all people, everywhere, and in every age.
2. Though the Gospel remains unchanged, every person lives within a cultural, historical, geographical, and social context.
3. Jesus used parables to make his message relevant to his audience.
4. Paul contextualized his life (1 Cor 9:19-23) and message (Acts 17:22-25) to present the Gospel with clarity to people in every place he visited.
Being Creative, After our Creator
As the BAM movement expands across the globe, we face the temptation of sticking to a few successful and well-known models of early adopters of BAM as the examples to follow. Instead, we ought to be open minded and even go to the extent of encouraging innovative ways of doing BAM. To push the envelope further, we should celebrate the diversity of BAM expression around the world by highlighting the uniqueness and differences among BAM practitioners. Our God is the creator, and we have inherited his creativity, so let us put it to good use.
There are a few obstacles to the localization of BAM which we need to overcome. In recent years there is an emphasis on mentoring within BAM. This is commendable, but a concern is that mentees may emulate their mentors without considering their own unique opportunities and constraints. We need to train mentors to share less of their own experiences and instead listen well and tailor their advice to the situation of the mentees.
When we gather at conferences, a few leading examples are highlighted, and people may assume that BAM is the domain of well-established and financially successful business owners. We should begin to celebrate the experiences of the lesser known and smaller business owners. Books, television and other media created in the West paint a picture of BAM as a calling for westerners to go to the rest of the world. This distorts the image of BAM in the mind of a Christian entrepreneur living in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. We should change our language to include missions within the local context as well as people going from everywhere to everywhere.
Faithfulness in the Marketplace
BAM is already happening in every place around the world where followers of Christ are doing business to live for Christ and share His good news in word and deed through their interactions in the marketplace. The BAM movement is expanding exponentially because a few key leaders within the movement have internalized the need for localization as the way forward to reaching every person around the world. As an entrepreneur from India and a member of the editorial board of this website, I have seen a rise in the stories of BAM practitioners from the global south presented on this website. This is a healthy trend.
It is not the size of the business or the popularity of the business owner or the imitation of a proven Western model of BAM that determines success. True success in BAM is when the business owner is faithful in using her business as a creative, dynamic platform within the local context for transforming lives with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Joseph Vijayam is Managing Director of Olive Technology, a business as mission company based in India and USA that provides IT services. Joseph, manages the company’s overall business planning and corporate strategy. Prior to founding Olive he served as the Chief Executive of Matrix Computer Consultancy in India. He has employed his extensive track record in empowering various for profit and not-for-profit organizations in India and the USA. Joseph is a member of BAM Global Advisory Board and Senior Associate of Technology for the Lausanne Movement.