What if? Alan Howell Recommends Connecting Calling and Career

Alan Howell is visiting professor of missions in the College of Bible and Ministry at Harding University. 

Alan Howell
Alan Howell, visiting professor of missions

As a student at Harding University, I double majored in Bible and marketing. Near the end of my time as an undergraduate in Searcy, I joined a mission team that eventually went to Mozambique, Africa, where my family served from 2003-2018. It was there that I saw how those two disciplines that seemed to compete for my attention as a student had actually served me well and prepared me to serve well.  Our team’s mission in Mozambique was to encourage a church planting movement among the Makua-Metto people – this goal was holistic. We were committed to ministering in a way that integrated both the spiritual and physical aspects of life. 

Mozambique Road
27 million people live in Mozambique, a sparsely populated country where 45% of the people are below age 15.

When we first moved to Mozambique in 2003, it was one of the poorest countries in the world, and although in recent years our host country has made some advancements, the vast majority of our friends there live in abject or absolute poverty. In 2018, Mozambique ranked 180 out of 189 in the UN’s Human Development Index (Haiti and Afghanistan are tied for 168 – ranking 12 spots higher). Over 70% of the population live in “Multidimensional Poverty” and over 60% live on less than $2 a day. Statistics like these are both mind boggling and misleading — because the situation in Cabo Delgado, the province where the Makua-Metto people are most concentrated, is even worse. It is the furthest from the national capital (where much of the economic advancement has been concentrated) and the rare person with a job earning more than $2 a day is supporting his or her family on that income as well as a large group of extended relatives. 

Pedestrian Bridge in Moz
Because foot travel during the rainy season was limited, Howell’s team partnered with a Peace Corp volunteer to design and build a bridge.

Trying to make a difference in such a religiously, socially and economically complicated place meant bringing all of our skills and training to the table. Over the years, we tried a number of different projects – from Lorena stoves to a nonprofit chicken business, a sustainable agriculture program, a small peanut butter business, building a pedestrian bridge and eventually getting a school off the ground. My business training was a huge asset on many different levels. As the network of churches we worked with grew, learning how to “scale up” our ministry to encourage and empower the growing numbers was crucial. All of these experiences in Mozambique have given me a greater appreciation for the way the entrepreneurial skill set is extremely important in the kingdom of God. 

When I get the chance to talk to people with entrepreneurial gifts and skills (creative, innovative, risk-takers, people who think big and are willing to experiment and work hard), the question I hope to get the chance to ask them is this: What if your gifts for business were given to you to also do something else?

Sustainable Agriculture
Howell’s team had real success at teaching sustainable agricultural practices in Mozambique.

Ephesians 4:11-13, says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Often in churches, we highlight those with pastoral skills and teaching gifts. But, Frost and Hirsch in their important book, The Shaping of Things to Come, ask us to consider Ephesians 4 from a different angle. What if…What if the labels of pioneer, strategist, innovator, visionary, or entrepreneur — words we often use in a business setting — are part of the apostolic skill set that God gives to the church today? 

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Howell and wife, Rachel, and daughters Abby, Katie and Ellie

As one who was sent to serve in Mozambique, I know from experience that being able to think and act strategically like an entrepreneur, using skills developed in my business training, was crucially important. 

What if? What if you thought of your entrepreneurial gift set as an important part of the kingdom of God? What if you found your place in Business-as-Mission (BAM) or full-time church planting or service in the local church?

In Let Your Life Speak, author Parker Palmer states, “vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear.” As followers of Christ we believe God can and does speak into our lives, equipping and calling us to live a good life of meaning and purpose.

What if? What if your calling or career connected your skills alongside your passion for service with the church in the world? What if God is calling you to do something like that?

I would like to encourage you to stop and listen – ask God if that is something you may be called to do. 

And if it is – come and see me – let’s talk about it.  

To continue this discussion of business as mission, you may reach Alan Howell at ahowell@harding.edu.

Guest Blogger: Phil Waldron of Mission UpReach Says Business as Mission Makes Sense for Honduras

Guest blogger Phil Waldron is CEO and co-founder of Mission UpReach, a nonprofit affiliated with the churches of Christ, operating in Western Honduras.

“Business as missions” (BAM) encompasses a number of concepts that join an aspect of business with a missional approach to kingdom work. In his book God is at Work, Ken Eldred defines business as mission as “for-profit business ventures designed to facilitate God’s transformation of people, cultures, and nations.”

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Mission UpReach Co-founders Phil and Donna Waldron

At Mission UpReach, our adventure into the world of BAM began when Phil Davidson’s Canadian nonprofit, APRACOLA, donated a 60-acre farm known as the Moses Project. The project’s goal was to help young men from poor families finish their formal high school education while learning agricultural entrepreneurial skills. For years Davidson and his brothers were the primary source of funding through profits from their development and construction business. Over time, it became increasingly difficult for them to both manage and fund the program, so they determined to find someone to take it over. They chose Mission UpReach, and we have striven to be faithful to their original mission while adding a fresh approach to achieving the goal.

Since its founding, Mission UpReach has used the kingdom business perspective in stewarding donated resources. Too often in missions there are soft expectations for productivity or efficiency, and sound business principles have been dismissed with the justification that “it’s the Lord’s work,” as if working in the spiritual world isn’t subject to the same principles of stewardship that are indispensable in secular business.

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From the outset, Mission UpReach has had goals and milestones by which we have measured our efforts. If a particular ministry or program wasn’t producing the desired results after a significant amount of time, we conducted prayerful analysis. Sometimes, we decided to cut the program and move on to something that showed more promise. Part of our biblical justification for this is Jesus’ instructions when he sent his disciples out two by two. He told them to “shake the dust out of their clothing” and to move on to a more receptive audience (Matthew 10:14). 

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It isn’t always clear whether God wants us to persist in the face of overwhelming obstacles or to move to greener pastures. It requires a tremendous amount of prayer to have confidence in such decisions. In this sense, business has a great deal to teach us about how to better steward our kingdom efforts. No one in business would advocate continuing to sell a product or service with no hope of making a profit. In the same way, we sometimes need to move on, always with an eye on returning if the community where we have been working shows an openness.

In recent years Mission UpReach’s business component has grown to include three agricultural businesses: tilapia, broiler chickens, and coffee. Our brands are Tilapia Moisés, Pollo Moisés and Subida — providing real-world, commercial business experience for those in the Moses Project program and employment for the local community. 

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Our goal is for these businesses to cover our overhead by 2021, so we can dedicate 100% of donations to ministry programs. Ultimately, we believe some of our young men will return home to their villages and support their families with similar businesses. Our fondest hope is that these men, trained and discipled with us in the program, will go home as self-supporting, missionary church-planters.

Here in Honduras, unemployment is at 27%. Fifty percent of Hondurans are under-employed. The majority of people cannot earn enough money to support their families. The massive exodus of men and women headed to the United States illegally believe that if they can just get to the States, they will earn enough money to solve all their problems. 

We believe our holistic approach to missions, based on the encouragement from the book of James about a practical, works-oriented faith, is a useful model. This faith isn’t about earning salvation, but rather is an outflowing of gratitude to God for having saved us and brought us into His kingdom. There is no compartmentalization between secular and spiritual in Jesus’ kingdom. This worldview should cause all of us who are U.S. citizens to do some soul searching. Did you know that:

  • 20% of the world lives on $1 a day
  • 20% of U.S. citizens live on more than $70 per day
  • U.S. citizens make up just 5% of the world’s population but consume 50% of the world’s resources 

Think about it: We consume half of all of the resources

 consumed in the entire world.

It’s naïve to think Americans can consume half of the resources consumed by the world, yet we are not responsible to help our neighbors to the south improve their economies. The U.S. immigration issue must be resolved. We recognize that it’s complicated and that there is little agreement as to what the solution should be. However, we should all be able to agree that a holistic approach of investing in people — in their home country — is a positive and effective strategy. 

At Mission UpReach we believe a business as mission approach is the best path forward. We preach the gospel and at the same time work to help people earn a living that allows them to support their families. This lowers the immense pressure to go to the U.S. to pursue the “American dream” illegally. We don’t believe in giveaway programs, and in our opinion, business as mission is the solution. The Bible says, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done” (Proverbs 19:17). 

  

Mark Moore: Business Roundtable says it’s no longer business as usual

Guest blogger Mark Moore is the co-founder and CEO of MANA Nutrition, a nonprofit food producer that makes specialized emergency food for severely malnourished children. His perspective on a recent shift in the mission statement from the Business Roundtable is first in a series of alumni guest blog posts we’ll be sharing this year. It was lightly edited. 

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There are many excellent entrepreneurial centers at American Universities these days. For the Waldron Center to strive to be the best at preparing student entrepreneurs over world-class efforts like Stanford and UC Boulder is a tall order. While we may never be the most connected or best funded, we could aspire to be a center for entrepreneurs who care deeply―primarily, perhaps―about justice, fairness, equal opportunity and creative thinking for the poor. These things, a traditional business person might say, are indeed interesting and important… but not the business of business. Not, that is, until today. 

Today could be a red letter day in business history—the day the very definition of business changed to a definition that more closely reflects the above aspirations. Today the Business Roundtable, a group of nearly 200 CEOs led by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, revised its mission statement to prioritize employees, communities and the environment, along with shareholders. They issued a statement saying that the primary goal of business is more than the traditional notion of “seeking to maximize shareholder value.”

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Prior to today, the Business Roundtable’s principle of purpose was aligned with what I learned in business classes. It was rooted in the words of economist Milton Friedman, who argued that the sole purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. For generations, business schools have considered fiduciary responsibility to shareholders justification for minimizing or ignoring social problems beyond the scope of their profit.

Today that changed, as the Business Roundtable expanded their goal of business to include not just the owners’ right to maximum profit, but to also include employees, customers, and the general public. 

It remains to be seen if this statement will become more than aspirational words. It’s a tall order: For the principle to inhabit the ethos of business leaders, CEOs will probably have to accept less than the 1000-to-1 pay ratios they currently enjoy over their lowest paid employees. Bonuses and stock options for executives may have to fall from millions to thousands. Business leaders might not have the guts to pull that off, but Harding’s young entrepreneurs might. They have not yet made millions and become addicted to the luxury that such disparity grants the people at the top of the heap. 

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Nourish: A God Who Loves to Feed Us. 2015.

Today’s aspirational Business Roundtable statement could be the first step for a new generation of entrepreneurs from Harding and elsewhere to offer our world a version of business that does much more good than the version their parents were offered by Milton Friedman’s helpful, but arguably too narrow, definition of business. 

If you are a business student at Harding or beyond, the good news is that the business of business changed a little today. At the very least it will be harder for the true entrepreneur and business leader to say to the great issues we face in society and the people they affect, “that’s none of my business.” 

For more on the subject read and listen below:

Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans’

When the Bottom Line Isn’t Everything

Nourish: A God Who Loves to Feed Us

Moore is a graduate of Harding University and Georgetown University.  He’s held a fellowship in the U.S. Senate and has consulted with many large companies. He was selected as a fellow for the 2013 Unreasonable Institute Fellows program and in 2014 was awarded the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Smart Power Award for his work at MANA.  He currently lives with his wife, Marnie, and four children in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

 

Jo Ellis is Making.Do in Searcy

2018.10.3-22

Photo:  Ashel Parsons

In a colorful loft makerspace above the new Arch Street artist’s corridor in downtown Searcy, Jo Ellis is building a community. She’s connecting people who want to create and people who need to create with opportunities to explore new skills together. Equal parts Christian philosopher, entrepreneur and advocate for the arts, Ellis has a deep conviction about the therapeutic value of the creative process. She views creativity as one way humanity bears the image of God. Her belief, shaped during three years as a missionary in Ireland, underpins the business model for her nonprofit, Make.Do.

IMG_0672She sighed, her powerfully expressive face momentarily calm. “I’m careful how I talk about calling —  but I know that I am a co-creator with God in this work,” she confides, relating Make.Do’s origins in a group of “difficult” girls who were her charges while she was doing mission work. They were the girls no one wanted. They challenged her and pushed the limits in every way.

To keep them occupied, they made pillow covers out of strips of fabric. Ellis recalled, “They went through the entire creative process: They were overwhelmed with the fabric choices, they discussed possibilities, narrowed them down and learned to use the sewing machines. They made mistakes; they had to use a seam ripper to tear out and start over. They were frustrated. They had to deal with imperfection.”

IMG_0678At the end of the day, they posted pictures of their finished projects on Facebook. She beamed at the memory. “We spent the entire evening watching people ‘like’ their projects and comment on them. In a single day, they went from being the girls that ‘no one ever wants’ to being creators of something others valued — and that value was reflected back onto them. It was the first time I understood the deep impact creativity has on our hearts.”

Not only does Ellis want to be able to offer classes for free to places like Jacob’s Place or Hope Cottage, but she wants to be able to offer an affordable place for community to gather. For now, Make.Do’s class fees are “pay what you can.” Most people pay the suggested fee, a few people pay more, and some people pay less.

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Clients may learn quilting, sewing, watercolor, hand lettering, embroidery, felting, knitting, cookie decorating, iris paper folding, macrame and more. Classes may last three to six weeks, but Ellis believes the social mission of Make.Do is best realized in six-week classes, which bring people who might not otherwise interact together over a longer period.  

To some degree, all entrepreneurs are risk takers and, although Ellis has a missional purpose for Make.Do, she seems bold in the familiar entrepreneurial way. The numbers have to add up, even for a nonprofit. “It didn’t feel brave. Committing to one idea and having to stick with the same thing day in and day out might have been a challenge, but Make.Do allows me to constantly look forward to the next, new class.”

To market new offerings, she publishes a newsletter and relies heavily on social media. Since Facebook users can share content in a way Instagram users can’t, Facebook is Make.Do’s primary expansion tool. But 30-something Ellis is an uninhibited natural on Instagram live, where viewers have a window into her life as they visit her eclectic apartment while she emotes about her babies (her houseplants) or bond with her on the merits of her new side-shave hairstyle.

She’s on a related mission to lure each of us away from projecting an image of polished perfection. “When the front that others see is one of perfectly-edited photos and captions, we can forget how to relate to someone in the moment. Face to face, I can’t edit what I say to you as I do when we text. When we’re constantly smoothing out the roughness to perfect our communication, and when that is what we are always seeing from other people, we become grossly more aware of our own insecurities.”

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Photo: Ashel Parsons

Ellis shares a promotional photo of her taken in her studio. She’s awkwardly, enthusiastically telling a story. Her face is contorted. It’s the kind of photograph most of us would delete rather than post. But she loves it. “The more vulnerable we are, the more we post things that aren’t perfect, the more we give others permission not to be perfect as well.”

She sees the creative process as a metaphor. “When we take random scraps of something and give it a purpose, over and over, it makes it easier for us to draw a parallel in our own lives. We can zoom out and see that random pointless events are being woven into something more purposeful and beautiful. And that point is amplified when it occurs in community.”  

Comfortable authenticity is a goal worth pursuing, and it’s especially useful to anyone whose self-image has been weakened or fractured by life events. Ellis is currently working on fundraisers and is pursuing grant opportunities to provide scholarships to classes for those who might benefit. If you’d like to become involved, contact her through her Facebook page.

Know an entrepreneur whose story needs to be told? Email Patti Summers in the Waldron Center. psummers@harding.edu.