Expats who are called to be salt and light in unreached communities have many common experiences. MDE seeks to be a student of their histories and insights so that we can offer business and mission support services where they are most needed.
Not long ago, two women had the opportunity to meet in a developing city in Central Asia. Their families had both come to the region fifteen years earlier. Yet they
never before had reason to meet. This day, they were brought together through mutual friends in the United States, and mutual friends in Central Asia. As they talked about their history and current opportunities, it was surprising how much their stories paralleled one another.
Marina* had worked for a sending organization but had found expanded opportunities by directing a nonprofit working with orphans. Over the course of the first year, it became clear that she and the sending organization had differing strategies and perspectives on how best to serve that community. Reluctantly, Marina requested that she be seconded to MDE. Her donors supported her in this decision and funding even increased to allow this shift to happen.
While listening to Marina’s story, Layla* nodded knowingly. She had come to the country with her husband and three young children under a newly formed BAM initiative from a traditional sending organization. Her husband’s prior career in construction provided a great opportunity to enter that industry in a developing city. He opened a local LLC and began hiring local workers. After struggling for almost a decade to establish the business and meet all commitments to the sending organization, they decided to disengage from the organization and work independently.
Working and living in the marketplace has provided opportunities to invest deeply in relationships, impact the community, and support local believers. But, trying to run a business has been a constant struggle. In reflecting on their experience, Layla said, “It seems like we have had more difficulties than successes. My husband does not consider himself a strong businessman, and it is not easy to manage a local LLC. There are many cumbersome regulations and corruption is rampant. We have never made enough to support ourselves–although that was not our first goal. However, we have always holistically cared for our workers and paid them justly for reasonable hours worked.” This practice is in contrast to how workers are normally treated in their city.
Marina, who closed the nonprofit and left the country in 2019, has returned to visit friends and former employees. She has been encouraged to see how they have used what they learned through the nonprofit to build new careers. Layla saw something similar when her husband transferred the activity of the business over to local men who have continued under their own business licenses. Layla and her husband are praying about their next steps.
It is difficult when businesses do not turn a profit or when a crisis brings a business to a close. Marina, teary-eyed, references scripture that says, “He is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”
Stories like these are repeated again and again wherever ex-pats gather. Even as a business can create opportunities for authentic presence, it also creates challenges that are managed better when the ex-pat can depend on counselors and business experts who are part of their extended team. MDE seeks to become that extended support team for those who share its vision.
*Names changed for privacy.