When we speak of international business from a Christian perspective, we understand this requires the entrepreneur to embrace an incarnational lifestyle. Perhaps this is best illustrated through the story of Hannah*, one of our MDE members.
“Well, if you wanted to buy a red dress, how would you find out about that?” my local advisor, Sully, asked. “In our culture, you would never ask someone where to buy a red dress.” We were discussing how to find suppliers for a textile unique to our region. I had been disappointed more than once in supplier-buyer relationships, and I was ready to listen. Sully had been introduced to me by my MDE mentor who had previously served in South Asia.
Sully told me that it takes three years to build trust and mutual respect in relationships. I had found trust to be an issue, particularly with our suppliers. Some were motivated for personal profit at the expense of the relationship. Others were too polite to refuse our order, and their disinterest only became clear months later. Business relationships demand trust, but in our adopted community, the steps to building trust were a mystery to me.
“Here, you wait until the topic of clothing comes up in a conversation,” Sully explained “You then interject ‘I hear sometimes people buy red dresses. Have you ever heard of that?’ Then you listen to learn how much they know about red dresses. Only through numerous conversations can you determine their knowledge and their interest in honoring their relationship with you.”
In the weeks that followed, I took Sully’s advice. After many dead-end conversations, the day came when a friend knew something. That friend’s mother’s neighbor’s grandson lived in the village where our needed textile was made. Still, it was months before my business partner and I squeezed into a car with my friend, her mother, and the driver and went to that village. We were introduced, like visiting dignitaries, to all the necessary parties. We stood in trusting silence as they all easily moved between the local and trade languages.
It continues to amaze me how these people brought us into their circle, trusted us, and put their own reputations on the line to take us to the people who are producing our “red dress.” The business relationship with these suppliers is different because the foundation was laid differently. We have put this relationship to the test over the past year. Things have gone wrong from the initial design to producing the final product; but through it all, the trust and mutual respect remains firm.
We are here to start a business and share the beauty of this region of South Asia with the world through the locally made handcrafts and textiles. We are also here to share biblical values based on God’s love for people. One day we will be able to share His story in their local language. But even now, as we live here and submit to the pattern of relating that they understand, Christ’s gospel is being incarnated in ways we could not have envisioned.
*Name changed for privacy.