For Stuart Hake, his personal venture into missions has been mind-bending.
“I’ve come to recognize that much of our thinking about mission has been influenced by Greek thinking-that spiritual is superior to physical,” he says. “The problem with that is it is not biblical. We base so much of what we do on an unbiblical concept.”
In the summer of 2008, Stuart and his wife, Debby, left their comfortable life in northern Indiana and moved to Bangkok, Thailand. He had spent the previous 12 years as chief financial officer at Grace Brethren International Missions (GBIM). She had a successful career teaching disabled children in the local public school system. Their three children were grown and settled in careers or families of their own.
“I’m recognizing I have only so many years left in my life where I can invest my life for the kingdom,” says Stuart.
In Bangkok, his focus has been to explore business as mission, a concept that encourages economic development at the local level, providing support for the physical needs of the indigenous people while teaching them about Jesus. It’s a biblical mandate that seemed largely forgotten throughout much of the 20th Century and only in recent years has been re-invigorated as thousands of Christian workers around the world strive to share God’s love with the poorest of the poor while helping them learn to support themselves.
The Hakes are virtually self-supporting, needing to raise only about a third of the support a traditional missionary must raise. Though sent by their home congregation, the Winona Lake (Ind.) Grace Brethren Church (Bruce Barlow, lead pastor), Debby joined the staff of the International Community School to help with their support. (The English-speaking school uses biblical principles in their teaching methodology.)
“It’s demeaning to the people we are working with to assume they are needy and we’re not,” Stuart stresses. He feels it leads to an attitude of superiority on the part of the missionary, even if unintentional. “Let’s find out what assets they (the nationals) have,” he adds. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want to assist; we just don’t want to cripple them by doing things they can do for themselves.”
Wayne Hannah, who travels regularly in Asia as the GBIM director for that region, sees business-as-mission as “planting uniquely cultivated, contextualized seeds.”
“We kept bumping up against a cultural glass ceiling,” he remembers. To develop a ministry among many of the unreached people groups was difficult. “We couldn’t go further. There were cultural, linguistic, and economic barriers.”
He also notes that those who study church-planting movements say that to the extent that a people depend upon a subsidy from the west, there is an inverse correlation, to that extent they will not likely reach their own people with the gospel.
“We need to encourage enterprise on a small scale to help the nationals subsidize themselves,” he recognizes. “When that happens, stand aside. When they take ownership, you see that God can empower them to reach their own people.”
Stuart has spent the last year analyzing the region to determine what methods fit best in GBIM’s ministries in Southeast Asia. Soon there will be nearly 12 staff members who will have some role in holistic or benevolence ministries and businesses in the region, according to Wayne, who has overseen missions in Asia for 14 years. He hopes to take the concept of holistic missions throughout Asia.
“It’s a way to approach a country and reach the least reached,” Wayne says. “Without it, the national church will never take full ownership to reach their own people.”
Stuart hopes to play a role in one of four ways-as a consultant with enterprises created by missionaries to work with local people; to mentor interns or students coming to Southeast Asia to learn or study; to be a catalyst for business as mission while promoting the concept in U.S. churches and with business people or pastors; and possibly working as a professional manager in an existing business in the region.
The recent economic downturn has only emboldened Stuart in his quest. “People are seeking help,” he says. “We need to be positioned to help people in all aspects of their lives.”
(Editor’s Note: If you would like to help Stuart and Debby Hake in their unique mission, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)