Years of running a small business in Turkey can leave a person a bit jaded. I find myself at times looking down at the corrupt society around me, wondering if there are any honest people doing business here. Beyond the cynicism, I sometimes slip into arrogance as I discuss the differences between the challenges I face here and those I would face in an idealized “Western” business world I pretend to remember.
My fantasies fade though in the face of the rampant greed and corruption that have brought the world financial system to the brink of failure in my home country. This is a stark reminder that the world is a dark place, whether it’s Istanbul, New York, London or Tokyo.
Those of us engaged in BAM struggle to shine a light in a dark place. Our light seems very small and the darkness is vast. The crisis reminds us that darkness doesn’t disappear when we get back to “Christendom.” The light needs to be shone in every country and every economy.
We BAM’ers can easily become confused about our calling. So much of our challenge is to teach and model proper ways to manage and to plan in a difficult culture. We struggle with customers, suppliers and employees trying to show them how a plan can work, how contracts can be honored and how it’s right to care for our employees .
In all of our daily struggles we can forget that western entrepreneurial capitalism is not the Good News . The Good News is that Jesus brings redemption to a fallen world , that he redeems broken lives living in broken societies with broken economies. Redemption doesn’t come through a proper reading of Adam Smith, but through the living presence of Jesus in the form of his followers, you and me, as we live and work in this fallen world. That’s what BAM is really about. We minister through our businesses by doing right, by refusing the ways of the world and by shining our small lights in the deep darkness, where even a small light can be blinding.
We need to show through our lives and our words that our care is for God’s lost and hurting children. We want to demonstrate the truth of God’s goodness in creating an orderly world where creativity can bring solutions to people’s problems and hope to their lives. And we need to speak that message to the church and to society in our home countries as much as in Turkey, wherever the darkness reigns.
There is a good type of capitalism that creates jobs, gives freedom to individuals and makes allowances for those who are weak or outside the system. In contrast there is the dog-eat-dog type of capitalism that builds power on power and wealth on wealth, that takes advantage of every opportunity with no concern for those left out in the cold by the system.
Many Western Christians have succumbed to the siren call of maximizing profits and doing whatever it takes to increase the net present value of future cash flows. Profit is good and necessary in a company, but when profit becomes The Purpose for a firm it is headed for problems. Making profit is like breathing. If you stop breathing you die—it’s vital. But no one has ever told me their life purpose was to breathe. It’s vital, yes, but it’s not an end. Profit is similar. A firm needs profit to survive, but profit can’t be the only goal.
In 1889 Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man in the United States. He wrote an essay in which he reflected on his own wealth and the duty of the rich which he called “The Gospel Of Wealth” http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/rbannis1/AIH19th/Carnegie.html.
Carnegie gave away 90% of his assets before he died and built over 2500 libraries. The redemptive face of capitalism is the face of a child of God who cares for those in need and uses his or her gifts to care for those in need. That’s BAM.
Robert Andrews – a long time BAM’er living in Turkey