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In Business to Thrive in Hard-to-Reach Places

Jesus urged his disciples to count the cost of following him, concluding with the words, “Anyone of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33, ESV). Most of us haven’t paid a very high price for our faith, but in the Central Asian country where Encompass missionaries Dan and Ellen1 serve, it’s not an overstatement to say that when people decide to follow Jesus, they lose everything.

They first lose their family. The relationships they hold most dear are taken away. It’s not uncommon for converts to be kidnapped and held hostage by their families in hopes that they will renounce their faith in Christ—and if they refuse, all contact is broken off. Then they’re isolated from the community to the point that they’re no longer able to conduct business and make a living. In a culture where professional life depends almost entirely on who you know, the effects of converting to a minority faith are often devastating.

In this environment, churches struggle to survive, let alone thrive.

Job scarcity has led to mass migration, compounding the problem. Ten years ago the biggest church in Dan and Ellen’s city had about 130 members. Attendance has shrunk to 25. Dan asks, “If a church loses its leaders and the stable, serving families go, how can it grow?”

Dan and Ellen believe that one answer to the church’s challenges lies in helping members start businesses. They offer coaching and technological support to help convert ideas to strategic plans, and they craft strategies to help fund business ventures.

Ongoing technological business support is a vital component of the work, which creates a platform for building relationships over time. Dan describes it this way: “We want believers to stay in hard-to-live areas and to help them make disciples through their businesses, and technological systems help that.”

The need for this kind of technological structure has provided many opportunities.

One such project has been to help pastors in surrounding villages run a side business of selling chicken feed and providing expertise on raising chickens. The service they provide is so vital to the local economy that Muslims are willing to work with them, and some are even open to hearing about their faith in the process.

Dan has also helped a local Christian gym owner turn his failing business around. Once in danger of closing, the gym has doubled its profits and recently hired more employees. Although the gym has lost customers because of its Christian reputation, they have also seen customers return from time to time, and business is currently healthy.

Dan and Ellen want to help start two locally-run businesses per year, and they’re positioned well to meet that goal. In fact, their business-for-the-church model has been so effective that Christians from surrounding countries are now asking if they can come help with projects.

“They can see that it’s working, and they want to use their abilities to help,” Dan says. “With this model, I feel like we’ve put in a little work and seen a lot of results. It gives me a lot of hope for the church going forward.”

A healthy economy contributes to a healthy church.

As people are able to make a living, they are able to offer their time, talent, and treasure to their church communities. Dan and Ellen’s creative mission model is contributing to the local culture, the local economy, and the local church—a triple-win in a challenging environment for ministry.

To learn more about how you can be involved in work like this, email go@encompassworld.org.

1 Not their real names.