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Homebuilding in Albania for God

Excerpt from Janet Maxim's Article 'Business as Mission - Service to Man as Service to God' Click here to read the full article.

Unlike governments, which impose detailed regulations on business, owners of a “Kingdom business” follow a higher authority. Their integrity is intangible but also structural. “Integrity is a literal thing in our business,” explains Grant Van Cleve, a partner in Vista Group, a developer and home builder in Albania. Van Cleve says government building inspections in this recovering post communist nation are sporadic and mostly a guise for collecting bribes, not a deterrent to shoddy construction. “The temptation is to sneak in lower-quality products that the customer will never see.” Van Cleve and his Albanian partner, Mimi Kruja, say they battle daily against “corruption, laziness, aggressiveness, suspicion, and scapegoating.”

Why do they do it? “Because of who God is. He is a God of perfect integrity,” says Van Cleve: “We honor our contracts and use the quality materials we have promised our clients. We go back and fix bad quality workmanship. Maybe you can get away with it in the short term, but in the long run the market rewards integrity.”
Van Cleve’s story is like Jeri Little’s: business is in his blood and it has found its way into his ministry. The son of a successful southern California home builder, Van Cleve earned a degree from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School in 1991. His eyes were opened on a short-term mission trip to the Balkans. “In the Albanian leg I had the privilege of being among the first foreigners to spend time in the country after fifty years of extreme isolation,” he writes. “It was like being in the Wild West of American lore...completely anarchic.”

On the staff of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), Van Cleve jumped into his ministry: he learned the language and practiced relief work, evangelism and church planting, and began to collaborate with other Christian groups in mostly Muslim Albania. The country’s business skills were long-lost after decades of communism, and Albanian believers were hungry to take advantage of the newly-free market. They asked him how to do business.

In 2005 Van Cleve introduced real estate development to Albania. Van Cleve explains that under communism there was no private property ownership, and afterwards people “just kind of squatted on land and started building.” Communism also destroyed the work ethic: “There were no rewards for your work, so you worked the minimum possible, and only when you were being watched. People actually made a game out of seeing how much they could get away with. They were also forced to spy on each other, and they were always trying to undercut each other, so the deception was really deep, even among ‘friends’.” And there are further complications. In the West, much business is done online—but not in Albania. “Here, it’s all manual. It takes three months instead of three minutes. You have to stand in line in ten different offices to get ten different signatures—if they think it’s in their interest. Even then, the information you get may be wrong.” “Despite the challenges,” Van Cleve says, “we are actually inspired that we’re on the right track.”

Van Cleve and his wife Carina work for YWAM but their property development business is their primary ministry—to their employees, suppliers, other businessmen and government contacts. “Albanian believers are opening up to me like never before,” he wrote in a recent newsletter, “perhaps inspired that I’ve invested capital in their risky country, or simply that I care enough to want to help generate new jobs, or that I am treading with them through the perils of business life in corrupt Albania.” Though home building is their day-to-day occupation, the Vista Group is in the business of nation-building: person by person, business by business.

In his acclaimed book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (Basic Books, 2000) Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto says the lack of legal protection for private property explains economic underdevelopment, poverty and corruption. Grant Van Cleve agrees, but adds, “He misses the other dimension: there has to be personal transformation.”

For Ken Eldred the problem is “negative spiritual capital,” which accumulates in cultures lacking a Biblical foundation. The communist who rejects God values the individual only as much as he is useful to the state. But the Christian who loves and honors God loves and honors each person He has created. The signs of negative spiritual capital in a nation, says Eldred, are slavery, corruption, and an abuse of workers, while Biblical virtues such as honesty, fairness and generosity are positive spiritual capital, as well as the necessary foundation of sound business.
There is no quick fix or magic formula for success. However, the vision of BAM is not just a few good companies. The goal is to build the spiritual capital of nations. Vili Husac, the owner of Trim-Line Bakery in Romania, which employs 150 people, is now helping to launch a business employing at-risk women. He believes the purpose of his business is “first, to help my family;
then to help my friends; then to help my church; and then to help my community.”
Excerpt from Janet Maxim's Article 'Business as Mission - Service to Man as Service to God' Click here to read the full article.

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posted by Justin Forman | 7.16.2009 - 8:15 AM


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