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Serving or Being Served? By Larry Weins

As in most things that we do for others or for the Lord, we often get more out of it than the intended recipient. In May 2006, I made a decision to go to Indonesia with rēp, a San Francisco Bay Area organization that trains voluntary business consultants to go abroad on short-term business missions ventures to mobilize medium-sized businesses for the Kingdom of God (http://www.repurposing.biz/).

On my trip, I was blessed to have Opa* as my "client." Opa arrived at the two-week business consulting seminar with a twenty-seven page manual describing his corporation's strategy for growing the Kingdom. My initial reaction was that he should be teaching the seminar—and that reaction proved to be spot on.

After our team’s initial seminar kickoff in Jakarta, Opa and I took off for two days to fly to the neighboring island of Sumatra to visit his company. This venture took place in North Sumatra—one of the most populated provinces of Indonesia. We arrived at 9 P.M. and found his Corporate Kingdom Committee waiting at the office to brief me on their policies and actions. What follows are some of the discoveries I uncovered—that with elegant detail and strategy they were living out a Kingdom mindset in their business.

I first noticed an image of a dove when I entered the office. Opa said that all cultures see the dove as a symbol of peace, and this sends a message to both Muslims and Christians that a company is safe and fair. The picture behind Opa's desk is one of Moses. Moses is respected by both religions, Opa added. And unlike other businesses, Opa's office building is neat and clean, and had the only employee parking lot in town.

I learned that the company leaders more than tithe on corporate profits—not personal income—for the purpose of building churches, supporting education for women, and backing evangelism.
Opa owns 10 plantations and employs 600 (mostly Muslim) workers. Beautiful tree orchards and blooming flowers greeted us everywhere on the plantations, along with clean, well-maintained office buildings. In addition, the employees who choose to live on the plantations keep flower gardens in front of their houses.

Other company amenities include athletic fields and basketball courts. This is uncommon in the United States and unheard of in Indonesia.

The corporation was well run and delegated. Everyone I met knew their job and their role in the big picture, and they were comfortable telling Opa about their goals, targets, and plans to achieve them. It was apparent that Opa did not micromanage his employees. I met management personnel who had worked 10 to 15 years with the company and some who had been with the company from its inception over 20 years ago.

For Muslim workers, Opa also built small mosques on each plantation. Similarly, he paid for his oldest employee’s pilgrimage to Mecca. The employee was an 80-year-old Muslim elder who, after the pilgrimage, continued to remind the Muslim community not to give Opa any trouble when it arose because he said that Opa was his adopted son.

After Opa built five mosques for his workers, the Muslim community didn’t object to him building a church. The church he is building will hold 300 to 400 people, which Opa sees as a gain for Believers.

But, in spite of Opa's many good works, the Muslim business community, police and judges have often tried to accuse him falsely to get monetary bribes, a common Indonesian business practice. Opa consistently refuses to pay kickbacks and once endured over 20 days of police interrogation.

Soon after I left Indonesia, officials falsely accused Opa again, and this time, a judge sentenced him to jail. When I heard about his imprisonment, I tried calling his cell phone. Surprisingly, he answered it in jail and told me he was imprisoned along with an estimated 1,500 inmates. Three hundred of them were Christian.

The next time I called, Opa said they had started a Bible study in jail. A successive call revealed that he and the prisoners grew the study into a church of over 200. A couple of months later, he said the church was over 300 people and they were requesting Christian pastors to come in to teach them. Finally, on one of the last calls I made to Opa, he asked that we stop praying for him to be released, because he said he was where God wanted him to be.

Opa is a single man who has no worries about family. He also never worries about his company. It is well managed and does fine without him. After about 10 months, Opa served his sentence and was released.

It was a privilege for me to walk at a "safe distance" through this experience with my "brother." I have learned much, and I have been changed from this encounter. Specifically, I learned three lessons from this experience that continue to challenge me in my Western business practice.
First we need to hold onto our possessions and status loosely. Secondly, we need to trust those who work with us and prepare them to be able to succeed without us. And lastly, we need to view every opportunity and situation as a potential to serve the Lord. Sometimes what he asks us to do will seem outlandish to others but if it’s God’s design, he will give us peace about it and it will no doubt influence others for the Kingdom.

___________________________________________________

Larry is a rēp consultant who is humble, generous and well respected “in the sight of men and in the sight of God.” He traveled with rēp on one of the organization’s first business consulting ventures to Indonesia.

rēp is the business missions arm of The Institute, a management consulting firm that mobilizes, equips and deploys businesspeople to use their skills to build the kingdom of God.

*Opa – Name changed to protect client.

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posted by Justin Forman | 7.21.2009 - 7:25 AM

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