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Building a Business in China from Scratch at the Age of 25

Interview with Ben B. of the Silk Road Leather Company - Ben's company sent him to China at age 25 to start a leather goods factory from scratch. The goal was to use this company as a base for building God's kingdom in their community. Six years later and with lots of help from neighbors and friends, the company is producing millions of dollars worth of leather goods every year, and making a positive impact in local lives. Check out this interview with Ben...

Due to the sensitive nature of this company's work, this article uses pseudonyms.

Q: What does the phrase “God’s kingdom” mean to you?

Jesus talks about this many times in the Gospels. He seemed to want us to be focused on this kingdom, which the apostle Paul referred to as the "unseen", and do our best not to get caught up in the "temporary" things around us. We are told to seek first his kingdom. Our goal is to proactively seek new ways to do kingdom-oriented work throughout the day, whether that be selling, writing e-mails, manufacturing, talking to a colleague, spending time with family, or doing after-hours "ministry projects". Whatever we do, we want to make sure it's kingdom-oriented.

Q: What did you study at University?

I studied computer science at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Q: What was your first job out of University, and how did you make that decision?

After finishing college, I ended up moving to London and getting a job doing computer programming working on projects for the UK government. After spending my senior year and a few months job searching, I just couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to do: computer work, "full-time ministry", be an artist? But advice from a wise and respected elder was, "Go use your computer degree and figure out how to depend on God to be a computer programmer." That didn't make any sense to me at the time, but over the next two years of computer programming, I learned some of what he meant. For example, I needed to depend on Him in order to get along with annoying colleagues, to serve my demanding boss well, and to do my work with integrity.

Q: Why did the owners of the Silk Road Leather Company decide to start a China factory six years ago?

The owners were introduced to the concept of using your business to do ministry work overseas by a friend. They had already been importing from Asia for 15 years, but had never considered starting a manufacturing plant. But this idea struck a chord with them, and they realized that owning their own factory would mean they never again have to worry about whether their products are being made in a dodgy Asian sweatshop. Not only did it make sense from a Kingdom perspective of wanting to bless their employees and community, but the business opportunities seemed good as well: shorten turnaround time, improve cash flow, reduce quality issues, improve communication... Slowly but surely, they decided to embark on the endeavor.

Q: In what daily ways do you see God's kingdom unfolding in the office?

For me, it's mostly the way I interact with people. I want to see the people around me as God's children, not as barriers between myself and the task I want to accomplish. I want to treat them as I would want to be treated. I seek opportunities to train them--build them up--and help them learn eternal skills. For example, serving is something that we will be doing in heaven, and we get to practice every day in our Customer Service department. God's universe is very orderly, and I think that will be a valuable skill that we can use if we get to manage cities in God's kingdom (Luke 19:17). The more we can be practicing these eternal skills during our work day, the more our time will be used effectively for the kingdom.

Q: What specific, personal actions do you take at work to facilitate growth of God’s Kingdom here in the company?

I've come to view my job much like that of a church pastor. Our company's community doesn't just include our 60 employees, but also their families, our neighbors, our suppliers, our customers, and more. I can't try to minister to these thousands of people alone, but like a pastor, I must shepherd the flock that I'm responsible for and motivate them towards building God's kingdom in this community. I can't try to do all the work myself. I must help set the vision, communicate the goals, and empower them with proper training and tools to make sure they're working in the right direction. I must be a good role model, lest I undermine what I'm saying. It's a difficult balance to keep the company going (profits are like oxygen to a company) and also to not get overly focused on the "temporary" things around us. But that is the great challenge and opportunity that we have before us!

Q: Can you please share a specific story about the "kingdom of God" unfolding here at the Silk Road Leather Company?

One time we had a summer intern, from the United States, and I challenged this young lady to try to discover what our ministry was and find a way to proactively join in and make a contribution during her short stay. She discovered that teamwork, unity, and interpersonal relationships were a key part of our ministry, so she drew upon an idea from her past work experience: organizing a potluck dinner for employees. Since the Olympics were about to start in China that year, she decided to do an Olympic-themed potluck dinner. Even though she didn't speak Chinese, she succeeded in communicating with our Chinese staff to organize this event. In the end, it was an Olympic themed sporting competition--including hoola hoops, limbo, and more--and not a potluck dinner. But it was a great team building exercise, and really blessed our employees’ relationships. It is when we have healthy relationships within the company that people are willing to go out of their way to love and serve each other, which is core to our kingdom-oriented goals. I was so proud of that intern's creative contribution.

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posted by Justin Forman | 9.23.2009 - 7:28 AM

4 Comments:

This is a great article and a good example of doing bussiness for the King of Kings. We sure do learn alot from this, yea as it is not easy to do bussiness for the kingdom. There are invaluable lessons to learn from this as we read deeply and have our mind and spirit in tune to what God is trying to tell us as Kingdom builders.Realtionship, Patience,Faith, Prayer, Vision,Leadership, Wisdom,Integrity,Modelling and Character etc makes a successful bussiness and to be able to impact lives where God has called us. and thanks for bringing this article.

Godbless.

Johnny.Q
commented by Blogger johnnykool, 6:24 PM  

Sadly well meaning articles like this get factories like this shut down in China. I pray that is not the case here.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:32 PM  

Fortunately, we serve a sovereign God who decides what factory stays in business and what gets shut down.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 11:02 AM  

Not shut down yet... 1 year later. God is sovereign.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:03 PM  

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