‘Being a full-time campus worker isn’t the only way to impact your university. You can also transform your campus for Jesus by being an excellent scientist.’
James had come to the conference because he wanted to make Jesus known in the world, but wanted to know, would this mean giving up his plans to pursue biochemistry and a PhD? The professor leading this workshop didn’t seem to think so and today, neither does James. He is working full-time at a university laboratory in a large Asian city, surrounded by millions of people who have never heard the gospel. They are getting to know James as a fine scientist who believes in Jesus, a strange yet intriguing combination.
James is not a traditional OMF worker, he’s a volunteer. His job at the university provides a salary, visa and other arrangements to live in the country, where he connects with students and scientists who would probably never meet a Christian otherwise. However, like any other cross-cultural worker, he needs support and accountability to be effective. James is grateful for the connection to an OMF team. They provide a Christian community serious about sharing the good news of Jesus, encourage him to share his faith, and help him to navigate the complexities of the local culture.
Much work has been done in the last decade exploring the area where vocation and mission intersect, often called marketplace ministry. Encouraging developments include a Lausanne-sponsored Global Workplace Forum, and significant annual conferences about Business as Mission. Initiatives like Scatter Global – an agency that helps professionals find work globally – seek to encourage Christians to use their professional skills as a route to meet people they can share their faith with. However, these marketplace workers can find themselves working alone in a cross-cultural context, unable to find a mission agency, or supportive local Christian community, that understands their vocation as strategic ministry. Back home, the church where they grew up or have roots, may not see marketplace ministry as ‘real missionary work’ and so has not supported them in any way.
The sushi was delicious, one of the perks of dinner meetings in Tokyo, but it was the conversation that I was looking forward to most. I was meeting Dave and Phil, who have worked in Japan for years, forging a friendship around their common passion to introduce their Japanese colleagues to Jesus.
Dave works for an international accounting firm, and Phil is a software developer. Although they were somewhat jealous of traditional foreign missionaries who had more time and flexibility for talking about their faith, they also recognised that their full-time jobs gave them opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with Japanese professionals, who those traditional missionaries would rarely meet.
I was enjoying their stories of discipleship in the workplace, but wondered if they felt well supported with prayer and encouragement in these strategic roles. ‘I’ve lost touch with my church back home,’ Dave replied, ‘and they wouldn’t care anyway.’ Noticing that both Phil and I were a bit dismayed, Dave explained that although his church supported traditional missionaries serving in Japan, they didn’t see Dave in the same way. He had simply moved there for his career. Dave had given up trying and lost touch with the church over the years.
How can we help marketplace workers develop a strong relationship with their church which is one of the essential components of effective cross-cultural ministry? In his book The Marketspace Larry McCrary states, ‘The church needs to learn to identify, network, encourage, and equip these marketspace workers and elevate their role in Great Commission work to the same level of validity as any commissioned missionary’.1
Phil’s church is a model of this. They understood his calling to reach the Japanese through his vocation, committed themselves to pray for him and encouraged him in practical ways where there was a need.
Have you ever thought of moving somewhere else in the world to do your current job? When someone from your church takes a job overseas, could you hold a commissioning service instead of a farewell party?
OMF has opportunities to serve in East Asia in many areas including medicine, teaching, IT, engineering, veterinary practice, accounting, coaching, social work and research. We can work with you, to find a placement based on your skills and experience. We can also work with your church, so they support you in prayer and encourage you in this strategic ministry, whether you need financial support or not.
Perhaps God has a lab coat, or a workspace somewhere in the world with your name on it!
OMF Marketplace Ministry Champion
1 McCrary, Larry E. 2018. The Marketspace: The Essential Relationships Between The Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team. Kindle. USA: The Upstream Collective, pg. 59