Working in a Foreign Land
Someone who glances at the title of this inspirational piece might conclude I am writing about some kind of missionary work in Africa or some other far away country. It might be concluded that I have decided to start saving lost souls, like I remember in some of the revival services I witnessed as a kid. While that has not been the thrust of the myriad of pieces I have written heretofore, maybe I finally “got religion” and am now doing something worthwhile.
For the person who concludes this, I am going to be a serious disappointment. While I do not put down the experience or commitment that underlies such a missionary effort somewhere else than home, it has not been my pathway. I hope I would be obedient if God were to lead me that way, but so far that has not been my leading. Instead, much of my ministry is done in the context of a college and with rather traditional-age students. It is in that context I have strived to be obedient to a spiritual leading.
So where does the title come from? How do I talk about living in a foreign land? Of course, literally foreign lands are those countries far distant from our own. In my case foreign lands would be Africa, China or Australia. I could do the kind of work in those three geographical areas (and have done some in those places). But that is not the kind of work in a foreign land I am describing.
Perhaps surprisingly, the foreign land I am describing in the title is the world of business. The foreign land is the land of big corporations---often very global in their reach. It is the land of the small business and family businesses. It is the land where effort is apparently driven by the quest for a buck---profitability is the goal. I admit this is not my native land. My career work has been in a very different land---the land of the Spirit. Ministry has been my job. And I have not made much money and profit is measured by some other means than the buck.
Periodically, I leave my spiritual land and wander into a foreign land---the land of business. In many ways the language of that land is strange. Even though it usually is English, I am not very fluent in it. I get the basics, but the subtleties often escape my understanding. People get excited at places where I am not even smiling. I stand with folks having coffee and hear about P&L, ROI and so forth. I smile to cover my lack of understanding.
And yet, oddly, I have learned to fit into this land. Business folks even invite me into their midst to share what I know and lead them into discussions that may positively affect their businesses. I love doing the work and sometimes am rewarded in ways I never experience in my normal ministry. It makes me laugh at life’s quirkiness. So let me explain.
I have written a couple books with a business friend. In and of itself, that has been a fun and learning process. It has moved me from having little affinity to business to a pretty good understanding and appreciation for the positive, creative role business plays in our society. It has destroyed many of my not-so-healthy stereotypes of that world.
As simplistic as it seems, a huge breakthrough was to learn to see the businessperson and not focus solely on the business. Once I saw I was dealing with people, I could easily grasp the role I could play. Especially since I was teaming with a guy who knows more about business than most of the people with whom we were dealing, I was freed up to bring what I know to the table. And what I know is a great deal about how human beings want meaning and purpose in their lives. And I know how to help people begin to get meaning and purpose---regardless of what they do for a living. I realized people were hungry for what I know and what I could teach them.
While I had no sense that I was going to contribute to their bottom line profitability, I soon learned I could profit them as spiritual humans in ways they found unbelievable. I became richer with a whole new group of friends and soul mates. I don’t know that I saved their souls, but in many cases I do think I helped them be saved from a robotic, sometimes purpose-less life.
Meaning and purpose can be found in work and, surely, in businesses. But deeper meaning and purpose is a spiritual thing. You can buy it or sell it. Certainly, you can’t rent it! But you can have it---it’s free and usually graciously given. Of course, we have to do our part. We may have to put in some time and make wise investments with our time and commitments. But the thrill of watching business folks do this is very rewarding.
As one who has travelled quite a bit, the more time you spend in a “foreign land,” the less it seems foreign. It’s just different. We are all humans on a quest for meaning and purpose that comes to all from a generous, gracious Spirit.