We live in a 4,000 year old city, along with 25 million others. Pollution fills the air like a grey soup and the economy is in a permanent struggle to keep ahead of population growth. Yet the noise and chaos brings a captivating vibrancy to the place we call home. Hanging over this society are deep divisions between rich and poor, women and men, and between Christians and Muslims resulting in brokenness, mistrust and violence. As a minority, Christians often focus on self-preservation and separate themselves from the majority Muslims.
Eight years ago, corruption, injustice, poverty and lost opportunity drove the Middle East into revolution. In the midst of this, my family was seeking God and felt called to business for transformation. We were convinced that business has the potential to impact the financial, social and spiritual aspects of people’s lives. We soon found ourselves wearing aprons, serving coffees and baking cakes for our new, tiny coffee business!
Since then, it’s been a journey of hard work, stress, miracles and joy! Our business brings together people from marginalised backgrounds and provides a safe space for training and discipleship. We are now a community where we work, learn, laugh, eat and pray together. Sounds nice? Maybe, but the journey doesn’t always feel nice. In fact, it’s REALLY HARD.
One of our team, Ash, joined us from a slum area with dreams of being an accountant. I recall his extreme discomfort when I took him for his first visit to a bank! He was brought up in an environment where violence was normal. His father beat his mother and his brother followed in his footsteps. Ash would have made a perfect drug lord. He was angry most of the time and was always ready for a fight. There would have been many fist fights with other team members if I hadn’t physically held him back.
We strive to model and operate by Godly principles including love, grace and forgiveness. This was difficult for Ash’s colleagues whom he often offended and frightened. Yet today, Ash is part of the management team of two men and two women, after insisting for a long while that business is only for men. He is now dependable and supportive of all of his colleagues. His faith has grown and it’s become normal for him to discuss matters of faith with both Christians and Muslims.
Mary is another team member from a slum area who battled with her family to get a basic education and find work against her parents’ wishes that she only prepare for marriage and children. Mary is an evangelical Christian which is unusual here and we were excited by the potential of her working with us. However, Mary’s behaviour towards her colleagues was far from salt and light. Her deep insecurities and fears poured out on her colleagues in the form of verbal abuse, bitterness and unforgiveness while showing a completely different side in our Bible studies. I was frustrated!
We came to a moment of confrontation when I was prepared to fire her. However, that same morning my wonderful wife and business partner told me that God had been speaking to her about how we should be growing in love for our team. Ouch! Love is an interesting concept. 1 John 3:16 talks about giving up our lives for our brothers and sisters. Who is our brother and sister? What does giving up our lives mean? 1 John 4:18 also tells us that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
I suddenly realised that fear was in the way of God’s love. I was challenged to allow God’s love to remove my own fear. Only then could I really show love to Mary. Only then can I help Mary start to overcome her fears and the destructive force they were having on colleagues. It starts with me!
Striving to constantly grow in God and demonstrating His love is hard work. But we have seen enormous joy and fulfilment in seeing God’s transforming love impact lives through our business.
Jacob and his family live in the Middle East, working in business for transformation.
All names have been changed.