7 ways to know a BAMer (and a cowboy) is for real

In early June each year the rodeo season in Oregon kicks off with the Sisters Rodeo. Four hundred cowboys drive into town with their horse trailers and teammates and compete for the prize money of champion calf roping, steer wrestling, bronco riding, bull riding and similar high risk activities.

And many would-be cowboys also ride into town in high priced motor homes, or luxury vehicles parked at 4-star hotels. These also walk around with classy cowboy boots, buckles and cool hats. How does one know the real cowboy from these dudes strolling down main street looking for a place for a $40 steak?

I was a cowboy for a weekend – twice! I guess I am a slow learner because I did not pass the test – the test of a real cowboy. Sure I can ride a horse and stay on one without fear but it is so much more. I grew up loving the old cowboy songs like, El Paso, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Amarillo by Morning, and Cool Water. But that never made me a cowboy.

What marks a real cowboy?

What is a real cowboy? Is it the hat? Is it the boots and wranglers? Is it the Skol stuffed into the lower jaw? Maybe it is the horse or the chaps or the rope? Maybe the saddle, the spurs or the horse trailer?

No, the test of a real cowboy is on the ranch of real-life activities or in the arena in front of 8,000 people living up to the expectations of the ride, or the rope. The key questions are: can he stay on any animal, no matter how wild? Can he use a rope to bring in a ‘dogie’? Can he mark a horse out of the chute? And can he wrestle a half ton steer to the ground? Can he actually do it? He is a real cowboy because he can do those things.

What marks a real BAMer?

What about Business as Mission (BAM)? ‘BAMer’ is a term often used to describe a person operating a Kingdom business in another country in another culture and language. What can he or she do? What are the behaviors and actions and activities which indicate this person might be for real?

A BAMer is a person with the requisite Competence, Character, Commitment and Charisma1 (these are topics for another article), but what then are the activities they demonstrate? What can they do?

1. Spirituality: A BAMer has a robust theology of work with an understanding that marketplace activity is worship; their business is ministry no less than any other ministry. He demonstrates this in his walk with God both in private and at work. He has a vital devotional life of study of the Word and in prayer. He treats business activity as a spiritual activity.

Thomas, manager of Barrington Gifts in Asia says “every day on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship”. On a daily basis he integrates a life of faith and following Jesus with the work of the business, and employees see that in everyday business and life.

2. Cultural understanding and appreciation: A BAMer respects culture and is a student of it for his lifetime.He is constantly growing in the language, listening for cultural nuances and loving people within the culture. He is continually curious and the nationals notice and value it. They have friends in both the national and expat community.

That is true for Rob and his family in Indonesia. They work hard at speaking the language well, respect the culture and the employees “love working for Rob” because he values them, does things with them outside of work hours, and treats them fairly.

3. GRIT: GRIT is – Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity. He does not give up and works hard to accomplish the vision and realize the potential of his God-given wiring and the opportunities of the business.

That has certainly been true of Lee who started a business in a former Soviet republic and before long his partner had stolen his assets and left him penniless. I called him and asked him what he was going to do now. He readily responded by saying, “I have gone down the street and have opened a new office and started over.” Lee had grit.

4. Team orientation: A BAMer realizes that no person can do everything herself. As entrepreneur Ernesto Sirolli affirms, “this world has never seen a person who can make it, sell it, and keep track of the money”. A good entrepreneur understands this. And good BAMers understand this and develop team members who have the varied skills of production, management, marketing, accounting, financial management etc.

Britanny understood that as she and others started Baku Roasting Company. She brought coffee production skills to the table but she surrounded herself with capital developers, managers, operational people, marketers, HR experts, an accountant and legal advice. The result – two stores in that city totally independent and sustainable.

5. Tolerance for risk: Risk is a quality of entrepreneurs, but business developers also are generally not risk averse. There are so many uncertainties to living and working in corrupt and politically unstable countries that a high tolerance of risk is mandatory. This is so true for a Jesus-follower since religious intolerance is a concern worldwide. So much of risk management is to mitigate it, but sometimes one needs to realize that to “carry our cross” is a daily necessity.

For Dave and Susie in the Balkans, a tolerance for risk became mandatory when they experienced political, religious and economic conditions destroy their first agribusiness. They continued on, learning tolerance for the cultural, economic and political irregularities and making friends with local Muslim religious and political leaders in the city.

6. Servant Leadership skills: First and foremost a BAM leader is a servant as modeled by Jesus. While serving others, the leader respects the management skills, financial expertise and production abilities of all team members. He is there to help employees and team members develop, grow and serve. The org chart has the servant leader at the bottom, serving all others to the “greater glory of God.”

That is certainly true of Bill who was called by an employee, “the best boss in all of China” simply because he cared for her family, and loved them as a servant.

7. Long haul mentality: A BAMer knows that he or she must be a life-long learner, must stay until God makes it clear that it is time to depart. This is not a short-term assignment, but a commitment which can be demonstrated over enough time to see the results of the quadruple bottom line: profitability/sustainability; SME job creation; spiritual and social transformation; and stewardship of creation.

Ryan and Jana started ABC English School and stayed long enough to see a profitable business emerge, job creation for 65 employees and lives transformed as they became disciples of Jesus. Without that long-term commitment, it is doubtful that success would have followed them.

These are just some of the things which show the world that a BAMer is for real. He or she is doing these things. They demonstrate spirituality, the value of culture and servant leadership. Everyone can see their grit and tolerance for risk and that they are in it for the long haul. They show a team orientation. Such a BAMer is a real cowboy – a real BAMer!

1 Charisma is defined by Peter Shaukat to mean the “stirring up” of God-given gifts.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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