I met Dave Kier some years ago when he joined the board of IBEC Ventures, a Business as Mission consulting group I founded in 2006. I quickly learned of his amazingly successful career in the agribusiness world where he had grown a small animal feed business (DFS Feeds) into one of the largest in Iowa, but perhaps more importantly I learned of his keen love for Jesus and understanding of how his business can be ministry. The logical next step for Dave when he sold his business was to respond to God’s heart for the nations using business to accomplish the Quadruple Bottom Line. This is the story of his “Other Life” in his own words. It is filled with life lessons for all of us.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8 NASB®
When I was preparing for a recent journey, I was asked where we were going. I decided to explain what we are involved in my “other life”. My parents had long supported missionaries which brought several into our home while on furlough. Our church has also been avid supporters of missionaries and our company was active is supporting missionaries. However, several years back, I began asking the Lord if I should be doing more than giving a check. I am not a handy man, so short-term trips weren’t of much interest to me, and merely sitting in board meetings didn’t stir me as I am a roll up the sleeves and dig in kind of guy.
Some years ago, a friend of one of our daughters and her husband asked to meet with me to discuss the concept of Business as Mission (BAM or B4T). I was intrigued and met with him and a few other interested folks in Des Moines, Iowa, a couple of hours drive from our home and business. I wanted to use my skills, but I was a businessman. I am not an evangelist, I am not a construction guy, yet I still felt led to get more involved, thus, Business as Mission interested me.
At the time, I still had a growing business to lead, but when I was asked to go on a trip to Central Asia to visit a few projects, Jan and I decided I should go. The man I met in Des Moines was the new director for IBEC Ventures, so he, myself, and two other men took off for countries I never heard of – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. When in Kyrgyzstan, we met a group building a chicken business that produced young laying hens they sold to the locals who then grew them up to sell eggs into the local market. They held training schools to teach the locals how to raise layers and sell eggs while exposing them to the Gospel. Naturally, chickens need feed, something I know something about, and thus began my relationship with them which resulted in repeated trips to the country.
While in Kyrgyzstan, I met a couple of men from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area who were also giving them advice. One was a seasoned veteran at the consulting business (Noe) and the other was a large egg producer (Greg). We teamed up to serve the folks and developed a relationship that blossomed over the years. Noe and I travelled to several mission conferences and projects around the world over the next few years, which gave me a much better understanding of missions and Business as Mission in particular.
That was the beginning of my “other life” more than a dozen years ago. Our business was still growing at the annual rate of 16% per year but I had leadership in place that allowed me to travel. You see, when you feel the Lord is calling you, you must go. You may not know what or where or how you will be called, but you simply need to step out and go. The Lord will direct your path. When I am asked how to get involved, I say first – be available. Opportunities seldom come to you on a silver platter. God places an urging in your soul so you will get up and seek it out,
“.. but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8 NASB®
I love business. I love working with people. I love the challenge of organizing processes into a smooth-running system. Yet, I was beginning to think my business was becoming my idol. I got so enthralled with the business, I began talking of ROI, equity, and all the fancy financial lingo, but that wasn’t how we built our business. We built the business discussing how best to serve the customer, of being excited to see co-workers mature, of meeting needs by continuously improving. The financial numbers always fell into place. Fortunately, I woke up from that stupor to be even more convicted that the good life is found in serving and giving.
About seven or eight years ago, my friend Noe called to ask if I wanted to join him and Greg and his wife to visit a family in Zimbabwe who had a very successful method for reaching Zimbabweans for Christ. Having never been to southern Africa, I thought this may be a good learning experience. We flew into Bulawayo to meet the Peter and Diane Cunningham family, the most energetic and optimistic people I have ever met (their story is told elsewhere in this book). The Cunningham’s are Caucasian, and Peter is a 2rd generation Zimbabwean. As local folks, they were utilizing business to reach their neighbors for Jesus. Peter likes to use the term “unlock” as they aim to unlock a people locked up by years of traditions and tribal struggles. Unlocked people are liberated people, and the most liberated are those who place their faith in the Lord Jesus.
Zimbabwe has a recent history of terrible and ever changing political and economic circumstances, but the Cunningham’s found an effective way to serve in difficult times. It is ironic that people living on soil that what was once very productive, now struggle to feed themselves. The struggles and upheavals after independence in 1980 resulted in increasing civil unrest and deteriorating economic conditions. Poverty and injustices have prevailed, and the land has returned to the bush.
Peter believed that we must meet the needs of the entire person because a person thinking of where the next meal will come from often isn’t very receptive to hear about the Good News of Jesus. They are thinking of survival. Peter began breeding and hatching chicks, which he took to the farmers for them to raise to feed themselves and sell the remainder. Now, they had badly needed protein in their diet. One of the obstacles in that country, as in much of Africa, is that cattle was the livestock of choice but little, if any, money is made from rearing cattle. They take a long time to grow and a lot of land, but broiler chickens grow to market weight in 8 weeks or so and layers lay eggs daily.
The farmers were encouraged to sell at least one head of cattle or their goats to build a modest chicken house and buy some chicks. Soon, the farmers understood the power of cash flow and income went from $100 per year to $1,000 or much more. With some, much, much more. They were also shown how to grow crops and vegetables. Peter recently paid a tomato grower $50,000. Think of how that reverberated through the community. Now, the farmer could afford to send his kids to a good school, and he could tithe at his church, and he could pay his neighbors whom he hired to help him.
Processing plants for the chickens and vegetables were built as they made a market for what was produced. They opened retail stores in 13 cities to sell the products as an economy was established. Enthusiasm and optimism increased in the region. With a hatchery, feed mill, abattoir, tomato processing plant, several retail stores, schools and much more, they are transforming the western part of Zimbabwe as they steadily expand across the country.
At the bottom of each of my emails is a William Carey quote “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God”. I think too often we limit God. Jesus gave us a mandate and His Spirit to help us fulfill that mandate. He said His commands are not burdensome but light. I can’t think of a better way to invest my remaining productive days than to come alongside some wonderful people as we attempt great things for God.
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NASB)
NGO’s saturate Africa, but after years of handing out money, they admit they see little change. Other than for a significant crisis, handing money out is not what people need. They need a way out. The Africans you see in pictures are created in the image of God just like you and I have been. They want dignity. They want to provide for their families. They want their children to have a better life than they have. They want to be significant! They are smart people. They are hardworking people. Many love Jesus like you and I do. They are wonderful people. They are God’s people!
We often use the image of the eagle when describing this. One wing is the practical aspect of a person. People need safety, food, shelter, and clothing. The other wing is the spiritual aspect as one understands how God created all of us to have an eternal relationship with Him. An eagle can’t fly with one wing. This is why simply pouring in money hasn’t worked well and presenting the Gospel without helping them improve their economic situation produces meager results.
One of the most exciting aspects of this work is the educational component. In Zimbabwe and Mozambique (where Peter’s brother works), are Ebenezer schools, which are two-year schools where youth are taught how to raise chickens, dairy, crops, vegetables, nut trees as well as being discipled in Christ. They are also taught life skills to prepare them to enter the world. They live at the school for two years and are paid to work the farm, but don’t receive their wages until they graduate. When they graduate, they have a solid foundation of faith, know how to provide for themselves, and have earned money to begin a career.
How exciting it is to see 100+ bright eyed young people in their late teens to early 20’s learning together, worshipping together, and maturing together with “grandparents” on staff to advise and encourage them. As they leave, they have direction for their life. There are untapped opportunities on the land for them as agriculturalists. Young people can transform a society, especially when 65% of the population is under 25 years of age and rapidly increasing in number. Africa’s population is set to double by the year 2050.
Peter’s sister, Renee, leads the educational component which includes day schools for younger kids. The government is so poor they don’t have enough schools nor money to maintain all of them, so a portion of the proceeds from the Cunningham operation goes to operate the schools with highly skilled teachers and an assigned pastor.
The past couple of years, Renee has been working on a distant learning program utilizing tablets. They are now ready to launch it full scale. A “circuit riding teacher” will go to communities and download the lessons via the intranet to tablets and check on progress with the lessons. The goal is to have 100,000 students enrolled over the next couple of years, and in five years, 1 million students in the largest school built without walls.
Over and over, we see in Scripture the admonishment to teach. Not to merely inform but to diligently teach the next generation the truths of God’s spoken word written for us. Do I have you thinking of how God can use you in a different manner?
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward’.” Exodus 14:15 NASB®
Are you wondering what the Lord would have you to do? You may not feel led to make long trips overseas, but you have this urge to be doing something. What are your skills? Pursue the skills God gave you. Some of you are great leaders. We badly need strong and passionate God honoring leaders. Some are gifted writers. Send letters to newspapers. Some have a knack for politics. We need Christian politicians at all levels of government. Will you stretch yourself? You won’t regret getting more involved. Will it cost you? Traveling is costly, but what better way to invest your money. Got the urge? As you can, attend a Business as Mission conference or two. Want to really find out? Go visit a project overseas. Look over the IBEC Ventures website to see what others are doing.
The church is an integral part of Business as Mission. Pastors are shown how their congregation can improve themselves economically, which in turn helps the church. Pastors are expected to shepherd their flock, not only from behind the pulpit, but by getting their hands dirty helping a struggling farmer. Some pastors grow chickens themselves. Some churches have enough property that several families will go together to raise chickens on church property. Remember, the goals are to reach people for Jesus and to disciple them, so the Gospel must be front and center in all that is done.
Patson, the head pastor in Zimbabwe and Joseph, the pastor who joined our staff in Zambia, network with other pastors educating them on how we can work together to advance the Gospel as we improve the economic situation in the country. There is much enthusiasm with the pastors. Joseph also developed a relationship with Zambia’s high level government officials as their interest has been stimulated on how our group can help improve their country. Zambia is the only nation that states in its constitution that it is a Christian nation and a top government official told us that now they want to be a Christian nation.
“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:38 NLT®
I sold the large portion of our company in December 2018, but kept two companies to dream with. As I approached the final sale date, I wondered what was next for me. I would rise early in the morning, write my devotional, then go for my prayer walk, often whining to God about not having a clear direction for the remainder of my life. For sure, Jan and I wanted to travel some, but not full time. Then one day, I received a call from Greg telling me he and Peter were expanding into Zambia near Livingstone and asked if I would be interested in joining him and his wife, along with Dan (also from the Grand Rapids area who tends to the volumes of legal and financial details).
Realizing an answer to prayer when I see one, I spoke to my family because I didn’t want this to be merely a dad thing. Jan and our son Nathan flew with me in January 2019 to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and then drove to Livingstone, Zambia (home of the fabulous Victoria Falls) to see what had begun there. We were asked if we would lead the commercial aspect where a feed mill, abattoir and soy processing plant would be built. We had a quick huddle and agreed to join them and bought some land to prepare for building.
Peter and Greg built a modern hatchery on a large farm they purchased a year or so previously. Chicken barns are producing chicks and laying eggs, and a small dairy herd is producing milk. We have a retail store in Livingstone for selling products. The Ebenezer school on the farm property is now partially built with enough to house 20 students. When completed, it will hold 120 students. While there recently, we got the feed mill operating. Our pastor, Joseph, is working with the local churches and their pastors to show them how their congregation can improve their economic situation by becoming what we call “outgrowers” – raising chickens. Training sessions are underway as we all sense God moving. This is not a haphazard operation. There are high expectations of the “outgrowers”.
Peter’s goal is to reach all of sub-Sahara Africa for Christ. At first, I thought this goal was a bit unrealistic, but the more I am there, the more I see God opening doors I never saw before. Although some in the bush (farmers) may have heard of Jesus, many still practice ancestor worship and other beliefs. There are more than 19 million people in Zambia and though there are several solid churches and seminaries, too many have yet to be reached with the Gospel of Christ. Lord willing, we will be used to strengthen Christianity’s position in sub-Sahara Africa.
It’s a busy life at times but I was made to be busy. More than being busy, I want to be a contributor to the Kingdom of God. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I want to be in the game. What about you?
Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures