Five years ago I had the opportunity to meet a BAM person at his office. As I climbed the stairs to his office on the third floor, my eye caught a very professional sign with his company name and logo. Needless to say, I was impressed! As I entered his office, there he sat at a fairly large desk dressed in suit coat and tie. As we shook hands, he offered me his business card, again, professional and top quality.
As our conversation began, I asked him:
“What does your company do?”
I will never forget his reply! “What do YOU think we should do?”
At first I thought he was joking, but I soon realized that he was not. He was in the process of still trying to figure out what his main business product or service should be.
I give him credit that he had the look of a top-notch company, yet his business would never really grow because he had based his model only around obtaining his visa (long-term residency).
Although you might find the above story slightly humorous, the reality is that this has been true of many tentmakers I have met. The question of “visa” or “long-term residency” is at the forefront of most of their minds. They have been called to a certain restricted access country, but they have no idea how they are going to stay.
As you are aware, most counties allow you to enter on a short-term tourist visa. If you are looking to stay long-term, you will need to get residency permit.
The harsh reality is:
If you can’t establish residency, you will need to leave the country and look for another line of work.
Knowing this, many Christian workers begin to focus on anything that will get them their visa.
From my experience, I believe that this is a faulty foundation or a rickety platform that will negatively affect your tentmaking ministry. I am convinced that we need to focus more on creating strong professional identities and less on obtaining visas.
If you develop a legitimate identity, the residency visa will surely follow.
For sure it may take some time to get the paper work in place to get the visa. However, there will be no question about who you are and what you are doing.
If you decide to focus on the visa first, you may get the appropriate paperwork to stay, but your friends, neighbors, and government may have serious questions concerning who you really are.
When I arrived in my first closed country, I entered as a potential businessperson. I told my friends that I was there to start a new business, but in reality I was looking for whatever way I could get my residency.
Now let’s see how strange this looked to my closest friend.
1. I had brought my wife and 2 kids to a brand-new country where we had no connections.
2. We moved into a part of the city where no other foreigners were living.
3. I had left the land of opportunity (USA) to move to this Arab country.
4. I came to start a business, but had no idea what business I was going to start.
5. Last but not least, I had no business experience.
If you were my friend, wouldn’t you have questions?
Years later, after establishing a credible identity, I was able to talk to my best friend about our weird beginning. He mentioned that everyone in our area had questions about who we were and what we were really doing. He told me that even the police had come questioning him and our other friends to find out more about us. We did not start with a strong identity!
Let’s contrast this to my secular business friends who I have met over the years.
When they arrive to their new country, they:
1. Know clearly what they are looking to do.
2. Have already done their homework on the business sector and opportunities.
3. Know exactly what business they will be starting.
4. Have capital in place to launch it.
5. Usually have some expertise in their field.
As their first tourism visa is ready to expire, they leave the country and come back for another few months. Everyone in the community knows who they are and what they are looking to do. Without any effort, they have developed their professional identity and yet still have no long-term visa. Once their business is registered and moving forward, they finally go into register for a long-term visa. At this point, they have all of the documents in order and the process is usually fairly simple.
Over the past 3 years, my thinking on this subject has radically changed.
As I coach new tentmakers, I encourage them to focus on developing a strong professional identity from the very beginning. If at all possible, they should design a strategy that will allow them to quickly let the community know who they are and what they are doing.
Understanding the importance of language learning, I encourage them to develop a plan that will allow them to learn language while beginning to engage in their professional sector. This is easier said than done, but it is possible if you are committed to both.
I have found that there are little things that can quickly help develop your professional identity.
1. Come prepared with professional business cards to hand out to anyone you meet.
2. Develop a glossy project proposal that explains who you are and what you are looking to do.
3. Come with a letter from a foreign company stating that you represent them to research a potential business opportunity.
4. Interview local friends as part of your market research. This helps with language practice, relationship development and clearly answers their questions of your profession.
Remember that these peripheral things will only get you so far. Eventually you have to actually do what you say you came to do. When that happens, your business identity will be established.
Your business identity is only one part of your overall identity. Above all, you should make it very clear that you follow Christ. Begin by identifying yourself with Jesus immediately.
Pray with friends about each new step of your business. Be open about your motivations and your desire to be holy.