The symbolism of the fish as a sign of adherence between confessing Christians is well known, often now even by those outside the Church. But I introduce the idea such that that symbolism might also represent the potential of the business-as-mission movement.
Most of us are also familiar with the adage “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Not necessarily true. What if, even having the knowledge of how to fish and, God willing, he lives in an area with abundant access to trout-filled waters, he has no pole, or fishing line, or hooks, or bait. Fishing seems innocent enough within the analogy but the analogy falls short if he does not have the equipment to go along with the knowledge to complete the task.
We could very well give the man the fishing equipment he needs but there will always be another man behind him who also needs a pole, line, hooks, and bait. So, to feed a village, or a country, or all of the two billion people in the world currently living on less than two dollars a day, we are going to have to find someone, somewhere who either has a lot of extra fishing gear, or the funds to buy all that fishing gear to be given away.
This is where business-as-mission, using the microlending model in particular, comes into play. What if we sold the man a fishing pole, say on credit, at a nominal profit to cover shipping, handling, and distribution, to get the pole and the assorted other items from their place of original manufacture? He could fish a few extra hours a day and sell his extra fish to pay back the “lender” for his pole.
What then might happen if, after he has paid it back, we were to lend him a bit more money with which he could buy the poles and equipment for a wholesale price and, working with us, he could sell them on credit to others as well. The funds he had already paid back could finance a second fisherman and the original fisherman could upgrade his income generation by selling poles to many more men.
What might happen, even after that, if all those fishermen, once having paid back the loans to buy their fishing poles, started pooling the extra money they were earning from the extra fish they were catching and then, taking from among their own, financed the import of raw materials and established a small business making fishing poles and line and hooks and bait.
As you can tell, the original loan, planted as a seed and supplemented in the beginning with other small loans, has grown into a vibrant engine helping power up a local economy. And then, one day, as that economy begins to grow, one of those fishermen recognizes that now that the other fishermen have begun to prosper, our entrepreneurial fisherman drops out of the fishing industry and starts making small stools such that the other fishermen can be more comfortable while fishing, making it possible they can be more productive as they work. He becomes a supplier to them of upgraded equipment and, since he is spending his time gathering raw materials and making stools, he is now also added to the rolls of their customers.
As the division of labor becomes more sophisticated in this local economy, productivity rises and, with an increasing availability of time, some of the other fishermen begin to innovate newer, better fishing gear, only hoping to manufacture it and sell it through the original fisherman who now has a sales and distribution network to adjoining villages…no sense in duplicating effort or undermining a good thing already working well by introducing unnecessary competition.
But, alas, this story is but an imaginary tale. At last report, the man who would have been a fisherman was seen to be waiting for the U.N. or Christian Aid truck to come by with his fish for today…
…all for the want of a fishing pole.
Will you invest in microlending and investment to help the impoverished change their world? Do you have an extra fishing pole that might be sold and the funds set aside to build economies among the poor around the world and at home? Look around. The things you own and never use may contain within them the very hope the poor need to set them free from the destitution of hopelessness.
“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” – James 2:15-16.
Would you consider giving a gift, even in-kind, toward equipping the poor with hope? By financing microlending and investment, the gift you give will reproduce thirty, sixty, or even one hundredfold. According to Mark 4:20, that is the fruit produced from the seed (the Word of God) falling on good soil (Christ-followers).