In 1993, my brother served for about a year as a missionary at a Baptist hospital in Asunción, Paraguay. During his year there, I visited with him and completed a study abroad program. Through this opportunity I was able to meet several missionaries.
One day I asked what types of jobs one could have as a missionary. At the time I knew missionaries who were serving in the hospital and others who were preachers and teachers, but I didn’t know of anything else. I remember distinctly a missionary responding, “Well, you can be a doctor, a preacher or a seminary teacher.”
Apparently those were the only opportunities open to missionaries back then. Or maybe they were the only 3 positions considered worthy of “missionary” status. I have come to vehemently disagree with this kind of narrow thinking, which has been perpetuated for decades. God calls each of us to be missionaries wherever we are.
Being a missionary simply means you are on a mission to love God and neighbor, and that mission is not reserved for people with divinity degrees or special ordination; it is something God calls all of us to do. I am not trying to minimize the importance of missionaries who serve cross-culturally, often in pioneer contexts overseas, but I am asserting that God calls all believers to a missionary lifestyle.
Businesspeople all over the US and the world are starting to realize that they too are called to be missionaries through their businesses. I hope the younger generations will take hold of this concept and serve Him passionately in a variety of professions.
One shining example is my good friend, Blake Lingle, owner of the Boise Fry Company. His restaurant is a good one but beyond the fact that he runs a popular and much loved community establishment, Blake has gone the extra mile and lives as a missionary through the various aspects of his business.
The Boise Fry Company is focused on creating great French fries and with those fries people can have burgers on the side. Burgers and fries don’t have a reputation as health foods, but, determined to make a difference, Blake insists that Boise’s fries be made only with peanut oil.
No other ingredients—just potatoes and peanut oil. Most other fast-food fries are likely to contain ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils, wheat and milk derivatives, preservatives, antifoaming agents, dextrose, and salt. Blake tells me he made this decision in light of the mandate to love his neighbor.
Another way that Blake loves his neighbors is by intentionally employing disadvantaged refugees, giving them a hand up as they rebuild their lives. He seeks to create an environment in which all of his employees feel loved and learn to treat one another as they would like to be treated.
In addition, the restaurant seeks to use and purchase organic, sustainable, and biodegradable products. (The hospitality industry has historically been a big polluter.)
The sum total of these efforts is that Blake is a functional missionary in the business community. He’s making a social and spiritual impact while still running a successful enterprise. Boise Fry Company was recently named as the restaurant with America’s Best Fries by the Food Network.
Mark Russell is a widely respected voice in the missional community. He has lived in Russia, Chile, and Germany, and has traveled to more than 70 countries to carry out a variety of business, educational, humanitarian, and religious projects. He is the author of The Missional Entrepreneur.