Business as Missions

by Kara Gibbs '96

When we hear the words “missions” or “missionary,” most of us don’t think outside the scope of a summer ministry trip or those who have been called to serve people in other countries. But a different approach is becoming more and more of a reality. It has been coined “business as missions.”

James Spaulding ’95 never went on a missions trip in his youth. He will tell you that as a student he appreciated the emphasis on missions at Cedarville, yet never chose to go on an MIS trip. He didn’t avoid the opportunities for any specific reason. He just didn’t go. But everything changed when he visited Africa in 1998.

“I bought my first business that year and have been sick with the ‘entrepreneurial bug’ ever since,” Jim said. “In the past few years, God has placed a real burden on my heart for the unreached around the world, particularly the people of Africa. In my travels, I began to see opportunities for the Gospel to go forward using business as the gateway.”

After a close friend moved his family to North Africa to serve full time, Jim decided to embark on a short-term trip to the area himself. “I saw so many opportunities for using business as missions while I was there,” he said, “especially in countries currently closed to missionaries.”

When he returned, a man Jim knew from church approached him about starting a business in West Africa with the intention of aiding and coming alongside the church there. This man had been involved in Uganda for the past 30 years. They put together a plan and took their first trip in January 2006. Jim said, “Doing business in Africa is a slow and somewhat frustrating endeavor, but my partner and I are committed to making it work.”

That particular business is exporting cars. They buy the vehicles in the U.S., ship them to a port in West Africa, and sell them for a profit. Jim and his partner plan to eventually expand the business into car parts and maintenance. As the company grows, they hope to employ members of the local African church in need of a job. Their next goal is to build successful for-profit businesses in Muslim countries — like Senegal, Gambia, and Morocco — where there are many unreached people and very few native believers.

Thus far, Jim has been to Africa three times. His fourth visit will be this summer, with the intention of making a minimum of two trips a year, staying two weeks at a time. To prepare, he has been transitioning out of his current career and investing more in real estate, which would free up his time. “It would be a dream to be in Africa full time,” he said. “With any success, that just might happen.”

Where Jim is currently doing business, only half of 1 percent of the people are evangelical, and 97 percent are Muslim. “We have formed strong relationships with the church there and plan to take their lead as to meeting the needs of those without Christ.” He added, “We want to come alongside and aid what is already happening there. Because we are coming in that way, we have been received very well by the church.”

Jim has learned a lot from his friend and partner, who taught him how to interact with the African people. “We think of ourselves as junior partners to the church there,” he explained. “I had a great opportunity to share the Gospel with a man through the use of a language instructor. We talked about what separated Islam from Christianity and about the Jesus film which he had seen in his native language. He even said the film ‘could be true.’ This is just one story of many.”

So maybe missions wasn’t quite what he had in mind when he majored in elementary education. But Jim said, “I am thankful for the friends and professors that had a positive impact on my spiritual maturity while at Cedarville” — a spiritual maturity that has continued to grow, extending all the way to Africa.

Jim and his wife, Amy (Barnes) Spaulding ’95, have 7-year-old twins, Micah and Madeline. They are currently in the process of adopting from China — possibly another set of twins! Jim owns Cardiac Care & Safety Inc., a safety training and sales company, and is also a real estate investor. Amy graduated from Cedarville with a nursing degree, and she currently spends her days raising and homeschooling their children. They live in Glenside, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia.