By Rob McArthur
Trade is not only the language of love but the conduit of ideas. In our case the knowledge of God.
Last week I was traveling. Unusually I picked up the in-flight magazine and read the catch line: ‘Good things happen when entrepreneurs are inspired by their travels’. The article went on to tell of an Australian coffee business set up to give a fair price to some East Timorese coffee growers who were being exploited. (wildtimorcoffee.com, p 50-51, Jetstar magazine February 2017).
Though not unique in our world, it made me think of the Moravians in Northern Labrador two centuries ago who set up businesses not only as powerful visual aids for their message but to challenge those who were exploiting the local population. (Danker p 75).
Let’s bring the Christian entrepreneur in from the cold and treat him or her with more respect than the size of their credit card. It’s time we learned from those who have trod this path before us that economic activities are of equal validity as educational or medical expressions in mission ( Danker 139).
Trade is by nature the currency of partnership, (and ultimately peace) and critically here, the conduit of information and ideas.
As in the case of the Moravians and the Basel Trading Company it was those very entrepreneurs who genuinely partnered in a community through commerce that were given the title ‘friend’. They, by entering the community through commerce gained the power not only to enter and influence but to educate and transform the communities they were a part of (Danker p128-9).
Likewise, Centres of Commerce, or trade, offer huge advantages for mission by their very nature. Being cosmopolitan they form a bridge or connection between cultures and therefore have a natural openness to different (and new) ideas and ways of thinking.
Like trade cities before and after, Alexandria from AD1-4 with its large European, Asiatic, and African populations, afforded Christianity not only a place of expression but a centre for its propagation.
Even in the New Testament the trading cities of Rome, Corinth and Ephesus played significant roles in the spread of early Christianity.
What we may not realize is that Paul spent nearly six years of his life in these three cities (Corinth 18 months, Acts 18:11, Ephesus 2 years, Acts 19:8-10, and Rome 2 years, Acts 28:30). This I believe was, and is, significant. To demonstrate my point I refer you to Acts 19: 10 speaking with reference to Ephesus says “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10, NIV). Centres of trade, even in Paul’s day were centres of information flow and if one considers the growth of Christianity up until 1000 AD it clearly follows the Trade Routes.
Two events, one in Ephesus and one in Corinth, show the extent to which this multi-ethnic and multicultural nature afforded a measure of cultural and religious freedom. In Corinth we find the Proconsul Gallio refusing to hear the case against Paul (Acts 18) and in Ephesus the City Clerk dismissing the crowd who were calling for sanctions against Paul and his team (Acts 19). It was in centres such as this that the message of Christianity found not only a place to be heard, but also considered and transmitted.
In our case the knowledge of God.