Business is one of those things I’ve been interested in for as long as I can remember. I got my first business started when I was a teenager, and was just hooked – not always successful, but hooked. I liked the strategy of it all, especially the preparation and planning aspect of it…looking ahead at trends, forecasting what the market will do, predicting consumer buying habits, all that stuff. Oh, and I’m a nerd. I know.
My job at Living Hope, though, is all about teaching the principles of business to Africans who haven’t had access to the education and training that’s so widely available for us in the US. Before I got here, I really thought it was going to be pretty straightforward. I’d bring my western mindset and approach to business and teach it to people from a drastically different culture and background. Had I ever said this out loud, I would have realized it was going to be a little bit less than straightforward. It’s definitely not due to any lack of competency or intelligence on our students part; the reality is many of the students in our program have just never had the opportunity to plan ahead. Our American mindset is to look ahead to next month, to next year, to twenty years down the line at the college tuition for kids that aren’t even born yet – because regardless of what kind of shape our finances are in, we know we’re supposed to plan ahead and be prepared as much as possible for what tomorrow could bring.
Then, I think about the people living in the townships that surround Living Hope, and many of the guys I work with there, who live strictly day-to-day. Very few have ever been employed full-time and they rarely know when they will have work and when they won’t. That means no savings, no insurance, and nothing to fall back on. Their biggest concern is keeping their kids fed today, and they just don’t have the financial means to think any farther down the line than that. So, as I’m planning to teach our students (most who’ll come from this background) things like writing a business plan that requires them to project their finances for a year in the future, I know it’s going to be new and it’s going to be tough.
But given all that, the biggest question that’s been weighing on my mind is this … do I really want to pass on my American mindset to them? Because while I think our “plan ahead & be prepared” mentality is great, it can produce an overly self-sufficient person who finds it really difficult to rely on the Lord to take care of their needs. Not to mention a person who has a lot of unnecessary worry and anxiety about the future.
On the other hand, the “here and now” mentality that many in Africa live with makes getting to a place of financial stability really difficult. But, it seems to produce a person who is very present today, who finds contentment with what they have, and who really trusts that God is going to meet all their needs.
So, while I’m praying for wisdom on what to teach and how to communicate all this to our students, I think what I’m learning is that we’re not right and they’re not wrong. Far from it. Turns out, we all just have a whole lot to learn from each other.
Matthew 6:24 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”