Imagine reading Jesus' familiar parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and suddenly realizing, for the first time, that the passage has a lot to say about running a business and stewarding one's profits. That's the epiphany some Burmese believers experienced when Five Talents board member Cavin Philbin led a Business-as-Missions (BAM) team to Myanmar in early July.
Philbin, Anne Ni and Rebekah Roddam from the Diocese of Cascadia, and Stan Kriz from the Diocese of the Mid Atlantic, spent two weeks in Yangon Diocese. The four taught clergy and lay people a Biblically-based business skills training course offered by Five Talents International. Joined by Rev. Canon Daryl Fenton, the grouped worked in partnership with the ACNA Office of Global Mission, the Church of the Province of Myanmar's Economic Empowerment staff and the Mothers' Union.
In addition to training believers in the capital of Yangon, the four ventured out to two other nearby locations, teaching a total of about 200 people.
The two-day curriculum covered four main disciplines: Christian Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Recordkeeping and Business Planning. On the second day, the students formed into groups and together chose a prospective business to study using information from the first day's training. The course culminates with each group presenting a detailed plan for their prospective business to the audience.
"We got the impression that this information was new to them and directly applicable to their small business activities," said Philbin. "Most people we spoke with had no concept of separating business and personnel money. No one that we talked to had paid themselves a salary from their businesses."
Philbin recalled a specific conversation that seemed to reflect just how revolutionary some of the concepts were to the brothers and sisters in Myanmar. "One of the people we trained did not feel that being a business person was an appropriate activity for them as a Christian, but more the domain of the [immigrant] Indian or Chinese community," he said. "After taking our class, she admitted that myth had been dispelled."
Church leaders ultimately hope the partnership with Five Talents and the Mothers' Union will help to increase the per capita income of the church. When the Burmese body becomes self-sufficient, it will glow even brighter in the eyes of the people of Myanmar.
"Who will respect the church that cannot stand on its own feet?" reads the Church of the Province of Myanmar's explanatory notes of the Archbishop's Guidelines and Principals.
Five Talents currently works with Dioceses in 11 developing countries throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion, promoting the formation of savings groups, making small loans and providing business skills training as a way to create jobs and help whole communities to move from poverty to self-sustainability. Click here for more information about our programs.
Cavin Philbin also contributed to this story. (Photo Credit: Cavin Philbin)