In our youth, we often grapple with dilemmas. Most people find it hard to choose between career and passion, or their own interests and financial stability. If you are a Christian, you may find it hard to choose between a full-time missionary life and a full-time secular job.
That’s exactly what I am going to discuss in today’s blog. Can business be assumed as a mission? A mission to influence people positively? Or a mission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth?
This time, instead of sharing from my life’s experiences, I interviewed another consultant someone who was born to missionary parents but grew up in a competitive environment where she was encouraged to pursue other fields.
Meet Alecia Thomson, an international business development consultant from Japan. Currently, she is working from London. She has lived in the United States and Japan, and she is fluent in Japanese, Korean, and English.
David: Tell us a bit about your story. How was it growing up in Japan and then moving to London?
Alecia: All four of my grandparents moved to Japan just after World War II and stayed there all their lives. I have one grandfather who is still in Japan as a missionary, but basically, my parents both grew up as missionary children. I was born in Japan. One of my grandmothers was from the UK. She was a single missionary who moved to Japan from London.
So I thought, Why don’t I check out my grandmother’s country? My company is British, so there was a good opportunity to learn from the headquarters but also go back to my roots and learn about my roots a bit as well.
I am now learning about how to do business in Europe and how it is different from Japan. I can live here in the UK and go places because of work. But Japan is and will always be my home.
David: How did you muster up the courage to leave home and your comfort zone?
Alecia: I was living in the center of Tokyo, and I came to this point where I felt I wasn’t growing. I just needed a new challenge. I have been at my current business consulting company for seven years, and I moved up to the point where I was one of the directors. I needed to understand how other cultures think.
And because my business is about helping Western startups come out into the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean markets, I didn’t really look at it from the Western side, much like I thought I understood it. Perhaps I understood more of what Americans were thinking. But I never considered what British clients or Germans might be thinking.
Do they know any better?
Why don’t they consider the Japanese way?
Asia is such a different place, and they need to do things this way, and they’re making mistakes that are so obvious to me. I needed to get into their shoes.
David: On one hand, you recently finished your MBA. On the other hand, I know that your faith is extremely important to you. What is your vision? What does this look like as a consultant?
Alecia: Being a missionary child and being in business, I do think about how I bring those together. Being in the marketplace, I feel like I am with the people in one sense. In Japan, most of our lives are immersed in work, which is competitive but not healthy. People don’t spend enough time with their families. So it sort of comes together where I get to walk into rooms where people are and talk to them about Jesus.
So in one sense, I feel like God is using business as a means to reach people because otherwise I would be sitting in a church waiting all day, all week, for people to walk in, and they can’t. I have had the privilege of my business being one way to open doors.
One of my seniors in my company is also a Christian, coming from a missionary family. We went to the same school. Once we were talking about our faith and our company and sort of, you know, why we’ve become business people, so he said, “Every time you step into a board meeting or every time you step into a meeting where there’s a CEO or whatever, you are bringing Jesus into that room.”
I realized this is not just a random job. This is like the hands and feet of Jesus. I didn’t even study business until I got my MBA. My undergrad subject was not business. And when I get to walk into those rooms, I feel like I am not even qualified to be in this room because, in Japan, a lot of business people influence politics as well.
When I was 28 or 29, I had this opportunity with my church. They were going to open a new campus in Korea. I have been studying Korean since I was a teenager. I decided to talk to my boss. It turned out we did have a Korean office. So I had six months to work in Korea. In the evenings, I would do outreach with my other church-mates. And then on the weekends, we would do church and other events as well. So, you know, I thought, this is great. I get paid, you know, a full-time wage, and I get to be sort of like a missionary, helping to start a church.
David: I think sometimes God places us in strategic positions to say, stop now, or to just have conversations with people. Maybe we should reconsider this and do something else. What are your thoughts about that?
Alecia: Yeah. It’s a fine line, like you say, even about money, right? As a missionary kid, we didn’t grow up with money. And so I thought all my life, you know, I should go the nonprofit way. So I even studied social work and sociology, and my first job was in nonprofit work.
And I did that for a year and felt like it wasn’t working out. It wasn’t what I imagined it to be. I realized that we need Christians in the business world; we need Christians in those companies to say, “You know what?” I don’t agree with that, or let’s go with this, or I’m going with kingdom values and principles. I realized that money itself is not what’s bad.
David: How important is money, then?
Alecia: It’s when we get money in our hearts. So yeah, sometimes I grapple with this. I am so thankful that God has given me a position where I have enough money to live on. But out of that, I have enough to give out to people, different organizations, or the people around me.
As a Christian business person, it can be hard because we’re grappling with these ideas that have always been something like money is bad, but we have to get over that and say, “Okay, what is it that really God is doing with this?”
David: What if we build companies with kingdom values? What if we drove innovation with Christian values and used it for good? I mean, that would change our world, you know?
Alecia: And it’s not just charities, right? We often think that in the Christian world, we need to receive donations. But I feel like we have the responsibility or the capability of creating value that people want to pay us for as well.
So I feel like there could be a good mix between business and Christian charity, like a social innovation perhaps or a social enterprise, to bring those two together.
Perhaps my life goal is to find that balance. I have seen so many great social enterprises in the non-Christian world as well. And I feel like we could be learning from that a bit as well. So yeah, finding that sort of balance is a difficult one, but I like to challenge that, to be honest.
David: What advice would you give to our readers about how to live their best life?
Alecia: It is about finding your niche, where you are unique. I mean, really going for that, not looking at other people and saying, “How can I be more like them?”
But you’re really running your race, right? It is so easy to look at your friends or all your classmates from high school or university. But we have to find our own course. We have to run our own course. So until you find out who you are and what God has called you to do, you might get sidetracked.
My advice would be to not look at others but to see where God takes you and how you can use your environment to create whatever it is that God has placed you for.