Often running a small business in a foreign country is similar to peeling layers of an onion. Just as one obstacle is overcome, another is revealed. And each layer is often accompanied by tears.
Over the past eight years, we’ve been directly involved with three business projects and indirectly involved with several others. Each project has struggled to get going and has struggled even more to stay in operation. We have the same employee struggles, financial hardships, taxes, rules, and regulations that businesses around the world share.
Dealing with the normal aspects of business in a strange, different culture is no easy task. Throw in a couple of foreign languages, like Chinese and Korean, and life becomes, not just complicated, but confusing. Misunderstandings can happen easily.
It isn’t just teaching a recipe and serving it up on a plate. It is introducing a foreign culture of management, methodology, cooking, serving, and eating.
Our struggle goes beyond just employee difficulties. We live and work in a place where we are tolerated, not wanted, by those in charge. Those responsible for permits, visas, and other official documents are willing to help us if enough money is placed in their hands. It is standard operating procedure. “You want my signature or approval, you need to compensate me for it.”
When we first opened the restaurant, one official stood in the way of opening day. He wasn’t shy about his request. We were told a thousand dollars was needed, in his hand, if we wanted to open. We refused, several times. Finally, the man gave us a list of changes that needed to be done and only his workers and his equipment could be used. It ended up costing us more but we got a receipt for work done.
Almost everyone we encounter assumes that bribes or other “monetary gifts” are the only way to do business and succeed. When the health department visited our new location, they told us that we needed to build a separate room for our oven and bakery (so we wouldn’t contaminate the food in the kitchen–FYI, they don’t use ovens here for normal cooking). Our workers first response, “Don’t worry. You just need to give them some money and they’ll forget about it.” We explained, again, that we don’t do business that way. Once David pursued the issue we discovered it was nothing more than a preference, not a law, and our kitchen was fine.
As one local employee of another foreign-owned business said, “The reason the businesses struggle is because these foreigners try to do things the right/ethical way.”
Right now, the struggle is huge. Visas for a new family have been denied, a needed permit is being withheld (even though they have said we passed inspection), taxes are being raised, rent is due, repairs are needed, old equipment needs to be replaced, a heating bill needs to be paid, and we are waiting expectantly for God to do something great.
We’ve been clinging to the verse Gal. 6:9. “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”
We are already seeing great things happening in the lives of people. Several hearts have been changed through the study of the Word. We are asking for our Father to do even more. We are asking that His Name be magnified and the physical needs of the restaurant met. We are asking that His favor be upon, not only our business, but on all the businesses in the area that have chosen to stand upright in a crooked place. We are asking that He expand our influence and give us greater opportunities to speak Truth into the lives of people. We are asking Him to build up an army of warriors that will battle together with us in this struggle. We cannot do it alone.
I don’t know what my Father will do, but I know that He is faithful. My heart trusts in Him.