Friday, August 29, 2008

Honesty: Letting the Light Shine In

Matthew 5:33-37

A lack of honesty hinders our walk with Jesus. It’s hard to read the Gospels and miss the importance of being brutally truthful about our own motivations and actions. Jesus teaches that it is dangerous to put on false appearances in the interest of appearing holy or respectable. It’s a lesson we all need whether we are dealing with an addiction, rebuilding a life after prison, or living in suburban success and respectability.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he teaches in Matthew 5:37 that we should let our “Yes be yes, and our no be no.” This seems simple but yet is oh so hard. If we honestly analyze our own actions, how often do we appeals to an external factor to cover up the truth. We may increasingly live in a culture where we don’t swear to God to make a point unless it is a negative one. But we all have subtle methods we employ to hide what’s really going on.

With the urban poor, addiction often lurks below the surface. One drink or one illicit smoke spirals uncontrollably into broken families and broken lives. Yet, a desire to hide the truth results in denial, in assurances that everything is ok. I’m in control of my life. As Jesus teaches, a real breakthrough only comes through brokenness and honesty…arriving at that point where everything is not ok and reaching out for help.

But that is the gift. The greater evil is the aura of respectability. How many individuals have the good job, the nice house, the 2.3 kids, and pull into their garage every night to lower the door on the intense brokenness that resides in their life. Maybe it’s a terrible relationship with a spouse or a long-simmering hatred of a parent. Or as happens too often today, an addiction to money, sex or power. But the greater evil is being in a place where one can’t cry out for help.

As followers of Christ, we need to shed light on our own lives with trusted friends in our community of faith. We need to seek out help in order to experience peace and wholeness. But then, instead of just resting in that peace, we need to build relationships with the community at large, offering others a chance to get real and experience God’s shalom.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Food Banking Challenges Create Faith Venture Opportunity

New opportunities often follow new challenges.

In today’s economy, food banks are facing new realities that make providing services more difficult. Increased efficiency at food production facilities and supermarkets is decreasing the supply of donated food from corporations to local food banks. At the same time, the current economy is increasing the demand for help from food banks. To further complicate this environment, the federal government is asking food banks to increase the nutritional quality of the food that they provide. These are significant challenges for the nonprofits that provide real help to families facing hunger. Yet, this very environment is creating an opportunity for a new faith venture to change the lives of individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness or prison…the very risk factors that lead to a need for food bank services.

Starting in January of 2009, an innovative new partnership between Compa Ministries, Providence Network and Belay Enterprises will operate a canning facility to produce food supplies for area food banks. Compa Ministries will manage a new food line in its facility producing a healthy line of canned food products. Employees will be residents of the Providence Network transformational housing program. Belay Enterprises will employ these individuals in a staffing services project that will provide job and life skill training. This partnership will create seven paid production positions. This number is expected to triple over the next three years as the project expands. Employees in the program will work in the project for 6 months to one year and then transition into real world jobs in the community.

In addition to working with Compa, I’m excited to see how this project might expand beyond that initial relationship. Several years ago, a firm that was experiencing difficulty finding employees approached Belay. They were unable to hire individuals with past non-violent criminal issues because of corporate policy. This particular company was able to outsource those positions to another firm, allowing the hiring of individuals with criminal histories. At the time, Belay was not in a position to pursue a staffing company so we passed on the opportunity. But with the creation of the Compa canning business, we are looking for other manufacturing or warehousing businesses that might be interested in outsourcing to a staffing services project. This is an opportunity for businesses to positively impact the community while obtaining high-quality employees surrounded by comprehensive support services.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Top Five Lists

In a blog post this week, venture capitalist and entrepreneur Guy's Kawasaki shared the five most important lessons he’s learned as an entrepreneur. As usual, his thoughts are creative and very valuable. His top five:

1. Focus on Cash Flow
2. Make a little progress each day
3. Try Stuff
4. Ignore schmexperts
5. Never Ask People to do something that you wouldn’t do

Guy’s list started me thinking about what would make up my list of five important lessons for a faith venture. As a reminder, I define a faith venture as a for-profit or non-profit business that creates employment and opportunity for a disadvantaged population. In no particular order, here’s my list:

1. Let the business lead the ministry- A faith venture has two bottom lines. It seeks business profits in order to support itself and grow. It also hopes to change lives by accomplishing its ministry. The great danger is that sometimes these two goals conflict with each other. In certain cases pursuing the mission will cost the mission and vice versa. I believe that if one is pursuing a Christ-centered business then all of business is ministry. So it then becomes acceptable to let the business lead the ministry because without a focus on the bottom-line this unique ministry opportunity disappears.

2. Stay true to your mission in the midst of the business- The second great danger facing a faith venture is losing sight of the ministry because of the focus on the business. Never forget the original God-purposed redemptive DNA of your particular faith venture.

3. Sell, sell, sell- An entrepreneurial organization must be about selling its product and mission at all levels of its organization to its target market. An organization that forgets to sell is an organization that is forgotten.

4. Cash Flow, Cash Flow, Cash Flow- Many a good faith venture or enterprise has died for lack of focus on cash. Knowing your cash position at any given moment drives your strategy and actions.

5. Trust God- In reality, when you combine business and mission, it is going to get messy. One must work hard toward your business plan and mission goals and then prayerfully trust God with the results.

These are five ideas that deserve more attention in future posts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Accidental Cleaning Company

Sometimes opportunity finds you.

In 2003, Cherry Hills Community Church called Baby Bud's Director Dianne Sager with a question. The recovery organization that had been cleaning their facility had just closed and Cherry Hills needed a new partner. Would Baby Bud's be interested in cleaning the school at Cherry Hills?

Normally a retail baby store would think twice about committing to a job completely unrelated to its core business. But Dianne had 20 years of experience managing a janitorial company prior to Baby Buds. She saw this as a new opportunity to employ more single moms. Within a couple of weeks, Baby Bud's added five single moms for a cleaning crew and Freedom Cleaning Services was born. Within a year, the business had grown to employ ten women with several other churches and commercial businesses as clients.

One of the challenges to any business start-up is maintaining the focus on your core business when other opportunities arise. Sometimes it's good to pursue opportunities to expand the business into new areas because it increases revenue. But, many times, expanding takes away from the focus of the venture and creates new layers of complexity that hurt the business in the long run. It's not hard to find the stereotypical entrepreneur who pursues five different ventures but is unable to focus long enough on one of them to find success.

The decision become even more complicated when you add the unique nature of a faith venture's double bottom line. A faith venture pursues a mission that seeks both earned income and changed lives. In the case of Baby Bud's, we made the quick decision to start Freedom Cleaning Services because we saw a definite opportunity to employ more single mothers in an area that key members of our staff were extremely experienced. This unique situation would also be profitable right from the start. We saw it as a chance to subsidize our other expenses related to Baby Bud's.

But over the years, this decision has become more complicated as Freedom continues to grow. It is important to remain vigilant to avoid the danger of focusing too much on one of the ventures at the expense of less focus on the other venture. If our goal is to hire more single mothers rebuilding lives, we need to constantly analyze how best to spend our resources towards achieving that goal.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Surprise Visitor

Baby Bud's is finally open!

It's been a tough journey finding a new space for the store. We've been trying to faithfully go where God wants us but it's been a difficult process. We thought two other possible locations were each the place, but both did not work out. And who knew it would take 6 months to find the space that would finally become the store?

Today, Dianne Sager had an unexpected visitor speak words that reminded her of a similar event 6 years ago at the old store.

"Do you know why I'm here?" the women asked. "Jesus sent me here. The Holy Spirit is in this place." The woman then asked, "What happens when you keep placing items into a basket? It will overflow. This place is going to overflow with blessings for this neighborhood. This is the right neighborhood for you."

Like the visitor six years ago, Dianne had never seen this woman before. Her words felt like confirmation that the last six difficult months had ended with the perfect result. Baby Bud's was right where God wants it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Motivations

Why do you do what you do?

I think it's a good practice to ask that question. Frequently.

We all have reasons...maybe it's money, significance, success, or service. Everyone has motivations and some are better than others.

In a faith venture, where a business does ministry, one must be very careful with motivations. Business speaks the language of profits and efficiency while ministry seeks service and transformation. They are not mutually exclusive. Business is a great arena for ministry and ministry needs money to survive, but ministry sometimes can be harmed by decisions in the interest of efficiency. Check your motives. I've seen faith ventures lose their way because they were serving money and I've seen ministries close because they forgot about raising money. I've had ministry leaders tell me that they need a certain scale of success in order to effectively impact society.

Please be careful and check your motives.

If God took away success or significance but asked you to serve him in the same role, would you stay the course? If God wanted you to sell your possessions and serve the poor would you follow?

In a faith venture, you are using business to serve God. Profits are bigger than just money. Profits are the kind found in the kingdom.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Relational Brokeness

G. K. Chesterton once said that the easiest theological truth in the world to prove is the reality of sin. This often becomes a central theme in our morning discussions at Bud's Warehouse. Individuals that are attempting to rebuild lives from addiction or prison have had a front row seat to witnessing the worst that life can throw at you. They understand physical and sexual abuse. They have seen relationships torn apart by bad decisions or selfishness. They understand what it is to hurt someone else. They know sin and its ugly effects.

For the last three weeks, we have been on a slow journey of looking at Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. We are starting with the idea that if we are disciples of Jesus Christ, we really want to examine what he teaches and try to apply it to our own lives.

This morning we were looking at issues of how we relate to others around us. It's not controversial to believe that one should not kill, commit adultery or leave a marriage. Like the contemporaries of Jesus who heard his sermon in person, we instinctively know that these are wrong. But Jesus only uses that as a starting point. The real issue lies with what is in the heart. Simply being angry with a brother is akin to murder. Looking at a man or women lustfully is adultery. Divorce isn't the easy way out of a marriage but an evil that leads to great harm to women.

One would expect these teachings to be hard. Indeed, in certain subsets of our culture, these teachings are repulsive. But to individuals who have seen first hand how broken relationships, adultery and divorce have severely battered their own lives, they thirst for strength to choose the better way. We ask towards the end of each study whether Jesus' teachings are easy or hard to do. Half of the group says it's easy because Jesus provides the example and the Holy Spirit provides the strength. The other half says it is hard because much in the world including our relationships and very selves work against us. I think both views are right…both point to Jesus as redeemer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Commercial Real Estate and the Thrift Store Faith Venture

Over the years at Bud's Warehouse, I have often joked that we have made a habit of preceding future loft developments. We have had to move from two prior warehouse locations because of the development of lofts. Bud’s moved from another location because of the development of a business complex. Recently, our Baby Bud's project closed operations at the Colfax and Peoria location because of the Fitzsimmons neighborhood redevelopment. Moving a business, especially one with 20,000 square feet of building materials, is not for the faint-of-heart and fraught with all sorts of retail risks. Will our customers follow us? Will the new location be visible enough? Will we be in a convenient location for our program participants?

Commercial Real Estate is a difficult but extremely important undertaking for any retail business. The location of a business is one of the top factors for retail success or failure. For thrift store faith ventures, commercial real estate becomes an even bigger challenge. One must balance the need for a visible location near your customer base with nonprofit budget constraints. So you find yourself wrestling with the inevitable tough question: Should we move into donated space in a lousy location or rent expensive space in a high-traffic area?

At Belay Enterprises, we've pursued both approaches with mixed results. We spent six years running Baby Bud's out of a donated space, slowly watching our customers disappear because of community redevelopment. Yet, we found it hard to give up free rent for a move to a better location...until we were forced out. But now, while we are moving into our new space at Martin Luther King and Downing in Denver, I sense that the better location with rent will result in an increase in sales beyond our rise in expenses. As we've seen at Bud's Warehouse over the years, renting the best retail location you can afford will often outweigh the less attractive donated site. When devising your business plan, build in enough of a budget for a visible location and it will have a positive impact on your mission.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Baby Bud's New Location Opens

There is a special place in God's heart for the widow and orphan. God passionately loves those that society too often leaves behind. The Bible speaks directly of God's love for the widow at least 24 different times througout the Old and New Testaments. (See below this post for a list)

In today's disadvantaged communities, a modern version of the widow is the mother who has been abandoned by her male partner and forced to take care of her child by herself. She may not have lost her husband to death but she has lost many of the advantages that make escaping poverty easier. Indeed, one of the hardest segments of poverty to address is the single mother struggling to take care of her family.

In 2001, Belay Enterprises aimed to provide a solution to this problem by starting Baby Bud's, a job-training program for single mothers. Baby Bud's addresses the difficult area of employment for single mothers rebuilding lives from homelessness, prison or addiction. This innovative program operates a baby thrift store that receives donations of baby clothes and furniture. The thrift store is located in a disadvantaged area of metro Denver to provide near-by residents an opportunity at low-cost baby supplies.

If as a faith venture, you choose to pursue goals close to God's heart, many times you become witnesses to tremendous stories of God in action. Baby Bud's has never been a business that generated earned income in excess of expenses. Over the years, the venture has struggled to cover 2/3rds of its expenses through sales with the shortfall being funded through surplusses from Bud's Warehouse, grants and donations. But in terms of program success, Baby Bud's has had a front row seat to numerous stories of God transforming the lives of single mothers from homelessness, prison, domestic violence, and prostitution into careers with a future.
Today, we are excited to announce that a new chapter of Baby Bud's starts this week. Baby Bud's has moved into a new location on the corner of Downing Street and Martin Luther King in Denver's historic Five Points neighborhood. With the opening of the store on August 23rd, we expect many more stories of God moving in the lives of single mothers that are rebuilding lives. Please call Dianne or Cathy at 303-293-0014 for more information. Baby Bud's is located at 3154 Downing Street.


Biblical Verses on Widows:
Exodus 22:22
Deuteronomy 10:18
Deuteronomy 14:29
Deuteronomy 24:17
Deuteronomy 24:19-21
Deuteronomy 26:12-19
Job 31:16-18
Psalm 68:5
Psalm 94:6
Psalm 146:9
Proverbs 15:25
Isaiah 1:17
Isaiah 1:23
Isaiah 10:2
Isaiah 47:8
Jeremiah 7:6
Jeremiah 22:3
Jeremiah 49:11
Ezekiel 22:7
Zechariah 7:10
Malachi 3:5
Mark 12:40
1 Timothy 5:3-16
James 1:27

Monday, August 18, 2008

Faith Venture Opportunity in Kenya


Pastor Francis Ranogwa made a surprise visit to Bud’s Warehouse last week for a tour of our operations. He is in the process of building a micro-enterprise and business development program in Kenya for members of his impoverished community in the rural area of Vihiga and urban area of El Doret. I met Pastor Francis 4 years ago through Randy Stensgard of Centennial Community Church. Randy attended Bible school with Pastor Francis 15 years ago in Germany and has been involved in his ministry. Pastor Francis has developed a church, two orphanages and two schools in Kenya.

About two years ago, I participated in a series of meetings with Cathy Cutrell, Randy and April Stensgard and others discussing the development of this micro-enterprise project. April Stensgard initiated some early food security projects and work with the widow community. After realizing that we had much more to learn, Cathy Cutrell enrolled in a series of classes through the Chalmers Center. She developed an intensive plan-of-action and then left for Kenya to begin its implementation with Pastor Francis.

Last week, it was exciting to hear how the plan was working. Unfortunately, the recent civil warfare in Kenya caused a major slow down in the implementation of the plan. But the return of peace has meant that the development of the program is now continuing. In January of 2006, several community self-help groups of individuals with similar business interests were created in order to support each other’s growth and accountability. These groups have developed business plans, learned about business development from an area micro-enterprise agency, and saved money towards their goals. They hope to be able to develop funding sources for their enterprises in the near future. The community will contribute a portion of their group savings with funders' portion to seed these push-me-up loans. Twenty loans are planned to be accessed in a few months with their first funding. As additional funding sources are found and loans repaid, the community fund is expected to build so loans can be made to all group members and expand further.

In the rural area of Vihiga, one community group, organized by local widows, was able to leverage the donation of $300 from the United States into a thriving small farming operation that produces tomatoes, green peppers, and collard greens. Another business has started raising chickens. They have discovered that there is a six months to one-year waiting list for new chickens so they would like to develop a chicken hatchery business. In addition, it is impossible to find chicken feeds in their area. They hope to invest in machinery to start producing their own animal feeds.

This is a faithventure opportunity that really excites me. The church-based community in Vihiga has identified specific economic needs and researched possible solutions at their own initiative. I believe that this is a super opportunity for Christian business leaders to invest technical and financial resources to assist in the development of these businesses with a potential positive impact on many lives. It’s my hope that this forum can help identify these opportunities and connect individuals with the heart and ability to help.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Anti-program Job-Training Program

Over the last nine years at Bud's Warehouse, individuals have often asked me to explain our job training program. For many years, I struggled to provide a clear answer because, in many ways, the Bud's program is not a traditional program. Sure, we have a curriculum and a three phase programatic way of organizing our instruction. But the core level of our program is really about building relationships and helping individuals work "one-on-one" through the unique challenges of pursuing a career after prison or addiction. So, if you're looking for a "step-by-step, do this and you'll get employed" type program, Bud's really isn't such a place. But if you desire a life-on-life mentoring program that is tailored to the specific needs of an individual, then Bud's is the place for you. Any program can teach how to not lose your anger in the workplace, but we think Bud's strength comes from, not only teaching anger management techniques, but being available on the job for mentoring after a conflict situation occurs. People learn in the midst of making mistakes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In and Out of Control: A History of Belay Enterprises


I like to think that I am in control. I've always felt that the right business plan with strong execution will result in success. My experience at Belay Enterprises has taught me otherwise. God is in control and, in many ways, I am just along for the ride.

In 1994, a group of Christian businessmen and urban pastors, all with a heart for urban Denver, began meeting under the leadership of Mile High Ministries. Out of these discussions grew Belay Enterprises, an innovative organization that desired to impact the employment side of poverty. Belay's first project was Bud's Warehouse, a home improvement thrift store that recycled leftover construction and home improvement materials. Bud's main goal was to provide job training and employment for individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, prison, and poverty. In addition, profits from the business would be reinvested in the community by providing loans and technical assistance for entrepreneurial business startups.

As with many start-ups, the dream crashed into reality with a difficult road to profitability for Bud's Warehouse. The store struggled with attracting customers even while receiving fantastic building donations from the community. Lack of profits made Belay's business micro loan dreams difficult to sustain. In 1998, the micro lending program was suspended to focus energies on establishing Bud's Warehouse. The hope was to revisit business development activities after Bud's started to thrive.

God soon answered the organizations prayers. In February of 2000, Mark Koebrich, with the local NBC affiliate 9 News, did a sweeps week story on home improvement deals at Bud's Warehouse. The story aired on the night of a big snowstorm following the highest rated ER episode in NBC history. Overnight, Bud's became a smash hit with lines of 50 or more people waiting to enter the store for the next few days. Like the bible story of Jesus multiplying the fish and loaves, it felt like God multiplied Bud's building materials to accommodate the store's new popularity. Bud's was able to build on its popularity to double the number of jobs for individuals rebuilding lives while developing resources for new ventures. To build on Bud's success, Belay decided to pursue an incubation model for future businesses and start Baby Bud's, a job-training program for single moms. A few years later, Belay started the Good Neighbor Garage and Freedom Cleaning Services. Over the years, 9News has continued to support Belay with occasional stories on our new start-ups and location changes.

With 9 years of experience in the crazy arena of faithventure, I now believe that we make plans but hold loosely to them. We pray and watch God move.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Entrepreneurs and Risk

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

I've heard it said that entrepreneurs by nature have a greater tolerance for risk than other individuals. Certainly, starting an enterprise takes confidence when the odds say that greater than 50 percent of ventures will fail in five years. Even so, I believe that entrepreneurs do not have more tolerance for risk but actually have less. Entrepreneurship is all about managing risk...identifying opportunities and then developing a business that minimizes the risk of failure. So a successful entrepreneur may appear to be hyper-vigilant to all the possible dangers to his or her business and strategic about developing corresponding answers.
For a follower of Christ, there is a danger that this attitude may lose sight of one of Jesus' core teachings. As humans, we are powerless to control outcomes. They are in the realm of God. As much as we would like to manage risk and guarantee success, we must recognize our human limitations and trust outcomes to God. Jesus teaches that he will pull our loads in Matthew 11:28-30. We need to first seek God's purposes and then trust that, if we yoke ourselves to him, we will find rest for our souls by giving up control of the results. This is counter-intuitive but a truth that sets the faithventure apart from other business enterprises. It is something that bears more exploration in the future.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beauty from Ashes


In 2005, a group of men from Centennial Covenant Church took a backpack trip starting from Trapper's Lake in the Flattops. This is my favorite spot in Colorado. Over the last 15 years, I have annually backpacked in this Wilderness area up until 7 years ago when the Big Fish Fire devastated the area. When we departed for Trapper's Lake on that August day, I feared that I would find the place I loved destroyed by this terrible fire. Instead, I rediscovered God's love for taking "broken things" and making them beautiful. The Flattops have been transformed into one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. At Belay Enterprises, over the last nine years, I have had a front row seat in seeing God transform numerous lives broken by addiction or felony conviction. It is the great joy of my ministry to see God's grace transform a broken life into something beautiful. This is one of the great blessings of working in a faithventure.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Introduction

Imagine trying to support your family while facing a job market that refuses to provide you an opportunity to work. Perhaps it's a felony conviction or it's the lack of a place to live. Or maybe, it's the struggle to overcome an addiction. For many, it's merely living in a third-world country where prevailing poverty creates a lack of job opportunities and the average daily wage is less that a dollar a day. These are factors that lead to nearly unbreakable cycles of poverty with tragic consequences for individuals, families and communities. In the face of these challenges, I believe that there is a unique role that specially- gifted Christian entrepreneurs can play in addressing these problems in the name of Christ. And in the process they can share the love of Chirst. It's a big challenge but it's a task large enough to capture the hearts and engage the talents of a significant subset of Christian businesspersons. These are individuals that may feel they lack a place to use their talents on behalf of the kingdom.

I hope you will join me in this conversation as we explore how to start, resource and support this unique entity....the faithventure. We will also examine spiritual questions related to this task and share program stories of individual changed lives. We will define the nature of a faithventure by looking at already existing enterprises. We will ask what are the specific qualities of particular programs that make them successful. Also, stay tuned for future ways to become involved in the conversation as this blog evolves into a real community with opportunities to network and contribute to the success of this movement..

So dive on in and join us in this exciting adventure. I’m glad you're here.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...