The Source Cafe: A Story of God Using Business as Mission in Uganda (Jul-Aug 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Clint Davis
July – August, 2006

It was 1997 and we’d been in Uganda for three months and we were overwhelmed.

Everything was different from our lives in the United States. We saw and spoke to people overwhelmed with poverty. They were desperate for jobs, medicine and money to send their children to the parochial schools.

We were humbled by thirty Ugandans who walked long distances to worship each Sunday in what looked like a bombed out rundown rented school room with jagged broken glass that had been windows, creaky old chairs, dirt an inch thick on the floor, and paint-peeling walls. The school room rental was $7 a month.

Nonetheless, the Ugandan congregation was unaffected by the unsightly environment and lifted their voices to God like we’d never heard before. We were living in a new and strange world.

It was about to get much stranger.

Late one night I received a phone call from Idah, one of the new employees at Jemimah’s Café, a small store and snack shop our mission team had agreed to help run and eventually own, after the Ugandan owner moved to another town.

Idah and several other employees had a problem and she asked me to travel downtown to resolve it. “You need me?” I asked. And then I realized that I was the one, after all, who had just moved to Jinja with all of my vast small business experience (read none) to be the point person for this business, an attempt at a new and creative solution for enabling a financially sustainable church movement in poverty stricken Africa.

Those next three hours seemed like three months, the longest and most break out in cold sweat session of my life. Not just one or two, but three Ugandan women were sobbing, sometimes uncontrollably, as they tried to explain to me what the disagreement was all about. I didn’t have a clue. Something was wrong, but I was listening to a new form of Ugandan/British English and through a cultural lens very foreign to my own. I returned home at midnight and wondered aloud to Briley just what exactly in the world we had gotten ourselves into.

From that night on, began a journey for me. It was a mix of reaching deeper inside of me for gifts God used in this business with a mission and my reaching out to others who would become vital to the sustainability of the mission business. But what was the first idea for creating sustainability for a church movement in one of the poorest countries in the world?

Believe it or not, it was to manage a run down little business on Main Street in Jinja, Uganda, called Jemimah’s Café which had a history of rampant employee theft and now employed young Christians straight from remote villages with zero business experience. It was a six month trial to see what may come of the possibility of a small business actually financially sustaining a poor urban church and a village church movement associated with it.

Those six months taught me a lot, and the next six years taught me even more about business as mission, which is the dramatic and dynamic shift in missions that I want to describe to you.

I learned that honest business and typical business practices in Uganda didn’t mix. Every business avoided paying taxes, bribed government officials and manipulated the legal system. Most business leaders actively resorted to witchcraft to enhance their business chances—in the worst and documented cases, human sacrifice on the site of new business ventures in cities. Every employer worked their employees into the ground and then often neglected to pay them. Who else would they pay them? There weren’t really any other jobs their employees could run to.

Now, throw supporting churches from the United States into the equation: what supporting church in their right mind would actually buy a business called Jemimah’s Café in Uganda? Businesses in developing countries are the highest risk businesses to fund. And besides, many suppose that business and church shouldn’t be mixed anyway. Doesn’t the Bible speak about money changers in the temple and Jesus not dealing too kindly with them?

Every where we looked, challenges seemed insurmountable. Did we have reason to press on? Our mission team thought so. We kept praying about the heart wrenching economic conditions around us and how those struggles fit into our overall church planting mission. God kept pointing us in new directions. And God gave us a new vision for this place soon to be called “The Source.”

The Source CafeStarting in 1997, my teammates and I spent meeting after meeting overlooking the Source of the Nile River. We prayed and talked how we could best encourage the Jinja Church of Christ and Busoga Bible School (BBS), a Bible training school for village church leaders, and to help them have a place they could call home for years to come. It’s not easy when the average Ugandan lives on less than $1 a day and it costs a location like that $15 a day just to pay the utilities. Weekly church contributions often consisted of home grown fruit as opposed to checks drawn on big bank accounts.

At that time, we concluded that we had three options:

1. Raise on-going money from the United States for an unlimited amount of time to pay the bills.

2. Focus on house churches (not a bad option itself) but concede weekly large gatherings and have no meeting place for BBS.

3. Try to build a place we would later call The Source, named after the Source of the Nile with double entendre of Christ the source of life and a facility where people could find many resources for improving their lives. The Source would empower and give Ugandans dignity by providing them jobs and a way to serve the community while paying for a church building and creating a hub for a growing church movement in eastern Uganda.

As far as we could tell option three was full of risk, incredible challenges and had never really been done before, but we didn’t feel great about the first two options either. So we started praying and praying more. Every week we prayed that if this third option was from God that He would bless it. If not, we asked God to throw the whole idea into the Nile River and show us a better way.

So we all worked together, Americans and Ugandans. We faced serious challenges along the way but God continued blessing His work through us.

Following the philosophy of our mission team, we did not strong arm Ugandans and tell them there’s only one way to run businesses but helped create an environment where we worked together with Ugandans directing and managing the facility and business. The Source’s director and Jinja Church of Christ leader Moses Kimeze made his start as a little boy in his village raising goats so he could go to school. Moses lived in a village you could only reach on dirt roads and footpaths. His family lived in extreme poverty—better described as poverty that kills by malnutrition, water-born diseases, and malaria.

Moses knew he had hope when he was given a goat. He bred the goat and grew his little herd. He shepherded this little herd well enough that he was largely able to pay his own primary and secondary schools. It wasn’t just goats he learned about though. He seized any opportunity to learn a new skill.

As he grew older, Moses became one of the most sought after carpenters in all of Uganda. But he had that passion for learning more and potential for leadership, and after he was project manager of the renovation of The Source, he became manager. Now, Moses, for The Source, manages an Internet cafe, computer training school, coffee shop, and craft business. The Source is a model Christian business paying their taxes, providing jobs and a facility to be used by the community for good causes, and allowing the Jinja Church of Christ to spend their money towards supporting missionaries as opposed to paying electricity bills and rent.

Remember Idah? She was the one who called me to settle a dispute between her and two co-workers. That and many other disputes later, her life and character has developed so much that she’s the one people call upon to settle disputes. She continued working for the Source Café. She was cheerful most of the time and hardworking, and could be heard to exclaim in the middle of the afternoon, “I haven’t even taken the lunch!” Over the years, she became a close friend and our longest tenured employee. She now manages, in her spare time, to go out and share God’s love with many others in remote villages. She has not only learned how to run a small café but she has also grown into an amazing speaker and dramatist. Her joy, smile and laughter light up a village as she exhorts fellow women to run the hard race of life and not just any life, life in Christ.

It is talented, creative and hard working Ugandans like Moses and Idah that are the reason the property at Plot 20 Main Street is holy ground for me. It is used seven days a week for God’s glory. In one short week, on a recent trip back to see my old friends, I witnessed AIDS victims being counseled, meals being provided to hungry children, village church leaders attending a seminar to improve their Christian pre-schools, two baptisms, great worship and praise to God, small group meetings, e-mails being sent to family members across the globe, Ugandans learning computer skills, quality local crafts being sold, and lots of coffee being sipped. Jesus is alive and well at The Source as his love is daily on display in many ways.

What once seemed a ridiculous and overwhelming idea, God now uses to bless the Jinja Church of Christ, the Basoga Church of Christ movement, the community of Jinja, and the entire country of Uganda. To me The Source represents how God can easily power His way through weak people like me and through seemingly insurmountable challenges.

When the day came in 2003 for my family to move back to the United States, we wondered if the last six years had been spent in vain. We wondered if at our first return to Uganda we would find The Source project had all crumbled. It didn’t. The Ugandans kept working and God kept blessing.

Kibo GroupI want to emphasize this fact: The Source business has become more profitable under Ugandan management than the early years of American management. The overall church movement is developing and ministering in new and relevant ways through the empowerment of Ugandans and their tenacious and creative stamina in sharing the message and life of Jesus Christ with their fellow Ugandans.

Today, despite nine years of great struggle, the Jinja Church of Christ has a beautiful facility. It’s important to note as well that the property purchase and renovation funds came from many generous American Christians. The ongoing operational expenses of the Bible school facility, the church and supported evangelists, and numerous other parachurch ministries, however, come from The Source.

BBS has a home and holds week-long Bible training classes every month where the on-site dormitory houses up to fifty village church leaders. The Church meets in a plaza worship center seating more than three hundred people. When Americans and Ugandans visit, they recognize the sense of community established in a Ugandan setting of unique ambience with balcony rooms overlooking the worship center. I praise God every day for providing this incredible place and its continued success, both its spiritual and economic success.

And because of the way God heard and answered many prayers, I call this place holy ground and I’m thankful to have walked on it. God, our amazing creator, loves to create. And in Jinja he created something beautiful and out of the church-ordinary.

How is God ready to create good works through you to overcome your seemingly insurmountable problems? What impossible idea is God ready to use to grow His Kingdom in your church community?

Photo Feature: Church in Jinja

Business as Mission (BAM) is a growing movement among mission-minded business people and churches. The Source taught us that there are several good reasons for using business on the mission field. Below is a list that can be applied directly to The Source story.

1. BAM provides a model for sustainable missions, overcoming chronic problems of dependency in developing countries and encouraging greater stewardship of money worldwide.

2. BAM takes much needed and sought after business expertise, technology and capital from the developed world to developing countries creating greater economic justice.

3. BAM creates jobs! And with it empowers and gives dignity to many lives.

4. BAM grows the local economy and blesses the nation.

5. BAM provides access to many locations and relationships, especially the increasing number of nations now considered closed to missionaries.

6. BAM presents the gospel by word through meaningful relationships.

7. BAM presents the gospel by deed.

8. BAM enables local funding of the church.

9. BAM taps into a highly underutilized yet highly capable resource in the church—business people. They get a chance to give more than just their money but their lives as well.

10. BAM is a valuable partner for more traditional mission efforts lending towards desired holistic ministry efforts.

11. There’s a great opportunity in our world today. Business is going global, mission should go with it.

12. BAM helps economically blessed Christians fulfill the commands of Jesus (see Matthew 25:40ff; 1 John 3:17).

May God conceive new mission efforts and move in more businesspeople to serve where He is already working in this world. May BAM help to fulfill the Great Commission given to us by Jesus. May BAM bless the lives of needy people throughout this world.

New Wineskins

Clint Davis Clint Davis is married to Briley and they have three children Easton, Tyler, and McKensey. They love being a part of the Memorial Drive Church of Christ in Tulsa.

Clint is a Harding business graduate who has experiences ranging from working as an accountant for a Fortune 500 company to serving as a missionary in Uganda. While in Uganda he earned his MBA from the University of Tulsa’s online program and helped found Kibo Group International, a non-profit encouraging African development ministry [Kibogroup.org].

He currently serves as CFO for a small Christian owned company in Tulsa and is an adjunct teacher for Harding’s on-line MBA program. You can read more about using Business As Mission on his blog, Clint Davis.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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