Back when Refuge was a mere zygote instead of the tadpole it is today, we had big dreams of introducing our friends who live outside Clarkston to our friends who live in Clarkston. We figured magic might happen if we could pull that off.
But first, we had to become a functioning not-for-profit business. I had no idea what I was doing, so I cashed in on a gazillion free one-hour consultations. I talked to non-profit experts, social media experts, legal experts. I talked to just about every coffee salesman in town. I profited in some way from 100% of these meetings, even though 80% of them did not get our business when it came to decision-making time. This felt a little like cheating. Also, in a few delusional moments when I wasn’t scared to death, it made me feel like I was a gen-u-wine businesswoman playing hardball with the big boys. As if.
Business still scares me. In fact, it’s the business part of this whole deal that has made me want to quit more than once. But people, well, they persist in delighting me, and that makes it all worthwhile.
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from one of those coffee salesmen. He sells really great coffee which we do not buy. He said he’s been following Refuge with interest and asked if I might know a family that his family could help this Christmas. If I recall, he said something to the effect that his family wanted to change their giving habits, kind of like starting an exercise regimen after being a couch potato. I liked his imagery. I understood it.
I immediately thought of our friend Ndoole and her three brothers Samuel, Bernard, and Joshua from the Congo. Some day I’ll tell their story. But for now, here’s a summary: The day her father was shot by rebels, Ndoole, her brothers, and her mother ran three different directions from their home. She found her brothers in a Ugandan refugee camp. She’s never found her mother. That was six years ago.
Even though I know and trust Ndoole, even though I’ve met her brothers and have been in her home, I told my coffee salesman friend I’d need to have a conversation with her first to find out what they needed. My husband and I have made more than a few giving mistakes since moving here over two years ago. We’ve given too much, too little, too late. We’ve given inappropriately. We’ve not always vetted people or their needs very well. We’ve created messes and caused confusion. So this time I did a little homework. I simply asked Ndoole what they needed.
“The boys need a computer to do their school work,” she said, smiling and agreeing that they did not need clothes or food or toys.
I wrote back a sheepish reply, wondering if my friend was thinking more on the lines of socks and underwear. No, he told me, his entire extended family was in on this, and they felt they could swing a laptop. And a printer.
This Sunday night we all rendezvoused at our house and drove three minutes away to Ndoole’s. Although she was expecting us, I called to warn her that a crowd was about to invade her home, and she just laughed. She’s flexible like that.
But Ndoole is strong, too. This woman, not yet thirty years old and barely five feet tall, was not fazed by the appearance of so many American strangers at her door. She welcomed us in, and before allowing the boys, who are 11, 14, and 17, to tear into the gifts; she asked if we could pray first. This tiny powerhouse of a woman took command of the room. She then invited us to follow her in a proclamation of gratitude, in an eloquent reminder that all gifts do not issue from up to down, from rich to poor, from those who are full to those who are empty, but that we are all blessed by and beholden to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
I looked up after Ndoole said Amen and thought, This is it. The magic is happening. A guy who could easily consider us his business rival, and a woman who already has a head start on the reason we started Refuge in the first place. She is not just surviving; she is thriving. A well-oiled business machine can’t crank this stuff out.
The thing is, I could tell a dozen similar stories, dramas of love with a tenuous connection to this business called Refuge Coffee Co. and the people who share our dream. So no matter how hard the business gets, there’s no way I’m going to quit. If I did, I’d miss the magic.