By Milt Kuyers
People in business, including Christians, have often been accused of “having no heart” as they do their work in this sector of the economy. In our group we talked about the examples we have often seen—around us and all over the world—of exactly that. These “no heart” business actions also may have contributed to the financial turmoil of the last two years.
Joy is a heart emotion which we may have learned as young children, and it can often be short lived. We anticipate joy if future events take place in the way we would like them to transpire. We’ve learned, however, that true joy is experienced only when we are redeemed because of the undeserved love of a loving God. With this knowledge and assurance as Christians, joy can also come into play as we business people, in our work worlds, in special ways and special places, follow God’s directives on how to live our lives.
One joyful aspect of Carol’s and my life has been an aspect that we refer to as “heart investment.”
What do we mean by heart investment? We make a heart investment when we lead with our hearts, supported by our minds, to make investments of our time, talents and financial resources in people and businesses which otherwise would never be made because the risk is too great.
In the middle 1980s, I was running a company that required a major financial turnaround in order to stay alive in business. Not necessarily the time and place for leading with your heart! When I describe what we did to turn that company around, the most exciting part of the story includes the Lighthouse Gospel Program. This was an inner-city hiring program which touched the lives of over 100 people from the Lighthouse Church who were unemployed or underemployed. I often tell people that the work I did with Pastor James Carrington in inner-city Milwaukee was the most exciting time of my work life. I think people around us saw Christ working through a unique partnership between a very dedicated black pastor and a white suburban businessman. We trusted each other, learned from each other, served together and saw miracles happen in people’s lives and in our companybecause of God’s blessings.
And then in the early 1990s, I, with others, became involved in East Africa as a founder of Partners Worldwide, an organization of Christian entrepreneurs who stand with Christian entrepreneurs in developing countries around the world for the purpose of creating sustainable jobs.
It started in Kenya with a relationship that was the result of an invitation to a business persons’ weekly Bible study gathering in Nairobi. This exciting Christian job-creation initiative now includes about 1,000 Kenyan Christian entrepreneurs working together with North American Christians to create jobs through business advice, technology transfer and access to capital in a holistic ministry setting. We formed this initiative because we believe creation of sustainable jobs is so important for every person’s dignity and respect—because every person, no matter how poor, is an image bearer of God.
This relationship then expanded to include heart investments by Carol and me in three coffee-growing and export-related businesses in Kenya. Over five hundred people are employed because of these investments. It then follows that 500 families have been positively impacted because we led with our hearts.
And then in the late 1990s, we brought a manufacturing plant to the poorest county in the state of Mississippi. A start-up business was formed to bring to production stage a new product: a flexible floor tile made of concrete. This came about when one of our investors, also a member of Partners Worldwide, attended a celebration banquet in Mississippi commemorating 25 years of work at Cary Christian Services, begun by Dr. Peter Boelens of the Luke Society. Before he left for the celebration, we had talked together about our concern that, in all the publicity about the work at Cary Christian Services, we had never read success stories of the people who were assisted. We had only read stories about how good volunteers felt when offering time to help people in that part of the country.
After the banquet, my friend and fellow partner called me and said this: “We have to put our plant near Cary, Miss. The reason there are no success stories here is because there are no jobs here. Sharkey County has a 30 percent unemployment rate.”
We made the decision to locate our plant there. Our first advertisement for 12 people brought 250 applicants standing at the door for the available jobs. Eventually, 650 people applied for those jobs.
And within the last five years, I have also begun to be involved in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In God’s world we learn a lot by listening. Sometimes we listen with our eyes, other times we listen with our ears. The sense that I’ve honed and developed most during these years that I’ve just described has been listening with my heart. I have listened to the cries of people around the world and then pursued opportunities to be involved both personally and financially in making a difference in their lives, often through the creation of sustainable jobs. This is the cup of cold water given in Christ’s name.
Heart investing also means that we often have our hearts broken. We cried when we moved the Mississippi plant to Michigan, after realizing that it could never succeed in Mississippi. In these ventures, we have cried to God, “Why, God, do you make it so difficult?”
I’ve found through the highs and lows that I have experienced in my calling as a businessman that God is in charge, and he doesn’t promise that it ever will be easy. He promises that if I am faithful, he will stand next to me. That gives me joy!
Questions for reflection:
- Is risk taking, which is what we consider heart investments to be, appropriate for Christians?
- Does joy show in our lives onlywhen we do something or buy something for our own satisfaction?
—Milt Kuyers, Class of 1957, Chairman and CEO, Faustel Inc.