This article was originally published in the February 2017 edition of ITMI Monthly.
Three years ago, ITMI followed God’s leading and helped our Indian partner, Paul, open a corner grocery store.
Paul’s original vision for the store was to provide jobs for young widows in his church who were looked upon as a burden by their family. The constant barrage of verbal abuse related to their “worthlessness” made many of their lives miserable.
ITMI partners serving in India, Paul and Molly.
When they started bringing home income, everything changed for them.
But the impact of the small corner store has grown far bigger than we could’ve imagined.
One of the men in one of Paul’s Bible studies had left employment in the “big grocery” industry to care for a sick family member, and was working in real estate, but wanted to get back into grocery. While meeting with Paul, he pulled from his backpack detailed documented research about opening a store.
Paul asked the man to mange his store. But not under a typical “manager” job description in India.
You see in India, most business owners make the most micromanaging person you’ve ever met look like Huckleberry Finn. They micromanage their employees abusively. They withhold the cash and authority suspiciously. But the manager of Paul’s store has a different job description.
“I can’t pay you as much as you earned other places,” Paul proposed, “But you will have autonomy. You will be able to handle the money and make decisions. I expect you to make decisions and expand the business.”
Each month, Paul meets with his manager, and each month the manager says with tears, “No one trusts the way you trust, it’s so different working with you.” He loves being valued and trusted.
He isn’t the only one who is amazed by the difference between Paul’s store and others.
After a massive cyclone hit their area last year, many people couldn’t access their money because the banks were down. The stores they’d been faithfully patronizing for years wouldn’t help. Their families were hungry.
So, many high caste clients who have money, but just couldn’t access it, came to Paul’s store. Paul gave them credit and allowed them to take enough to feed their families until the systems were up again. One hundred percent of them returned to right their accounts!
Now, the store’s clientele is made up of all castes. But the store’s employees are trained to respect them all equally. “We tell them, ‘people matter, people matter’” Paul says. This is completely counter-cultural.
They make sure to care for everyone who comes through the door. Clients return saying, “You are different,” and “You really value us.”
Some of the staff are unsaved college-age women, who are supporting their entire families through their job at Paul’s store. Because of the love and value that they experience at the store, they started coming to church. “We never asked them,” Paul said, “they just started coming.”
Molly and some of the women who have been blessed by employment in Paul and Molly's store.
The Indian government tends to view pastors as a burden to society. They blame Christians for “stealing” their culture and accuse Christian churches of taking money from the lower caste. Their intolerance for religions other than Hindu has increased greatly in the last 3 years.
But because Paul is now a business owner, he is viewed as a contributing member of society. He has favor and relationships in new circles. He has less trouble with immigration.
When we embarked on this project with Paul, we didn’t know the government would become increasingly opposed to Christians. But God did. It’s fairly unorthodox for a pastor to also own a business, but when we follow God’s lead, no matter how crazy it seems, He blesses in unique ways.
About the Authors
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.