Espresso Pioneers in Burundi

By IET Communications

Photo Courtesy Crew Dates

Photo Courtesy Crew Dates

For Ben and Kristy Carlson, the Gospel and coffee go hand-in-hand, but not necessarily during chats over mocha cappuccinos at Starbucks. For them, expressing their faith is about a high-risk, life-changing, beautiful adventure in post-war Burundi.

While serving with The Navigators in South Africa, Ben and Kristy saw a heartbreaking need in neglected and impoverished Burundi. Ben, a certified international coffee specialist, saw a way to combine his passion for coffee with the advancement of the Gospel. With hearts fixed on helping coffee farmers climb out of poverty and learn about Christ, Ben and Kristy (a talented photographer) moved to Burundi with their two young sons and started a coffee exporting business.

Why start a business? The Carlsons believed a coffee company could help them improve the socioeconomic and spiritual life of Burundians in an integrated way. The business would create jobs, increase wages for coffee farmers, help local communities, and open doors to relationships through which the Gospel could flow.

More than 800,000 Burundian families grow some of the best coffee in the world. But because local farmers often lack the official certifications needed to prove the high quality of their beans, they usually earn only half of what their coffee is worth on the international market.

Ben and Kristy’s business, The Long Miles Coffee Project, is helping to change that. Ben offers Burundian farmers the international quality certifications they need to get top dollar for their beans. He also helps coffee farmers improve farming techniques, provides standardized coffee tasting and pricing services, prepares the product for shipment, and connects Burundian coffee to international brokers. Despite harsh living conditions, political instability, and the demands of having small children, the Carlsons exported three times more coffee than they expected during their first year.

Business has become a natural platform for life-on-life investment in people. God has used the company to open numerous relational doors with farmers as well as influential people in government, universities, and commerce. Ben and Kristy are sharing their faith in personal ways within their relational sphere of influence.

The Bigger Picture: Missional Enterprises

The Carlsons’ approach to entering a country is just one example of how God is using small and medium business enterprises to reach the lost for Christ. Today, Navigators are resourcing and leading more than two hundred business enterprises around the world. Most of these enterprises are not started by foreigners like the Carlsons, but by people who are insiders to their own cultures.

Jack Benjamin, Director of the Global Enterprise Network of The Navigators, says that these businesses aim to achieve a “triple bottom line”: to be financially profitable and sustainable, to bring social improvements such as jobs and economic growth to the community, and to provide a natural context for outreach and generational discipleship.

While it’s certainly not the only way to reach people for Christ, missional enterprises do play a significant role in Navigator efforts. A growing number of countries are politically or culturally closed to traditional missionaries. And, in poorer countries, Christians often find it difficult to finance the pioneers and local leaders they need. The enterprise model is helping to overcome these obstacles. It’s been an effective approach in closed countries, among unreached people groups, and even among former criminals in urban America.

As Navigator partnering countries have launched increasing numbers of small businesses in recent decades, the need for leadership and collaboration has increased. The Global Enterprise Network is meeting that need as an extension of our Navigator Calling, Values, and Vision.

Pioneers like Ben and Kristy face tremendous business, spiritual, and personal struggles as they carry the Gospel to unreached peoples. They can’t do it alone. But with this international leadership and the support of The Navigators, the Carlsons have been able to spread the aroma of Christ in Burundi—right alongside the aroma of coffee.

To watch a video clip of the Carlsons’ coffee project in Burundi, go to this link.