Walking Jesus into the Unreached Coffee Growing Communities of the World - A Podcast with Don Cox of Bald Guy Brew
Don Cox – Owner, Bald Guy Brew, Johnson City, Tennessee Area
From the time Don first saw someone roasting coffee outside in an open market, took a pound home and proceeded to burn it, filling the kitchen with smoke, he has been excited about coffee roasting. Over the course of many years, which took Don and his wife Shannon to various parts of Mexico, Pittsburgh, and eventually Boone, NC, they developed Bald Guy Brew. When arsonists burnt down the business in 2016, their focus turned to training and using coffee as a platform for making a difference in the world. Coffee roasting is not just about the coffee: it's about the people who enjoy it together, the people who grow it, and the places where they live.
Don's story and ways of thinking about coffee open up conversation for us to think about the ways we consume, the ways we do business, and how our lives can be intentionally lived in ways that bless the unreached and the poor. He shows some of the connections between land, people, and the global supply chains that connect us all.
As you listen be thinking about ways you can live intentionally to bless the people and the lands of the world. To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Paul Dzubinski and Steven Spicer host this edition of the Creation Care Missions Podcast. Below is the full text of talk that Don Cox gave at the Creation Care at the Frontiers of Mission conference.
Introduction: Coffee Growth, Unreached Peoples, and the Environment
So I'm Don. I roast coffee for a living. And I want to walk you through a world that could change by the end of the day. A world where a fifteenth century supply chain started by a European power, raking around the equator, ran into this thing called coffee. And they started using that commodity for colonization and cash, because coffee is a cash crop. Always has been. But imagine, if you can, a world where all goods are ethically sourced. A world where no human is a slave to labor. A world where every business decision has at its roots justice and mercy. A world where coffee growing communities are empowered rather than exploited. You see my friends, what is in your cup matters. Not only does it matter to the producer, but to you the end consumer, and I truly believe that it matters in the eyes of God. Because it's not an accident that coffee is grown around the world, nor is it a coincidence that the majority of the unreached people groups live in this coffee growing belt. It's no accident that coffee was meant to be grown under shade. But because of greed and a surge of global demand of coffee in the 1970s, flipped the switch and they started cutting down trees. So that the farmer can grow more and get paid less. Thirty-five out of the fifty countries in the world that have the largest rates of deforestation are also coffee producing countries. 2.5 million acres have been eliminated in Central America alone. Think about it. That's kind of awful, isn't it? But we have an opportunity to make a difference. We have an opportunity to understand that what matters as followers of Jesus is that, as my friend once said, "There's a new sheriff in town and things need to change. There is a new way of doing business." And that at the heart of the gospel is this relationship.
God Calls Change Agents
I have a wife of thirty years, and a thirteen-year-old, and a sixteen-year-old, and I wouldn't let my child drink contaminated water or eat rotten food. And as a follower of Jesus, I think we need to be in that same mindset, that even though we're not related, God's best isn't what your current situation is. Because the gospel calls us to think about how we can become change agents in whatever way, shape, or form we find ourselves in. For me, it was coffee. I am accidental. I am accidental with everything. Like, I didn't grow up with this thing. This is weird. I grew up a flat out pagan. After my wife and I came to know the Lord, we actually, I led my mom to the Lord. I told my dad that I got saved, and he said, "I know there's a God if he got a hold of you," and he walked out of the house. Went back to school. Went to seminary. Served as missionaries. Lived among coffee growing people, and started to realize that there was this big disconnect between what I was drinking, what I was spending my money on, and what was really happening in the coffee lands. Then, unbeknownst to me, my mom gave me a little wooden spoon. It's a cute little spoon. It's about this big. It used to be bigger. I found out that my great great aunt in Yugoslavia roasted coffee on an open fire on a metal pan with a whole in the roof, and this spoon has been passed down from generation to generation, and I got it.
Creating a New Supply Chain
I don't have the time to talk to you about the complexities of coffee, but I can tell you this. We can make a difference among an unreached people group today. How? By taking seriously the complexities of the supply chain and trying to develop a strategy by which we can identify those concerns: environmental, social, economic. Make sure that they are unreached. Look at how they produced, what they grow, what the post- harvest technology is, and then avenues by which we can move the product to market. You see, the supply chain of coffee is long and tall. And to be honest, it really hasn't changed. On the average, well let's play a game. I love playing games. Raise your hand if you think this amount is right. How many of you think that a coffee farmer receives $0.50 a pound for their labor? How many of you believe that a coffee farmer receives $0.40 a pound for their labor? How many of you believe that they receive $0.30 a pound for their labor? How many of you believe that a coffee farmer receives $0.20 a pound for their labor? How many of you believe that a coffee farmer receives $0.10 a pound for their labor? Something is wrong with that. And that's where the new sheriff calls us to be change agents.
You see, what we are trying to do with Bald Guy Brew and this thing called Project Eden (and we've been working In Costa Rica in the highlands - and I appreciate Paul's comments on appropriate technology and Ruth's comments on community because they really do speak to the nature of making a difference in a coffee growing community) is that we not only work with small-farms, one to two acres, because that is the majority of the coffee that's grown. Not only do we work with these individuals, we help them to grow a better-quality coffee so that it will fetch a better price. Where an integrated sustainability and profitability are in the purchasing contract. We not only walk dirt with farmers, we walk dirt with them and say, how can we make the product better? How can we help you on the post- harvest technology? And how can we get it to market? My big hairy audacious goal is to create a new supply chain of coffee that's based on kingdom dynamics. In fact, coffee growers need my help. Really, coffee growers need your help. I'm working with an individual in northern Nepal. The Mustang region in the northwest corner has been deemed a potential coffee sector for the industry. $70,000 of working capital allows me to walk dirt on a trek into northwest Nepal to hang out with Buddhist coffee growers and help them live, and serve as an advocate. To do justice, to love mercy, to—see, great coffee beans needs great soil, great soil needs great care. You can't divorce environmental stewardship from it because it's a tree. It's photosynthesis. It has to have it.
Conclusion: Making a Difference in the World
Imagine you, the Christian coffee drinker, being connected to the non-Christian coffee producer. That at every cup you have in the morning, you can pray because you know who you are praying for. You know that financially you're supporting an individual or a family, or a growing community. And that at the end of the day, you are making a difference in the world. Because really isn't that what we want to do? What a great way to honor the Lord and to share our natural talents. I was speaking with David and he said, "How can I make a difference in India? I got these connections." I said, "David, I don't know but find what you are good at doing and go do it." And do it till He comes. Do it with all your heart. The bottom line is do it to honor the Lord in every aspect and in the complexity of a commodity like coffee. There's no silver bullet. There's no magic answer. There's just head down, put your hand to the plow until you are done. In my advanced age, the one thing that I want and the legacy that I want to leave my family and my two young boys, is that their old man didn't give up. And that my footprint was on a piece of dirt among an unreached people group. And that my efforts made a difference in a coffee growing community. Then I will be glad to hear the words, "Well done my good and faithful servant."
Let's pray. Father, thank you that you are a good God. And that you, in your wisdom, created an opportunity for your Church to be involved in the expansion of your Kingdom. Not only with good words but with actions that show our care for people even if they do not know you. You've given us the imagination and the creativity and the tenacity to attach ourselves to these life goals. And I just pray, Father, that you would open up our ears to hear, our eyes to see, and our hearts to obey. And that at this moment, you would be calling your people to that place of making a difference for the kingdom for your glory. In Jesus Name. Amen.