Do Good

Coffee with a cause: I tasted His goodness even when my business failed

Lock Hui Min // June 27, 2019, 6:39 pm

Coffee farmer in Timor Leste

Meeting a Timorese coffee farmer on a recce trip. All photos courtesy of the writer

Is this what God wants me to do?

I spent two years pondering this question before I took the leap of faith to start Really Good Goods to really do good, by selling really good goods.

Two years on, I would love to share that that my social enterprise is now flourishing, but sadly this is not the case.

The idea for an online marketplace selling everyday products with a social cause came when I left my previous full-time job. As I was considering my next career move, I wanted to put my marketing skills to more meaningful use.

This concept was largely inspired by Thankyou, an Australian non-profit that produces fast-moving consumer goods such as drinking water, hand and body soap, and even food. Although the prices of its products are slightly higher than similar businesses, all the profits go towards supporting social causes.

I thought it was a great idea. Surely most people would not mind paying a few cents more to buy products that contribute to a social cause?

Really Good Coffee: The organically grown coffee beans are sourced from a social enterprise in Timor-Leste who works with farmer groups.

On one of my mission trips to Timor-Leste, I came to know that this lesser-known country produces great coffee.

As South-east Asia’s youngest nation, its people have endured the hardship of political conflict and violence, and I was part of a church team that undertook an exploratory trip to see how we could be involved in rebuilding various sectors of the economy, such as education and business. 

I was introduced to Cafe Brisa Serena, a social enterprise started by Peace Winds Japan. The NGO’s vision is to help coffee farmers in Letefoho village by teaching them to organically grow better quality beans and paying them a higher price for it.

I decided that I wanted to help with the cause, but it still felt like a huge risk to start this venture. 

SEEKING OUT GOD’S VISION

Being a risk-averse person, my ambition was never to be an entrepreneur, so I really had to seek and pray to ask God if this was what He wanted me to do. 

What was His vision for the business? 

God also spoke through a dear friend who is a missionary in Timor-Leste.

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (Psalm 37:3)

My friend reminded me that if I was trusting in the Lord and my intention was to do good, God would already be pleased. 

Integral mission: Can you feed the poor with a Bible?

He also shared with me a passage from the book of Joshua. Just as the Israelites who were carrying the ark of the covenant across the Jordan had to step into the river before God stopped the flowing waters, sometimes God requires us to take the first step before He reveals the next step to us (Joshua 3:13).

Throughout my business, this has been the promise that I’ve held on to.

Though I wasn’t able to see the full picture at that time, I trusted that God would lead me as I took this step of faith, and He would provide the wisdom to run this business.

I went ahead to launch Really Good Goods with coffee from Timor-Leste, later expanding to bring in a range of teas from another social enterprise that supports women in the country.

COUNTING THE COST

As with all new ventures, there were sacrifices involved.

Instead of watching Netflix when I got home after a long day at work, I had to invest time in my second “job”. Many Saturday mornings were spent travelling to collect and deliver coffee beans.

Then there was the real issue of finances. How much was I prepared to lose if the venture failed? How much was I prepared to invest in this?

Knowing that God would want me to be a good steward of His resources, it was a question that I knew I had to carefully consider. 

The other area I was challenged in was having to ask for help.

As a small enterprise, I had to be resourceful, which involved approaching friends for help, even those I wasn’t close to. Was I ready to face rejection?

I truly felt out of my comfort zone.

FIXING MY EYES ON HIM 

Each time I was faced with a disappointment, I questioned God and myself. There were so many times when I asked God if this was really what He wanted me to do.

If this is in Your will, why isn’t my business flourishing?

Disappointments came in many forms, but they were the hardest when they made me doubt my own ability as a marketer. 

For the launch event, I planned a media session and invited a barista from Timor-Leste to share about the coffee beans. The turnout was miserable: The majority of the attendees were my friends rather than members of the members or influencers. 

Until now, my social media pages stand at a meagre 200+ followers. As a marketer by profession, couldn’t I have done better?

Fatima, the Timorese barista that spoke at the launch event of Really Good Goods.

Tears were shed with every disappointment, but each time God reassured me that He was in control.

Trust in Him and do good.

If my eyes were not fixed on Jesus and His promise, my confidence would have been greatly affected. But I trusted that it was all in God’s control. I committed my ways to Him, knowing that He would establish my plans.

This is not my ministry or business – it’s His.

WILL YOU SURRENDER OUTCOMES? 

God does not promise a rosy life once we follow Him. I’m sad to share that the doors are closing for Really Good Goods and the business is coming to an end.

After a two-year struggle of limited financial success, the only direct flight from Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, to Singapore has stopped in April, making it difficult to import a small batch of coffee beans.

However, I’m encouraged that Really Good Goods still served its purpose in other ways and there were good things that came out of it.

Take heart, look to the blessing when things go wrong

The Timorese barista I invited for my media tasting had the opportunity to make her first trip out of Timor-Leste because of the launch event.

It turned out to be an eye-opening experience for her, and she returned home with renewed motivation and skills she learnt from interacting with some of the best in Singapore’s coffee industry. In fact, she recently opened her own café in Timor-Leste.

I also had the opportunity to collaborate with Papa Palheta (now PPP Coffee), one of Singapore’s leading coffee boutiques. Having our coffee beans served in their popular Chye Seng Huat Hardware café and being able to reach specialty coffee lovers helped to put Timor-Leste on the coffee-producing map.

By marketing the business online, at pop-up fairs and through partners, God gave me the chance to raise awareness about Timor-Leste to a much wider audience. I was also able to share my testimony of why I started this business and how God has been leading me in this journey. 

All this could only have happened because God opened the doors for me.

As I reflect on my journey, I believe it has certainly not been a waste.

Besides playing a small role in the little breakthroughs for Timor-Leste, I believe God wanted me to seek Him and learn to hear from Him.

Prayer has never been my strength. I lead a busy life and am always distracted by work, friends, mobile devices… But while running the business, there were so many times I had to go on my knees to seek His direction and encouragement. Through Really Good Goods, God led me to a closer walk with Him. 

While the business did not grow, I did. 

If you’d like to purchase specialty coffee from Timor-Leste before the last stocks run out, feel free to drop an email to say hi. Profits from each bag of beans sold will go towards supporting educational causes in Timor-Leste. For more information, do visit Really Good Goods.

THINK + TALK

  1. Are there burdens that God has placed on your heart?
  2. What challenges will you face if you step out in obedience?
  3. How can you be faithful to what He is calling you to do?