October 1, 2018 | View All Stories

Coconut Milk Business Sustains Ministry

Christian ministry requires financial resources to support, sustain, and grow the work. Our partners doing ministry in the mission fields of their countries contend with various real needs on a daily basis—missionary families to support, a Bible school to run, evangelistic literature to print and distribute, a church building project to commence, continue or complete, transportation expenses to cover, and the list of needs goes on.

One of our ministry partners in Bali, Indonesia, has a residential Bible school. The ministry struggled to supply food for the students, and pay rent and utilities.

Brother Chandra, the ministry leader, sought different ways to supplement the ministry’s income. He first tried selling eggs, but that was a high-risk and losing proposition. Then he ventured into baking and delivering cookies to the market early every morning. This entailed lots of work and yielded minimal profits.

After praying and doing market research, God led him to go into coconut milk production. Coconut milk is a basic ingredient in Indonesian cooking. That micro-finance project took less time, generated good profit, and brought new friends with whom to share the good news.

Using $6 from his son’s piggy bank as initial capital, he started buying coconuts from the villages and had some students grate them and squeeze out the milk—all by hand. They then sold the milk early mornings in the public market. Chandra soon realized that this method was labor-intensive and low-yielding. He found a coconut milk extractor and bought it on credit. The daily milk output dramatically increased from 25 liters of coconut milk squeezed manually to about 150 liters of milk extracted mechanically—an increase of 600%.

Not too long after Chandra purchased his first milk extractor, a visiting mission team from ANM led by Bo and Marlou Barredo offered to upgrade their equipment with funds donated by American friends of the mission. The additional upgraded and more powerful coconut milk extractor further boosted the ministry’s milk output and consequent income.

In its first six months the coco micro-business had only two to three customers. Demand was low. Only one person did the work. Now they have three coconut-milk extracting machines, five coconut graters, and one coconut-husking machine. They use 300 to 400 coconuts daily, or about 10,000 coconuts a month.

Eight workers operate the business. Four of them are graduates or students of the Bible school and the other four were hired through ministry friends. After working in the coco business for about a year, they also decided to study in ministry’s Bible school!

Business sustains ministry and creates new opportunities

The coco business provides the workers with sustainable income so they can be almost self-supporting. Starting at dawn, they work three to four hours every day. They then attend their Bible classes or reach out to non-believers free from financial worries.

The monthly income not only pays the eight workers, it sustains other ministry programs, including the Bible school operating costs, church expenses, and transportation expenses of the children’s ministry team.

Chandra buys coconuts from multiple suppliers, all of whom are Hindu. He sells the empty coconut shells to other Hindus who then use them to make charcoal. The ministry sells the coconut milk to Muslims, most of whom are restaurant owners. With Hindus supplying the coconuts and Muslims buying the coconut milk, Chandra and his team occupy a strategic position in the middle. This gives them valuable opportunities to be a witness for Christ by how they treat and deal with their suppliers and customers.

Chandra challenged one supplier, saying, “If you continue gambling, we will stop ordering coconut from you. We are Christians and we don’t agree that you use your profits from us for gambling.” The man quit gambling. Most coconut suppliers and customers have become good friends. Chandra and his team visit them and pray for them when they are sick. They also invite them to special Christian celebrations.

The coconut business provides access to unbelievers. When Chandra and his missionary team go to a new place, they need a plausible reason to enter it. Once a missionary team came to one village that did not have a single Christian. They proceeded on the pretext of looking for coconuts to buy. Although they did not find coconuts, as the village had very few coconut trees, they were able to make friends with the local people. This paved the way for the ministry to start providing free education to the children.

Then a villager told the team about his friends who were handicapped. They visited the handicapped couple and soon after sharing the gospel with them, the couple trusted Christ. The ministry has since planted a house church in the village, and 90 children now receive Bible instruction and free nutritious meals every week.

This coconut milk business exemplifies the desire and willingness of indigenous missionaries to adopt measures that will help sustain their work. Revenues from the business help support the ministry’s newest church plant in a remote village in North Sumatra.

Looking ahead

Chandra and his team pray that God will expand and grow the business so more churches can be planted and supported. They look forward, by faith, to be able to rent another place and add another coconut extracting machine costing approximately between $1,200 and $1,500.

Given the uncertain nature of foreign contributions as well as the increasing challenges in sending funds from overseas mission agencies to some countries, indigenous missionary partners perceive that the future of their ministry will depend on local sustainable support. Foreign funding may or may not be there. But the work of reaching the lost in their mission fields must go on.

Having a sustainable ministry lends dignity to the ministry leader and workers. Knowing that through their own labor they can live out the call God has placed on their hearts gives them a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and contentment.

Support projects to make local ministry more sustainable.

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Marlou is ANM's Co-Regional Director for Southeast Asia.

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