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Investing in Christian Entrepreneurs

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Chaminda is a bicycle mechanic who operates a road-side repair shop close to his home in the urban ghetto nick-named ‘Somalia’ in Grandpass, Colombo North. It is with the earnings of this bicycle repair work that he feeds and provides for his wife and two school-going children. Life is difficult but it is better than what it used to be; Chaminda is a rehabilitated substance abuser whose life took an about turn since he found Christ almost 20 years ago. With the help of faith and a strong perseverance, Chaminda overcame the many challenges he was faced with. Twice he faced disaster in the form of displacement. Initially, the government’s bulldozers tore down his home because it was an illegal construction. Determined not to lose hope, Chaminda rebuilt his home and it was also then that he started his business in bicycle repair. His apparent success ignited jealousy in the hearts of his neighbours and acquaintances who set his new house on fire. Even while the flames were still consuming all his belongings, Chaminda found hope in a little gold chain that he was sure would be unharmed by the fire. He rummaged through the smoking embers and charred household items for that little chain which was still intact. With the help of this sole possession, Chaminda raised just enough funds to rebuild his life from the ashes.

Today, Chaminda has a steady flow of clients who visit his shop for repairs; most of them are youth and young children who cycle their way through the slums in play or running an errand. These customers bring him an average daily earning of LKR 1,800 of which he allocates LKR 300 for the purchase of bicycle parts and other business related expenses. LKR 1,000 is spent on his household needs while Chaminda faithfully saves LKR 200 daily. His diligence in saving money daily has raised a savings of LKR 20,000 while he has also kept aside LKR 25,000 as an emergency fund, drawing a lesson from the harrowing experiences of his past.

Looking back, Chaminda has much to be proud of. Nevertheless, Chaminda prefers to look forward with the belief that there is much more left to do. He plans to further develop his business venture; he hopes to convert the temporary wooden shed which is his workshop into a permanent structure with concrete walls and floor. This will not only help him stay dry in the wet season but also draw in more customers. Chaminda also wants to purchase a small compressor with the help of which he can offer bicycle painting services which in turn will help increase his daily earnings. However, dreams too come true at a price. Chaminda requires LKR 50,000 to pay for the construction work and for the purchase of the compressor.

On 21 June, Chaminda came with many hopes to Sanctuary House, Pamunugama where the National Christian Evangelical Alliance Sri Lanka (NCEASL) was conducting a 3 day business training of trainers programme for Christian businessmen as well as pastoral workers engaged in livelihood initiatives.

The NCEASL conducted this training of trainers programme for 17 future business mentors who attended sessions on the principles of business management which were conducted by the NCEASL staff as well as veteran entrepreneurs. The training also included an exposure visit to a factory where the participants could understand the salient features of operating businesses and best practices in managing a business venture successfully. On the last day, the participants were divided in to two business clinics where they were given a unique opportunity to provide guidance for two struggling businesses, drawing from the lessons learnt at the training.

Towards afternoon, Chaminda found himself surrounded by eight mentors who were inquiring into his business practices. They noted down his expenses, his profit, his future plans and other related information which they derived from a long discussion with Chaminda. Following this discussion, the mentors reached the conclusion that Chaminda should apply for a bank loan for the capital he requires to develop his business. Chaminda had thus far believed that he was incapable of approaching a bank for a loan, mainly because he was semi-literate and not confident enough to fill in a loan application form. The discussion with his coaches helped him learn a few things in relation to applying for a bank loan. The mentors went on to pledge their support to help him throughout the process, from filling the application form to coming forward as guarantors, vouching for his credibility to the bank.

The business clinic proved to be a great opportunity not just for Chaminda but also for the mentors who successfully conducted their very first training session for a struggling businessman. Thus equipped, these newly trained mentors will go onto train other micro and small-scale business owners. This training will also provide these mentors with a valuable skill that could also bring in an additional income as they provide training for entrepreneurs in creating systematic and practical business frameworks and overcoming challenges presented by the world of commerce. Gradually, these mentors will create a network of Christian business owners, connecting them to other entrepreneurs and mentors as well as to financial institutions, resources and marketplaces.

Paul is a part-time ministry worker at the Philadelphia Church in Kotagala. With the aim of supporting himself and his family, Paul teaches Sinhala and Tamil language at an institute initiated by him which is frequented by young students who are studying to be nurses. “I started this institute so that I can provide a service to my community and I never thought of conducting it as a business venture” he said, explaining that he charges a very nominal fee from his students. “I training helped me realise that I have the potential to develop my institute as a business venture. Thus far, I have been able to create budgets from the knowledge I gained while studying Commerce at school but through this training I learnt the correct methods in carrying out a business successfully.” Paul went on to explain that he had also found great encouragement at this training. “Many Christians believe that those engaged in ministry should not deal in business ventures” said Paul, sharing his experience of a Christian who once advised him to give up his ministry work and focus on his institute. This incident filled Paul with a lot of doubt. “I thought that it was wrong as a Christian ministry worker to engage in business.” The biblical teachings shared during the training proved to be a great source of encouragement to Paul. He now hopes to open his institute at a new location and register it with the local government authorities. He also hopes to share his learnings with the students of his institute who might find it useful someday. “I cover my daughter’s education with what I make from the institute but I believe that I can do much more for my family if I apply what I learnt to further develop my institute. This is a talent I have received from God and I should make good use of it!”

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