By Stacy Long
He kept his hands in the coffee while he talked – both hands, buried deep – as rich brown beans tumbled from the roaster into the cooling bin.
“It’s a very hands-on thing,” he said. “That’s one of the things we like to show people. From picking to processing to sorting to roasting, it is coming to us directly from people’s hands; all these people have been very involved in the production of the coffee we drink.”
It was hard to miss his point, noticing how full his own hands were, his attention intent on temperature gauge, timer and, above all, the appearance, sound and smell of the roasting beans. At the precise second, recognizable only to his expert eye, he pulled a lever to release a new flood of beans and a heady, warm aroma.
The imagery was powerful, and his next remark brought his point home with striking impact: “All those hands that bring us our coffee are hands that have likely never held a Bible.”
For Mark McKee, founder of Passionate Harvest, the response is obvious: We want coffee, they need Christ.
“Coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity (after oil),” he pointed out. “And the countries that produce coffee are also the countries in the 10-40 window, the 10% of the world’s landmass where 40% of unreached people groups live, such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Malaysia, Yemen, Indonesia, Thailand. So that opens up a vast territory to be reached.”
It’s the ideal territory for a non-traditional missionary like McKee. Although he began a missionary career with Youth With A Mission, God led him aside, into the restaurant business and then the coffee industry.
One day, it became clear to him – since the coffee growing regions and the 10-40 window are nearly identical, coffee was his route to missions. When buying coffee means making inroads into places where Christ is not known or welcome, it opens up a vast landscape typically closed to missionary efforts.
“The gospel is often very feared in those countries,” McKee explained. “It’s illegal in many of those areas to proselytize. Missionaries would normally get kicked out by the government.”
And so what may have once seemed to McKee like a detour from his missionary calling has proved to be the most direct route to reach lost nations. All in the name of coffee, Mark travels to these countries, establishes contact with growers and works to improve the quality of their coffee, something that also means a better quality of life for them. In the process, people hear the name of Christ, and native Christians are born to carry on with evangelism after McKee has gone.
“I come in and say, ‘I’m an expert on coffee and I want to work with you to make your coffee better and give you more money for it. And we’re going to provide schools and help provide for your kids,’” McKee said. “And they think, ‘Wow, we really like what these Christians are doing.’ So, it actually opens doors for sharing the gospel.
“They look at a Christian who is sent and supported by a missionary organization like, ‘That’s a professional Christian; he gets paid to share his Jesus with me.’ But when someone’s there to help them set up a business and make money, they see a different view of it. And it allows missionaries to stay in countries where you can’t have a missionary visa.”
Great coffee, Great Commission
However, McKee is not content to approach coffee only in the context of missions. While coffee is his passport to ministry, it is also the work that God has given him to do, and he approaches the business with the same wholeheartedness that he gives to evangelistic efforts. In fact, the two purposes are inseparable, and he surpasses his great passion for coffee with an even greater passion for the Great Commission, as the name Passionate Harvest demonstrates.
“Before a coffee plant produces its first fruit, it will grow a beautiful white flower,” McKee explained. “We compare that to John 4:35, looking to the fields white with harvest. We use that as a way to communicate what we do. Obviously, we’re passionate about the coffee harvest, but more importantly we’re passionate about the spiritual harvest.”
McKee knows his coffee as only a connoisseur could, someone with 20 years of experience roasting beans for big name coffee companies including Starbucks and Tully’s Coffee. An inquiry about his own favorite coffee prompted a discourse on flavor, body and character. But he always steers the conversation back to missions.
“The whole idea is, you know the origin of the coffee, you know the goal is to engage with the people and you can actually pray for those people,” he said. “We want to get to the point where we can share bullet points of prayer needs with our roasters, so they can pass on those needs to their customers.
“I think people will catch the vision that when they drink coffee, when they purchase coffee, they’re actually putting their hand to the plow with the workers in those countries. They’re partnering with the churches there and people are getting saved.”
Working on the mission
A partnership was formed on another level when AFA began purchasing green coffee beans from Passionate Harvest and roasting them at facilities in Tupelo, Mississippi. Sold under the label Thomas Street Coffee Company, AFA’s new line of coffee takes supporting missions a step further.
Purchasing beans from McKee contributes upfront to the funding of mission efforts, schools, libraries, medical facilities, women’s literacy programs, water wells, church planting, financial instruction and agricultural education supported by Passionate Harvest. And when Thomas Street coffees are sold, the sale supports the work of AFA.
“Any revenue generated through this coffee is, at the discretion of AFA, used to further its mission, whether that might be producing pro-life DVDs, providing free rent for pregnancy resource centers or writing a check to a crisis pregnancy center,” Thomas Street Coffee Company director Greg Sanders said. “By marketing this coffee, we fulfill the mission of AFA, which is very gospel centered.”
Meanwhile, the McKees continue to work closely with Thomas Street Coffee Company to turn the coffee market into funding for missions.
McKee calls the business concept the Nehemiah wall: “We’re focused together on the completion of the entire wall, which is sharing the gospel. The growers are working on a portion, we as a coffee broker are working on a portion, and AFA is working on a portion, but it is all the same wall: a partnership for the spreading of the gospel.”
How to pray for the the Passionate Harvest/AFA partnership:
1) Pray that contact with small coffee growers around the world will result in opportunities to share the gospel.
2) Pray for the success of the Passionate Harvest/AFA partnership, so that living conditions for impoverished families and communities will be improved through clean water projects, better medical care, schools, etc.