Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
Years ago, God gave me the opportunity to be on the board at Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis. I was also involved in discipling men. For about 15 years, I led Bible studies at Wheeler. Often when I was there, I would ask the men how they were doing. Over and over the answer was “I’m looking for a job.” I must have heard that a hundred times. I had sorrow about this and wished I could do something to give them a job. I decided to ask God about this. I prayed, “What do you say about this God?” Some other men friends of mine began to join in that prayer also.
One day I was doing something on the internet and I ran into the idea of taking shipping pallets and turning them into furniture. I wondered if we could sell the furniture and create a revenue stream to cover the cost of wages. So we did an experiment and started small. We used shipping pallets and started making beverage carts. Pretty quickly we figured out shipping pallets weren’t the way to go. A local business donated lumber and we began making furniture and selling it to friends and family. That’s how it started.
We hire men and train them to make beautiful handcrafted furniture. Now over 90% of our operating expenses are covered by things the men make themselves. Everything is custom made. We sell to a lot of commercial enterprises. We make a lot of conference tables and shelves. We make tables for restaurants, school cafeterias and some residential furniture. The first year we had $37,000 in sales, which was a great blessing and beyond our expectations. Last year we sold $1.4 million in furniture. While the finances are important and we are very grateful for the business, our primary mission is to hire and train craftsman and see lives changed. Our organization, Purposeful Design, has two components.
One part is a training program called the School of Woodworking and Discipleship and the other part is the business where we hire people to work making furniture. Even if we don’t hire people to work for Purposeful Design coming out of the school, we have a network of other employers who offer job opportunities. All the those we serve come from places where they struggle with addiction, incarceration or homelessness and otherwise would have difficulty finding a job.
We have partnerships with ministries and relief organization that send people to our school. The trainees are exposed to woodworking, job readiness and discipleship training. We start each day with prayer and have weekly Bible studies. We have about 40 volunteers from the community who do the instructing. They come in to teach and add their own stories. They are loving and build relationships. One of our partnerships is with Purdue University. They helped us launch the training program and sent us two professors to teach the trainees how to work with wood. This whole ministry is really a walk of faith. A lot of people who serve have a background in business. My own background is in business. But I had no experience with woodworking or running a nonprofit. Our business is a registered 501c3. God has provided so much for us. We depend on Him to show us our next steps and to provide the resources, people to help us, and customers. It has been amazing how the Lord has helped us and provided.
The second part of our organization is the Purposeful Design furniture business. We have 16 full-time craftsmen. It is a delight to see them grow. They are not all believers. But we expose everyone to the Word of God and flood our place with love and encouragement. We strive to strengthen everyone and help them succeed. We are like a family. We want to keep it a walk of faith. It has been a joy to see where God has brought us. We didn’t plan any of this, and now we find ourselves in a niche that sells to many large institutions like big hospitals, universities and banks. All of these organizations have their own mandate to do good for the community. They desire to do good for society, and they also need furniture, which makes our products a perfect fit for them.
As long as the Lord keeps opening doors, we will keep running as hard and fast as we can to help more people. We provide on-the-job discipleship, beginning each morning by circling up and praying together and sharing a bit from the Word. We have a lunch Bible study every Monday.
We are getting ready to launch a campaign, “Turning the Tables on Poverty.” To prepare, we have run some statistics and have found that in our six years, we have saved the taxpayers $2.3 million in what it would have cost to take care of those who were homeless who are now employed. In addition, our employees have paid about $350,000 in taxes. These folks have changed from being totally supported by taxpayers to now contributing their own taxes to our city. We also see our neighborhood changing for the good before our very eyes. Healthy people make healthy neighborhoods. Most of us live about a quarter of a mile from Purposeful Design. We are available to help each other and encourage each other. We see marriages restored and kids reunited with their fathers. God is truly amazing.
As we have seen God at work, there are three things we have learned: 1. It is good to pray. Purposeful Design is the result of prayer. 2. We have all tried life our own way, and it didn’t work out. God’s way is better. 3. Jesus really, really does set people free. We have absolutely seen the transformative power of God at work. We have seen a 17-year heroin addict set free. Another guy told me he hadn’t been sober a day in his life since he was 14. Now he is sober and can be spotted walking his children to the park. He is loving his wife, and he is one of our most loyal and trustworthy employees.
My own heart tends toward prideful thinking. In our early days I would think, “Haven’t we done well!” The Lord has now shown me my need for humility. Now, I go down on my knees and thank the Lord right then and there when something good happens. Our success is not from me. God’s hand is at work here and our success is from Him.