There were many factors that led me to starting my own business in 2012, not the least of which was the misguided thought that I’d have more free time to do some of the things I felt I was being called to do. Among these was the call to, in some way, help those experiencing homelessness. The dismal plight of so many marginalized people, often veterans, often mentally ill, has always weighed heavily on my heart. I was blessed to grew up in a family with all of my basic needs met every day, and had adults to encourage me in my education. I think most of the people in “my world” take these simple things for granted, but there are so many who grew up in a very different world than this; a world that few of us notice unless we intentionally step out of our comfort zone, “cross the tracks” and open our eyes.
My business, Cajun Food Tours, celebrates one of the richest blessings we enjoy here in Acadiana—our fabulous cuisine! I have the incredible privilege of introducing our fabulous Cajun taste to people from around the world—often for their first time! Recognizing the irony that this abundance is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the suffering of those I’m called to help, three years ago, (even though still not able to consistently take even a small salary,) I decided to use the business to help.
I started by finding touring some of the organizations in Acadiana to learn more about how they are meeting the needs of those who experience homelessness. I made a list of those whose missions I wished I could support financially, Catholic Services of Acadiana, The Outreach Center of Acadiana, Family Promise, and The Desormeaux Foundation. For me, as a tour guide, I noticed almost immediately that “gratuities,” could some days be quite generous, and other days non-existent. And even though, tips were often the only compensation I could afford to keep from the business, I reasoned that because I could view them, like grace, a free unexpected gift. I posted signs in my tour bus saying that at least 50% of all tips would help feed the homeless in our area. And just as He did with hat little boy’s fishes and loaves, God always multiplies the small gifts we offer. To my utter surprise, my tiny business (one-bus operation) has been able to donate over $16,000 to these organizations over the last 3 years!
At the same time, because trying to grow my business had me working from sun-up to sun-down with seemingly NO time to spare, I decided to make a commitment to WEEKLY volunteering. (See multiplication effect mentioned above—I’ve come to expect that multiplication effect in every aspect of my life.) This, above all else, has been the vehicle for my own “crossing of the tracks”, my own eye-opening journey. It’s humbling, perhaps even embarrassing, to admit that I’ve met so many beautiful, generous, courageous, grateful, intelligent, kind-hearted people that grew up in a world and a way that was previously unknown to me—just on the other side of town.
What can you or your business do? For starters, when you feel those unexplained nudges, those pulls on your heart, maybe that’s God trying to show you how He wants to use you. Then, just trust Him and do it. It may be something very small, or it may be huge; all I can really be certain of is that whatever you offer will be multiplied as blessings not only for you but those around you.