Brewing a Better World (Part 5): Reversing Coffee's Dark History in a Borderless World

Photo by Craig Sunter
We'll make this the last in the highly-caffeinated 5-part series on coffee, business, and mission in the 21st century that I've entitled, "Brewing a Better World".  [Catch up on the whole series here.]

Today I want to continue my musing upon the idea of coffee as the perfect "Great Commission Commodity".  

Everywhere I go I repeat a simple statement that I believe is absolutely critical for the people of God to digest as they engage in 21st century mission. Here it is:

In the 21st century, people keep moving, especially to the cities and yet stay connected to everywhere.  

This last phrase, about connections, speaks to the reality of globalization in the world today.  A globalized world is a borderless world connected by high-tech communication, high-speed travel, and high-impact influencers whose messages resound from Bollywood to Belfast and from Twitter to Timbuktu (seriously, the city in Mali).  But long before mobile phones outnumbered toilets (a real fact that needs to be addressed, here's a tiny awareness project we did on this) and before Viber made it possible for me to call Uganda from Chicago for free, it was coffee that began to show us that this is indeed a small world after all. Coffee was the first truly global commodity and is the second biggest in the world today (behind oil, which isn't nearly as tasty).  Coffee moves today in ways very similar to the way peoples move and the potential to leverage that movement for the sake of mission is very interesting to me.  As I hop around coffee houses in the US I’m noticing that more and more local roasters are even bypassing “Big Coffee” in favor of direct sourcing strategies – a trend that ties people movement and coffee movement even more closely together.  Again, the key is to leverage movement for mission, which means transforming realities for the sake of Christ  - till all people movement and all coffee movement means gospel movement.

And take this a step further,  if Bosch is right when he says that mission is about transforming reality (and he is right) then the coffee industry has tremendous potential for holistic Kingdom work.  Coffee has a “dark history” (to lift a phrase from Antony Wild) closely tied to slavery, corporate greed and abuse, ecological devastation and worse.  The finest coffees in the world, consumed by the West’s most comfortable suburbanites and grooviest hipsters are nevertheless grown in the poorest regions of the globe by people who are lucky if they make enough money to feed their families. Coffee has not only had a front row seat for some of the greatest injustices in history but the industry as a whole continues to do much to perpetuate the same systemic evils.  

But that’s exactly where things get interesting.  

First of all, coffee shops have always been fertile ground for over-stimulated people to stimulate one another to ideas of innovation, social change, and even revolution (e.g. both the French and American Revolutions were essentially brewed – pun intended – in coffee shops).  I observe today that crowds of caffeinated coffee consumers could still be rallied around coffee production strategies that brought about positive and sustainable transformation. To say nothing of using coffee shops as third-spaces to catalyze all manner of justice causes.

What is more, the business of coffee growing and shipping puts one in close proximity to poverty, disease, violence and the long-term effects of violence, the global gateways of forced migration (trafficking), and other forms of oppression.  Proximity gives way to intentional presence for the Christ-follower, to incarnation and thus to strategic engagement and partnership for the sake of Kingdom transformation.  So, the implications here are deep for how we do business and to what end.  What is clear to me is that the best way to address injustices perpetuated or ignored by the coffee industry is to radically transform the way that business is done. 

So, we close the series today with two quite different concepts - globalization and justice - that will absolutely need to be taken together if we are ever going to end or stop anything.  What does the world look like from your seat?  How are you and your team engaging in global connections and partnerships for the sake of bringing Kingdom justice to bear?  

Well, the coffee shop in which I sitting as I write this is closing.  I need to wrap this up.  I've enjoyed pouring out my heart to you during this series.  Pray for me and for everyone at Trinity and Endiro as we journey with the Lord in this new endeavor.  

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