Five years ago, Don Comi was working with a refugee that sparked his interest in investing more in the refugee community. The man that he was working with was shocked when he found out that Don was helping him for free. “No one has ever done anything like this for me before,” he said, “Why do you do it?”
For Don, the answer was that he feels called to serve others as a follower of Christ. Don, Art Ellwanger, and a group of others from Holy Cross Lutheran Church got together and decided to look into ways that they could serve the refugee community.
After talking to World Relief Spokane, Don and Art learned that one of the greatest needs for refugees coming to Spokane is affordable housing. Refugees arriving in the United States are often still in the process of getting a job when they need to fill out housing applications, and with no credit to show, landlords are sometimes hesitant to rent to newly arrived refugees. Also, often refugees can only afford housing in low income areas that are often less than desirable neighborhoods.
When Art heard about the need, he saw an opportunity to use the skills that he already had to serve that need.
“In my lifetime I invested heavily in real-estate for over 30 years. If my expertise is in investing and making money, why can’t we do that in a Christian ministry arena?” Art said.
The result was the formation of Ten Talents Ministries, LLC (TTM), named after Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. The company seeks to provide affordable housing to refugees, but also transform the neighborhoods and provide opportunities for the church community to be the hands and feet of Jesus in serving the refugee community.
Currently, TTM owns a duplex that has housed two different refugee families in the last three years, one from Somalia and one from Ethiopia. TTM has investors that put in money to the overall pool, and in return are partial owners of the property.
But for Don and Art, the heart of the ministry goes far beyond the physical housing that they provide.
“We’re trying really hard to make an impact that just really shines God’s light into their lives. What does it mean to care for somebody without the expectation that you are going to get anything in return? I think that most of us as Christians aren’t actually very good at that. We easily invest in things where we expect return and a positive response, but not so willing to invest in things where we might get burned or not get anything back. I think we need to learn as a community more about what it means to give God’s provision away in a meaningful way” Don said.
In some ways, the missional part is the most difficult because people are busy and time is difficult to find. One investor is assigned to be the point person in reaching out to and building relationships with the tenants of the home. Someone at least calls the family monthly, but there are many different ways that people can serve the tenants of the home.
“The missional part can be anything. We want to make contact; we want to have a relationship. For the first family, we had a baby shower for his wife at our church. We brought them turkey dinners, bought them bunk beds, and a couple of ladies took them shopping” Art said.
“We’re committed to trying to screen the volunteers and make sure that the things people are offering are actually helpful. We can get caught up in helping people feel good about themselves. So we want to make sure that the things being offered are actually helpful and isn’t presented in a way that appears to need to be repaid in some way.” Don said”
TTM hopes to be a transformative presence for the neighborhood as well, working to be good neighbors and keep the home clean and well kept.
TTM is unique in its position as a for-profit ministry. But Art and Don believe that this puts them in a position to balance good business decisions with compassionate ministry that can run the risk of not being financially sustainable.
“At every one of our board meetings, we have a spiritual and philosophical discussion about what it means to make these kinds of decisions. It’s a very strange space to live in as we struggle to not let the business side take over or the compassionate side take over and we lose the business” Don said.
TTM is hoping to buy their second property as early as this July. It can be difficult for them to get publicity, but they are looking for ways to expand their pool of investors, and are looking at creative funding options such as getting loans from individuals who are willing and able to use their resources that way.
“It’s a pretty safe investment. It’s a win-win for refugees and for us as a business” Art said.
Whether TTM grows to two homes or ten in the next few years, Art and Don are confident that God will continue to guide them and provide for the ministry.
“Our hope is that each home can serve and grow the family that’s there into a contributing community member in a safe and stable space, transform that community, and give believers in our church community and beyond opportunities to be God’s hands and feet to that family and community” Don said.
“It’s exciting,” Art said, “I get a lot of joy out of working with refugees. I love it. It’s such a blessing for me to work with them.”
If you’re interested in investing in TTM or learning more about the ministry, contact Art at firstname.lastname@example.org or Don at email@example.com
Kara Need, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this story.