Auto Shop Discipleship

Part Two of an M3 Journey

In a recent M3 Weekly article (see “One Million Miles”), we featured the first part of an interview with Jim Albert, whose journey toward missional enterprise took him from California to car repair in Austria. This week, we pick up where we left off in our conversation, as Jim shares how he founded and led a variety of businesses in the US, including his own auto repair business in the Pacific Northwest.

M3 Weekly: You had a vision and a desire to do ministry in the context of a more legitimate business. What was the next step along your journey?

Jim Albert: It was about 1985, and we were back in the US for a period when things started shifting pretty quickly in Eastern Europe and the idea of the auto shop was no longer needed. I went back and packed up everything. When you set up a shop like that, you’ve got a lot of tools! I’m left with a vision, but no organization to try to experiment and try to advance the vision. And at that point, I was 35 or 36, and I had a wife and a baby. I thought, well, I could go back to school and work on an MBA or I could just start a business.

What They Don’t Teach You in Business School

M3W: Did you have any specific ideas at the time about what kinds of business might have been suitable?

JA: There were some folks I knew of doing imports of gifts and accessories. My thought was to set up an import company in the US that has marketing distribution throughout the country. That then allows access to the American marketplace for these enterprises.

And this is where Providence comes into play. All of a sudden across my path comes this guy. He and his wife set up a business where they sold fashion jewelry, and I joined them, so my first business venture was selling jewelry. We called it Jewelry Wholesalers and that was going well for a year and a half until his wife, who was a key part of the business, was not able to continue working in the business.

During that year and a half running Jewelry Wholesalers is when I learned all the things I didn’t know about business – what they did not teach me in Business School, the kind of things you learn on the street.

Business Like a Duck

Towards the end of my time with Jewelry Wholesalers, I met a guy who had the idea of starting up a mission import business, to import gifts and decorative accessories from various third-world countries. It was a variety of products – some of it was jewelry, but most was not. We called it Mission Imports. He and I did everything in the business – when you’re only two guys, you wear all the hats.

We ran Mission Imports for about 10 years. We imported from a variety of countries and carried a wide variety of products. We were able to develop a national network of more than 50 sales reps, and showed at all the major gift shows all over the US.

One concept behind Mission Imports which was very difficult to realize was to do enough business to where we could put a person in each country from which we imported to actually help oversee quality and be engaged in ministry. We were able to do that only one time, in Chile. We put a guy there to work in a factory and talk to others about Jesus on his off time.

So, the companies we imported from were not missional enterprises. I would say they tended to be social enterprises in the sense that smaller cottage industry artisans could be put together in a collective, so to speak, that we could then give market representation to.

I’ve used this analogy that business is like a duck. It’s very ungraceful. It waddles back and forth, and you’ve got to do this before you can do that. You have to do that before you can get this. And that’s where we found ourselves with Mission Imports. Ultimately, we pivoted out of that business, and sold it, because of a downturn in market conditions at the onset of a recession.

Healthy Offshoots

M3W: And you ended up working with cars again? How did that come about?

JA: Here, a lot of things came together, and it was really from the death of a vision. I had not envisioned going back into auto repair. I had envisioned achieving success with imports again.

I was spending time with God and noticed these trees that had been cut down to where there was just a stump. But out of the stump, there were healthy branches that are offshoots. And that’s exactly how I felt – that I was cut down as a stump. But would God create a healthy offshoot from it? That’s what I trusted him for.

I realized that auto repair is hardwired in me – that kind of problem-solving working with my hands. I said, “OK God, what do I have? What assets do I have?” Really the only assets I had were my tools.

M3W: You brought them back from Austria?

JA: Oh yeah, I kept them. You don’t give up your tools!

And God was gracious and I was able to build a customer base pretty quickly from word of mouth and soon I had my first employee. Now, I had this young man who wanted to learn the craft, and I found it very easy to talk to him about spiritual things. Even though he was a Christian from a good home, my interaction with him in a disciplined manner began to change his life, and his parents recognized that.

That brought me all the way back to 1971 when I saw business as a great way to disciple.

From that point, God just gave me employee after employee that I could invest in. For instance, there was a guy named Forrest. He hadn’t made a commitment to the Lord, and I sensed that. I was just trying to talk to him and share things like the Bridge Illustration1. And we were out for dinner one night and he bowed his head and prayed to receive Christ. So then, I started to try to follow him up and get him involved in meeting with God daily. And at one point, he said to me that he needed a “study buddy.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but he wanted a friend to get together to study the Bible with. I’m thinking, “I’m three times older than these guys and he wants me for a study buddy!” So I looked at him and said, “Ok, I’ll do it.” And he almost fell out of his chair: “You’ll do that?”

So, I started meeting with him at 6:00 AM before work, to go through the ABCs of having a quiet time. And over the years, there have been many guys that God has allowed me to rub shoulders with and disciple in that manner.

In a future M3 Weekly article, we will share the last part of our interview with Jim, where he shares some advice he would give to new and aspiring missonal entrepreneurs. Stay tuned.

Verse of the Week:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24 (NIV)

As Jim shared today, sometimes it is through the death of a vision that God brings forth healthy shoots of growth and blessing. Let’s pray for God’s grace to trust him for growth and fruit through the enterprises he’s entrusted us to lead.


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