From Kenyan Fashion Designer to School President

An M3 Journey

In this edition of M3 Weekly, we present the first in what we plan to be a series of posts called M3 Journeys, highlighting the experiences of various missional enterprise practitioners. We will highlight people and groups of people in various places, from various walks of life, engaged in a variety of different types of enterprises.

This week, we sit down to chat with Susie Brooks, Ed.D. Susie is the founder and President of Veritas Academy, a Classical Christian School for PreK-12 students, in Chisago City (North of the Twin Cities), Minnesota. Susie’s entrepreneurial journey starts at a young age, growing up in Kenya. The first half of our interview is included below, describing how Susie started in business and how she eventually found herself leading a Christian school. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

M3 Weekly: First, how did you get involved with what we call Missional Enterprise?

Susie Brooks, Ed. D.: In some ways, I’ve been entrepreneurial most of my life, since about age seventeen. My very first business was in Kenya, designing clothes. That was the only skill I had at the time. I was young enough to be very clueless. I honestly didn’t know what I was doing, but I was aware enough of some of the problems people experienced with businesses similar to mine – that people were dishonest. I didn’t want to be that kind of person. Inspired by a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, I wanted to be honest and do the work well in the time required. I learned how to learn what I needed for the trade. I taught myself a lot of things. I became the kind of business where people wanted to come.

I learned that, if you make a mistake, you own up to it. For example, once I made something for someone that was in chiffon, which is a fine fabric, and I burned it accidentally when I was trying to press it. The garment was finished but I had burned it at the bottom of the hem, so that meant that, to repair it, the dress was going to be shorter. So I came up with a different design where I could add a little something that was a little more frilly or stylish to make it the right length. I apologized to the customer that this had happened and asked if it would be okay if I did this to repair it. And just this honesty paid off.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about Missional Enterprise, but I felt that, if I do right, people can ask about what is different about me. I had already become involved in the Navigators at the time. I was doing Bible Study, and the idea of witnessing – telling people about Christ – wasn’t new. I was already feeling that I’ve found this thing that is beautiful and I want others to be drawn to it. But to put bread on the table and to put a roof over my head, I had to make some money.  So the idea was: You work with your hands so that you can sustain yourself, but it pays to do the right thing and to honor God. So it was all integrated.

M3W: How did you get from a fashion design business in Kenya to where you are today?

SB: I went to college and eventually earned a doctorate in education, and I have been in education since 1999. Working in higher education, I became increasingly concerned with what I was seeing in colleges, that students were coming to higher education unprepared. I got to the point that I felt like the Lord was really calling me into some kind of ministry but it wasn’t necessarily ministry as a full-time Navigator staff; it was more using the skills and knowledge that he has given me. I was working in Christian higher education which meant that the students coming to us were most likely churched, but I was noticing that many were not disciples, so they didn’t really have the tools to sustain their faith.

I just remember feeling like, “What if there was a school that combined high academic rigor and intentional discipleship?” because my Navigator background was very important to me. Not that we are asking that all the students be Christians, but if we had teachers who understood what it meant to come alongside students and help them and, if they were believers, to really establish them so that they were equipped to go out into the world.

There are a lot of Christian schools, but one of the things that I felt was lacking was that intentionality. It’s easy to have a Bible curriculum and teach it, but maybe along the way it becomes more important to make money and you forget the biblical side. I’ve seen enough of those and I did not want that. But, I’d also seen another side of Christian education where everyone was very committed to their faith and Christianity but didn’t care so much about the skills that it takes to have an outstanding business  – a business that glorifies God because people care about quality.

Maybe that’s going back to my 17-year-old self where I felt like God cared about quality. I felt like God really cared that I use the right fabric to do the right job, that I buy the good quality thread, that I don’t just cheat a customer by finding the cheapest materials to make something. I felt like Christian schools who aren’t concerned about the quality of their programs and the quality of their place are doing God a disservice. They’re making God look bad; they’re making people think that God doesn’t care about quality. Those things are integrated with what I was thinking, so maybe it was harder for me to be satisfied with just joining an existing school and becoming part of their mission.

I felt very passionate about what I had so strongly in me that I had to do something. I felt like I had to create something that was going to help.

In a future edition of M3 Weekly, we will hear more of Susie’s journey, including how she sees the Triple Bottom Line in PreK-12 Christian education.

Verse(s) of the Week

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

Let’s meditate deeply on these verses and allow their truths, along with Susie’s testimony, to inspire work that is done heartily.

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