“Know your purpose and don’t deviate.”
Just taking a shot in the dark here, but chances are that most folks have entertained the thought of being their own boss at least once, maybe even twice. After all, entrepreneurship sounds like a pretty stellar gig.
Forbes.com recently posted an article listing the four benefits of being an entrepreneur as 1) you’re always learning and growing, 2) there is never a dull moment, 3) you decide what to do with time, and 4) everything depends on your choice.
But when Baylor grads, Brett and Emily Mills booked their entrepreneurial gig, they were looking at entrepreneurship from a different angle. In early 2003 the couple was leading a worship band at a conference focused on ministry to sex workers. At this event, they listened to first-hand stories of women who felt trapped within the sex industry. Heartbroken and determined, the couple was burdened for the exploited women in their hometown Waco, TX.
As Brett and Emily tried to dissect the stories they noticed that gender violence was a consistent and common thread among the women. That spring, they honed in their focus to strip clubs in Waco. They decided to bring Easter to the women trapped in the Waco sex industry.
Like an army platoon on a mission, a small group of women went into two strip clubs armed with nothing more than gift bags filled with practical, high-quality gifts. Brett and Emily are very particular about the gift bags. They feel that if Jesus can give His life…then they should be able to give a nice bag. Jesus gave his best. They will then give their best.
Amazingly, the outreach was welcomed with open arms by both the bag recipients and the club managers. The bag giving became a bi-annual endeavor at Easter and Christmas. By 2007, Brett and Emily felt the need for a bit more structure and organization for their outreach. Jesus Said Love (JSL) was then adopted under their existing worship and ministry nonprofit 501c(3) Bartimaeus Ministries, Inc.
According to Emily, eighty-nine percent of commercial sex exploits say that they want out but have no other means of survival. The next step in this outreach was Lovely Enterprise. Lovely Enterprise (Lovely) is a retail storefront that serves as a social enterprise of JSL aimed at reducing demand for commercial sex exploitation by providing living-wage jobs and launching micro businesses. The goal of Lovely is to provide economic empowerment opportunities to domestic, commercial sex exploits.
Dictionary.com defines entrepreneur as a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
Organizes, the JSL way…
Brett and Emily saw a systemic issue with a lack of employment opportunities for those trying to break away from the sex industry. They faced two immediate hurdles:
- Finding employers willing to hire JSL ladies – most ladies either have a criminal background or have been in the industry for so long that they had large resume gaps.
- Securing transportation – many of the ladies’ driver’s licenses have expired.
When the realization hit that outsourcing jobs was a daunting and seemingly impossible task, Brett and Emily decided to create their own storefront space with Lovely.
The idea is that women who have gone through JSL will move on to work at Lovely. The products sold through Lovely include handmade items, leather jewelry and Lovely Buns. Lovely Buns are mouth-watering, cinnamon rolls made with love and Emily’s Aunt Mammy’s secret recipe. The Lovely Buns lead baker has personally overcome the industry with the help of JSL and wants to eventually start her own food service business. Lovely is providing her with the stepping stone to do just that.
The Lovely goal is all about empowerment, not enablement.
Manages, the JSL way…
JSL operates under six basic financial principles:
- Cash only (no debt)
- Have a savings
- Operate on a budget
- Give generously
- Spend less than we take in
- Financial transparency
Enterprise, the JSL way…
Brett says, “The more you’re around people who need Jesus, the more you realize that it’s not ‘them and us’, but it’s really just ‘us’.”
JSL encompasses what they refer to as their three-part method:
GO – Visit commercial sex establishments on a consistent basis, bringing high-quality gifts to employees.
LOVE – Offer authentic relationships to commercial sex exploits, no strings attached. We love them where they are.
CONNECT – Offer access to community and spiritual resources, awakening hope and empowering change.
Business, the JSL way…
Overhead is a necessary and normal component to every business, charitable organizations included. For JSL, the approach to overhead expenses is to maintain a positive return on investment, and at the same time enhance the effectiveness of their programs. Ultimately, Brett and Emily spend what it takes to accomplish their mission.
Initiative, the JSL way…
Neither Brett nor Emily had a traditional business background. They relied on the input of others who forged a path before them with successes like World Cup Cafe and Perpetual Help Home. At the urging of right-arm, staff member Jersey Schmidt, they even embarked on a field trip to Los Angeles to visit Homeboy Industries and The Giving Keys for additional insight.
Emily says, “Most people start business with a product in mind, but we started with people in mind.” She continued, “People will always be number one for us.”
Risk, the JSL way…
Emily explains that the work she and Brett do is messy; because, simply put, people are messy. She stresses that working a job that you love and are proud of helps establish value. But creating those jobs and helping women in recovery requires money. With that in mind, JSL is always looking for those who have a passion to give to innovative solutions to poverty.
Brett and Emily feel their calling is that they “are called to something much greater than ourselves. Loving God, loving others, worship, and justice motivate everything we do. In this calling, we are compelled with a ferocious resolve to do what must be done and stop what must not be done.”
Jesus Said Love…a company with a social impact, humbly serving Waco, Dallas, Bryan/College Station, San Antonio, Temple/Killeen and Houston. It’s entrepreneurship at it’s best. A mighty stellar gig, indeed.
For more information about Free Enterprise at the Baugh Center, please visit our website at baylor.edu/business/freeenterprise/