Coffee for a cause: Christian entrepreneur uses java to help spread the gospel

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal


TUPELO – Mike Pittman isn’t much of a coffee drinker, but the beans are really a means to an end.
Each bag of deliciously aromatic roasted coffee he sells helps the missionaries with whom Pittman works spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. He calls his venture My Brother’s Cup Coffee Co., a for-profit he started earlier this year after getting to know the people and culture of rural China.
“It’s a unique situation over there, and the Lord has placed it upon my heart,” said Pittman, a Mississippi native who’s been doing missionary work in China for more than a decade.
Lately Pittman has focused his efforts on serving the Lisu, an ethnic people who inhabit the mountainous regions in southwest China. With help from churches around Northeast Mississippi, Pittman supports a medical mission that serves the Lisu.
Bandages, antibiotics and stitches have served as vehicles of evangelism for Pittman. He’s not a doctor but he supports a native physician who converted to Christianity.
One day it dawned on Pittman that the region in China where he was working was located on a strip between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. That’s where most of the world’s coffee is grown. He realized coffee would make a great funding source for the missionary work.
Pittman started My Brother’s Cup in hopes of eventually cultivating relationships with local, Chinese coffee growers. For now he’s buying beans from Christian farmers in Costa Rica, New Guinea and Ethiopia.
He imports the beans to Shannon, where he cooks them to a mouth-watering, golden brown in a roaster built by an evangelical in Oklahoma who employs former prison inmates.
Pittman’s product is catching on.
“This is better coffee than anything you’d buy in a grocery store,” said Lela Payne, a two-pot-a-day customer who likes the coffee’s smoothness and lack of bitter aftertaste. Pittman’s coffees include blends like Relationship and Mountain Rain and flavored coffees like Jingle Bell, Southern roasted pecan and Pumpkin Spice.
Christian commerce
Pittman calls My Brother’s Cup “business as mission,” a movement otherwise known by the acronym BAM.
BAMers take historic cues from people like the biblical Joseph in Egypt, as well as from the monastic tradition, Moravians and William Carey, all of whom mixed business with ministry. The movement piggybacks a broader social trend known as social entrepreneurship, which advocates using capitalism instead of charity to address social problems.
Currently, Pittman uses his profits to help fund the medical mission in China. Plus, $1 from every online sale goes to the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, where for 17 years Pittman and his wife have been cooking meals for families whose children are being treated at places like nearby St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“These are warm, caring people with a heart to give back,” said Sherri Maxey, director of house operations for the Ronald McDonald House, who has known the Pittmans for years.
Pittman’s next trip to China will come in November. Meanwhile, he’s trying to get the word out. He’ll have a booth at Sanctuary Hospice House’s annual Celebration Village Oct. 20-22 at the Tupelo Furniture Market.
“Everything about the business has Jesus all over it,” said the Rev. David Ball, pastor of Hope Church in Tupelo, which serves Pittman’s coffee on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.
Pittman is keeping a prayer on his lips and his nose to the old grind machine. “Our coffee is unto the Lord,” he said.
galen.holley@journalinc.com