Where are you from?
“I’m from Chicago. I grew up in the same area within the city for most of my life. I was 29 when I moved out of the community for the first time. I’ve never lived for more than two months outside of the city.
I graduated high school in 2002, then studied community health and wellness as an undergrad. After that, I worked for a non-profit that helped at-risk youth. Then, I took a trip to Uganda for a few weeks.
That changed everything for me. I was in sports ministry working with teens in the city, playing basketball and other sports.
The first trip to Uganda, we didn’t have plumbing or electricity. We took baths with buckets. There were no showers. I felt like there was a grace, like, ‘I could do this for the rest of my life’ – and I wouldn’t feel like I got dealt a bad hand.
Coming back, the trip itself gave me a sense of mission in what I was doing in Chicago. It helped shape my perspective in being here and gave a sense of purpose in the things I was doing.
I felt more comfortable in my own setting, and at the same time, felt a strong longing to be back in Uganda. In a setting where, in the most practical sense, was a lot less comfortable than living in the States.
Even seeing that the rest of the world knows poverty in a way that we don’t. I came back and experienced reverse culture shock. I was meeting people for coffee several times a week. I would sit at coffee shops and would pay $5-6 for a coffee and would just think about the abundance in this setting. It made me sick. It was really hard coming back. I felt sad for two or three weeks.
For me, I love Jesus. Living for Jesus looked like working with kids and doing things like this.
I took the trip with my church. I spent a few months praying afterwards for what was next. So, I quit my job and went to ministry school for two years. At the end of the two years, we went to different places.
We were a really small school. There were six students doing internships. One was in Mexico, another in the Philippines, another in Thailand, one in Tanzania, another had family, so he stayed in the State in North Carolina.
Then, I was in Nairobi, Kenya. There was a teaching opportunity there. That’s where a lot of my strengths are. It’s something that comes easily to me.”
How do you feel you incorporate your passion for teaching into your work at Starbucks?
“I think that’s a challenge. Teaching comes in a lot of forms. Coaching is something that has been a continual growth offer to me.
We tend to have, especially in the last few months, a lot of turnover. I’ve only been at this store. It’s interesting in that, there’s a lot of exemplifying: ‘Do it in the way that I’ve learned to be effective. Follow me as I do this.’
Because personalities are so different, in any teaching setting, there’s a challenge of when you instruct and the person learning will be like, ‘I don’t want to do it that way.’ Or, they just don’t get it.
It’s especially challenging when you see patterns in the last few months. That the last person that did it that way, quit soon after this.
Do you believe that Starbucks has helped to make you a better teacher?
“For sure. Especially on the relational aspect. There’s not a classroom setting. Often times, the most teachable people are the ones that have a relationship with the ones they are learning from.
I think I’ve experienced that from the side of instructing or leading. If my team members don’t respect me, I can see that in their work.
Probably the most exciting thing for me was seeing a barista grow and learn and thrive on her own. Then, be promoted to a shift [supervisor] and now she’s at another store. It’s encouraging to see. I call her my ‘work disciple.'”
What initially brought you to Starbucks?
“I told the manager in an interview, at this table, two and a half years ago, that I felt God called me here. A lot of ways in which I believe God speaks to me is in dreams.
There were dreams that led me here. I was working as a consultant after ministry school three years ago. They were downsizing. Everything I do, as a Christian, is for Jesus. Little things, major things – all of it. I’m going to the Middle East because I love Jesus. Not because of what is happening politically. A lot of the most recent stuff happened after the decision.
I had a series of dreams where I was working at a Starbucks. That I was a leader at a Starbucks – and I was at a consulting firm. I would sit in a Starbucks every once in a while to get work done, but it wasn’t on my radar. There was no desire to learn how to make frappuccinos in me at all; there still isn’t.
I had these dreams and I prayed about it and I was like, ‘I’m going to pursue this.’
I felt like I was going to go on another trip, but I didn’t know where or how. There was no opportunity on the radar at all.
Then, I saw a pastor I knew through an organization I was working at before. I saw him at a Starbucks and he was like, ‘I’m sending a few people at my church to Mexico. Do you wanna go?’
I ended up going and in the back of my mind, I still felt like I was supposed to pursue Starbucks. I didn’t understand why. Practically, I don’t really want to make Starbucks money. Not that comfort is most important, but I would struggle financially. I was living alone at the time and have gotten roommates since.
Leading up to the trip, I was only applying to and interviewing at Starbucks. In one of the dreams, someone was telling me, ‘You’re going to get the experience you need at Starbucks.’
I was just like, ‘I don’t understand what you mean.’
In having gone to Mexico, I met a partner at my store and her husband, who works at another store. I met him after I came back and just asked him if they were hiring at his store.
I went to his manager, who then directed me to our store. I said the same thing to both managers. Ultimately, what God calls people to do is love him and love others. I feel like this is how he wants me to do that. So, that’s how I got here.
For me, in the different forms that it comes in, his voice is everything. Hearing God is what I need before I move forward. Really crazy labor stuff or whatever is happening, saying, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’ was never a good enough reason for me to leave a place.
In other words, the assignment is not complete until he says so. Last fall, I started praying about it. I don’t want to be done just because I’m annoyed.
So, this opportunity to go to the Middle East came up.
Again, dreams were a part of it. I talked with the leaders of the team that are out there. They also prayed for me.
Just for a month, and we’ll see if I return again long-term. I feel like traveling long-term. There will be a day where I pack up and I don’t live in the States anymore.
That day hasn’t come yet.”
What do you hope to get out of your trip to the Middle East?
“I think there’s definitely a threat. I’m not afraid at all of what could happen to me physically. Like I said, loving God and loving people is all that I want to do. Wherever I feel like God calls me to go, I’m willing to do it.
What I’m hoping out of this month, is to have clarity as to whether I should be there long-term. If not, then to feel settled in being back in Chicago.
I went to Iraq a year ago and it was really great and I would love to go back. Life in Chicago and the States and the privilege make me feel like I want to go back.
I’m also not someone who is like, ‘I want to go to the Middle East and be a martyr.’ The trip is really for clarity. I’ll spend time with missionaries that are out there. There’s a training school, a house of prayer.
They spend a lot of time in refugee camps. They take care of, in different ways, the people that have been displaced from major cities impacted by ISIS. There are thousands and thousands of displaced people living in tents with absolutely nothing.
I went one day, just once. It was unreal what I saw. People living in tents, with nothing, and still being like, ‘Let me make you tea. We want to give you food.’
The hospitality in the Middle East, I’ve never seen anything like that here.”
What is different about the hospitality there?
“When we were in Iraq, we went to someone’s home or a tent in the refugee camps and they were either fleeing Syria or displaced from other parts in Iraq – we were sitting in tents with people with next to nothing.
If you can picture semi-trucks or storage containers, their homes were made out of that kind of material. We would sit on the floor and have tea.
The hospitality of here [the States] where, ‘You’re in my home and I’m taking care of you. I want to give you something’ was very normal. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know me. You could meet someone on the street or in a public place and they’ll invite you over and make you tea and give you some food.
All the homes were very open and hospitable. I was just like, ‘This would not happen in Chicago.’ A stranger at CVS is not going to invite you over for dinner and insist, ‘Please, make yourself at home.’
I was taken aback because I had never experienced anything like that.”
What do you remember from visiting the refugee camps?
“I never, for a second, felt threatened. Ever. There was such a deep compassion for what I was seeing. The kindness and hospitality made me want to come back. It was hard for me to know that I probably won’t be coming back.
They [missionaries] go to the camps every week. Just feeling like that’s necessary and the building of the relationship. ‘There’s so much more of your story I want to hear’ is kind of how I felt. There’s so much encouragement I want to give.
How do you give encouragement to someone who has lost everything?
I heard stories where all their things were in their home and they fled. It wasn’t even that they don’t have anything anywhere. They have an entire home full of stuff. A kitchen full of things, beds – everything. Their entire lives were in a city that they can’t go back to. How do you give hope in such a hopeless situation?
The American idea of Christianity, is ‘If you believe in Jesus, you’re going to have a better life.’
One, that’s not true. Anywhere. It’s definitely not true in a situation like that. If that’s all the kingdom of God is about, then it’s not a worthwhile cause.
There’s a breaking down of this American perspective that I had, that a lot of people had of what it means to be a Christian. How do you live out this thing you believe that has unintentional, cultural ideas connected to it in a different cultural setting?
What is this gospel of Jesus? Because it’s not the American dream. The American dream is not a reality for the people that we see. It would be foolish to try and sell that. If you look at the life of Jesus, that’s not how he lived. That’s not what he was about.
Jesus didn’t have a home. Someone asks about following him and he says something to the effect of, ‘I don’t have a place to stay. If you follow me, there’s not the comfort and security that you might be expecting.’ And yet, the call is to follow him.
I feel like in the last several years, we’ve been gaining a better understanding of what Jesus was about, is beyond the American dream perspective.
If what he preached was true, then it’s worth my life. It’s worth everything that I have. It’s worth the things that circumstance might take me out of.”