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'Cell production'

"'Cell production'" Continued...

Issue: "Is Christianity in the U.S. doomed?," June 20, 2009

Parish wants to make not only beautiful furniture but disciples. It emphasizes "cell production," where a master carpenter works with several younger guys, teaching skills and biblical understanding. Eventually, as business grows, the skilled craftsmen from Moyobamba will be able to train young men from the churches in Trujillo: "The end goal is to get young guys to go through the training, but before we can do that we need to get the business working."

Ball also described how the workers are developing a sense of community. One man from Moyobamba, an excellent carpenter, wanted to work in the project. The man, who was not married, had an autistic son who worked with him in his carpentry shop in the mountains. Parish invited the father to come and work for several weeks, but while he was away his son became ill. The men at Parish sat down with the father and prayed, reducing this "manly man" to tears: "The guys sat down and prayed and took a collection. These are not rich guys. They took a collection for his bus ticket and the child's health-care bills."

Five of the men and two of their children live together in an apartment and share kitchen duties. They do it to save money, said Ball: "We build everything around comfort; they build everything around cost."

Which comes back to the problem of Carlos. He's clearly a gifted woodcarver, whose work was on display in New York. They don't want to lose him from the project, so they are still feeling their way. Ball said, "In a deep poverty situation things don't work like they're supposed to. They're just broken. . . . Maybe he's got to ride a bus, and then another bus. And the buses don't always run on time. . . . And then maybe his mother gets ill. Now on some level, in a work environment, none of that matters. If you can't show up, you can't show up. But on the other hand, it's not so cut and dried."

The vision for combining enterprise with discipleship helped in raising start-up funds for Parish. Both Ball and Chris Bolton have MBAs: Parish Furniture is based on a business plan that Ball wrote as part of his MBA work at the University of Tennessee. Ball said they have raised money mostly from "Christian businessmen who could see the vision" and were concerned that "there's been in the evangelical community and in other Christian communities a lot of economic development work that is not economically intelligent. I'm sure it's good work and all, but it's not . . ." Ball paused to laugh, "So far ours doesn't seem so intelligent. We picked the worst year since the Great Depression to start this."

Ball and Charlet left Manhattan with decisions to make. One purpose in coming to the Furniture Fair was to get more information about pricing, marketing, and distributing their products. "People have been helpful, interested," Ball's wife Jennifer, a furniture designer, said. She spoke about originally being surprised to see that the Peruvian woodworkers' "level of skill was even better than we thought it would be. . . . We were excited to see how skilled they are because we would be able to show off their very best work."

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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