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An Interview with Paul Larson of Wellspring Cleaning

April 15th, 2015

by Dave Anderson

If you’ve stopped by the office during the week lately, you may have noticed our new cleaning crew bustling around the building. As we’ve said a thankful goodbye to Janet Swallow, we’ve hired the Wellspring Cleaning company to keep our Maplewood building in top shape each week.

Wellspring isn’t your average company, however. It is a business started by the Larson Foundation that employes mostly immigrants to empower and encourage. I had the chance to interview Paul Larson, founder of the Larson Foundation, about how it all got started and his approach to ministry through finance:

How does a busy guy with a demanding job, wife and large family decided to get busier by starting a foundation? Was there an “aha moment”, verse, or mentor that God used to send you down this path?
My parents were missionaries when they got married and my family has been involved in missions for generations. In addition to having biological children we’ve adopted children (1 Guatemalan child and 3 Filipino children) for a total of eight kids.  I believe that the Lord calls every Christian into missions. I am the 4th generation of firstborn sons who was supposed to go into missions. And I have done the traditional ways of missions support, but felt like it was disconnected from my heart to simply write a check and go on trips. Having graduated with both a degree in Bible and Finance and having started my own company, I was invited by an associate to help start a soybean processing company in Iraq to alleviate poverty, provide meaningful work and a way for the poor to provide for themselves long-term. Even though that company ultimately failed, through that venture, I saw a new kind of missions–venture capitalism mission. I saw a new way to be both a businessman and Christian.

Are you pioneering a new paradigm for mercy ministry in the church, or is this a long-standing approach that we simply don’t hear about much?
There is a field among Christians called Business as Mission (or BAM). Larson Enterprises is not doing microenterprise lending. Rather we are starting a larger entity 100+ person businesses (such as a poultry processing plant in India) that alleviates poverty, provides work, and become profitable. As a businessperson, I don’t see mercy ministry as a separate component of life. In the same way that a christian doctor must respond in mercy to a family who loses a loved one, my entire business philosophy is a form of mercy ministry from the way I try to treat employees, to the reason Larson Financial exists.

Is it safe to call what the Larson Foundation does, “mercy ministry thru micro-enterprise”, or is that a mischaracterization?Why this approach to mission, mercy, and social need?
That is appropriate. Larson Foundation’s business model consists of 5 steps. 1) Identifying the people group (among the many impoverished people groups around the world) as well as the key local leader who will lead the business forward, 2) develop business model (raising the capital from within Larson Financial)  3) get the business financially sustainable, 4) do community development (reinvesting the profits from the business to launch future micro-enterprise businesses for the same purpose), 5) and being a blessing to local communities. This model shapes the way we set up businesses.

Why Well Spring cleaning? What excites you about the Well Spring Cleaning story?
We began with this approach to mercy-meets-microenterprise abroad in places like Iraq and India, and are currently piloting two businesses domestically (right here in St. Louis). Larson will do more in the states going forward in each of the cities in which we operate. Locally we started Narrative Furniture and Wellspring cleaning. We have started these businesses among the unemployed and lower skilled in St. louis to provide a future through meaningful work to people who otherwise have no hope. The majority of employees of both companies currently are immigrants. Wellspring cleaners is employing those needing work and also is profitable. We want to find people who need jobs, set up businesses that they can run well, and help them create a future. We are a biblically-based company with a culture that reinforces our commitment to find people who are ‘goal orientated, servant  leaders, with a warrior spirit’. We press on to lay hold of what Christ calls us to.

If you could speak to this generation (and the rising generation) of Christians who will never serve overseas in either traditional missions or relief work, what would you say?
Identify how the Lord has created you, how has God blessed you so you can be a blessing. What has the Lord made you good at? I felt stuck because I have a degree in Bible and finance. It seemed like I had to choose between serving the Lord with my Bible degree or abandoning that hope to work in finance. I realized that this is a false dichotomy. I am serving the Lord thru my finance background as a Christ follower.

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