by Erica Ramazinni
If you caught a glimpse of a young boy sleeping in a car on the side of a busy road in Guatemala City so he could wake up to the dangerous task of building large silos to provide a little income for his family’s food, you probably would not even think of calling it an ideal family economy.
Well, years have passed, and now that boy from the car is a man who would tell you that God is sovereign over all and was at work even there in the silo mills. He learned to work hard and persevere in ways that many never do, and even though it was difficult, a special value was placed on caring for family.
By the time I came waltzing into the picture, Christian (car boy) had worked in dozens of situations and taken on much of the financial responsibility in his home where there was no father. I had grown up much differently than Christian. My parents provided a very comfortable and enjoyable childhood in the USA. I went through public school K–12 and got a bachelor’s degree afterwards. When an internship opportunity with the International Justice Mission opened up, I spent two years living in Guatemala City.
Christian and I met at a wedding while I was in Guatemala, got to know one another, and three years later had a wedding of our own. So, just like that, two completely different worlds were brought together in the oneness of marriage.
When deciding where to live as a family, we settled on Morganton, North Carolina, where my parents had relocated since leaving our hometown. We wanted to be near them, already loved a church in the town, and knew of some Guatemalans living there.
So, we jumped into life! I taught Spanish and Bible at a little Christian School, and Christian worked in a machine shop. Outside of work, God also opened many doors to be involved in the Guatemalan community in our town. From Bible studies to literacy classes to interpretation to soccer leagues to just plain friendship, we became intimately connected to what we found to be a uniquely large demographic of Guatemalans (census estimate around 19%). After a few years, Christian took a position at a Christian medical clinic in town as a liaison between the Hispanic farmworkers and the world of healthcare.
Though he enjoyed that position very much, he was always interested in starting up a business of some sort. As idea after idea popped into his mind, I lent a kind of support, but it was hesitant and from a distance — support of something he would do, not that we would do together.
Over time, God changed me. He opened my eyes to see the great value of working together as a family. He used our church, and materials from Generations.org – and as a cherry on top — I heard an interview with Mike Cheney on the topic of the family economy! It was soon after that that I sat Christian down and announced that I was 100% in! We were so excited and ready to go, but we were not sure how exactly to get started. Since I had just heard the interview, we decided to start by together reading Mike Cheney’s book, One With Everything, to get some ideas on how to move forward.
What a helpful book! Foundational chapters spurred us on in the desire to be unified as a family, get involved in mentoring relationships, train our own children, and use our specific skills to engage and bless the community around us. Practical examples and questions at the end of each chapter got us walking through necessary steps for starting up, and a large variety of family business testimonies encouraged us that it was indeed possible!
We were prompted to seek out mentors, mostly in our church body, and reason through what kind of business might be feasible for our family. As we prayed, sought counsel, and finished up the book, we came up with the idea of roasting coffee, something we had done as a hobby for most of our married life.
Soon, all three (at the time) of our kids gathered around the trusty FreshRoast 500 with us to start the business! Its maximum capacity of a quarter of a pound was less than ideal, but we were doing it! With just two to four cycles of roasting, we could fill 8 oz. and 16 oz. bags for sale. Friends bought coffee from us, we purchased a larger roaster (1 pound capacity!), and our business was born — Ramazzini Roasters.
Wait? Aren’t we Little Guatemala? Yes! From the very beginning, it has been a joy to watch God lead the way and develop this business into something that we had not imagined at first. Just a few months into this operation, our main focus and business name had completely changed! Roasting Guatemalan-grown coffee was now lumped under the umbrella theme of sharing Guatemalan culture. Therefore, the name to encompass the new vision was changed to Little Guatemala.
This decision, of course, involved a lot of conversation about the unique cultural dynamics in the community and our unique situation and abilities. But, there really was an ordinary — yet providential — circumstance that catapulted this change into action. Our previous home had taken longer to sell than anticipated, and around the time that it finally did sell, some friends mentioned a building in town that might be good for our roasting. It had been vacant for some time and become rundown, yet as we tiptoed over the clutter in a walk through, Christian’s mind was doing backflips. A warehouse with holes all over the ceiling and floor said “indoor soccer” to him, and there was a market feel in the main building with Guatemalan street food and traditional crafts. So, the decision was made to invest the cash from our home’s sale into a building where we could invite others to enjoy lots of wonderful Guatemalan culture, in the hopes of serving as a bridge in a community that is so culturally diverse.
With the funds that we had, we would not only be able to purchase the building, but make enough improvements to get things rolling … we thought! Even with the help of mentors, there were some surprises on what kind of renovations would be necessary for the building to pass inspection. Since we were changing the purpose of the building (an old feed and seed supply), a lengthy list of changes needed to happen. We found out that updates to the 1930s building, MUST be done according to engineer-stamped blueprints. The time and price tag to complete all of this were both much larger than we anticipated!
After months of waiting, an architect we had hired confessed to having not even started plans for our project. Christian and I lifted this concern to the Lord in prayer that night and the next morning with the kids. That same morning, we received an order for a coffee subscription from someone that included a link to a new business he was starting in town. I clicked to find an architectural firm, then called and hired him that day! He was able to start the work immediately! It was so fun to thank the Lord together for that obvious answer to prayer. Our kids are now 6, 4, 2, and 1, and we cherish the ways that this business has given us the ability to teach them and spend purposeful time together even at their young ages.
Things are moving forward, but here we are a year and a half after purchasing the building, still not in it! It is not what we planned, but the extended time-frame is in God’s hands and has allowed us to focus on the development of the coffee and chocolate (we also make bean-to-bar chocolate from Guatemalan cacao) portion of the business before jumping full-throttle into the bigger picture. Sales of our products at the local farmers market, stores, and restaurants grew enough to allow us to purchase a much larger roaster (22 pound capacity), and Christian was able to step out of his previous job at the end of July to dedicate more of his time towards the business. One neat thing he did was convert an old horse trailer into a mobile coffee shop. Every morning, Christian sets up the coffee cart, and every afternoon he puts in labor at the building. The kids and I show up and take on tasks whenever we can, even just to cheer him on! The projected opening date for the building has been pushed back so many times that we hesitate to even verbalize our ideas on that! But, even in all the uncertainties, there most certainly is an underlying peace that comes from trusting the Lord in any situation. Up to this point, He has allowed a certain amount of success and ways to overcome various hurdles, so we are grateful! We are moving forward, endeavoring to depend on Him, obey Him, and give Him the glory.