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Choosing Christ before money

Nov. 11, 2004

By LISA MARRS, reporter

Scott James, a Baylor graduate and a member of the marketing department of Pura Vida Coffee, worked in the corporate world for 10 years before he realized he wasn't fulfilling his calling.

"Who are you? What impact will you make?" were the words projected on the screen in Chapel on Wednesday as James looked on.

Robyn Kenagy | Lariat staff
Scott James speaks to Chapel students about his life calling after graduation from Baylor. James said that everyone has something in the center of their lives and for him it is Christ. James works for Pura Vida Coffee where he incorporates his mission work.
Driving away from Baylor after graduation, he came up with his own personal mission statement -- "help others."

He said his job at the time wasn't helping him make an impact, but he found he could make a difference working for Pura Vida. Pura Vida carries 100 percent certified fair trade coffee to ensure growers and producers around the world receive a fair wage to support their families.

Their mission is to use capitalism to empower producers, motivate consumers, inspire business leaders and serve the poor. James said "serving the poor is not an option, it's a mandate."

He challenged students to consider those words. He said if students don't do something about it, they are condemning the world to poverty.

Serving the poor can lead to cynicism and burnout, he said, but relationships with Christ, family and friends help him to push through.

He told students to invest their years at Baylor in their friendships to have a solid group of people to come back to for guidance.

When James was struggling to figure out what to do with his life, he said the business side of him made a flow chart. The center of one's life is either Christ or something else, he said, and James ultimately chose Christ over money. James said he wants his son, Justice, who is almost 2 years old, to have more choices than he did when he graduate from college. Companies like Pura Vida are for-profit but owned by a nonprofit organization. People can make money and make a difference, he said. In a video James showed students during Chapel, a woman from Nicaragua tearfully thanked everyone because she said every cup of coffee is directly related to a family.

Pura Vida's headquarters are in Seattle, where James works. He said the local Volkswagon dealership wrapped a Vanagon with Pura Vida's logo for them to use for promotion. They gave the company a free lease, because they loved what they were doing, he said. James isn't the only one getting involved with free trade and the Pura Vida company.

Dr. Clark Baker, associate professor of journalism and a documentary photographer, became involved with Pura Vida Coffee about two years ago.

He is interested in the fair-trade movement and he received a grant for his work. Baker has known John Sage, one of the co-founders of the company, since they were children. He noticed the company could be telling its story better, and he volunteered his photography.

Baker has traveled to Central America, Costa Rica and is planning a trip to Ethiopia. On his trips he has met with farmers and interviewed and recorded their stories.

"That was powerful in terms of how the free trade movement has affected their lives," Baker said. Baker remembers interviewing Efrain Sanchez, a farmer in Costa Rica who supplies Pura Vida Coffee.

Sanchez's father and son acquired permanent health problems from exposure to herbicides. This is why all the suppliers grow their crops organically.

"It was exciting to hear that his life has changed," Baker said, referring to Sanchez when he stopped using herbicides. Baker is interested in the family histories and who the people are.

His work is showcased on Pura Vida's Web site and also on the company's packaging.

Huanshi Zhao, a senior from China and an information systems major, had never heard of companies like this.

"It's good to make money and help people at the same time," he said.

Pura Vida Coffee was founded by John Sage and Chris Dearnley, who met in 1987 at Harvard Business School.

They wanted to bring hope to at-risk children in Costa Rica, where their charitable activity began.

Through a partner organization, FundaVida, families in Costa Rica benefit from nutritious meals, educational opportunities, sports programs and counseling. Pura Vida is translated "Pure Life," but is also slang for "that's cool."

This speciality coffee is sold through its Web site,, and is also available at about 70 college campuses.