Raised as a pastor’s son in rural upstate New York, Dave Cooper recalls a unique call for world missions from an early age.
“Growing up with my dad as a pastor we always had missionaries around. In fact, they would often stay with us for long stents. I recall even from the early days the carousels of mission photos projected for all to see during a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening missions moment. These were smiling photos of missionaries standing in mud huts around the globe with everything looking great. There was no sweat, there was no tears and I remember thinking, “that can’t be the whole story”. I always wished to know what was really happening in the field. I had a strong desire to help in a way that was meaningful and strategic, but I knew I was not called to be a missionary.”
This is the roots of Dave Cooper’s story. From a young age Dave was given a deep seeded call to do missions, in a different way, a story that God has creatively & powerfully designed over the years. This was a different kind of missions work than he had ever seen before but God had uniquely gifted him for this task.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Dave about his journey of faith, work and missions. This interview is a glimpse into his story and his call to live missionally as a serial entrepreneur.
Ericka: Dave, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Dave: I grew up as a pastor’s son in a very rural community in upstate New York. We grew up without a lot, in fact I remember at times my dad was even paid with live chickens for his pastor’s salary. I was raised in the church and we moved around a lot. I knew even from a young age that I had not been called to be a pastor. I had a deep passion to be a part of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth but I did not have a traditional vocational calling to ministry. This left me in the unknown of how God would use that passion to come to be. As I headed into high school and college I was still not sure what I wanted to do with my life but I decided to study business management. It was in college that I met my wife Karen. God has blessed us with two sons, Erik & Darren and with four grandchildren.
Ericka: Can you tell me a little bit about how you started your career and entered the marketplace?
Dave: Even when I graduated from college I did not know what I wanted to do. I went and taught for 18 months. After that point I got a job at an insurance company doing audits in Philadelphia. It was in 1972 after meeting some friends that they told me about an opportunity in Indianapolis with a different firm. This job was really foundational in where God has guided my career path. This role offered me some great connections but the hours were long and I had a young and growing family.
Through connections made there I had the opportunity to start a business with some friends. We began to lease and own several nursing homes. All of my experience to that point had led me to this initial start up business. Looking back on that first company we started we laugh. We had nothing to get that business going but sometimes you are not smart enough to be afraid of risk. This was the first of my many entrepreneurial adventures.
Ericka: Can you share a bit about how God has used your entrepreneurial efforts to support missions around the globe?
Dave: I always had a heart for missions, even as a kid I knew I wanted to strategically help people in the field. I wanted to be able to live missionally with the skills God had given me. It became apparent early in my career that business was the avenue to which God had called me to do that.
In 1992 after several other business ventures, I joined with Tim Shrout, a friend with a deep real-estate development background to co-found Community Reinvestment Foundation, a nonprofit real estate company aimed at providing high-quality affordable housing to people who need it while channeling half of its yearly profits to missions projects around the globe.
We are over 25 years in now and we own over 2,300 units and donate over $500,000 to missions each year. This unique business opportunity has allowed us to follow our calling to invest in missions work around the globe with what is really needed to help missionaries stay on the field.
The missions dollars initially flowed through a dear friend and my former pastor, Tom Paino, and his organization ActioNow. As ActioNow began to wind down in 2015, the CRF leadership began to pray and ask God to reveal the next season of this work and ministry. A new organization was conceived, a “sister organization” for CRF, The Stone Table. This organization took up the missions mantle of the original founders as marketplace Christians creating and leveraging resources for the expression and expansion of the Kingdom of God around the world.
The truth is, not only have we been able to support missions work around the globe which is a priority to us but have always looked at the work of CRF as a missions field as well. We have thousands of people we are serving through our business, that is another missions field right here in our back yard.
Ericka: What a legacy Dave! That is an awesome story of following God’s call to live missionally through the skills He has gifted you with! So, after 50 years in the marketplace and living out your faith, work and missions ways what would you say is the greatest thing God has taught you?
Dave: God has never promised us that our life would be a bed of roses. Testing, through tough times, will always come. Having your faith and the support of others with similar beliefs gives you the strength to persevere. If we surround ourselves with like-minded people, we gain wisdom to face difficult situations. It’s important who we partner with.
I have also learned over the years that though I was not called to the missions field directly or to the pulpit like my father, my work and your work is sacred. All of us have the role of completing our work in a way that is bringing glory to God.
It has been powerful for me to see over the years the people God has brought into my businesses to work with us, the talents and gifts He has given others to carry out His mission to the ends of the earth. God has equipped all of us in unique ways for His kingdom and when we all use the skills we have been given we can accomplish more.
Ericka: Thank you for those words. What advice would you give to a believer just starting their career from your experiences? How would you encourage them as they seek to integrate their faith with their work?
Dave: I would tell anyone that integrity is most important. Integrity is something that you earn by showing others who you are and what you stand for. It cannot be taken away from you, but you can lose it easily by not adhering to the principles you live by. Choose your personal relationships and professional relationships carefully. Almost every day, we hear of a company or person who has cheated in their business life or personal life and the consequences are life changing. In the end we will only answer to Christ for our work.
Live your faith at work by striving to be the best at what you do. Your employer has put trust in you and your abilities. If you are competent in your chosen career and ethical in what you say and do, you will have the opportunity to share your faith with them. This is your faith alive in your work! Don’t let the lack of a calling stop you from doing what God has called you to do. Be faithful and God will use your work as part of His grand redemption story, whether that is as a secretary, an engineer, a teacher, apastor or a CEO. Your work matters!
Reflection Question: How can you live missionally using the gifts and role you have been given?
Here at The Stone Table we believe that the Gospel redeems and resurrects all things, including the work of our hands just as we have seen in Dave’s story. Our “Called” blogs are a series of personal stories God is creatively writing around the globe that focus on people living out their work as a beloved role within God’s Great Storyline.