Thinking Outside the Box Leads to Ministry Outside The Bowl
In 2005, Jae and Debra Evans moved from California to South Africa. They knew it would alter their lives, but what came next they never would have expected. The calling was monumental, their passion was increased, their love for the Lord was overflowing, and their desire to serve impoverished communities to help eliminate physical and spiritual starvation internationally was heavily placed on their hearts. And, they were not alone. The Lord had been orchestrating things in several areas of their lives as He was teaching, preparing and leading them to this specific moment when they would be called to drop everything and obey.
As the Evans’ put their faith into action and shared their plans with friends and family members, they experienced resistance. Regardless of the pushback, they continued on the path, just as Noah did when building the ark. They diligently prayed and stayed steadfast with their vision and the purpose God had made clear. Their journey took several twists and turns, reaching some of the most devastated populations including South Africa, Haiti and Mexico.
What began as a passion to share the Gospel, shortly turned into not only feeding others spiritually, but physically. They used their education and business acumen to engineer an easily reproducible design for a “super kitchen” that could efficiently, and effectively, make perishable meals and get those meals directly into the hands of hungry children. This became the foundation for their ministry named, Outside the Bowl. Each of these super kitchens is built in a cargo-shipping container that can be sent to a location, constructed on site, and operational within weeks. The goal is that these super kitchens then become self-sustainable. Most of the kitchens have two kettles that can each cook 1,000 meals every two hours, serving up to 6,000 meals a day. Within Outside the Bowl’s first year of operation they were able to feed 1.5 million people.
Now having served more than 11 million meals to date, the Evans’ hope each community will become stronger and that locals will continue to experience God’s love first hand. This humble couple sat down with Risen to share more of their story and how they sold everything and began what is now a global outreach.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Marcos, California
Risen Magazine: In 2005, the two of you moved to South Africa. What prompted the move and why this region?
Debra Evans: Throughout our marriage I have worked alongside my husband, Jae, helping him with his businesses in the software medical field. We started three successful businesses together. I also have been consistently involved with BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) because I enjoy ministering to others through discipleship. We have held studies within our home and I have been one of the discussion leaders. It has been our lifelong ministry.
The Lord began to prompt our move to South Africa when a lady within our BSF group had asked me to pray for her and the different ministries in South Africa that she was involved in. This led me to be praying for her and South Africa for one full year. Within that year the Lord did a work in my heart and grew my love for the people of South Africa.
Soon after, my husband and I realized that there was a connection with one of his board members who also was involved in a ministry to the people of South Africa. One day he invited us to lunch and then asked us to join him on a personal trip to Paarl, South Africa. That trip changed our lives.
We came back to California and we fasted and prayed, asking the Lord what His will was for our lives. We both felt that God was directing us to move to South Africa. We spent time talking to friends and waiting on the Lord. We were reading a book called, “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God” by Henry Blackaby. The focus of the book is about knowing your calling. It caused us to think about what God was doing in our lives and how He was connecting the dots. This had a huge impact on us. Within six months we sold our beautiful home in Carlsbad, CA along with many of our belongings, left our grown children and their families, and moved to South Africa.
Jae Evans: While we were there we had the opportunity to disciple many children in a very poor area where about sixty thousand people were unemployed. When we first began we were teaching children. Then we quickly realized that when we added food to our ministry the number of kids being reached increased dramatically. We went from sixty children to three hundred children. We were reaching approximately one thousand children a week through three community centers. When you feed children it meets their basic need. We wanted to not only feed them, but meet their needs spiritually too.
RM: Not long after you developed a discipleship program you realized the children were too hungry to hear God’s Word and you decided to do something about it. What was the plan at that time?
DE: First we began the ministry by teaching the children. We didn’t start feeding them until two years into the ministry. Our plan was to build relationships with the Xhosa tribal community. Everything changed when I realized one of my students had not eaten for two days. This is when we began to make soup for them. Providing food gave us the opportunity to teach more children so they could then disciple others.
Jae’s engineering skills kicked in and he thought, “We could help other ministries to do the same thing as we are.” We thought if we combined our money with other ministries we could buy bulk and save money for everyone involved. So we looked to other ministries to join in our efforts. It would be less expensive for them and they could use the saved money for other needs within each of their ministries. We could focus on one thing that we were good at and it could benefit several ministries and reach more people within the community. In 2007, local grocers and food packaging companies began to donate to our cause. We were able to produce approximately 4,000 meals a day. Then a huge local flour producer offered their technician services to teach our staff how to make bread. So we began making about 1,500 loaves of bread a day as well.
within a few short years one kitchen can essentially fund the building of a new kitchen, in a new location, to serve more children in need and help build another community’s economy.
RM: How did you go from helping feed local children to creating the non-profit Outside the Bowl?
JE: Due to personal reasons we needed to move back to America. Our lives were changed. Our hearts were still passionate about serving the Lord through running a soup kitchen and we were unsure if the Lord was going to call us back to South Africa or not. We talked with our pastor from our home church – which supported our decision to sell everything and move to South Africa – about us serving people closer to home. We prayed about it and felt we were being called to reach out to the people in Mexico and Haiti. While discussing our vision for the ministry with our pastor he said, “It’s not about what is inside the bowl, it’s about what is outside the bowl.” This was the beginning of Outside the Bowl ministry. We experienced miracle after miracle as the Lord clearly opened doors. By August we built a super kitchen in Haiti. The kitchen was operational by that November and sustainable [six months later] by May 2012. The first two kitchens we built were run by locals because our vision was to make it more about the community and to build bridges between ministries.
RM: You state on your website that one-sixth of the world population goes to bed hungry. How are you structured to help change that statistic?
JE: With Outside the Bowl (OTB) it’s not about having donors, it’s more about having investors. A donor implies that we would be coming back next year asking for more funding. We’re setting up a super kitchen one time and turning it into a community program that will continue to feed children. This allows our investors to invest in a community, into a sustainable solution and they are able to also receive a tax write off.
As shown on our website, www.outsidethebowl.org, we multiply the donations that are given by allowing it to have a ripple effect and give perpetually. We can start a super kitchen by a one-time investment of $200,000, typically funded by many gifts from many people. This amount has a huge impact. It covers 3,000 to 6,000 meals a day that are then delivered to OTB partners which include churches, orphanages, schools, hospitals and more. Many partners are already paying for meals, but when they partner with us at OTB their meal costs are reduced up to fifty percent. This puts money back into their annual budget to do more ministry. So a one-time donation affects many ministries. An OTB super kitchen also invests in the local community through hiring 8-10 locals to work in the kitchen, it allows for purchasing of local ingredients from local farmers, and pays for municipal utilities and taxes. It stimulates the local economy in that community each year.
Our super kitchens are also sustainable and regenerating. Any reserve money that a kitchen makes is split 50/50. Fifty percent of the reserve money goes to the kitchen expenses such as equipment maintenance, building maintenance and vehicle repairs, while the other fifty percent accumulates into the “new kitchen fund.” So within a few short years one kitchen can essentially fund the building of a new kitchen, in a new location, to serve more children in need and help build another community’s economy.
RM: It was shocking to read that pre-packaged meals generally don’t make it to the children as hungry adults either eat or steal and sell the meals. How does your distribution system ensure hot meals for kids? Tell me about the super kitchen.
DE: We serve hot meals because that way we know the kids will get them. Within the Xhosa culture in South Africa we saw that kids are devalued a lot. The children are non-productive; therefore they are considered a burden rather than an asset. The children cannot even eat while the parents eat. We ensure that the children are getting the meals because we serve the soup like a milk run. The delivery man delivers the soup to local ministries in five-gallon buckets, and then the delivery man picks up the buckets when they are empty. That way we can regulate when and where the soup is being distributed and make sure the food is actually getting to the children.
RM: It seems like quite the set up. How does it operate?
JE: We hire staff, because volunteers are not sustainable. Each ministry benefiting from Outside the Bowl’s service fills out an application. We have an account manager who audits performance at each kitchen and essentially inspects what we expect.
DE: We run the super kitchens like a business. The super kitchen is standardized, which means that it runs the same in each location. The only difference would be spices based on the preferred tastes for each culture. The super kitchen puts roughly half-a-million dollars back into the community. It is a community development program that supports local feeding programs. Behind the scenes there is a need for people in the ministry. Each kitchen can produce approximately 6,000 meals per day. We are able to buy the ingredients and produce the meals for about one-third of the cost that it would cost each separate ministry to produce on their own. This gives us the opportunity to give the savings to the local ministries near the kitchen, which averages out to be about $5 million a year that can be pumped back into ministry.
RM: Every five seconds a child dies of hunger-related causes. It is important to point out how hunger is the catalyst for many ailments. What do you see most?
JE: It’s not just hunger; it’s malnutrition. We have seen that adults are stunted emotionally and physically. Before five years of age a child can lose critical thinking skills if they are not properly nourished. Attacking the issue of poverty is the long view. Children will drop out of school so that they can work for food. If a child knows they’re going to get fed at school, they will go. We are not focused on the starvation issues in Mexico, but are focused on the malnutrition issues. In Haiti the main issues we have seen are starvation and devastation, whereas in Mexico it is more poor nutrition because they cannot afford nutritious meals.
Each kitchen can produce approximately 6,000 meals per day. We are able to buy the ingredients and produce the meals for about one-third of the cost that it would cost each separate ministry to produce on their own.
RM: Your mission statement says Outside the Bowl is dedicated to eliminating physical and spiritual starvation. What are you doing to feed the faith side?
JE: We think of our ministry as how the body of Christ works. The body of Christ is the Church, made up of all those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Each of us is called to serve through the gifts and talents the Lord has created us with. We are called to offer ourselves out of the love we have for the Lord because of the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross so that we may have eternal life in Heaven. We believe that each member of the body of Christ has an important contribution to make. If every ministry picked one thing and did it well, then they would not spread themselves too thin. Our focus is to do what we do really well so that God can then use us and multiply our efforts. We feed our partners so that they can keep their focus on what they do best. It is a team effort, not an individual effort. God commanded us to feed the people, not just the Christians and we see that food multiplies ministry.
RM: What did each of your faith backgrounds look like? And then once married, and joined together and running this organization, how has your faith shifted or solidified?
JE: We both became Christians in college through Navigators [an international Christian outreach ministry to college campuses]. After our experience with Navigators we always had Bible studies in our home. We kept focused on the key elements in our lifestyle and lived out the Gospel. Our goal was to disciple others and to keep them in the Word [Bible]. The companies we started were our mission field. But then our eyes were opened and we realized that the world is much bigger than our companies. We sold everything and uprooted our lives, but before we did that we had to make sure it was really God. It definitely has made our faith stronger. We really followed His calling. We just said we’re going to do it and we did.
RM: What types of challenges or spiritual warfare have you faced? And how have you battled against it?
JE: Going into the different cultures there was no problem with them understanding the spiritual realm. You go and are aware that you are in a spiritual battle. Because the people in these communities are able to understand spiritual warfare, we found that there were more open opportunities to share the Gospel. Their religion is based on the spiritual. They believe in witch doctors, casting spells, and voodoo. We did not personally feel attacked, but we did see times when the children were.
DE: I believe that if you keep God as your front guard and rear guard, trusting the Lord, then that faith deadens the enemy. You just have to recognize the arrows that are there and then don’t allow them to defeat you. To help me recognize the spiritual warfare, I use the three “D” words: division, deception, and devastation.
RM: You are operating in three countries, with six super kitchens and have served more than 11 million meals. How did you pick these first three countries?
JE: Our two-and-a-half week trip to South Africa with our missionary friends was when the Lord put it on our hearts to make the life-altering decision to move there and dedicate our lives to minister to the spiritually and physically impoverished people of South Africa. Then due to personal reasons we needed to move back to the United States. We wanted to touch our neighbors and the Lord opened the doors to starting and running super kitchens in Mexico and Haiti. Through each decision we have been sensitive to God’s leading to make sure each decision was what He wanted us to do.
RM: What are your current goals?
JE: Our goal is to build ten Outside the Bowl super kitchens a year. Ninety-percent of our funding comes from one church. Once we build one kitchen with our set-up, it becomes self-sustaining and then slowly raises money to build another one. We have a list of people who want our kitchens, but are only limited by funding. We have built six super kitchens so far, we just need help building more to fill the need.
RM: You probably didn’t think when you initially moved to South Africa that you would be in the food distribution business, but you listened to the Lord when He adapted your plan. What advice would you give others when it comes to holding their plans loosely and being open to what God has in store?
JE: God requires us to have a plan, but to submit our plans to Him. When we have our desires we need to go to the Lord and tell Him, “This is what I want.” Then we need to give it to Him and ask, “Lord, what do you want?” We are each called to do something so we need to become attentive.