Standing on The Rock When the Economy Crumbles

COVID-19 creates a dilemma for small business owners. They don’t want their customers to be harmed, yet they don’t want to lose their livelihood.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a small business owner’s dilemma. It puts many small business owners between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, many want to comply with their state’s lockdown orders because they don’t want anyone visiting their establishment to be harmed. Yet this is their livelihood, the way they feed their children and families. And their employees are counting on them to provide a steady paycheck so those workers can also feed their families. What’s an entrepreneur to do?

Watching week after week go by and wondering if there would be any end in sight to the quarantine has put many people on edge. Studies show that fallout from the coronavirus has already forced 100,000 small businesses in the United States to close permanently. Worry, anxiety, and worse live in the minds both of the entrepreneur working with freelancers and contractors, the small business with hundreds of employees, and the employees themselves.

We talked with two small business owners and a furloughed worker who are facing the challenges COVID-19 created. But they refuse to fall into despair, even as they watch their earnings crater.

Calamity in Colorado

Mitchell Yellen had to furlough 177 of his employees at the family friendly businesses of his Colorado-based Altitude Hospitality Group. Business slowed to a crawl at his Garden of the Gods Market and Cafe and Catering, Pinery at the Hill wedding venue and Northside Social Restaurant among a number of other businesses.

The announcement that he had to furlough most of his staff marked a sad day for both Mitchell and his employees. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty because no one had any control over the outcome. After he furloughed his head chef at Till Kitchen, the chef’s wife lost her job a week later.

Plans for Hope and a Future

One new manager, Ashley Phillips, worked only a few weeks before facing furlough. The news was devastating for Ashley, especially with three children at home. Ashley cried as she wondered how she would provide for her little ones and herself. As someone who suffers from depression she had to fight to keep from staying in the fetal position and giving in to the feelings of deep sadness she sometimes found hard to shake.

After a particularly difficult night she woke up and went to the fridge to prepare breakfast. The magnet had been there for a long time. But for some reason this morning the verse on it was especially meaningful. It was Jeremiah 29:11: “. . . For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Renewed Faith

Suddenly, she felt a sense of clarity and hope, and she turned to her Father in heaven with renewed faith. He would get her and her children through. The more she relied on the Lord, the more family members and friends helped her get food and supplies. Her landlord took late payments, and her boss Mitchell provided her and his other employees with gift cards for food and personal loans to pay the mortgage.

She encourages workers who are suffering to look to the Lord. “Yes, times are tough,” Ashley says, “But He supplies your needs. He might not give you everything you want, but He’ll provide the things you need.”

Future Plans

Mitchell faced a major dilemma. He felt a great sense of responsibility for his workers like Ashley, which was why he provided gift cards and personal loans for them. He wished he could do more. At the same time, his small businesses were losing a great deal of money now as well.

Thankfully, he had made some smart decisions in the past, primarily staying away from debt. He felt his businesses could weather the storm because of that. He had faith that he’d be able to reopen and that customers would return.

Funds from the federal government’s Payment Protection Plan arrived slowly. But with those, he hoped to bring back all the furloughed employees within the next three to six months. Still, he’s finding it hard to put together a complete game plan since the governor had issued orders that restaurant reopenings would take place in 50% phases. At this point he is opening some of his businesses like Sprig and Till Kitchen restaurants at 50% capacity. He hopes to be able to reopen the rest of his businesses at full capacity within the month.

The Importance of a Strong Foundation

As he talks with fellow small business owners, Mitchell is learning that some are trembling with fear over whether they’ll be able to reopen at all in these difficult financial times. Mitchell encourages them by pointing them to God and the Scriptures. He lets them know that this is all temporary. It’s possible that some business owners could be wiped out, he says, but many will rebuild again.

To the fearful ones fast losing hope for tomorrow, Mitchell says it’s important to have a strong foundation built on Jesus Christ, the solid rock. Hope crumbles when foundations are built on sand, he says.

Loss of Freedom

He supports them by encouraging and praying for them as they wonder what each new day will bring. Mitchell says he can’t help but question some of the motivations behind keeping much of the country on lockdown. To him it’s troubling that people can go to a liquor store, get an abortion, get a tattoo and get marijuana, but they can’t go to church. He says Americans are watching their freedoms slip away.

But as a believer, Mitchell says he realizes that his citizenship is not here on earth; it’s in heaven. Here, freedoms can be take away, but not in heaven. He believes the world is starting to see the early signs of the end times discussed at length in the Bible’s book of Revelation. He says people should be prepared because this may not be the last time they experience loss of freedoms. Mitchell says believers understand that you have to have a different perspective on the tough times the world is facing. He says now is the time for Christians to be a light in this world to those who are lost and searching.

A Grim Reminder

Mitchell says this time reminds him of 9-11 when he was in the air, one hour out of New York and the pilot was forced to land in Nova Scotia instead. Acts of terrorism had brought the World Trade Center towers down.

As the captain relayed the bad news while they were still in the air and flight attendants wept in the aisles, Mitchell put his head in his hands and thought, “I’m going to die today.” Moments later, he realized they were being re-routed to Nova Scotia. After the plane landed, he drove 16 hours to Montreal in the last rental car out of the airport, then boarded a train for the rest of his journey. It would take 5 days to get home.

Because he and other passengers were forced to leave all their luggage behind, Mitchell had only his Bible with him as he traveled out of Canada on the train. He ate 3 meals a day with the same group of people. When he saw the hopelessness and the questions on the faces of his fellow passengers, he knew it was time to share his knowledge of Christ Jesus, and he was grateful he had his Bible.

As the passengers started talking openly to Mitchell like he was a pastor, training from his time as a youth pastor kicked into action. Mitchell says God placed him right where he was that day to let the people know that God was their anchor and that it was time to return to or come to faith in Him.

He sees the same worry and fear now in this time of COVID-19, and says that some are even expressing anger at God. Mitchell sees this crisis as a powerful time for Christians to share God’s love.

Standing on the Rock

Even though he had to furlough many workers at his small businesses, Mitchell is grateful that the executive team on his staff could keep working during the lockdown. He was able to keep his catering businesses open and some of his restaurants could at least make deliveries. Still, he’s seen a tremendous loss of revenue with all of their major clients canceling their large orders. Mitchell hopes business will start to pick up again by July. For now, he’s glad he’s been able to bring his managers and some staff back as some of his restaurants start the dine-in option again.

And while he’s still unsure what tomorrow holds, instead of being rocked by any potential bad news, Mitchell says he’ll just continue to stand on The Rock.

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Cautious in California

Like Mitchell, small business owners Lindsay Pimentel and her husband Jorge also found themselves in a tough spot. Their Paycheck Protection funds were also slow in arriving. The two have run an occupational therapy business in California called Hand to Shoulder Rehab for more than twenty years. Their private practice specializes in hand, elbow, shoulder and cervical spine injuries. They have 8 therapists including Lindsay and 18 employees.

When the couple first heard the news that they might have to shut down their business because of the coronavirus, they held an all-staff meeting to unify everyone. Ultimately, their small business would be considered essential but there would be some changes. For Lindsay, the first few days after the announcement were extremely stressful.

“Everyone breathed tremendous fear, uncertainty and angst,” Lindsay said. “I could not see the forest for the trees.”

Losing Sleep

Forty-five percent of Lindsay’s caseload stopped overnight as fears over the virus and lockdown orders kept clients away. She didn’t sleep much as she pored over possible programs to enlist in as a way to help offset her employees’ wages. She felt a huge sense of responsibility for her staff and her patients, but now the loss of income from her small business would also impact her family including Lindsay’s husband and their three sons.

It was a challenge for Lindsay to establish reduced work hours, provide services for those who needed to come and then support the staff’s emotional needs. The staff included several single moms who didn’t know what to do since schools were closed. Their kids had to be home, yet they needed to work to feed their families. A couple of Lindsay’s employees decided to go on temporary unemployment so they could care for their families.

No More Laughter

Lindsay watched over the weeks as worry sucked the morale, laughter, and joy out of the work environment. Her small business faced many changes involving new rules, new measures, new paperwork, new protocols to follow. Her workers felt overwhelmed. Masks now covered the usual smiles and muted the regular laughter. Suddenly their “clinic personality” was less vibrant. They could no longer read each other’s expressions.

She hoped things would change quickly, since smiles and laughter are a good antidote to pain and depression.

Lindsay and her husband spent a lot of time praying. She recalls that some of those prayers were about her own unrest and indecision about steps to take. As a visionary, Lindsay normally looks weeks, months and even years ahead. Now, new circumstances forced her to look one moment, one day at a time.

Keeping Spirits Up

After a lot of prayer one night, Lindsay woke up the next morning with great clarity and decisiveness about what to do, and in that moment she found peace. She was determined to pass that peace on to others. She let her team know that even though she and her husband did not have all the answers, they would stand by their employees and support them.

As a way to keep spirits up, Lindsay and her staff put together a co-op promising to help each other. If one of them fell short on food, toilet paper, eggs, milk, all the things the stores could no longer keep stocked, the others would pitch in. They played trivia games, brought in cupcakes for birthday celebrations, and held weekly staff meetings with fun activities planned. Lindsay and her husband provided gift cards for the team.

She continues to keep her employees encouraged every day. She checks in on everyone, feeling out their needs and their stressors and she provides comfort when tears fall or when there is confusion or uncertainty.

Slow Gains

Because Lindsay’s small business is a specialty entity, they are still seeing post-operative cases, particularly worker’s comp cases. While they are fortunate in that regard, they have still lost 50% of their immediate income. What’s really tough is that remote and telework has caused a delay in funds from services they provided 60-90 days ago. That has slowed insurance payments even more than usual.

At first, Lindsay and her husband enrolled their staff into a work share program, which means that instead of laying off employees, they were able to keep everyone employed at no less than 40% of their wages and Unemployment Insurance helps pick up the other 60%. But as of May, officials have not processed their packet and employees have not received any additional wages.

Faith in Troubling Times

After the first few days of turmoil passed, Lindsay felt a deep sense of peace. She knew God would come through as always. Even if they needed to make changes and do things differently, she held onto the knowledge that He would provide wisdom as they implemented those changes.

The rehab did receive stimulus funds through the Payroll Protection Program, which means they can now bring everyone back for 40 hours a week. She considers that “a God thing,” because she knows many small businesses have not received any kind of funding.

Lindsay found another blessing in these troubling times. Since the rehab is not yet at full capacity, her team is able to take the time to finish projects they weren’t able to get to before COVID. They still face challenges and all the funds are not yet in place, but she’s happy that all her employees are working full time once again and receiving some pay.

Staying in the Yoke

Lindsay found that other small business owners she knows are discouraged, worried and thinking about closing their doors permanently. She tells them that if God is at the center of their lives and their work is “as unto Him,” then He will take care of the business. God will help direct them, give them wisdom and provide for the things he desires to see prosper.

She shares Matthew 11:28-30 with them: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Lindsay recalls a saying that finding rest is staying in the yoke, doing only what Jesus says and when He says to do it. Straining too far ahead, worrying about the future or lagging too far behind will cause unrest and stress, particularly in a time when both the present and the future are uncertain. We must keep our eyes on him and stay in the yolk, she says, because He is our defender.

When Sands are Shifting, Stand on the Rock

As a parent herself, Lindsay wraps up with a special message for other parents: Your children are watching you up close and personal. The way you are dealing with the global crisis, the place your encouragement comes from, and the amount of faith you have in your God makes a difference. She encourages parents to make the most of teaching your kids through your own walk, and show what you truly believe about the God you want your children to believe in. Family is precious, she says. All the possessions in the world can’t replace the beauty of family connection and building a legacy of faith. Make this time count.

Lindsay says that Christians are to always have our ears inclined to His will. His Word is always true and clear. As long as we stay surrendered to His will for us, He can guide and direct us, help us reinvent ourselves, change the course of something that’s stagnating and make it new again. The key is fixing our eyes on Him, as you do whatever He has called you to do. She says this can apply to small business owners who stand firm on Christ the Solid Rock, even in the shifting sands of stormy economic times.

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 

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