Use What You Got

And Elisha said to her, "What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?" And she said, "Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil" (2 Kings 4:2, ESV).

I was at Pine Forge Academy yesterday for Academy Day. As I sat at lunch I was talking with a few people about the high cost of this Christian education option. Pine Forge Academy is now $18,000 per year.

That’s a lot of money where I come from! When I attended PFA it was $4,500 per year. And that was a lot for my blue collar household. EIGHTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS, PEOPLE! Even when you spread that annual cost out over 10 months, you’re still talking $1800 a month!

Just to give some perspective, sending one child to Pine Forge is like leasing the $103,650 2012 Mercedes SL-Class Roadster for 36 months at $1,512 a month. (You’d still have $287 a month for gas and tolls.) $1800 a month is a lot of money! I think it goes without saying that the high cost of tuition adversely affects enrollment. If PFA were more affordable, a greater number of parents would consider sending their children. Let's face it: most folk can’t afford to send their child to Pine Forge.

When we finished breakfast yesterday morning, we entered the sanctuary where a professionally produced documentary on the beginnings of Pine Forge was playing. They talked about how the Lord blessed the pioneers with 575 acres of land on which to build the school.

I think that Elisha’s question to the prophet’s widow in 2 Kings 4:2 is instructive here: “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” Her answer was "nothing, except a little oil." The rest of 2 Kings 4 reveals that the Lord’s miraculous provision for her and her family was built upon what she had -- oil. God didn't use what was in her neighbor's house to provide for her. The Lord's prophet did not ask her what she wished was in her house. The question was, "What's in your house." In other words, the starting point was for her to take inventory of what she had.

What does Pine Forge Academy have? We have 575 acres of land. We have some articulate, attractive, aspirational students. We have staff and community members who know how to do first-rate hospitality. So what are the possibilities? Plain and simply, what can we do with what we have?

There is a market for ethical and socially responsible hospitality and entertainment. There are Christian retreat and conference centers that let it be known to those who would use their facilities that there are certain activities they won’t support, certain beverages they won’t serve or allow.

I am suggesting that we can do the very same thing on some of those 575 acres. We could build a first-rate hotel and conference center there at Pine Forge. What would that do? Well, first it would give students JOBS to earn money to help their parents pay for Pine Forge.

I saw firsthand the hospitality of the Pine Forge Academy student. Yesterday the senior class helped us register for Academy Day, served us a continental breakfast, and gave us a knowledgeable tour of the campus. The same self-discipline and professionalism that the young people from our church and I received yesterday morning could be shown to corporations and companies that would rent our hotel and conference center. Pine Forge students could be cleaning hotel rooms, doing laundry, vacuuming hallways, polishing banisters, providing concierge and bellhop services, cleaning toilets, etc.

In addition to providing jobs for our students to help them work off their tuition, the kind of students that Pine Forge produces would, without a doubt, impress some of the corporate clients that utilize our hotel and conference facilities. Corporations need tax write-offs. Why wouldn’t they consider making a donation to a predominantly African-American high school with a track record of producing students of exceptional achievement?

What I am suggesting is that Pine Forge would stand to benefit not only from the per usage rental fees each corporate client would pay, but also from its greater exposure to companies and corporate clients who may be looking for a write-off with a proven history of success. Their use of our facility would put us on their radar screen.

The idea is expandable. Most good hotels have other services they offer along with a clean place to sleep. So, there could be a restaurant. (There are some good cooks associated with Pine Forge Academy!) That’s more jobs: waiters, busboys, cooks, maĆ®tre d’s, etc. There could be a bakery that provides bread for the restaurant, cookies and other pastries for a cafe that operates away from meal times, etc. That’s more jobs still.

What we’re talking about is using what we have in our house to sustain ourselves. A willingness to think outside the box can provide money for tuition, can open up greater possibilities for corporate donations because of greater exposure.

The final point I want to make on this is that the money the students earn would be factored in as an operating expense. So, that’s money that passes through to help the students. But every business exists to make money. If we were talking about a Marriott or Hilton hotel, we would be talking about money that they need to operate that is good for their employees. AND we would be talking about money that helps make the Marriott and Hilton families richER. Because the hotel and conference would be owned by the non-profit school, the school stands to endow itself.

In other words, the school could make enough money to either create great scholarships to attract students or to drop the cost of tuition altogether because it would no longer be completely dependent upon tuition to operate. Tuition may actually drop from $18,000 to $13,500 or even $9,000. Now we’re going to get the attention of more students. When we get their attention, we tell them, “Yes, it’s $13,500 or $9,000 a year, but we also offer a work-study program with the hotel where each student can earn up to $5,400 a year.” Each parent is now trying to find $8,100 or $3,600 per year versus $18,000.

Enrollment shoots up.

And we haven’t said a word about the benefits of keeping students busy around meaningful work. We haven’t mentioned that some students may get a real taste for the hospitality industry and could go onto careers with major international hotel chains. Nor have we mentioned the kinds of connections that could be forged to help students learn more about the businesses to which they are exposed by the corporate clients that utilize our hotel and conference facility.

All I’m talking about is the possibility of using what we have in our house (2 Kings 4:2).

I’m sure that folk can find a thousand reasons why this idea won’t work. That’s fine. Offer something better. But let’s not just leave things the way they are.

Dream with me for “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18a). Or another translation suggests, “where there is no prophetic vision, people stumble all over themselves.”

I’d love to get your feedback.

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