‘Drink Coffee, Change Lives’
By: Brad Rowland
Founded in 2011 in Cleveland, Tennessee, Inman Coffee is a one-of-a-kind ministry of The Salvation Army that daily aims to reach and develop young persons for Christ by creating a healthy ministry through an age-specific, community-minded business that models biblical unity and serves in the name of Jesus Christ. Joel and Cheryl Rogers, co-founders of what was then called the Inman Street Coffee House, arrived in the region and were introduced to Sergeant Ruth Forgey, eventually leading to the planting of the Cleveland Corps in 2010 and the opening of a vital ministry, within the same building, just one year later.
“The mission of Inman Coffee is to be a ministry from seed to cup. Truly from the time that the bean is planted, all the way to the time when it is harvested and roasted and sent here to Cleveland before being turned into a delicious cup of coffee,” Joel Rogers said. “So much relationally can happen over a cup of coffee, and we love to be there for people, to be the listening ear when they are hurting or broken, or if they just need a place to be.”
The idea for the coffeehouse sprung from a desire to create community, drawing on experience for both Joel and Cheryl in operating in the coffee world and pairing that knowledge with a passion for empowering young people. Cheryl is the now the food service manager of Inman Coffee, with Joel serving as The Salvation Army’s Christian Education Director in Cleveland and as The Salvation Army’s divisional sergeant-major for Kentucky/Tennessee Division.
In addition to striving for community and the real-world practicalities of launching a sustainable coffee business in Cleveland, the Rogers’ found it important to create the environment while also ensuring that the coffee was grown and prepared in appropriate fashion. At Inman Coffee, the coffee itself is responsibly sourced and acquired via Direct Trade, with the clear aim to change lives around the globe. Inman Coffee ensures farmers in the most compromised regions in the world earn approximately ten times more than the global average through these practices, emotionally and financially investing in the well-being of others.
Inman Coffee, aptly named for the street on which it is located in Cleveland, is more than a coffeehouse and a model for sustainable coffee production and distribution. It is also a full-fledged community endeavor. Lee University, which is within walking distance of Inman Coffee’s doors, has thousands of college students, many of whom are frequent consumers. The shop also caters to seniors, homeless individuals, and anyone seeking valuable relationships. Once inside the shop, individuals inevitably begin to learn of The Salvation Army’s holistic ministry, planting the seeds for community and spiritual growth.
“The most important aspect of Inman Coffee is the impact it has had through inclusion and being the space where all belong, and everyone has a seat at the table. Because of this, we have witnessed subtle miracles of healing and transformation that have translated into lives lived with passion and purpose,” said Sergeant Forgey. “It ranges from suicidal youth grabbing enough hope over a cup of coffee to hang on for another day, a homeless friend needing a cold drink and cool place to sit on a hot day, and a young adult unsure of next steps maturing into adults that are literally changing the world.”
Success stories are frequent and wide-ranging, with individuals and families often making return trips to Cleveland to express gratitude and to reengage with the Rogers’ and other familiar faces. Several Salvation Army officers felt a call to full-time ministry after meeting the organization through Inman Coffee, and others have grown while building long-lasting relationships that provide much needed support.
“Inman has provided me a chance to worship God and really come to know God,” said Jordan Barto, a former student who was part of Inman Coffee’s internship program and credits the outreach with turning his life around. “I was an atheist for years, and this place really helped me turn my life around and come back to the Lord. It provided me with friendships and social interactions. It provided me a place to go and talk about my problems. It also provided good job skills and, most importantly, it provided me with a family and a group of people that I’ve become very close to and that I love. It really opened a lot of doors for me in the community and opened doors for me to serve God.”
Inman Coffee and its outreach are a training ground for leadership development. Students transform relationships into ministry opportunities, and the program seeks to teach individual responsibility coupled with marketable job skills. Overall, however, the focus is to empower people and bring them closer to God.
On top of the delicious coffee, tea, and baked goods distributed at competitive prices, Inman Coffee also hosts musical shows that have helped to launch the careers of many renowned artists, both locally and nationally. The shop hosted a “Courageous Conversations” series of panel discussions, and those in ministry travel far and wide to sit in on the work in Cleveland with an eye toward implementing similar approaches elsewhere.
“The unexpected blessings are really just too many to count,” Sergeant Forgey said. “The proposals that have been made in the coffeehouse, simply because ‘that’s where we met.’ The salvations and re-dedications made because someone was there to listen, careers and vocations determined as some heard a call to ministry, others discovering opportunities for vocations they never dreamed possible. And even the random encounters that were really divine appointments because the doors were open, hearts were stirred, and connections were made that changed the trajectory of a life.”
In the future, Inman Coffee hopes to continue to grow its reach, both within The Salvation Army and to all who may walk through the shop’s doors in Cleveland. That includes perhaps being the coffee of choice at corps and headquarters in the United States and beyond, as well as the operation of a brand that can be on every grocery store shelf. Still, the big picture focus is about much more than coffee.
“Our vision for the future is to be a model of ministry that remains fruitful and inspires others to try new initiatives in their cities and neighborhoods that make them relevant to those they serve,” Sergeant Forgey said. “We hope that it is easy to see how ‘Drink Coffee, Change Lives’ is not just a slogan, but a reality in Cleveland, Tennessee.”