I don’t think we as Christians are always called to have safe and comfortable experiences,” says Darin Fey (’00).
Fey certainly hasn’t lived a safe and comfortable life. After graduating from Dordt with an engineering degree and accepting a job with Innotec in Michigan, Fey and his wife had the opportunity to visit friends in South Africa who had taken a year off work to volunteer at an orphanage.
“At Innotec, they encouraged us to take two extra weeks of vacation per year for mission work,” he explains. “They talked a lot about Business as Mission, so that was always in the back of my mind. Even going to Africa that first time, I kept thinking about business opportunities and ways to create jobs locally.”
Fey and his wife Jonna were enamored with the country and the people of South Africa. For a couple years, they worked on a Business as Mission project in South Africa. Then, Fey decided to take a sabbatical.
“In 2008, my wife, two kids, and I spent three months in South Africa volunteering at a children’s home and traveling,” he says. “It was then that my wife and I felt called to go back to Africa full-time, although we weren’t sure what that would look like.”
They thought they might want to help children in some way. They both have adopted siblings; Fey’s parents also took in around 25 foster children over the course of Fey’s childhood. But Fey was still fascinated by Business as Mission and wanted to find a business to invest in and support.
“Selfishly, I think I was too proud to go a traditional missionary route and try to raise support,” he says. “I thought I could do it myself.”
Fey found what he thought was the perfect business to invest in: a business colleague was building a housing development in South Africa and needed a partner. Fey and his family researched and prayed about the opportunity before deciding it was a good fit for them.
“Everyone we spoke with said it was a good idea,” he recalls. “We sold everything we had and used all our money except my 401K to buy into the business. We had to fundraise a little bit to buy our half of it. Looking at the financials ahead of time, it was going to be a great business where I would only have to work part-time and could spend most of my time doing volunteer work.”
Fey moved his family to South Africa in May. By September of that same year, the business was bankrupt.
“It was extremely difficult to deal with,” he says. “We struggled financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I remember thinking, ‘Okay, God, we thought we were following your plan and had these grand ideas for building into your kingdom here, but then it all went away.’ So that was hard.”
Now as he looks back, Fey says that “it was a wonderful thing that happened because it introduced us to different people and directed our path much differently than what it would have looked like if that business plan panned out.”
They didn’t have the money to fly home, and they couldn’t afford to live in Pretoria. So, they lived in a poorer rural community outside of Pretoria at a children’s home, which they managed after one of the caretakers passed away unexpectedly. They spent four years at the orphanage, helping more than 20 children find their forever homes. During that time, Fey worked to help grow daycare centers and after-school programs in the area.
He also got connected with the founder of Business Connect, a company aimed at providing access to safe drinking water.
“I knew Lou Haveman from my Innotec days,” explains Fey. “When he needed help distributing water filters in South Africa, he reached out and asked if I might be interested in earning some extra income. I didn’t know anything about water filters, but I had an engineering degree and understood how some of the basic filters worked.”
Fey had to step out of his comfort zone to cold call and email people about the water filters. He quickly discovered that he enjoyed meeting with local nonprofit organizations that were working on clean water initiatives. “I found it interesting and fulfilling to see how these filters gave rural communities access to clean water,” he says. “I started putting more time into Business Connect by helping them in other parts of Africa, like Kenya and Ethiopia.”
Eventually he started doing work for Business Connect in Asia. His role continued to grow to the point where, five years ago, he became a global director of Business Connect.
“I manage and mentor our network of water filter distribution partners around the world,” says Fey. “I develop and maintain relationships with the water, sanitation, and hygiene experts at the large multinational nonprofit organizations that use our products globally.”