This story is a regular, “feel-good” story in keeping with the Spirit of Giving that we celebrate this time of year. It’s a story of generosity and goodness and team building and positive values. It’s a hero story.
Here in Costa Rica, the chain restaurant Applebee’s, which is extremely popular in the United States, is just starting to build it’s business in this country. Several of the “higher uppers” in the organization here are Christians. As they were in the planning phase of opening several new branches of the restaurant, these men discussed their ideas about training their employees. They didn’t just want to train good workers, they wanted to give these young employees values that will last a life time. They wanted to develop real character in their employees.
So these general managers contacted a friend of ours, Johnny Escavel. Johnny is the national director of the Christian School program in our denomination. Johnny overseas 6 Christian schools in very poor communities all over Costa Rica. Not only do the children get a solid education, but they get at least one meal a day from the school and they hear about the love of Jesus. These kids just shine with joy and healthy self esteem because they know they are loved by God. Johnny is totally invested in the formation of the character of these kids from rough neighborhoods and disfunctional families. So when these business men wanted character training for their employees, they thought of Johnny who has “worked miracles” with less.
They hired Johnny to come train their new employees before the next 4 restaurants opened. Johnny doesn’t know how to “turn off the Jesus”. He’s always in Jesus Mode. So when he started the training sessions, he opened with prayer. All the employees now start each shift with a few minutes of prayer together. For Johnny, and for us as well, there is no separating “good morals and work ethic” from the message of worth and value found in the Love of Jesus. Without God, there’s little incentive to be good.
On the opening day of the newest Applebee’s, a list of 300 guests were invited for a free lunch (and to let the employees practice their new serving skills). All the teachers from the 6 Christian schools that Johnny oversees were invited, along with everyone who works with these schools… missionaries, pastors, employees, supporters… all ate in 3 shifts on that day. The entertainment of the day was the nationally famous children’s choir from one of the schools. (This kids’ choir has sung for the president!) And all the kids got to order what they wanted as well.
These kids from the poorest neighborhoods in Costa Rica were eating in a restaurant for the first time every. They were ordering hamburgers bigger than their heads! You should have seen how huge their eyes were when they saw the amount of food that was delivered to each child on his own plate. It was a true Christmas Miracle for those children, a memory of a lifetime. And Applebee’s paid for everything! We were amazed at the generosity of this business and at their commitment to teaching young people life skills and values. It’s more than a job at Applebee’s, it’s about forming a life.
We were impressed. Way to go Applebee’s!