A gourmet coffee export company is a viable way to pay for ministry, say two Christian entrepreneurs who last year founded a business that donates profits to outreaches in Costa Rica.

Missionary Chris Dearnley and former Microsoft marketer John Sage became friends while earning their M.B.A.s from Harvard Business School. They formed Pura Vida Coffee in 1998 to answer the funding shortfall for ministries supported by Dearnley's church in suburban San Jose, Costa Rica.

Eighteen months into the venture launched with no marketing budget, the company is on its way to meetings its founders' goal of selling 1,000 pounds a month. So far, Pura Vida has donated $10,000 to ministry.

"We've worked really hard, and God has really blessed it," Sage says.

Individual Christians and Vineyard churches, the denomination to which Dearnley belongs, comprise most of Pura Vida's customers. To meet the demand, the company has added decaf, a church percolator blend, and coffee tumblers bearing the company's logo and Web address.

But Pura Vida is also attracting secular attention, much to the surprise of the two friends who wanted to assure a flow of dollars to help evangelicals reach the needy. The Seattle Times featured the business on the cover of its Easter Sunday magazine. October's Vanity Fair magazine profiled Sage among other high-tech philanthropists.

Pura Vida represents a trend toward "social entrepreneurship," and last fall, the Harvard Business School's two-year-old social enterprise class examined the company as a case study. While that study is not an endorsement from the entrepreneurs' alma mater, Sage says it adds credibility for those who might consider buying their coffee from Pura Vida.

Internet customers buy two-thirds of Pura Vida's coffee. But turning profits has taken longer than either Sage or Dearnley expected, in part because word-of-mouth marketing takes longer to generate business.

About 35 to 40 percent of the gross profits from each bag funds Hogar Zoe (House of Life), a drug rehabilitation center near San Jose.

Sage, who earned stock-option fortunes while working for new high-tech firms, covers operating costs. With Sage's subsidy, company profits go to projects such as buying wood for Hogar Zoe's furniture-building class and paying to ship a 4,000-pound container of L. L. Bean clothes and shoes for the center's residents and Hurricane Mitch victims in Nicaragua. Profits also provide some of Dearnley's missionary support.

Sage sees a big future for his small business: "I would like to see this business up and running and generating a healthy six-figure source of revenue for ministry in Central America."

Related Elsewhere

See our earlier coverage of Pura Vida, "Coffee That Cares | A Costa Rican church underwrites an urban outreach effort with premium coffee sales."

Pura Vida Coffee's Web site offers three kinds of coffee and more information about where their money goes.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.