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'My job is simply to be obedient'

Jerry Marshall is an entrepreneur whose jaw-dropping CV can only be explained by his belief that faith and risk go together ...

Jerry Marshall is an entrepreneur whose jaw-dropping CV can only be explained by his belief that faith and risk go together. Interview by MANDY PILZ

Setting himself one audacious new goal each year has led to some unusual life experiences for Jerry Marshall.

These have ranged from arguing with Pete Waterman on BBC Breakfast about the High Speed 2 rail network (HS2) and skippering a sinking yacht halfway across the Channel at 2am, to addressing bishops, businessmen and the Ugandan Prime Minister in Kampala and being motorcaded across Accra to meet the Ghanaian President.

Jerry, an entrepreneur and CEO of The Arthur Rank Centre which aims to re-imagine rural Christian ministry, saw from the start that risk is an intrinsic part of faith.

“When I came to faith I knew it would drastically change my life. My main aim at the time had been to make lots of money. I wanted to hold on to it and demonstrate my success, but as a Christian I had to learn to hold money lightly by giving it away.”

He also felt challenged to give up control of his life. Jerry was made redundant at the same time his wife left work due to pregnancy.

 “We had a large mortgage so it was the worst time ever to lose your job. Eventually I was offered a fabulous job but my wife was uncertain and, to cut a long story short, I felt God wanted me to turn it down.

“That was the first crazy thing I did.  We had no savings and I had nothing else to go to.

“I was quite angry with God and banged my bed saying: ‘You’ve messed up my CV – you sort it!’ It was the wrong attitude, but God could cope with it.”

Following this, Jerry decided to set up a consultancy. “I sensed that God blessed the risk I had taken and within 18 months I was earning as much as I would have done in the other job – and having a whale of a time.

“The consultancy became the platform for everything else and enabled me to move into other entrepreneurial initiatives which included a training and employment enterprise and setting up a technology company during which I lost, then regained, my entire life savings!”

In February 2005 he helped facilitate a workshop with Palestinians, asking how jobs could be created that would survive when the Palestinian-Israeli border was in peace or in conflict.

“The big, hairy, audacious goal that came out of this was to set up a call centre in Bethlehem. The reason for this was that people there had really good language skills.

“Also, call centres are selling an invisible product so there wasn’t the issue of carrying stuff across the border.

“The problem was I knew nothing about call centres but met a Christian call centre specialist in Dubai, then put money into the building of an 88-seat call centre with the help of a grant from the Dutch government.

“The first year was really, really tough. Most call centres are started by big telecoms companies, so for us as individuals to start something wasn’t easy.

“You have to prove yourself, and at the bottom end of the pool you’re competing against centres in Bangladesh who work for very little.

“We were making a loss of 10–15,000 dollars a month. It was a complete miracle that we didn’t go bust – it could only have been God.

“What happened was a venture capital company interested in creating jobs in Palestine decided to buy 40% of the business and that gave us a solid capital base. Normally they wouldn’t buy into a business that was about to fail, but they did.

“In 2014 the call centre grew by 60% and now has 60 employees.”

Jerry’s autobiography Travels with an Inflatable Elephant took its name from his use of a giant blow-up white elephant as a symbol for a campaign against the building of HS2. He led the campaign nationally for a year.

“It’s almost certain that HS2 will go ahead, but my job is simply to be obedient, however risky. The outcome is up to God.”

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