October 19, 2005

Building Relationships That Last

uccess in the business world is measured in dollars and cents. Everyone wants to know the bottom line. For Viorel and Michelle Catarama, success calculated by dollar signs, paid house-staff, worldwide travels, and high levels of productivity was like a dream--but a dream fraught with personal pitfalls.

Each day their children, Michael, 13, and Crystal, 11, lived the life of latchkey kids, arriving home from school before their parents returned from work. Then, tired from a long, busy day in their offices, Viorel and Michelle had little time or energy left for them.

One day they realized they needed to make a big decision regarding their Hinsdale, Illinois-based businesses, Catarama Ltd. and Michelle Catarama Realty, Inc. "If you don't take care of your children and give them something to do, then someone else will," says Viorel. "We decided the nanny and television were not going to be the ones to educate our children."

In a matter of weeks Viorel and Michelle had moved their businesses home, closing their office spaces. "Amazingly, the business did not shrink at all," says Viorel. And the family found new ways to share their faith in the workplace, in the community, and around the world. "Our eyes were just opened to God's work all around us," says Michelle. "It has been a journey, and we have gotten to a point that if God is calling, then how can we say no?"

1543 story3As they visit people in their community and travel for evangelism, they are developing a closer relationship with the children. "We decided to buy 30,000 copies of The Passion of Love by Ellen G. White," says Viorel. As a family, they bagged the books and put an invitation for the Discover Bible School with each book. They also made labels to stick on the first page of the books, giving the address and phone number of the local Bible study school.

A true sign of success was seen in Hinsdale when this ministry grew as more and more people became involved. For about six months more than 300 church members, volunteers of all ages, gave their time assembling the books in bags. Many walked door-to-door on weekdays or on Sabbath afternoons week after week. Even the Pathfinders helped on one occasion. More than 40 Bible studies have resulted, and more interest cards are coming in each week. "For a community like Hinsdale where everyone seems to have everything they think they want, these are very good results," says Viorel.

Business Sense
In the midst of the competitive Chicago suburbs market, the Cataramas' construction and realtor services are continually in high demand. "We are in an upscale area established near Hinsdale Adventist Hospital," explains Viorel. "The neighborhood is made up of large old homes surrounded by sprawling oak trees. My business builds new homes to replace these old ones," he says. "We bulldoze the area and build a new one that has the desired look of a 50-year-old house."

During business hours Michelle and Viorel frequently pray with clients and share their Adventist beliefs. "After growing up in the Communist country of Romania and being unable to share my beliefs, I said that if I ever made it to the U.S. I would pray with people and share my faith through my business," says Viorel.

When Michelle has a house open for clients to view, she gives away books such as Satisfied by Mark Finley or Steps to Christ by Ellen White. "If people ask to see a house on Saturday, we say no," says Michelle, "but if they want to see it on Sunday, we will show it then." This usually opens up a discussion about the unavailability on Saturday, and Michelle opens the Bible to show her clients why she keeps the Sabbath.

Sabbath Isn't Negotiable
Viorel makes it clear to all his clients and subcontractors that Sabbath is not for work. His subcontractors are given forms to sign saying that no work will be done from Friday evening until two hours after sundown on Saturday. One Friday evening they had a house for sale, and the realtor came about half an hour before sunset on Friday to begin negotiating a price. "I told him that he would have to tell his client that I could not entertain offers at this time, because I am an Adventist and we do not do business on Saturday," says Viorel. "He became very upset and said he would present the offer to another seller."

1543 story3Later in the weekend the Catarama family had just closed the Sabbath with family worship when the phone rang. It was the realtor. His clients had changed their flight schedule and were still interested in the house. "We met them and signed the deal on Sunday," said Viorel. "We became very good friends and neighbors; they told us that they knew they could trust us, because we would rather lose a deal than do business on Sabbath."

Keeping the Sabbath and praying with clients is only the starting point for Michelle and Viorel. "It becomes more like friendship evangelism," says Michelle. "We become friends with our clients as they move into their new home." Clients often have questions or need help, and Michelle goes the extra mile and offers Viorel's building expertise, or she recommends someone to lay carpet, paint, or make other changes needed in the home.

The whole family gets involved. They go out to dinner with clients, and the children play together at each other's houses. "When we hear about someone having a hard time, it becomes easier to say 'Would you like me to pray for you?'" says Michelle. "We can talk about solutions to their problems and say, 'You know, God has the answers.'"

Building Neighborhoods
From every angle the Cataramas are in the business of building relationships--with their children, their church members, and their neighbors--that will last for all eternity. "As I look at my children, or people in my office and at church, I can't help thinking how much God loves them, and how He wants me to treat them with love and care as He does," says Michelle.

Viorel and Michelle often take time away from their businesses to travel for evangelism, and they donate resources to evangelistic projects. "It is easy to wonder how we are going to make it," says Viorel. "But we need to understand that evangelism is not an option; it is a mandate." Without knowing how to explain it, they have seen God provide for them again and again.

"I do not think that the mission field is only overseas," says Michelle. "You can talk to someone while pumping gas, give someone you meet a book, or pray with people in your neighborhood."

For Michelle and Viorel, it all comes back to the big decision they made to keep their family and their faith as top priorities. "Satan tries to keep us so busy and frazzled," says Michelle. "But we have to each make the choice not to live such a busy life, and instead, take time to reach out to one another and share our faith."

Debbie Battin was director of marketing at Southwestern Adventist University when this article was written. She has been published in Collegiate Quarterly, Cornerstone Youth Resource, and Insight.