Networking Traditional Values

Dave Stoltzfus's
Lighthouse Ministries

By Kurt Inderbitzin

What does it take to be an incredibly successful network marketer? The ability to work the phone? To use computers and the internet to track contacts, generate reports and do marketing? How about terrific "people skills," developed through years of interacting with thousands of folks from all walks of life?

Certainly, these skills can be crucial. But a strong work ethic, patience and a sense of community and mentoring can matter even more.

Want proof? Meet David Stoltzfus.


Doing It All By Hand

David Stoltzfus never used a phone until he was nearly 20 years old. In fact, he never even saw one. And computers? The houses he and all his friends lived in never housed a single computer; indeed, if they had, they wouldn't have been able to use them: They had no electricity.

What about those cross-cultural "people skills" that are so crucial to success in the business world? Dave never met anyone outside of his immediate family, friends and church until he was a young adult.

David Stoltzfus was raised Amish. And for the record, until he was well into his late teens and early 20s, he never had running water, never sat in a motorized vehicle, never flew on a plane, or listened to the radio, or watched TV.

Today, Dave is one of the most financially successful network marketers--and one of the most philanthropic--in the country.

How did he do it?

The simple answer is that many of the traditional and anti-technological values of the Amish formed in Dave the kind of characteristics that he could successfully and profitably apply virtually anywhere.

Take work ethic. For many of us, the idea of an anti-technology culture may conjure up blissful images of a time when we weren't slaves to our cell phones and pagers, of a life less harried, less frenzied and more in touch with nature. Well...yes. On the other hand, life without modern technologies also means you're farming your food and washing your clothes by hand--literally.

"We would get up every day at five o'clock in the morning to milk the cows," says Dave, remembering his early childhood, "and were out in the field till almost dark. That created a tremendous work ethic in me; years later, when I became a network marketer, I didn't mind getting up every day to go prospecting and recruiting."

Lacking modern conveniences can test and ultimately build one's work ethic; it can try and build one's patience even more.

"When you're out there farming with mules and horses," Dave recalls, "and it takes you a half hour to go from one end of the field to the other (versus ten minutes with a tractor), you're forced to learn patience!" And patience, Dave is quick to point out, is one of the keys to being a good mentor--which of course is key to being a great network marketer.

Another key to being a good mentor is a sense of shared community--and this trait was also developed in Dave during his early years with the Amish.

"The Amish don't have nursing homes; they don't have juvenile delinquent homes; they don't depend on the government for their old age," Dave says. "They take care of each other." And that's exactly what Dave does in his business today: He takes care of his own.

"I work with people to make them successful," he says. "That's the key to my success."


Out Into the World

For all of Dave's love and respect for the Amish culture, at the age of 15 he began to realize that he was going to have to pull away from it if he was to fulfill his dreams.

"It was a very protected community; there was a lot of safety," he explains; but part of the price of that safety was that the church only endorsed education to the eighth grade level. Dave had his sights set much higher.

"I loved reading and learning. I didn't want to stop--ever." Fortunately for Dave, his father didn't realize at first just how much higher the boy wanted to go.

"My dad was pretty progressive, for an Amishman," says Dave. "I said, 'Dad, if I do my work, finish all my chores, can I send off for some books to do high school?' I think he just thought it was an intellectual curiosity and that it would pass."

It didn't. Dave completed high school via correspondence course in only two and a half years, then started looking at colleges. This led inevitably to one of the most painful experiences in Dave's life.

"Once I decided to go to college, I was excommunicated," Dave says. "Even to this day, when I go back home to visit my brothers and sisters, my wife and I have to sit at another table when we eat. It's like a formal type of punishment."

Following his excommunication, things got only worse. Dave struggled through college, then bounced from job to job. He didn't fit in with the various companies that employed him--and he missed his family.

"I had a horrible time after I left the Amish church and I was out of school," Dave says. "I went from job to job to job; I eventually realized that I just didn't work well with an employer." This inability to work for someone else stemmed from another characteristic instilled in him from his Amish upbringing--entrepreneurialism.

"I realized I had to work for myself," Dave says. He just had to find the right business. When he stumbled across a network marketing opportunity, he could barely believe his luck.

"You pay $50 for the sales kit and you're in business!" he exclaims. Suddenly, his indomitable work ethic, tireless patience and natural inclination to help and mentor others had all found a perfect fit with his desire to be an entrepreneur. Dave was off to the races.


A Way to Give Back

Over the next 31 years, Dave built a wildly successful network marketing business; formed a family, which includes wife, Ellie and two beautiful daughters, Emily and Kadee; and created an amazing life by helping others to learn the skills they needed to build their own businesses.

It was, in many ways, a charmed existence. But as the years passed and Dave's wealth grew, he felt something tugging at him, something from his Amish roots about community, about sharing and giving.

"Doing what I was doing in network marketing was fulfilling, but to just go out and get a bigger pin, get the second or third house, more cars, another ring on my hand, it had lost its appeal." Dave knew he wanted more, knew that he wanted to give back to a world that had been so generous to him. But outside of the Amish community, with its emphasis on sharing and giving back, he wasn't really sure how to proceed. As it turns out, any community--Amish or otherwise--can find a way to benefit from somebody as open and giving as Dave.

It started with a seemingly insignificant event.

One day, a young man at Dave's church asked him for some pointers on how to get a job. Dave offered the man what advice he could and thought little of it. Several days later, another young man, referred to Dave by the first man, asked for some advice as well. Soon another asked, then another. Dave happily offered whatever kernel of wisdom he could, and it seemed to be eagerly taken. That's when an idea slowly dawned on Dave.

"I'd grown up in a mentoring environment, and in network marketing I'd always enjoyed helping the underdog, mentoring people and helping them become successful. The only thing any different in what I was doing now was that I wasn't getting paid for it--and that felt good. It was like getting something back that was given to me."

Word about Dave and his sage words of wisdom quickly spread through his church. A 20-year-old man--we'll call him "Scott"--whose life was spinning out of control with alcohol, approached Dave on Christmas Eve of 2000. Dave quickly realized that five minutes worth of pointers wouldn't be enough to really turn this man's life around.

"When I met Scott, he was searching for direction in his life. I started meeting with him and began to find out what he really wanted to do with his life."

Dave met with Scott three and four times a week for the next two years, and helped him find direction in his life. Scott found his way into a training program in auto mechanics; today, he is a top-tier mechanic and has been clean and sober for two years.

Soon thereafter, another man approached Dave for help. "Brian" (not his real name) was living on the streets, both doing and dealing drugs. Dave realized that Brian's problems were quite severe: Setting him up in a few local rehab and training programs probably wasn't going to be enough.

Dave believed that to get Brian off drugs, he had to get Brian away from his drug contacts and out of the area. Dave also realized that to get Brian moving forward in life, he had to get him back into school--and that was going to cost a lot of money. Money, Dave knew, that would have to come out of his own pocket.


A Lifetime of Fulfillment

It was not a difficult decision.

"The Amish are entrepreneurial, they love to be a success and make money, but they're not afraid to take that money and help each other." And that's exactly what Dave did. He sent Brian to a three-year Bible College in the south, paying for everything himself--trip, tuition, room and board. And sure enough, Brian did turn his life around: He has now joined a ministry overseas, where he's found personal growth and tremendous satisfaction working with troubled kids.

For Dave, the sense of fulfillment he got from helping Brian and Scott filled a void that he had for nearly three decades, ever since he left the Amish community.

It also spurred him to form a non-profit organization, Lighthouse Ministries, which helps troubled young men turn their lives around by teaching them the core values Dave learned as a child with the Amish: personal discipline, work habits, patience and selflessness. The ministry is supported almost entirely by Dave's network marketing profits and has been instrumental in helping more than a dozen young men.

"That's something that's especially nice about network marketing: When you're making the kind of money we make--and most of it is profit, because we don't have a lot of overhead--it makes it possible to do something like supporting this kind of ministry."

If Dave has one regret, it is that he didn't start his philanthropic activities 30 years ago, when he first left the Amish; it has been the most fulfilling activity he's ever undertaken. He encourages others who are starting their careers to ask themselves at a young age how they might really find a lifetime of fulfillment--and not merely a lifetime of profit.

"I ask them, what would they do if money were not an issue? I ask, what are their core desires, other than making money or being successful?"

We ask Dave, what would he do if money were not an issue for him? The answer comes instantly: "I would do exactly what I'm doing right now: Help these young men. Full time."


is a contributing writer for Networking Times.