The idea of compelling missions work was a critical part of what drew Paul Lilienthal to Christ Presbyterian Church in 2017. But as he sat through a presentation on Opportunity International, he had no way of knowing the enormous role this organization would come to play in his life—and vice versa.
As a former banker, the financial services component of Opportunity’s model made a lot of sense to him. And as the owner of Pictura Graphics, a printing company in Minneapolis, the idea of helping other small business owners stabilize and grow their businesses was also a no-brainer.
Yet still, when he went on an Insight Trip with Opportunity to Nicaragua, he remembers: “I didn’t have any expectations.”
And in fact it wasn’t seeing businesses or banking services in a developing economy that moved him—he was struck by something else: “The payoff,” he says. “Seeing how the programs were helping them with self-betterment and pulling them out of poverty. I had no idea.”
Within a year, he was taking his own business and putting it to use for the mission by printing everything from coasters to collateral to stage sets for events.
“From my business to Opportunity, it’s a straightforward service,” he says. “This is a contribution we can bring to the table.”
A unique opportunity then arose to bring his daughter Anna (then 19 years old) to Colombia on another Insight Trip. “It was a meaningful experience,” he says. “I mean, we were looking at people not having running water. So when we were wrapping up there and decompressing a bit at the end, it was tough—I think a lot of the people were changed. Anna had been on mission trips where you build a house—this was so different. It obviously changed my own perspective on Colombia and how involved I wanted to be.”
That trip was the tipping point for Paul, who returned and said to himself, “We can do more.” He went to dinner with three people from the trip—Lori Olson, Cassie Burns, and Marcy Haymaker—to talk about what “more” might look like.
They knew Opportunity was launching a virtual art gallery event on Giving Tuesday of 2021, and they saw a way to bring it to life with an in-person event. “The goal was to bring in new people, and we thought we could do that with a smaller, casual event in my home,” he says. Pictura Graphics printed stunning photographs that they displayed around his home, they streamed the virtual art gallery event at the same time, and they invited the Director of AGAPE (Opportunity’s partner in Colombia) Brian Olarte to speak at the event. It was aptly named, “Party with a Purpose.”
Their “small” party—fueled by passion, ingenuity, and a welcoming spirit to newcomers—raised an incredible $58,000 that night and inspired another $150,000 in giving for Colombia in the future.
“That was super fun and super effective,” he says. Since then, he’s offered his home for yet another fundraiser for Opportunity, and he most recently provided the stage sets and vinyls for an incredible “Living Timeline” of Opportunity’s history at the 50th Anniversary Summit in Chicago in April 2022. These elements brought the organization’s legacy to life in a meaningful, experiential display.
But there’s one side to his evolution with Opportunity that stands out above the rest: the people. “The friendships I’m starting to create—these are relationships with a common theme. It’s a people connection,” he shares.
We’re grateful for the many ways Paul has opened up his life, his family, and his business for Opportunity. “It’s been a fun journey,” he says, then laughs: “I think I’m definitely in with two feet.”