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If you were hanging out in an NFL locker room in the early 2000s, you’d be getting questionable financial advice.
“Everyone was saying, ‘You can’t go wrong with real estate,’” remembers Casey Crawford, who was a backup tight end with the Carolina Panthers and then with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I stayed up too late one night to buy a house with no money down.”
He laughs at himself, a little sarcastically: “How could that go wrong?”
Turned out that bad deal was the best thing that could’ve happened to his bank account. In 2007, the housing bubble began to break open. (“Had I remained I certainly would’ve been bankrupted.”) Subprime loans began to fail, lenders began to file bankruptcy, and everyone was scrambling to get out of real estate.
“I think God is telling me to start a mortgage company,” he told his close friend, church planter Stephen Phelan, in 2008. “Will you fast and pray with me about that?”
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“Bro, I don’t even know if I need to pray about this,” Phelan told him. “I just know it’s a bad idea. . . .Turn on the television—there’s this channel called CNN you need to watch.”
But Crawford was thinking it through. He saw more opportunity in the crisis than just buying low.
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“I got more and more of a vision that this was something God was calling me to do—to be a Christ-honoring company where the profits were to see his kingdom extended, not mine,” Crawford told TGC.
Crawford found a partner—a Christian real-estate veteran named Toby Harris—and two employees. Then the four of them set an enormous, impossible goal.
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“The activities that brought down our economy—clearly we failed to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Crawford said. “We wanted to change the way people thought about lending in the U.S.”
But “with four people, it seemed pretty...
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