Maybe We Are Just Spoiled

We stood in the hair care aisle and her eyes were as big as the moon.

“Go ahead, choose one,” I urged her.

She stood still- looking half afraid, half helpless. I put my hand on her shoulder and urged her to choose a shampoo.

I had mistaken bewilderment for humility.

My friend visiting America for the first time whispered with tears in her eyes, “There are so many bottles…and so many choices.”

I was ashamed of my ignorance. She was overwhelmed by the opportunity to choose.

We were standing in the first Walmart she had ever visited. I brought her there to bless her, but in my haste, I didn’t prepare her.

“Americans have so many things,” she said. “But it’s the freedom to choose I would cherish the most.”

Her words felt like a stone around my neck. For the first time, I saw the rows and rows of conditioners, sprays and creams through the eyes of someone being exposed to our first world. There are 20 brands of toothpaste, toilet paper and tissues and the freedom to choose whichever we want.

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I’ve taken this experience with me into every country and culture I’ve visited. When I help an artisan group create a fair trade product or choose a color for a fabric, I think of this story. And I try to explain what they are up against. “You see, in America, women have so many choices of earrings and tablecloths and headbands and necklaces. They can choose from an entire room of throw pillows in a hundred different colors. We have a lot of choices and so we have to create something they will buy.” And every time I say these words, and watch minds try to comprehend what I’m saying, I’m embarrassed by all we have and all we take for granted.

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Maybe we are just spoiled, the words tumble around in my mind.

It’s hard to explain freedom of choice when you have no choice at all.

It’s hard to explain picky shoppers to someone who doesn’t have enough food for their family.

It’s hard to imagine someone crying because there are so many shampoos to choose from.

Maybe that’s why when I see an email complaining about the color of a product from The Mercy Shop, I am irritated. Maybe that’s why it bothers me when someone cancels their Fair Trade Friday membership because they can’t choose what goes into their box each month. Or they don’t have anyone else to give the product away they don’t want or like…

But as soon as these emotions hit me, I’m that ignorant mom back in that hair care aisle at Walmart discovering that North Americans have the first world privilege of choice. Impoverished and marginalized women don’t.

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When we purchase something fairly traded, we trade our choice to give them a chance. More than anything, these marginalized women want us to love what they create. They want us to wear their story or give it away (if we don’t like the color). They are desperate for us to keep buying, to give them a second and third chance. They work hard, against all odds, to create beauty from nothing. They want us to look past a color that might not be our favorite or a style we might regift, and they want us to choose them. Because that’s really the gift we buy: hope.

In our culture, perspective is fleeting, while comfort and excess are much easier to cling to.   That’s why we have to work so hard to remember how the rest of the world lives.

And that’s why we have to look past the money we donate or the products we buy and remember there is a mom or dad or child, much like us, who doesn’t have the freedom to choose anything–including life.

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Yeah, so maybe we are spoiled. But we can’t stop buying and supporting women around the globe. That necklace we really don’t need and that scarf that isn’t our favorite color might just be food for another day for a family with no choice at all.

Want to donate to women in need? Click here

Raising a Generation of Children Brave Enough to Ask “Where Was This Made?”

“Fast fashion often means slave or sweatshop labor.”

As soon as she said the words, I had a sick feeling.

I’ve watched the documentaries about children the age of my second grader chained to a chair with a quota to fill. Weeks after, I couldn’t stop seeing a little girl in bondage every time I saw mine in freedom.

I stood at the doorway of the guest house we were staying at in Ethiopia last month talking to a missionary friend who lives there. The beautiful Ethiopian women they serve created lovely jewelry for our June Fair Trade Friday boxes going out at the end of next week.

We were talking about empowering women through product creation and long term sustainability. The conversation turned to companies producing fast fashion that’s cheap for us to buy, but cost the women making it long, back-breaking hours of work for pitiful wages.

“Yes, and now there’s a popular clothing factory in Addis Abba. They are employing women for nearly nothing. And women are standing in line to take the jobs because they are desperate,” the missionary told me.

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We had spent the day with Ethiopian women bent over a sewing machine, mothers desperate enough to sit at a sewing machine all day and all night to provide for their children if that’s all they could find. But these women were filled with hope and opportunity.

We met the mother and daughter who make the thread from sheep’s wool–

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And we visited the home of the family that weaves that thread into fabric–

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And we asked these women to sew that fabric into bags for Fair Trade Friday to buy…

We have seen the room they work in, we have touched the fabric they sew. We can guarantee the good working conditions. Because we know where the product is made.

But not every impoverished woman is that lucky. As soon as my missionary friend named the store she was referring to, my teenager looked up from her book and walked over to our conversation. I could tell she was listening closely and probably thinking of our visit to an H&M store last year in The Netherlands.

We had been exploring the old city on our layover our the home from working at Mercy House in Kenya. We had just visited Anne Frank’s house and ended up in the shopping district.

My daughter asked if she could go into the big H&M on the corner and she ended up buying a cute summer dress, thrilled she had one of the latest European fashions.

After being exposed to the term slave labor on my trip to Kenya in 2010, I returned home a wreck and literally wore myself out trying to buy only fair trade items for my family. I wanted to be a conscientious shopper, but I went from one extreme to the other. I remember spending weeks searching for a pair of  fair trade black pants for my daughter to wear to her band concert. I ended up at Target with the pants I needed and with a lot of  unneeded guilt.

I finally acknowledged that I couldn’t tackle everything and so I focused on my yes to God which resulted in starting Mercy House.

But I cannot ignore the thousands of women from India to China to Bangladesh to Ethiopia who literally slave over the clothes that end up on a rack for us to buy and eventually hang in our closet. And even though we are mostly powerless to stop it, we can educate ourselves to avoid the places we know don’t hold to good working standards. But more importantly, we can also teach our kids (future shoppers) about redeeming consumerism.

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Of course, we can’t trace every item we purchase. But we can avoid places we know offer unfair wages or poor working conditions. (<—–This 2014 list is shocking and I’m glad some of these companies are changing the way they do things.) And we can support places we know offer ethical choices, like this ethical kids clothing store.

Since that day in Ethiopia, my daughters have held up sale items in a store- the kind we would normally make a beeline for and asked, “do you think a slave made this?” While it’s not exactly a normal question that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, it’s an important one.

Because cheap and discounted don’t always mean free.

“I don’t know,” I answered because I didn’t. We walked away from the sale. We may not know the answer, but we can ask the question and teach our children to do the same.

A couple of days ago, my daughter was trying to decide what to wear on a day out when she said, “You know that sundress I have from H&M? I don’t ever want to wear it again.”

I reminded her we didn’t know where it was made and that it was okay. I know we were both thinking about that moment in Ethiopia.

“I do now,” she replied.

3 Ways to Redeem Consumerism:

1. Start somewhere. Ask questions. Research brands and stores. Avoid known fast fashion places.

2. Start small. Decide what area you want to be an educated shopper. Maybe it’s chocolate or coffee since these are well-known products that don’t always pay or treat people fairly. Perhaps it’s in gift-giving…

3. Start today. Buy fair trade-it’s a guaranteed way to trace your purchase. We are going to buy stuff. But when we choose to buy fair trade, we are giving a gift twice and empowering a woman in poverty. (That’s another reason I love Fair Trade Friday. Every item comes with an origin and story card.)

When we buy fair trade, we are making a statement.

We are telling the world, we know where this was made.

An Opportunity To Become Part of a Good Good Friday Story

Today, I want to tell you a story.

It has been lived at great risk.

And it comes to you at a great cost.

It’s about a woman we will call Mary. She was just a young woman when she moved into her aunt and uncle’s home. She went for love and acceptance, but she left pregnant with her uncle’s child. He threatened to kill her if she told. When her aunt discovered her secret, she was beaten until she miscarried.

This woman lives in an oppressive Middle Eastern country with few rights. Ultimately, she was rejected by her family.

If it sounds like a horror story, it is. It’s hard to even imagine what she or thousands of women like her endure every day in a country where Muslims who convert to Christianity face great prejudice and often opposition.

Mary visited Hope House, a hospitality home that offers refuge to women needing help, escaping violent marriages, seeking freedom. As you can imagine, there could be danger in operating a home like this.

At great risk, she left her religion and decided to follow Jesus.

Following Jesus is sort of an Easter Sunday thing in our culture for so many. In other parts of the world, it could be a death sentence.

My story intersected with Mary’s in an unlikely way, in the middle of my small town outside of Houston. I met Linda, a 75 year old grandmother and fireball. She is a part of East West Ministries and she works closely with the ingenious women who run this house of hope.

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Several months ago, I sat at her kitchen table and we talked about Fair Trade Friday and product and we came up with an plan to help women who’ve never created product before, do just that, as a way to sustain this refuge to oppressed women in the Middle East. We talked about earring ideas for our Earring of the Month option and how we might accomplish it.  Communication is tricky and so is partnership.

So, when I received word that silk clutches had been made against all odds, I was amazed.

Mary made these bags. 95 of them.

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They have come at a risk, smuggled in suitcases. Mercy House bought them, so we could sell them to you and support Mary and many women just like her, receiving comfort and the opportunity to meet Jesus at Hope House.

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When all you know is oppression, you risk your life for freedom. What better way to celebrate Easter and the price paid for our freedom than by supporting someone oppressed in a place that lacks freedom? Today, we can become a part of the story with a simple purchase.

These are more than clutches made from satin, it’s the picture of hope. And freedom. And mostly, Easter.

And that makes them priceless.

(Click to purchase and become a part of this story)

Learn more about Hope House and consider a donation to their work here. (names have been altered for protection)

Here’s Our Chance to Really See The World

The earrings placed in my hand made me stop in my tracks. I looked down at the neon pink crocheted earrings and was completely speechless. I looked up at Klaw Meh, one of our longtime students and smiled at her. This wasn’t the first time she used different yarn. We usually buy whatever we think we can sell, but for Fair Trade Friday, we are a little more selective. I called over a translator and asked why they were pink. “Does she have any neutral ones to sell?” I wasn’t sure we could sell neon earrings. I wanted to find out why Klaw Meh didn’t use the thread we gave her.

I wasn’t prepared for her answer.

The translator explained that Klaw Meh got on a bus and rode to a Walmart to buy the different thread.

She made the journey, spending her own money to purchase the neon thread so she could join the rest of the class. She chose pink because it was all she could see.

I looked into her cloudy eyes masked with cataracts and suddenly I understood.

My heart pounded in my chest as I grasped how desperate she must have been to participate, to see.

Isn’t this why we are here? This is why we come Friday after Friday to the cramped cold room, so these women who have been battered and abused and disregarded by our world–can see. So they might see hope and opportunity and mostly God’s love they cannot explain or even comprehend.

It’s a melting pot of color and countries, this apartment complex in the middle of Houston, that houses thousands of refugees from all over the world. The United Nations rescues them from refugee camps in Burma and Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand and plops them down in what we Texans know as Chinatown. But they don’t speak Chinese or English and most of the women were born in a refugee tent with open sides, a hard packed floor and a thick layer of dirt covering everything.

Governments give them refuge from genocide and religious persecution and then they wait for years in those campe-many are still waiting-to come here. To this dank apartment complex in the middle of the seventh largest city in the USA for a chance at freedom and opportunity.

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But there’s isn’t sadness on Fridays. No one complains about living in a two bedroom apartment with 18 other people. No one mentions their husband’s factory job that he works 6 days a week for minimum wage, providing barely enough to cover rent and food for the month. No one complains about reusing disposable diapers for their newborn babies because welfare checks don’t cover paper products.

No, there’s only gratitude and a lot of hope.

Click over to Ann Voskamp’s to continue reading the story (and about our BIG announcement!)

Friends, we have so much and it’s too easy to see the world through the distorted lens of our western culture. Sometimes God gives us an opportunity to see the world more clearly. Opportunities like this: For just $11.99 a month, you can get a pair of high quality earrings with our new Fair Trade Friday option: Earring of the Month.

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Each month features a different style of earring from a different country. We’ve partnered with amazing faith-based organizations who are helping women in Haiti, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Ethiopia and many more.

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And every pair of earrings come in a reusable bag that creates sustainable jobs for women in Kenya and Ethiopia. It just doesn’t get better than that.

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Sure, we probably don’t need another pair of earrings, but when our cute accessories have the power to provide a job for an impoverished woman in another country and help her see that she is not forgotten, perhaps this small way to change the world isn’t so small after all.

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If you sign up for the new affordable Earring of the Month option and come back here and leave a comment on this post, saying you did so, I will choose 25 commenters and send them this beautiful $25 paper bead necklace (color may vary) made by residents at Rehema House in Kenya in celebration of this new launch!

Congrats to comments #3, #4, #5, #6, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #18, #19, #21, #23, #24, #25, #26, #28, #29, #30, #31, #32

The Lessons We Teach Our Kids When We Buy Fair Trade

We stood at the mirror and I brushed her blonde hair into a ponytail. She still lets me fix her hair most mornings. I told her to grab a headband from the cabinet. It’s her signature school hairdo since she’s been growing her bangs out.

I tucked her hair beneath the new blue corded band and tied it under her ponytail. “Do you know who made your headband?” I asked.
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“Who, mom?” Our eyes met in the mirror. It was one of those obvious questions we don’t always ask.

And so I told her about the woman in Haiti who became an amputee in the earthquake that devastated the country 5 years ago. “There’s an organization who helps women with prosthetics and they teach them how to sew,” I told her.

My answer opened up a meaningful conversation with my 8 year old. For the next 10 minutes, I answered questions about earthquakes and amputations, prosthetics and mostly, hope.

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I walked over to the drawer that holds our headbands and held up a bright turquoise one made by my refugee friends from Burma and Nepal. I smiled remembering the day we prayed we’d have enough yarn. I looked a little closer at the kitenge headband from Rwanda, thinking about the girls at No.41 who are given sewing jobs instead of the street once they age out of the orphanage they grew up in. I ended up choosing my chevron print hairband for my hair. It was made by women in India, women who are no longer subject to the horrors of trafficking. Every one of these Fair Trade Friday partners do much more than make cute things that provide jobs for poor women–they do it in the name of Jesus.

When we buy fair trade, we do so much more than add another headband to our accessory pile or another beautiful paper bead necklace to our jewelry box. We offer more than a fair wage to a woman in an oppressed country. We get the opportunity to tell a story that is begging to be told.

When need to know the little bags that hold our fair trade items each month means food on the table for families in Kenya, Costa Rica and Zambia. And that’s why we include them- not just for reusable packaging, but for life.

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We all know we can’t always buy fair trade. And even when we want to, it’s sometimes a challenging, time-consuming option. But sometimes we can.  When we give a gift that empowers a woman, we are giving much more than something nice. We are giving something deeply important and receiving something even more.

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The other day Terrell and I looked at a small warehouse space down the street from us that we thought might be the answer to the Fair Trade Friday product that has taken over home and life. We have nearly 700 in our monthly club now and at just .33 cents a square foot, we had to consider this unexpected God-nod. When we told the property owner what we would do with the space, he asked, “What does fair trade mean?”

It means a child wasn’t chained to a chair to sew your clothes.

It means a woman can feed her family.

It means an amputee can work again.

It means hope for the hopeless.

Because it’s about the story behind the new blue headband.

The one our kids need to hear.

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Join the monthly Fair Trade Friday Club! February is full, but we are now taking names on our March Wait List.

But we do have One-Time Trial or Gift Fair Trade bags and today you can get $5 off. Check out our newest options for Home, Kids and Men’s  (with Limited Edition Mother’s Day boxes coming soon!) Or buy our Original One Time Trial or Gift Box with code: 4hope

Let’s Give Differently This Holiday Season | 3 Ways to Change Christmas

Last week I had lunch with two women from Azerbaijan, an oil-rich, but oppressive country situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

They have heartbreaking, but hopeful stories and use their testimonies to work with women who are escaping violence and oppression in the Middle East. We talked about partnering together.

It was humbling to sit with these former Muslim women who daily risk their lives to follow Jesus.

It made me want to live differently, so I can give differently. 

With the gift-giving season around the corner, I want to encourage you to think and shop differently this year. Dad doesn’t want another tie and mom has enough cardigans. For the same amount of money, you can give a unique gift and change someone’s world.

Here are three ways to give differently this season:

1. Give a gift in someone’s name:

Rehema House Gift Catalog-Mercy House supports impoverished moms and babies at Rehema House in Kenya. Not only can you impact lives in Kenya, you can also do so in someone’s name. For every gift you give, you can have an e-card sent to the person of your choice. [Gift options start at $10. For example, you can gift this for $10 in  your teen daughter’s name and this for $50 in your grandma’s name.]  It’s an easy way to change the world. Check out the Gift Catalog here.

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Compassion Gift Catalog-I love Compassion and I believe in what they do. I have seen their work behind the scenes in Kenya and elsewhere and they change lives.

2. Give a gift twice:

Fair Trade Friday-Fair Trade Friday is a fun monthly subscription club (with more than 500 members) that delivers 3-4 fair trade items to your door. The items are created by impoverished women all over the world who are supported by your purchase. Join the Club or give a Fair Trade Friday Gift Box to someone who’s been extra good on your list. Get $5 off a one-time Fair Trade Friday gift box with this code:  5off 

The Refugee Project-Gorgeous hand knitted and crochet items are always on everyone’s list! Every purchase benefits a refugee who has been relocated to the USA from a refugee camp, struggling to make ends meet in their new home. I spend my Friday’s with these beautiful ladies.

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No. 41-When you buy a lovely sewn burlap and kitenge bag from Rwanda, it not only supports the young lady who created it after she’s aged out of an orphanage, it also feeds one child, one meal, every day for one year.

Zambia Soap Company -THE PERFECT STOCKING STUFFER -Scented Organic Handmade Soaps and Lipbalms (Families harvest organically grown herbs. Workers distill the herbs to make essential oils for soap, while women widowed by the AIDS epidemic weave gift baskets and attach labels.all overseen by local Zambian churches)

3. Give a gift that provides for a future:

The Mercy Shop-A large percentage of every purchase from the Mercy Shop goes into an account for each of the Rehema House residents who created the items. After graduation, she will be able to use that money to provide school fees for her baby (while Mercy House continues to pay her school fees). So, every purchase helps provide for the future of the babies that Mercy House supports!

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Caring for Korah– We believe in child sponsorship. We just added our 11th child to the family (besides 3 of our own). Our dear friends are saving lives in Ethiopia and you can give a child a future this Christmas.

Let’s change Christmas this year.

Redemption on a Friday

It was a Friday last December when I met Jessica.

My first grader had been telling me about a new girl in her class. She moved to our small Texas town from Ethiopia.

My interest was peeked: What was she doing in Ethiopia? Why was she here? 

My little girl sighed at all my questions. “I’m only six, Mom. You should ask her mother.”

And that’s what I did at the class Christmas party the next week. On a Friday.

Jessica was crocheting a last-minute coffee cozy to go with her teacher’s gift. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that,” I said and I introduced myself.

I learned they were missionaries, moved back home unexpectantly, temporarily living with family. They were in limbo, both feet in two worlds.

I knew exactly how that felt.

A few weeks later, on a Friday, I found myself in a room filled with displaced refugees. I was teaching loom knitting without much of a plan or skill–go ahead and laugh, it’s funny.

I started looking forward to Fridays–not because I knew what I was doing, but because it felt right. I had found a gaping need close to home, a place for me to get my hands dirty, an opportunity to obey. This little class would eventually become The Refugee Project, now led by a friend of mine.

I remembered Jessica crocheting in the corner of the classroom and I had a feeling she had some free time, so I asked her to help me help the refugees on Fridays.

On the long trips back and forth to serve these lovely refugees in our city, we became friends. Our families became friends.

I learned their story, although different than ours, it was still the same, filled with beauty and brokenness. I couldn’t believe how God allowed our paths to cross with this family who worked on the continent we loved to empower widows and single moms, the oppressed with employment in the name of Jesus.

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I don’t remember exactly where or when it happened, but I shared the nagging dream God had given me for a club for women to help women and after seeing the start of a community outreach in Kenya to young mothers, I knew it was time.

 

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And that’s when Fair Trade Friday was born.

In the past few weeks, I’ve talked to missionaries in Costa Rica who work with very poor women in the mountains who will now have a steady income. It leaves me speechless. We are partnering with women who sew in India, and soap makers in Zambia and apron makers in Rwanda to fill our Fair Trade Friday boxes with amazing product.

They have all said the same thing: this is an answer to their prayers.

And I can’t tell you how much this little idea has restored and renewed me. Rather than be constraining and confining, its felt like freedom.

On launch day, with a bulging Club Membership and hundreds on a waiting list, Jessica and I celebrated.

Sometimes you wonder if your yes matters. It always does–through success or failure–it’s not about the result, it’s about the obedience.

But then sometimes, it’s so obvious that God is in charge and you laugh at your doubts and worry and sleepless nights. “I’m amazed,” I told her.

“Yes, it’s crazy–all of it,” she agreed. I knew she was talking about much more than Fair Trade Friday. She was talking about our entwined lives, the common purpose, the opportunity to serve and help so many women.

“This is redemption. This is what God does with brokenness. He repurposes it,” The words caught in my throat.

God doesn’t waste a broken piece of our life. He uses every shattered dream, every hopeless moment for His glory.

And He does it when we least expect it.

Sometimes it gives us another reason to look forward to Friday.

 

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Want to help us change the world for hundreds of women?

Join The Club!  Everyone is doing it.

[We are moving 100 women a month off the waiting list–it’s worth the wait!]

Fair Trade Friday

When I was in Kenya with my family a few weeks ago, I gave a hint about something that was coming soon.

And it’s here. Now.

More than a year ago, God dropped an idea in my heart.

I had this crazy – overwhelming, overpowering desire to empower women all over the world with opportunity and employment in the name of Jesus.

And I had no idea what that meant.

I had more questions than answers.

But I wasn’t able to shake this truth: While it’s often easy to give people in poverty what they need; it’s empowering to help them meet their own needs.

They don’t need more charity. They need more opportunity.

The two homes in Kenya that Mercy House supports are full with mothers, mothers-to-be, babies and toddlers. It’s a wonderful kind of hard when we are at capacity. It means we are helping, but it also means there are others hurting.

There is a heartbreaking slum at the base of the mountain from our beautiful new home. And now every Friday, the Mercy House staff is taking mercy to 12 new young single moms who live less than a mile from our organization. They are being introduced to God, they are learning skills and they are finding hope.

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And on the other side of the world, at the same time, in a small, packed room, the same thing is happening with displaced refugee moms.

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And it’s happening in Ethiopia, India…

Have you ever felt so passionate about something that it scares you?

This is it for me.

It’s called Fair Trade Friday.

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What: An affordable subscription-based club that delivers a box of beautiful fair trade product created by women we support, delivered by  the first Friday of every month (starting in September)! Check out the options.

Why: Fair Trade Friday exists as an avenue for women to empower women.  We are tackling poverty through job opportunity and empowerment rather than enablement. 100% of the proceeds support the artisans, hundreds of women and children from all over the world. FTF is a ministry of Mercy House Kenya.

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When I think about what $30 or $60 a month means to these young mothers–how it will help them meet basic needs for their children–I can’t help but think this is a bit of Heaven on earth.

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Plus, it’s really cute stuff.

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And fun mail!

It’s like Stitchfix or Birchbox that changes the world.

The club has a limited membership (we will continue to expand in the near future), so join today!

(Sorry, this is limited to the USA only).

P.S. You can expect your box by the first Friday of September if you have a prepaid membership. If you sign up today to become a monthly member, you will get the introductory box around August 21 and your first club box in September!