Caroline sits in a circle of plastic chairs pulled up to a rustic wood table. Her children play nearby. She holds together two pieces of felt in one hand. Her thumb and forefinger hold a needle threaded with black. She drives the needle through the red and green felt and pulls the thread gently through to the other side.
Her fingers fly and the stitches begin to curve into the outline of Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child. There is something in her dark eyes — a flickering, like the white lights on a Christmas tree. She is filled with a confident expectation of what lies ahead and what lies right there in the ornament she sews.
She has the gift of hope. Something hard to come by given where she came from.
Caroline was forced from her home along with her brother when she was twelve years old. Her parents said they would be better off in the Nairobi streets. Caroline’s brother did not survive the first year. She lived on the streets for fifteen years — defenseless, bitter, alone — where she became pregnant several times and one of her children died.
Today, Caroline is a part of an artisan group called Street Hope. She joins a dozen women who were once homeless and who now sew products in exchange for a fair wage to help with living expenses. (in)courage alum Kristen Welch started Street Hope in 2016 as an extension of Mercy House Global after a visit to one of the largest slums in the world located in Nairobi, Kenya. Her heart was to empower these mamas who desperately needed a dose of hope.
Kristen met about thirty women at the Catholic center. Many were living on the streets with their children. Many begged in traffic during the day. Some sold their bodies at night as “survival prostitutes” in exchange for food. These young women were considered the lowest form of society. They were vulnerable and broken.
Twice a week, they had the opportunity to go to the center to shower and gather for worship and encouragement. Their stories pierced Kristen’s heart the first time she met them. She could have offered them handouts. Instead, she decided to extend her arms to God’s daughters in need by providing sustainable hope through skills training and job creation.
These precious women form Street Hope, and they partner with Mercy House Global, the fair trade organization Kristen started with her family in 2014. Their first assignment: sewing hand-stitched felt hearts for a tic-tac-toe game.
Is it any wonder they started with shaky stitches to sew hearts? Meanwhile, God was mending each of their hearts in His time and His way. Today, they are using their skills to make new products.
These once-homeless women now live in real homes. Caroline is an example of one woman who traded undignified work in the streets for a dignified job. She now has her own home where she lives with her children, who are nine and four. She decided to forgive her parents and invite them to live with her too. She longs for them to experience the forgiveness she learned about through Street Hope and was given by Jesus Christ.
These once-hopeless women now dwell with new hope in their hearts for the future. The book of Romans reminds us these women no longer have to live in shame:
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out
into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:5 (ESV)
Hope is a desire, a wish, a goal for the future. Hope is confident expectation of what is to come. Hope sets us apart as believers. We can have peace in our present challenges because we have confidence in our God who is making all things new. We can anticipate the ultimate Hope we will enjoy in Heaven one day. Whether in Kenya or in the U.S. or somewhere else in the world, this kind of hope threads us together as sisters in Christ.
Will you join us in linking arms with the women of Street Hope? They have created a new product, especially for the (in)courage community. When you donate $15 or more, you will receive a hand-stitched ornament for your Christmas tree. Our goal is to adorn 1,000 trees this season as a reminder of the hope and mercy we each receive (in) Christ, and we want to invite you to help provide a brighter, more dignified future for God’s daughters in need.
We can have peace in our present challenges because we have confidence in our God who is making all things new. - @DorinaGilmore: Click To Tweet