BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Lives are being turned from darkness to light in more than 30 countries through WorldCrafts, an ongoing artisan ministry coordinated by Woman’s Missionary Union.
As the Christmas gift-giving season approaches, WMU encourages Southern Baptists to consider WorldCrafts, to support a ministry that has helped thousands of neglected women embrace fulfilling careers as artisans.
“WorldCrafts is about more than social good. WorldCrafts is concerned with transformed lives, homes and communities,” said Andrea Mullins, director of WorldCrafts. “With each and every gift purchase, you are helping artisans across the world escape poverty and discover a living hope.”
WorldCrafts pays artisans a fair price that covers not only their costs but also ensures sustainable production, Mullins, said. WMU encourages artisans to set prices that allow them to invest in the growth of their business.
“We provide partial advance on payments to the artisans that allows them to hire more people and purchase the raw materials needed,” Mullins said. “We are committed to our artisans for the long term to maintain certain levels of product orders, investing in product development for long-term planning as well as sustainable production practices. These standards guarantee impoverished families hope for a better life.”
In three vignettes this fall, WMU has featured three women whose lives that were changed through WorldCrafts, providing snapshots of the success of the artisan endeavors. WorldCrafts’ Set1Free campaign highlights various artisan groups working to end sexual exploitation and human trafficking among the world’s poor.
In India, women and children who live in poverty are at risk of being trapped in the country’s sex trade industry, facing lives where they are denied some of the most basic freedoms.
WMU featured Menaka, a woman who 30 years ago was a 13-year-old girl in a refugee camp, a victim of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Disgusted by the conditions of the camp, Menaka sought a better life by escaping to Calcutta, where she thought she could get a job as a housemaid.
Instead of landing the job she expected, Menaka found herself sold to a brothel for $20. Her first customer drugged her and raped her as she tried again to escape.
In 2001, after years in bondage, Menaka became one of the original 20 employees of an artisan business called Freeset, which is a WMU partner. Now Menaka sews high-quality jute bags, available for purchase through WorldCrafts.
Freeset employs women on the basis of their need for freedom rather than the skills they have to offer. A woman must be in the sex trade or be the daughter of a woman in the trade to qualify for a job at the business, which is located in a red-light district.
The women are trained, paid a fair wage, taught to read and write, and signed up for health insurance and a pension fund. WMU said a milestone for each employee is reached when she is able to sign her own name for her paycheck.
A few years ago, Menaka journeyed home to find her mother, and the two were reunited. Now she wants to see as many women as possible set free from the bondage of prostitution, WMU said.
Another story comes from Nepal, where Sara and Cara were teenagers working in a dance bar, being sexually exploited by the customers. Bimala, founder of an artisan business called Higher Ground, approached them two years ago and offered them the opportunity to trade that lifestyle in for training and salaried jobs making jewelry.
Cara accepted the offer two weeks later and now follows Christ as a 19-year-old high school-educated artisan. Sara opted to remain at the dance bar and try to raise her infant son on the minimal wages she received. But recently she contacted Cara about joining her as an artisan, WMU said.
Now 21, Sara is working at Higher Ground with a good salary and a scholarship for her son. She also is learning how to manage her time and money and care for her child.
Her story, though, does include a period when she considered going back to the dance bar for more money. Higher Ground counseled her against that option but allowed her to choose whether to remain an artisan or return to her previous lifestyle. She decided to stay and has renounced her previous job.
WMU also highlighted Jo, a woman in Thailand who recounted her story firsthand. She had a husband and children but sought a house in order to gain approval from her friends. She and her husband ran into overwhelming debt as they tried to construct the house, and he left to work abroad for three years.
The geographical distance between the couple caused their marriage to deteriorate, and infidelity eventually wrecked both of their lives. Jo found herself in Thailand’s sex industry, living with people who were hooked on drugs. She recounted walking along the beach looking for a Buddha idol to pray with because she had no hope left in life.
As she was working in a bar in Bangkok, some people from an artisan business named The Well came in to tell her about the opportunities available to her. She quit her job at the bar and now makes traditional Thai textiles and jewelry.
“I started following Jesus and repented from my past,” Jo said. “God has changed me. The world forgot me, but now I have a new life with Jesus. I love to work with Him, study His words and pray to Him. Old Jo has died. I’m a new person. Thank God for His cleansing love. I would like to go back to my village and share Jesus with them.”
In order to support women like these, WMU encourages American women to help in four specific ways. First, host a WorldCrafts party featuring samples of artisans’ goods as instructed on the WorldCrafts website, worldcraftsvillage.com.
Also, pray for the artisans and consider donating to the endowment that helps make the ministry possible. Obviously, a fourth way to help is to shop. WMU recommends browsing through the items on the website or in the catalog (available by calling 1-800-968-7301) and remembering WorldCrafts for gift-giving occasions.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.