If we have been friends for any period of time then you know that sub-Saharan Africa has a special place in my heart. It has for over 6 years and it likely will until Jesus comes back. But when I was finally able to spend time there this summer, after years of praying and pleading with the Lord, my reaction after the trip wasn’t what I expected. Although I tried ever so hard not to have pre-conceived expectations I did. A large part of me thought that coming back home would mean hard conversations with my parents about how I felt called to go live there and start an orphanage or Non-profit or simply do life with the people in an effort to share the Gospel. What I found instead, is that I returned and my heart was broken.
While in Ethiopia, God showed me that for people in chronic poverty, a handout or donation is not the best way to help. Often it hurts more than it helps. Instead I learned that the two things people needed most were Jesus and jobs. Sitting in a small courtyard in Northern Ethiopia with my bible and a borrowed notebook, I tried to decide what I would do with this new found information. In those moments Jesus recalled to my mind and to my heart the Rana Plaza Collapse of 2013 – a garment factory in Bangladesh that crumbled due to poor building conditions and left in its wake 1,400 people dead and an additional 2,500 injured. I remembered reading about it sitting at my desk during my freshmen year of college, and while reading I had vowed not to buy unethical clothing because I didn’t want my money to support such atrocities. Soon after and much to my dismay, I learned that all of the major brands (Kohls, Walmart, Gap, Target, TJ Maxx etc) were unethical and in order to buy an ethically made t-shirt I would have to hand over anywhere from $45-$60. If I wanted a dress or a jacket it would cost well over $100. Ethical clothing was a luxury item and I was a broke college student.
But as I sat a few years later in Bahir Dar in Jesus’ presence, I slowly felt Christ prompting me to start an affordable, ethically made clothing business that would hire women from unreached people groups trapped in poverty to make the items, providing the opportunity to share with them how Jesus came to cure the worst form of poverty – eternal separation from our Father.
I brainstormed, jotted down ideas and talked with the other people on my team and not long after Wonderfully Made was born.
I returned home with a heavy heart knowing I had left many friends and a continent I loved behind, but I was hopeful to soon return and be able to open up a Wonderfully Made office. I had work to do and little time to do it!
But I was totally unprepared for the months to follow. With the help of family and friends and entirely in Jesus’ strength Wonderfully Made launched in September with a story, a website and a limited number of items for sale. A few days ago I was able to launch a new collection including women’s clothing but also kid’s items, accessories and home decor made in part by women in Nicaragua.
A lot of my free time and money this semester was spent on Wonderfully Made and I could literally write a book on all the ways God has provided (but that’s a story for a different day…); He has constantly and continually opened doors and blessed the effort, and I can neither think of nor talk about Wonderfully Made without bringing up his faithfulness.
But what I couldn’t have prepared for, and likely wouldn’t have believed if someone told me in advance, is that Jesus broke my heart.
What I found is that He didn’t break my heart for Africa or Ethiopia like I expected. He broke my heart for His 3 billion children who are unreached (meaning they have no indigenous community of believers with adequate resources to evangelize their own people). He also broke my heart for the millions of women that work in horrific clothing factories and risk their lives every single day for the sake of fashion; who are forced to work 12-16 hour days and in return, are paid cents.
What I have found, is that the more I work on Wonderfully Made and the more I learn about unreached people and the clothing industry, my heart literally feels a little heavier each day. More times than I’d like to admit I have found myself with tear filled eyes bowing before my Savior and, as awful as it sounds, pleading with him to lift the weight that I can’t seem to shake. Other than salvation, perhaps nothing has affected and impacted me so much.
Yet for awhile, I felt utterly ridiculous. Was I being over dramatic or too emotional? Was I silly and pathetic? Perhaps that thought has even crossed your mind while reading this.
Tonight, Jesus answered those questions. I finished up reading 1 Corinthians and although I had originally planned on reading Job next, I decided to continue on and start 2 Corinthians instead. And with the above questions on my mind, chapter 1 brought much needed clarity.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (1:3-5)
“But [suffering] happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (1:9)
Not only was I not crazy to feel so heavy hearted and burdened for the billions of lost people and millions of those enslaved, it was biblical. As the above passage states, we are to share in the sufferings of Christ. In other words, as Christians we will experience pain, hardship and distress for the things Christ also did: the lost and the captive. Why? Why do we share in Christ’s sufferings? Why am I so broken for people I hadn’t met and didn’t know? Verse 9 offers more clarity: so that we rely on God.
In my brokenness the only thing I could do was run to God and ask him to take away the hurt, help me with it or show me what to do. Either way, I was fully and totally reliant on Him. Paul’s suffering for the sake of the Gospel was so that he would rely on the Lord. Your suffering for the Gospel is so that you might wholly depend on God.
I recognize that this may come off in two ways: either that I’m ridiculous and a total mess or that I’m doing one of those lame humble brag things. I pray it’s the first and not the latter. Truth is, I am ridiculous and I am a total mess. I am broken and I am emotional. It’s “not that [I am] competent in [myself] to claim anything for [myself], but [my] competence comes from God.” (2 Cor. 3:5). “[I] have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from [me].” (2 Cor 4:7).
Fact is, I’m that jar of clay and clay isn’t pretty, it cracks and it breaks. There’s absolutely nothing special about it. What’s special, what matters and what I want people to care about, is the treasure inside; that treasure is Jesus. It’s not about me. It’s not about Wonderfully Made. It’s not even about all the people who don’t know the Lord. It’s all about Him. It’s all about His love.
With a heavy and broken heart I excitedly await graduation in May, looking forward to whatever direction the Lord takes me and Wonderfully Made, and how He might use me to a play an oh so small role in furthering His Kingdom. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy [I] have this ministry, [I] do not lose heart.” (2 Cor 4:1)
Jesus has broken my heart. I pray He also breaks yours.