We just wrapped up an incredible season in Ethiopia of many teams coming to visit us, serve us, and spend time with us over the past five months.
And although each and every one of those teams was a blessing in different ways, I want to highlight one of those teams—our friends from St. Joseph Christian School in St. Joseph, Missouri. They have been sending teams for years, so I have built a really solid relationship with this community. This team was special, for me and for the entire Ethiopian staff at Carry 117, because they did so much for us during their time here. I am always really grateful for how selfless and giving they are.
Even more than that though, this team is special because of what they do when they aren’t here in Ethiopia. I’m so grateful for the way they intentionally stay involved and connected to the mission of Carry 117.
There was one thing that I’ll always remember from this team this summer. You see, St. Joseph Christian School has personally been one of my biggest fans before Carry 117 even existed. When Carry 117 was only just a dream and an idea, they were some of the people who encouraged me to take the next step to begin Carry 117. At the time, I had some sample products created to pitch the idea of Carry 117 to people. One of those sample products was an iPad case, and I had given it to one of the team members that was on this specific team from St. Joseph this past summer. Her name is Miss Grace, and I had given the iPad case to her husband as a gift. When they came to visit this summer, Miss Grace had brought the original iPad case we made as a company framed as a gift for me.
What a beautiful and special reminder of how far we’ve come from the time I had given this iPad case to Miss Grace’s husband. That was over four and a half years ago now, and as an organization, Carry 117 has grown in so many different ways since then. Leading this organization can be very discouraging at times, and exhausting. I needed this encouragement and picture of growth to inspire me to keep going.
I think one of the most beautiful and unique things about our partnership with our friends in Saint Joseph, Missouri, is that the partnership goes both ways. They come serve in Ethiopia, and I come visit them! They pray for us, we pray for them. They message us, we message them. It’s such a great picture of what a true, healthy partnership looks like. A lot of times teams come and I don’t hear from them again. What relationship we built while we were together fades quickly when that happens. Most people say they want to stay involved or come back, and I am so grateful when this group of people does.
Staying involved after a trip doesn’t necessarily mean buying bulk/wholesale product. It can look like a bunch of different things:
Sending messages of encouragement.
Writing blogs for us (Thanks Cindy!).
Being an advocate.
Hosting a House Party
All of it is equally as helpful and meaningful to us.
Joe, Ali, Miss Grace, Cindy, Joey, and the many others… thank you for your partnership and the time you spent serving alongside us this summer!
We can speak words with our lips and let others know what we are FOR. There is an element of support, of encouragement, of reaching out. There is an element of love and caring. There is a sense of devotion there.
But to really be FOR something, there must be action.
Our words only get us so far. The things we are really for, those causes, they begin with a fire in our gut. It’s a sense of discontent with the current state of things that fuels this fire.
We see injustice.
We see pain.
We see inequality and its far-reaching consequences.
It’s this fire that moves us from a burning in our heart to words on our lips to our feet on the ground.
This is movement.
This is action.
Compassion isn’t compassion until you roll up your sleeves, cross the street, and get involved.
In Korah, a village within the capital city of Ethiopia,
live what some would consider
and the oppressed.
Words that communicate nothing more than you can’t do this, you are not enough, you have nothing to offer.
How could Korah look different if instead of being told what they are not and why they cannot, they were told they could, and they would, and they will.
That’s what it means to be FOR something.
Being FOR something means you are no longer neutral.
Being FOR something takes intentionality.
It takes time. It takes resources.
And when everyone is pulling in different directions, but aiming at the same end goal, it confuses people in the process.
“We don’t have to agree with each other to be FOR each other.”
We may all be different.
We may be from different countries, cultures, and races.
We may be from different ministries, churches, and denominations.
We may have different strategies, visions, or mission statements.
Know of a local bazaar, festival, or event happening in your town, at your school, or at your church?
Do you or someone you know have an online shop that sells fair-trade products and trendy accessories?
From church events, to town festivals, and high school events, we’ve had many people sell our product at their booth or table, or in their online shop. Booth and table sales, as well as online shops, are a great way to share the story of Carry 117 with people in your community and in your circle online.
Multicultural Fair at Century High School (Sykesville, MD)
Interested in having a table at your local festival or bazaar, or interested in selling our products in your online shop? Here’s how it works:
Contact us here to begin the ordering process for your event/shop.
We’ll ship you our products to sell at your event and in your shop. For table sales and events, we’ll also send you instructions, sample pictures of table set-ups, and video clips and pictures to play on a loop at your table.
You’ll send us the proceeds from your sale and the remaining products you do not sell after your event or in your online shop!
I love a good party. Birthday, anniversary, graduation, retirement, fundraising, all of them. I love gathering a group of people and celebrating something or someone. I love the opportunity a party provides to connect with people. I also love the potential of having a party with a purpose.
Recently, I went on my first mission trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the first 117 Trip. I instantly fell in love with the women and mission of Carry 117. We spent time with the women as they worked, making their beautiful products with love. We also spent time with their families and it was so special to see how much they love their children. The women shared how working for Carry 117 has given them purpose and the ability to provide for their families. I knew I wanted to stay connected with the organization after I returned home to the US. One of the ideas our team dreamed about was the opportunity to share Carry 117 with our communities at home in America. We took the fun of a party with people you love, combined with sharing about Carry 117 and the gorgeous products they make, and Carry 117 House Parties came to life!
I’d love to invite you to host a Carry 117 House Party! A Carry 117 House Party is the opportunity to share the stories of Carry 117 with your friends and family and sell the product right in your home. We know not everyone can travel across the world on a mission trip, but we CAN bring the mission to you.
We make it really easy for you to host! You tell us when and how many people you are expecting and we will:
ship you a box of product for your house party.
include everything you need to invite, promote, set up, and share for your house party (social media images, written invitations, captions, pictures, etc.).
send you a video to share with your guests that gives more information about the story of Carry 117.
Should a guest want to buy a product that you run out of or is not included in your box but is on our website, they can order from the website and have it shipped to their home. After your House Party, whatever you do not sell, you are welcome to hang onto to sell the following week, or you can send it back to us. Finally, as a thank you for hosting a House Party, you will receive a gift from Carry 117.
A Carry 117 House Party is a great way to share about Carry 117. By hosting a House Party, you are not only supporting the women of Carry 117 and their families, but you are also giving them a voice as you use your platform in your community and your home to share their story. Now that’s a party I want to be a part of!
If you are interested in more information about hosting a Carry 117 House Party, click HERE to complete the form.
Prayer is powerful. Bringing hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, and healing to the hurting; it also turns foreigners into friends and strangers into sisters.
Let me introduce you to my friend and sister in Christ, Alem.
Henok describes Alem as “the most happy, although she is the least paid.” She knows the secret to happiness is not in a job or money. It’s in relationships; specifically her relationship with Jesus. Alem radiates the truth of Nehemiah 8:10, “the joy of the Lord is her strength.” This was not always her experience though. I sat with eyes fixed on my friend as she shared her powerful testimony.
After her husband died, she was lonely. As a single mom raising three children in the village of Korah, next to the local trash dump, life was unspeakably hard. Scavenging for food and items to sell was overwhelming most days. Somberly, she recalled “renting her 18 month-old daughter to a friend.” Upon further explanation, I learned the “cute factor” of her daughter increased the earning potential of her friend’s begging, providing Alem with a percentage of each day’s earnings.
During those days she wasn’t a big fan of Christianity. She wondered, “If God was real, why didn’t he help people living in such harsh and hopeless conditions? Why would he let her husband die leaving her to fend for herself? How was she supposed to provide for her children?” These unanswered questions left little question that if God was real, he did not care about her.
As she walked through the streets, she’d cover her ears if she heard Christians praying. Throwing rocks on their roofs at night outwardly expressed her inward disgust at such foolishness. All she knew to help her pain was to get drunk.
Then, eight years ago, everything changed. Illness invaded her body and left her bedridden; paralyzed from the waist down. The local pastor heard about her plight and came knocking on her door. Unable to open the door, she called out for him to come in.
The pastor entered with a visiting American missionary friend named Kim. While they talked, Alem was assured that “God will be good to you and you will be fine.” She was very skeptical. The longer they talked the more she realized she had no faith of her own, but she began to hope. Kim and the pastor laid hands on her paralyzed limbs and began to pray. “They prayed and prayed,” she said, and then asked her to get up. Alem says she “couldn’t even think about doing such a thing,” but they kept encouraging her to believe that God was real and he answered prayers and would help her.
Neighbors heard the fervent praying on Alem’s behalf, and so did heaven. God began to answer, giving Alem courage to pull herself up and stand. She recalled, “My legs were shaking, my body was shaking. I felt like a child trying to learn how to walk,” as the pastor and Kim held out their hands for her to come to them.
Amazed at what was happening to her body and in her heart, Alem was transformed that day by the power and love of God. Not only was she physically healed, but she was spiritually set free as well. Alem surrendered her heart to the Lord and found salvation.
“God planned that day for me to be saved. God can do anything. He can even turn stones into bread. There is a song that asks ‘How can there be water in the wilderness?’ I know how. God can provide. He can do it, because he did it for me and I am so happy.”
Alem’s story reminds me of a story recorded in the Gospels. Friends of a paralyzed man believed Jesus had the power to heal. Great crowds prevented anyone from entering the house where Jesus was teaching. In desperation, they cut a hole in the roof to lower their friend down on his mat and laid him at the feet of Jesus. Seeing their faith, the Lord forgave his sin and healed the paralyzed man.
When God looks at our faith, what does he see? Are we bringing our friends to him in prayer, asking for healing or salvation? Are we standing in the gap for others, especially if they seem to be in impossible situations like Alem was? It makes me think about Jesus’ words to his disciples found in Matthew 19:26: Looking at them he said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Several years ago, I would never have dreamed it would be possible for me, a fifty-something kindergarten teacher from the Midwest to travel to Ethiopia. Financial constraints, health challenges, and fear of the unknown kept me on the praying end of mission trips. Then God called me to go, provided for my every need, and gave me the opportunity to meet Alem.
Our visit was short, with just enough time to share some words of encouragement and pray together. The time we shared knit our hearts closer in love. The Lord has brought her to mind numerous times throughout the year between visits.
Alem’s joy is contagious and her courage is inspiring. Alem has fueled my faith with her story this year.
Gathering the women for a picture together before I left, I was honored when they asked me to be in it. I stooped down to kneel in front of them. Then, to my surprise, I felt Alem grab my shoulders and pull me up close beside her. She wrapped my arms around hers. The picture says it all.
The bond we formed through shared experiences and prayer during my visit brought us closer together than I could have ever thought possible. Five years ago we were strangers and foreigners, now we are sisters and friends.
What are you hoping God can make possible through prayer?
During a work function this past week, one of my coworkers asked me about my mission trip to Ethiopia and how it went. “What did you do over there?” she asked.
I love when others ask me these types of open ended questions. This question allowed me to share about Carry 117 and also about the village of Korah, the village that surrounds the city trash dump.
A few months ago was the one-year anniversary of the tragic trash landslide that killed hundreds of people in Korah. I know I can’t do it justice, explaining this mountain of trash that is home to over 200,000 women and children, but I try. Because just one more person knowing about this matters.
I was even more surprised that one of my other coworkers said, “Oh, I heard about that last year! So sad!”
But what happens after this conversation?
I find myself wondering if sharing about this tragedy with others is helpful.
How can sharing this experience be helpful if people have a hard time relating to what I’m talking about?
And as I sit in the conference room with my coworkers sharing breakfast together and drinking a bottle of water, I have this thought…
I just finished an ice cold 16oz bottle of Aquafina water.
As I hold this empty bottle, I realize this plastic bottle holds more significance than it used to.
For most of my life it was just a bottle, that I casually picked up, emptied, and threw away (and on a good day recycled).
But as I’ve spent more time in Korah, Ethiopia, it represents something more.
It’s a symbol of tragedy, yet it’s also a symbol of hope and opportunity.
It’s a symbol of tragedy because in March 2017, there was a horrific landslide in this mountain of trash, which killed hundreds, and devastated thousands. You can read more about it HERE. The dump is filled with thousands of plastic water bottles. These containers that are meant to provide water were one of the many pieces of rubble that buried a section of the village.
Several years ago when I had my first encounter with this trash dump, I remember driving by and not being able to distinguish between a person and trash because of the enormity of the area. It was hard to differentiate between everything I was seeing because it all blended together. It appeared to be mountains upon mountains of trash as far as the eye can see.
It was difficult to hear about this tragedy from 8,000 miles away, unable to do much to help at all. It was even harder to fathom how a mountain of decomposing trash could swallow so many people, cause so many to lose their home, and scatter people who had always known Korah as home.
I found myself wrestling with this thought:
“I don’t really know how to relate to this experience.”
It’s difficult for me.
Maybe it is for you too….
I have never lived through a natural disaster, experienced my house being swallowed by a mountain of trash collapsing, or been told I was no longer allowed to go home.
It’s hard to fathom, but that is reality for a lot of people in this world.
When hard things happen that you have trouble relating to, here are three things I have found really helpful to do:
Think of a personal experience where you felt tragedy, or saw something that broke your heart. By remembering those feelings, that will help you relate to this situation, to those people in the trash dump.
For me, I think of my grandfather. I stood next to his bedside a few hours before his death. I still remember how he sounded as he screamed out in pain. Whenever I think about it to this day, I get chills. I am using this experience to picture what it is like when I read stories of people wailing out in pain as they mourn the loss of their loved ones buried by the landslide.
Make time to process. Once you think of a situation where you experienced tragedy or a broken heart, take time to process it. Stop what you are doing…. put down your cell phone, turn off the TV, stop filling your schedule to the max….and allow yourself to be in that moment. Being in the present allows us to actually think and feel and It doesn’t feel good and definitely isn’t something we naturally want to do. However, allowing ourselves to feel pain is what moves us to action.
I believe we all need to allow ourselves to feel the pain of some of our own experiences and things we have gone through to help us relate to what our friends and family in Ethiopia have experienced. Because, once we allow ourselves to feel, we will be able to act and respond to what God wants us to do, or be prepared for how he wants to use this to help other people.
Do something. Read another article. Share a post. Make a post. Tell someone about it. Reach out and ask questions. Donate money. Pray. Visit Ethiopia. Serve in your community or church. Direct the adrenaline you experience in the pain towards the cause.
By doing these three things, I believe this is where understanding happens. Because when we understand more about someone else’s tragedy or about someone else’s experience, that is when we’ll be moved to create change.
If you are reading these words, there is a good chance you have an interest in Ethiopia, or Africa, or perhaps just global philanthropy or missions in general. That is a wonderful thing. Truly, it’s one of the most beautiful things in which we can participate.
That can be a difficult thing to remember, though…that we are merely participants in something much greater, much deeper, than ourselves. For those of us who choose to put teams together in the US, get on a plane, and spend time on the ground in another culture’s midst, the pull to help can sometimes take us into unfocused territory. With the best of intentions, we can unknowingly become more of a hindrance to the mission of the very organizations we are seeking to help.
I have seen the very same things a lot of you have seen. The children, draped in rags with shoes falling off their feet, and living in conditions unlike anything witnessed stateside. The begging mothers with babies strapped to their backs. The well-dressed and successful people, hurrying by them to get to work. The seeming indifference of their own countrymen. The needs compared to our own are incomprehensible. We have seen these things for which we don’t have a category. Thankfully, our partners on the ground have a better vision for all of this than we ever could.
Nobody is better equipped to minister to the people of Ethiopia than the people of Ethiopia.
Regardless of what ministry or organization you represent, the people who live on the ground, year in and year out, in the country you serve know how to best serve the needs there. They know the country, mission, vision, community, and CULTURE best. The things we may think we should do in order to help just don’t translate the way we think they might.
So, how should this knowledge play out? Here are just a couple things to remember.
1. Communication is key.
I’m grateful to be involved with Carry 117, and especially so because of the clear lines of communication set up between our base here in America and staff on the ground in Korah. We are very familiar with the vision and mission of this organization and work very hard to make others aware of it as well.
I think what others could learn from this structure is that not only have guidelines been put in place to encourage the best ways to help the people of Korah, but questions and education about best practices that serve the organization are encouraged.
This type of communication ultimately leads to what is best for Korah and what is best for Carry 117 and their efforts there.
2. We are not the heroes.
I’ve been there. I get it. We can help. We can give things out. And why not? Well, because it’s not about us. If the best outreach into a culture can be carried out by the people of that culture, why would we want to run the risk of undermining that?
Our ministry partners on the ground are the real heroes. Their effort, sweat, and tears go into their work year-round. Rather than handing out gifts, money, candy, whatever it is, personally I’d rather give it to the ministry and let them distribute those things as they see fit. They just have a better vision of the landscape where they are from and where they live.
Seeing them lifted up in the eyes of those they are serving is far better than anything I could do on my own. They deserve that.
Communicating clearly and setting up the organization you serve to be the best they can be are just two ways to ultimately serve the countries and areas we are so passionate about. What other ways do you find helpful?
Have you ever wondered what the name Carry 117 means?
The name and meaning behind Carry 117 is three-fold, really. Here’s why:
Every product that is made by the women of Carry 117 is something you can carry. A bag, a credit card holder, a lunchbox… You name it!
We want to carry the Bible verse Isaiah 1:17. This verse says, “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” This verse is the heartbeat behind Carry 117 and is the driving force behind everything we do as a ministry.
We want to carry these women from where they were into a brighter future, for themselves and for their families, by providing them with a hand up from poverty rather than a hand-out.
And really, this third meaning is why our products are truly something worth carrying.
Yes, the products the women make are beautiful. They are practical and fashionable. They are handmade with the finest leather and material in all of Ethiopia.
But we carry them for a reason so much bigger than that. Or really, for a few reasons so much bigger than that.
Their names are:
and Alem #2.
And you know what? The list doesn’t stop there.
There’s Selam, Alem’s daughter.
And Nardi and Misgana, Aynalem’s daughters.
And sweet Yabsira, Medi’s son.
Because the way these ladies are able to provide for their kids will impact the way their kids are able to provide for and impact the generation to follow them.
The poverty and patterns of unemployment that exist in Korah are cyclical, meaning it will only continue unless something is done to break the cycle.
The way that will happen is through economic empowerment. We know that economic empowerment will provide the foundation necessary for sustainable development. As the women are empowered as they are provided with a job, a skill, and the opportunity to earn a paycheck, their families will be strengthened and preserved. This not only impacts the women and their families, but the community and the country of Ethiopia as a whole will ultimately benefit.
That’s what makes our products something worth carrying.
They are products that we carry in hopes of impacting this generation and the next in the community of Korah for the better.
They are products that we carry in hopes of changing a pattern of instability, unemployment, and poverty that is overwhelmingly prevalent in the community of Korah.
They are products we carry in hopes of preserving families and preventing children from becoming orphans in the village of Korah.
They are products we carry with a goal of restoring dignity and a sense of hope that’s been lost in these women.
They are products we carry to not only share the story behind Carry 117, but to give each woman of Carry 117 a voice and a way to share her own story.
By carrying these bags, you’re carrying the stories of each of these women. And in a world that’s told these women their voices and their stories don’t matter, you’re giving them a voice to share their story every time you carry these bags.
I have been to a lot of different countries on mission trips.
I have rewired compounds, built houses, painted schools, taught English, held babies, put on VBS, and constructed bridges.
Maybe you have too.
I can remember the very first mission trip I went on in middle school. My 8th grade class visited a small church in the western United States to fix up and clean houses of some of the members of the local church there. That was the first time I can remember connecting skills that I actually had, with needs that had to be met. That connection was electrifying, meaningful, and life-giving.
From that moment on, I traveled all over the world, taking one trip every summer well into my 20s. I sought out mission trips where I could use the construction skills I had to make a difference, and really, to fix problems.
But eventually I started to think, “Is what I am doing actually making a difference?”
I realized that I was leaving some quality work in those countries.
A floor for a back room in a church in Costa Rica.
A small house for a family in Mexico.
A tiny foot bridge across the gutter in Ethiopia.
But I don’t think God sent me to build physical bridges. He sent me to minister to His people, and for His people to minister to me. He sent me on these trips to build relational bridges.
I have learned that often the best way to get someone to go on a mission trip is to give them something to do. It’s much easier to work toward a specific goal. When we can do something with our hands, we can easily picture ourselves as a part of that mission. We focus on what we can do to fix what we think is wrong about the place we are traveling to.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is genius in this strategy. But there is also harm. When someone goes on a trip to fix a problem, they can so easily miss the people God is placing in front of them. What I have come to realize is that people are the key.
You see, the purpose of going to Costa Rica was not for me to go pour a concrete floor in a back room of a church. The purpose of going to Costa Rica was for me to minister to the pastor of that church and his family. The best way I could do that though, was to put a floor in the room where his church members gathered to eat a meal together.
The purpose of my trip to Mexico was not to build a small house for a family there. The purpose of my trip was to show a family in Mexico that I loved them and cared about them, and that house was just a means to do that.
The purpose of my trip to Ethiopia was not just to build a bridge. The purpose of my trip was to walk across that bridge, and into a compound where women were given jobs to support their families. The purpose was to learn their names, get to know them, and build relationships with them.
But when we only have the goal of fixing problems, it distracts from sitting with people and building a relationship with them.
So much dignity is given to a person when time is spent with them simply because you want to get to know them and not because you want to fix a problem that they have.
With that in mind, here is your “to-do list” for the next time you are on a mission trip:
Learn as much as you can about the culture.
Sit with someone and get to know them.
Share your story with someone and ask about their story.
Ask a local to teach you some of their language, a new skill, or how to play a game.
Sit with people. These people can be babies, kids, mothers, grandparents, or priests. When you are simply present with a person, you show them that they matter.
Here is my hope. That you would go on mission trips. Go on the construction-focused, project-focused, goal-oriented mission trips where you build things and work hard and sweat more than you ever have before. But remember: do not look past the people you meet on your trip to the problems that need to be fixed. Learn their names, ask them how they are doing, let them get to know you. I know, I know… If that happens, you might not finish what you went there to do. That’s okay, though. You’ll be back, because of those people that became your friends, and maybe even your family.