Changing the World, Difference Makers

Mocha Club | Difference Makers Feature

Eight years later and I still remember every detail of my trip to Africa. I was in Zambia (and a couple of days in Botswana) and it was life changing, to say the least.

Circa July 2007

There’s something about that place, there’s so much hope and joy. Around the same time as my trip, I connected with Mocha Club through one of the sponsored artist concerts and have been a supporter ever since. Today, I’m chatting with Fallon Klug, Manager of Community Administration, who I got to meet just last week at the Dave Barnes/Matt Wertz concert in Austin! It was so much fun!

Mocha Club is a community of people giving up the cost of a few mochas a month to fund development projects in Africa. We work in five main project areas: Clean Water, Education, Economic Freedom, Orphan Care, and Healthcare.

Our vision is to provide a way for people who don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to make a difference in Africa. Our community-based website allows members to start a team and invite friends to join them in giving up the cost of a few mochas a month to support their chosen project. We know that today’s tech-savvy generation can have a huge impact by using the viral nature of the web. So we decided to equip Mocha Club members themselves to grow awareness and support for Africa by inviting friends.

We’re aware of people’s general lack of trust that their money is being effective, and we address that by providing regular updates. We update our Mocha Club members regularly on how their money is helping the people of Africa through videos and blogs of the specific projects they are supporting.

Photo courtesy of Mocha Club

1. How did you get involved with this organization and what is your specific role?
I actually first heard about Mocha Club back when I was in college in 2007. (Go Dutchmen!) I was a fangirl at a Matt Wertz and Dave Barnes concert when they shared about an organization called the Mocha Club. It was all about giving up $9 a month to support development projects in Africa. As a college student, I could sacrifice $9 and provide clean water for an African for a year! To me, this was incredible. I definitely could give up a couple “decaf americanos with steamed milk” a month in order to provide basic clean water for an entire year. My heart was on fire for Mocha Club and I joined that night. Throughout the years, my passion for Mocha Club and Africa grew and at the same time, I discovered a desire to work in the non-profit realm. The Lord is the great Orchestrator : in 2013, I moved to Nashville and am now the Community Coordinator for Mocha Club. Plug your nose for the cheese: dream come true!

I’m the director of our members and love getting to know the Mocha Club community! I also work with partners, artists, and events to share our common passion for Africa and get others to join our community.

2. What do you want people to know about the work Mocha Club is doing?
The best part about the work that we do is that it’s all about the people. The relationships we have with our African partners across the continent are long lasting and impactful. These partners are leaders in their community who we come alongside to help with what THEY say they need. They are the experts. They know their community and what they need – we are there to help alongside them. The Mocha Club is all about small sacrifices making a big impact. The work we do in Africa is done by a community of people coming together to do their small part and in the end, making a huge impact. It’s the thing you tell your friend about who tells their friend about so we can all do it together!

Photo courtesy of Mocha Club

3. What’s one of your favorite stories from recent work?
This is a story of Kidist (find the full story here) – one of the women who was a former prostitute and is now enrolled in the Women At Risk program receiving counseling and job skills training in order to restore her dignity and lead to a better life for her. The way she describes the staff and other women at the program as “being among family” is just beautiful. Her story is an inspiration to me of strength, perseverance, and hope.

4. What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
We have different ways that people get become part of the community at Mocha Club: first, become a member! Giving up $9 a month and getting your friends to do so too is an easy way to become part of the Club and make a direct impact in Africa. Be an advocate! Share about Mocha Club with your family and friends and grow our community together. Volunteer! If you live in Nashville, we have events coming up that we would love to have you be part of. Check out Ellie’s Run for Africa (elliesrun.org). It’s a 5K race that raises money for our education project at New Dawn high school in Nairobi, Kenya. Or if you want to volunteer on the road, we have multiple artists that go out on tour and talk about their partnership with Mocha Club. We would love your help at the Mocha Club table to share what we are all about and get others to join!

Where to connect with Mocha Club
Twitter | Facebook | Website | YouTube | Pinterest | Instagram

Thank you so much Fallon! Loved hearing more about Mocha Club and hope you readers enjoyed the awesomeness as well! If you’re interested in joining, you can check out My Team, Love Connects Us, or start your own!

Photo courtesy of Mocha Club

(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about! Find previous entries here).

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Changing the World, Difference Makers

Amani Ya Juu | Difference Makers Feature

Internet!!!

I’m really excited today because I’m kicking off a post that I hope many like it will follow! Having this feature was a big goal of 2015 and now I can share the first one. Yay!

I want to change to world. I want to partner with folks who are also changing the world for better and I’m thankful to be able to use my voice to spread the awesome work and stories of amazing people around the world!

To kick things off I’m featuring a long time favorite – Amani Ya Juu!

Amani ya Juu (“peace from above” in Swahili) is a sewing and training program for marginalized women in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Liberia. Women at Amani are learning to work together through faith in God who provides a peace that transcends all cultural and ethnic differences. Amani portrays a unique picture of diversity, with women coming from Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, and other African nations.Amani began in 1996 with four women sewing placemats together in Nairobi. Since then, Amani has grown to over 100 women representing ethnic groups and experiences from all across Africa. As women return to their homelands, they carry Amani with them. Amani has established a presence of peace in five African nations and two US cities (Washington, DC and Chattanooga, TN). Each Amani center is locally registered and independently managed with support from an international leadership team.

Lovely ladies! Allie Gonino at the Pass the Light premier, Martha and Jerita, Beatrice and (bottom row) Susan

I had the chance to talk with Amani’s Marketing Director Emily Kirwan, so let’s get to it (and thank you Emily for taking the time!)

1. How did you get involved with this organization?
I first “met” Amani in 2010 when I was studying abroad in Rwanda. A former Amani employee in Kenya had started a center of her own back in her home country. There were women working alongside each other from opposite tribes. Literally, one woman’s husband could have killed another woman’s husband during the 1994 genocide. But these women worked, sang, prayed and ate in fellowship with one another despite painful ethnic histories. And of course, they made stunning products!

I was so in love with the beauty of the organization. Every piece of that experience, from the business-as-a-mission strategy to the high-quality products, made me hungry to be part of it. A year later I was interning at their DC center, which was the US warehouse at the time. I went to Liberia the next year with Amani to volunteer and was then hired to do marketing and resource development.

2. What do you want people to know about the work you’re doing?
In the past 30 years, over a trillion dollars of development-related aid has been given to poor countries in Africa by rich western countries. Most countries are worse off. Throwing money at a problem without accountability creates nothing but a system of dependency.

Amani ya Juu is a non-profit AND a business. The ladies are trained in a skill that allows them to improve their standard of living. They are empowered to provide for basic needs of their families because their are paid a fair wage. We are all about holistic healing. That means that in addition to the physical needs like money for food, the ladies participate things like group devotion or counseling. They are being nurtured spiritually and forgiving people who wronged them. You can almost see a visible transformation. After woman has spent some time training with us she sits a little taller, smiles more, laughs as she works with other ladies, etc.

Also, everyone should read a book called When Helping Hurts. Its all about ways to alleviate poverty without accidentally hurting the poor…and ourselves. Amani ya Juu tends to identify with this philosophy of poverty development.

Amani ya Juu – Beyond Fair Trade from Amani ya Juu on Vimeo.

3. What’s one of your favorite stories from the work y’all have been doing?
Recently, we asked some ladies at Amani Kenya to share on the theme for forgiveness (see here). A huge part of our work focuses on reconciliation and forgiveness. A lot of the ladies are refugees who have fled from civil conflict or other tough situations.The responses were incredible. When I think about the things I struggle to forgive compared to the responses we got from the ladies, I am amazed.

Another cool thing about Amani is that we love it when people leave us for bigger and better things! Sometimes when ladies graduate from our training program, they are given a loan or scholarship so they can start their own businesses or go to college. My favorite of these stories is Rahab, who moved into a slum so she could employ young women (mostly single mothers) by teaching them to make paper beads (see here). When we did that interview Rahab invited me into her home in Nairobi. I had outstanding fried chicken and was able hear the stories of the Rahab and the other young women.

Rahab actually has breast cancer right now so please keep her in your prayers. She is an incredible person who has overcome a difficult past.

4. What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
There’s 3 ways anyone can help change the lives of the ladies in Africa!
1) Shop online at amaniafrica.org. We have fair trade bags, accessories, home goods, jewelry, clothing, baby items, and more—all ethically made in Africa!

2) Volunteer to host a box party. We send a box of products, you sell what you can, and you ship what doesn’t sell back to us! It’s a free, fun way to empower ladies in Africa without leaving home, and it’s pretty easy (right Jamie? 🙂 ). Email volunteer@amaniafrica.org for details. (I agree! These parties are the best!)

3) Donate online to programs for sewing machines and scholarships.

A visit to Amani Kenya – Amani ya Juu from Amani ya Juu on Vimeo.

Where to Connect with Amani:
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest 

Ladies in White (L-R) Top Row: Emily, Nikki, Jocelin, Lindsay | Bottom Row (L-R): Huguette, Jess | Beautiful photos by Molly Gardner Photography

Thank you so much again Emily and Amani and I’ll most definitely be praying for Rahab. Dear readers, thanks for joining in! Now let’s hear from you! Who inspires you? Whether a person or organization, I’d love to hear about them!

(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about!).

Ponderings

Gollum, Japanese Photo Booths and the Battle with Beauty

Once upon a time I was compared to Gollum. Please feel free to chuckle along with me, because if those aren’t the words every woman longs to hear, then I know nothing of my fellow females.

In case you aren’t sure who Gollum is, here he is, in all his glory.

The cliff notes version goes like this: several years ago two friends (a guy and gal) and I were enjoying lunch when one of his friends joined us (it was at event that provided free lunch). In all fairness, he did start by saying “You have nice eyes” but ended it with “…like Gollum’s.” (Yep, he was 100% serious too) Any hope of that coming across in a positive light was destroyed when Smeags was thrown in. Who knows, maybe he watched Lord of the Rings the night before. We shall never know. Yes, it was hilarious, but definitely one for the books.

Fast forward about 10 years when my two good friends and I were exploring Japan. They have photo booths, so we obviously took part:

1. Can we talk about the size of my eyes (see top right). I mean good jolly, I look like a puppy (or Gollum right? ;)) We laughed for a solid amount of time. Do you blame us?
2. We barely figured out how to work the machine, so the captions on the images? No clue. Although we did get the date right. Woot!
3. It blows my mind there are photo booths out there that give you the “perfect” skin, make your eyes bigger and make you and your buddies “glow” like you’ve never experienced uneven skin.

It would be easy to toss this aside and say it’s a cultural thing, but it’s not just in Japan. Recently on Facebook an ad for an app to “fix” your face popped up. You know, so you can have the perfect selfie. I knew this would make for some interesting discussion, so I investigated further and apparently there are several options and one even featured a toddler in the before and after how-to.

Lord help us.

It seems like there’s always something thrown at us about how to look, what looks good and how we should portray ourselves. Will there ever be a day where there isn’t something to make us question if we’re good enough? I think it’s safe to say we all have dealt with this in some way or another. It comes in all different ways too. From the anonymous internet user, to a person you know, to the advertising monster taking over culture.

We all have our experiences. Some are similar, some so very different. But I can’t completely blame the outside world for the battle with beauty and of being enough. For over a decade I didn’t wear a cap because when I was 16, a guy told me I looked like a boy with a cap on. Yep, it took 11 years for me to move past that. Nothing like high school to haunt you right? Or the times after a breakup? Questioned myself for weeks. Or when a pretty woman walks into the room and, even if it’s for a brief second, inadequacy hits?

Am I the only one who has ever struggled with this?

I so often have to do a heart check and ask myself why these things creep on me. They shouldn’t bug me, but when they do, I know it’s because I’ve missed it (once again). Where do I find my value? Where to find my worth?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the wrong areas. What I do or don’t look like doesn’t really matter. Whether I have a six pack (that’s funny) or have to buy a size up in jeans. Whether I love or hate makeup. My value is found in something far greater and more perfectly beautiful than I can ever imagine.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14
That right there. It’s all that matters and it’s a promise.

When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14
What a promise!

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7
The Lord made me and values everything about me. That is enough.

To quote “Crooked Smile” by J. Cole: “We ain’t picture perfect, but we worth the picture still.”

And I just quoted a hip hop song after Bible verses. So there’s that.

But what a beautiful and wonderful hope: I’m God’s chosen – holy and beloved. And He will never leave nor forsake me. What more do I need?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Has there been a scripture that has gotten you through feelings of inadequacy?

Ponderings

Friends and Friends Forever….

Tomorrow night I get to see my favorite band of ALL TIME in concert. Seriously, NEEDTOBREATHE is an incredible band and if you haven’t listened to their music, dear friends, stop reading and LISTEN!

Anyway, one of my favorite songs from their latest album is “Brother.” Two of the band members are brothers, and I love the lyrics and I think they are relevant just as much to family as they are to friendship. Here’s a snippet:

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

I’ve been thinking about friendship often this year and I’ve been reminded quite often it’s value (not that I ever doubted!). From this song, to sermons, to reading books about friendships, I wanted to take a moment on this blog to simply remind myself (and maybe even you dear reader) how much we, as breathing and living humans, need friendship in our lives.

When I think of my girlfriends, first, I laugh, thinking of all the hilarity throughout the years and then I get really cheesy and maybe even tear up thinking about what they’ve meant and continue to mean in my life.

They’re the Hobbits you’d want with you to destroy the ring, the ones who will meet up for Happy Hour because you need to hash out the latest boy drama, or it was a long work week or you just want to enjoy Happy Hour and laugh. They’re the women who will go grab significant amounts of chocolate without being asked, the women who will change their plans to meet you at Chick-fil-A, the women who will get excited for the new adventures in your life and cry with you when your heart is broken (the stuff beyond boys).

They’re the women who I know I can send something funny no matter how inappropriate and I know they’ll laugh and still be my friend. They’re the women who will encourage me in my faith, who will pray for me and will always be there.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14 NIV)

As C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 NIV)

You never know where you’ll meet them, whether playing dodge ball during 5th grade P.E. or in a new state. They may be at different life stages when you meet, they’ll do things differently and probably even view things a bit differently than you do, they may live thousands of miles away or twenty minutes away, but the thing I’ve learned is that God is faithful in bringing friends into your life that you need.

I could post a collage of pictures, but that might overwhelm y’all ;), so I’ll go with one picture of my best friend and I (since the previously mentioned dodge ball match in 5th grade :). I am so thankful for her in my life and proof that living states apart doesn’t have to change a friendship!

Don’t be a Lone Ranger friends. There is too much beauty in friendship to go at life alone. 🙂

What about you? How have friendships shaped your life?

P.S. Five internet high fives if you know the title reference 🙂

Author Interviews

4 Questions With Author Jennie Allen

(This interview is part of my 4 Questions Project, where I get the chance to chat with authors and tell stories of people, life, and adventure. Be sure to check out previous interviews here!)

What better way to kick off the new month than with another 4 Questions?! I’m excited to have a fellow Austinite on the blog too! Jennie Allen has been doing some amazing things for women and it’s awesome to see the ripples of her faithfulness to teach women and empower them lead to incredible things! So let’s dive right in! Here’s 4 Questions with Jennie.

Jennie Allen’s passion is to encourage women to serve God and others by pursuing their passion. She holds a master’s degree in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and is the author of two books and numerous Bible Studies, including her latest book entitled Restless: Because You Were Made for More. She is also the founder of IF, which gathers, equips and unleashes women to live out their purpose. Jennie and Zac Allen are the parents of four children and live in Austin, Texas. Find Jennie’s blog at www.JennieAllen.com.

1. What is something about your life right now that you never would have imagined 5 years ago?
I think I was always afraid to admit that I was a leader. I don’t think that I’m alone. I think a lot of women wrestle with their gifts and not knowing how to use them. Now, it’s absolutely undeniable. I’m leading a major organization, and I’m speaking and teaching. All of these were difficult for me step into, and I think that came from a lot of fears and ideas about what it meant to be a godly woman. Unfortunately, there were times I thought sitting in the back and holding my more public, strong gifts back was ideal. Now, I realize that God has built me this way, and that this was a cultural issue for me. It was an expectation for myself that certainly wasn’t from God. Ephesians 2:10 says God “equipped me for the good works that he prepared in advance for me to do.” Now, I feel much more responsible to Him than to these false ideas that I had about what it meant to be a Christian woman. But I know five years ago I would have been shocked at all the things that I am leading and ways that I am using my gifts. I just couldn’t have imagined it.

2. What is one thing you would go back and do differently if you could?
Well, since you have me thinking about the ways I held my gifts back… I think I knew my gifts at a young age. People spoke them to me. They said, “You are gifted teacher. You are a gifted visionary. You are a gifted leader.” But I fought so much insecurity and fear for so long when I could’ve been using those gifts for others and for the glory of God. At the same time, I believe that’s also a part of my story now. It’s the reason I’m so compelled to help other women use their gifts and lean into the ways they are made and the good works that God’s prepared for them. I can’t say that I would take it back because it’s shaped what I’m doing. Isn’t that true of all of our weakness and regret? God can take those things and use them for good.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
Well, there are the obvious happy moments of marriage and children, but one of the sweetest moments lately was the day of IF: Gathering. It had been a dream for so long and it had cost us so much emotionally. It had been years and years of dreaming and working and believing and obeying God in the darkness. IF was the moment we got to walk out of the cave and see the light. It was too much to take in. It was too overwhelming that God had been leading me all that time. I think until the day of IF, I still wondered if I was wrong. Was I misleading everybody? Were we going to come to that day and fail miserably? I was so blown away and surprised at how God came through, and how it reached out beyond anything we could have hoped or imagined. That was a day that I believed and trusted God, and he showed up. Just to say He was with me and for me. It felt so personal, and yet there were so many other people a part of it.

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
This isn’t some game, our lives. It’s a gift that we get to serve God and obey Him and love Him with these days that we have here. I think I’ve turned that it into pressure at certain points. I told myself that I needed to do something big or great, but I’m learning that this isn’t about something for God. It’s about doing something with God. As long as their eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of their faith, the races that He has for them will not be run in agony, but they’ll be run with joy because we’re running with our God—the one who adores us and we adore. I think I look at this next generation, and I see so much passion and joy and fervor to impact the world and spend their lives well. I relate to that. I feel like I’m a part of that. But I I’ve messed up in thinking that he wanted something from me. God wants to do the works that he prepared in advance with me. I’m learning to lean into the joy of a daily walk with God rather than focusing on the great works that I think He wants from me.

Thank you so SO much Jennie for your time and wise words! I’m so encouraged and want to dive right in the race with Jesus alongside me :). If y’all haven’t, be sure to connect with Jennie online!

Where to connect with Jennie
Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram