By Katy Devereaux
Squeezed into a tiny one-room house with roughly 30 other people, Elise Rabatin closely watched the brown, nimble fingers of the Filipino woman beside her. Like hummingbird wings, the fingers rapidly wove bright, multicolored threads into a bracelet. The woman’s white t-shirt with orange lettering read, “Woven Joy,” but her smile seemed an even better advertisement than her t-shirt.
Rabatin, a Grace College sophomore from the Wooster, Ohio, Grace Brethren Church, didn’t suspect how her GO team trip to the Philippines in May 2006 would impact her life. An international business and accounting major with an intercultural missions minor, Rabatin said that the trip’s study on poverty and micro-enterprise “just really appealed to me.”
“Micro-enterprise,” Rabatin explained, “is the concept of giving small loans to women in extreme poverty situations.” The loans are usually under $100 American, but they enable the women to start small businesses that will provide the income to “feed, clothe, and shelter families, and send children to school.” Women are targeted by most lending organizations because countries like the Philippines tend to be highly matriarchal.
Woven Joy, however, is not a lending organization. Started by GBIM missionaries Vivian Ruiz and Jason Weimer in late 2005, Woven Joy is an enterprise of women who weave bracelets, bookmarks, and keychains to support their families.
“I like the potential that micro-enterprise has to affect directly the people in the country,” said Rabatin. “Going to the Philippines has taught me that God allows poverty and that He has given me a heart to see that the basic needs of the impoverished are met.”
Not long after her return from the Philippines, Rabatin’s passion collided with that of friend and fellow Grace College sophomore, Sarah Humberd. For her leadership class, Humberd, of the York, Pennsylvania, Grace Brethren Church, had initiated a clothing drive for Thailand in the spring of 2006 after her Operation Barnabas International trip there in the summer of 2005. She had seen how the government houses on one of the islands were falling apart and leaking, and she wanted to do something to help.
“I was wracking my brain trying to figure out ways to continue helping,” said Humberd after her return to the States. A clothing drive seemed like a great solution. She commented, “We had a huge response from the campus [Grace College]…We have nine large boxes of clothing and took eight to 10 bags to a local charity” that wasn’t appropriate for the culture in Thailand.
But the operation hit a snag. Sending clothes overseas turned out to be really expensive, and there wasn’t enough money for shipping. Disappointed, Humberd informed Rabatin. Remembering that Woven Joy also sold in bulk for fundraisers, Rabatin took a good look at the bag tags the team had been given and thought, “What about keychains?”
After proposing the idea to Humberd, Rabatin met with Scott Feather and the Grace College Senate before placing an order through Weimer. She started by ordering 50 keychains and so far, has sold about 30. The money paid for the keychains goes directly to the women of Woven Joy, while the profits raised on campus go to sending the clothes to Thailand.
However, a lot more keychains need to be sold to raise the rest of the funds. The goal is to be able to send the clothes by the middle of spring semester 2007.
Even after the clothes are finally sent, Rabatin would like to continue to sell Woven Joy products. “My desire is to see the bracelets and keychains take off, so these women will be able to support their families,” she said.
Someday, Rabatin wants to work for a missions organization. “My biggest dream is to be able to lead short-term trips,” and on those trips, to accomplish things that will make a direct difference.
“God’s been working on me about how a holistic gospel should be preached…not just loving them and leaving them, but loving them and teaching them skills that will benefit their lives in the future, in addition to spiritual concepts,” said Rabatin.