More Soulish Food | Hungry Souls Home

Issue 7-5

Have You Carried Your Cloth
Bags to the Store This Week?

Richard Rohr, in his book Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, writes:

“This may seem odd, coming from a Center of Action and Contemplation that works to improve people’s lives and is committed to social change, but after eight years at the Center I am primarily teaching contemplation. I’ve seen far too many activists who are not the answer. ... Their head answer is largely correct, but the energy, style, and the soul are not. They may have the answer, but they are not themselves the answer. In fact, they are often part of the problem.”

Having spent much of our earlier lives in ministry working with social activism as a way to interact about the Gospel in the world, I concur. Activism of any kind can be dangerous as no activism at all. Rohr continues, “Overly zealous reform tends to corrupt the reformers, while they remain incapable of seeing themselves as unreformed. We need less reformation and more transformation.”

Keeping this in mind, I have been diligent in praying first over a big idea that God may have dropped into my heart and was one of the reasons I journeyed to Kenya this last February. This idea has become The Global Bag Ladies Project (where every bag has a story). The concept is to link the ecological need for consumers to carry sturdy cloth shopping bags to overseas cottage industries to the shopping constituencies of churches, service organizations and not-for-profits.

A bag might be imprinted with a phrase like this:


The goals of The Global Bag Ladies Project would be to

  • Fill a growing felt need for cloth bags in increasingly ecologically concerned societies.
  • Sensitize consumers to the positive impact of the small act of carrying reusable cloth bags for shopping.
  • Provide sustainable income for craftswomen and artisans in a variety of countries.
  • Advertise the solution to plastic/paper bag-pollution in the actual marketplace, while at the same time raising awareness to the concept of microenterprise (small loans to entrepreneurs too poor to achieve bank loans).
  • Help participating churches, service organizations, and not-for-profits to begin thinking “glocally” (which means while living locally, considering that the most casual decisions of Americans can adversely, if not disastrously, affect the global economy).

Obviously, this is an idea too big for me (or our small Mainstay Ministries organization) to achieve on my own. You can see, I think, why I feel the need to spend time in prayer whenever the concept of The Global Bag Ladies Project crosses my mind (which is frequently obsessive).

Lois Shaw, my contact in Kenya, heads up promotional enterprises for the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, where her husband is a professor. She has established an ingenious tourist enterprise, which can only be termed “reverse missiology.” On one tour, twenty-some Canadian businesswomen traveled to Nairobi, stayed in the Guest House on campus, attended the vibrant Nairobi Chapel (one of the largest churches in the city), then visited sustainable-income projects in the slums and across the city, accompanied by the grad students who were developing these projects. Their assignment: To draw on their own resources and expertise to contribute to these sustainable income ventures or begin new ones.

Remarkably, none of these Canadian business women were Christians. They certainly saw love in action. “Going to this church,” remarked one, “is like attending a rock concert!” Again and again, they heard the joyful witness of slum-dwellers testifying of God’s loving provision and providence.

I and Carla Boelkens, a member of a Hungry Souls listening group, interviewed five women who were HIV/AIDS widows, themselves testing positive for the disease. One of the Canadian women had established microcredit loans, taught them how to put together business plans, and with some 35 children to care for (orphans of brothers or other family members besides their own offspring), were selling dried fish, procuring bolts of fabric in Uganda and cutting them into lengths for skirts, and making jewelry or candles and establishing small businesses. They were able to pay their rent, clothe and feed their families, and send the children to school. The post-election violence, however, hit the poor the hardest. Some 1000 people were slaughtered; an overwhelming 350,000 became internally displaced refugees. These women had been burnt out of their homes in the slums (and consequently their businesses). Fleeing for their lives, they had lost everything.

“Can you start again?” Carla and I asked. “Oh, yes,” they said with shining eyes. “God will take care of us. He will help us.”

At that point we begin talking about putting together business plans, which their Canadian mentor had taught them to do. “Oh, teach me,” I insisted. “Teach me how to put a business plan together.”

“First,” they said, each woman contributing when the other before her left off. “First you must decide on the business. Next you must know the environment and what is needed. Then you must choose the materials. Now you must sit down and plan what you want to do. Budget first before you start buying. Determine the raw cost and how much the market will bear, then figure your margins (five times over basic cost plus expenses). Carefully choose the place where you will sell your products. Then raise enough capital.”

As advised by Nairobi sisters, I am now in the middle of putting together a draft business plan for The Global Bag Ladies Project. However, the more I think and pray about it, the more I am convinced that I need help.

So Can You Help Us? Or Do You Know of People Who Can Help Us?

I have friends with microenterprise and community-development backgrounds, and I will begin contacting them, but right now we need help for:

  1. Someone with a business background to take the draft plan and help us develop it fully.
  2. People who are connected with granting foundations that will recommend our grant proposal and inquire as to whether the granting organization will receive our proposal asking for start-up funds.
  3. Folk in the manufacturing (particularly specialty clothing manufacturing) who know the ins and outs of import/export.
  4. Any point person who wants to take on the catalytic role of moving a project like this forward—and who might, depending upon funding, even work themselves into a part-time job.
  5. Intercessors who take this on as a prayer effort to undergird our prayer work with their own.

Whenever my adrenalin starts rushing with excitement at the potential of this, I yank myself back to reality: “This is an idea that is too big for you to deliver.” I remind myself that any activism regarding improving the world must come out of patient, unrushed, centered contemplation that focuses my mind on God.

My role is to pray and to walk only through the doors that open to me. Oh, yes—then to ask this question, “Have you carried your cloth bags to the store this week?” (David did yesterday, proudly holding up his sturdy red cloth Sears bag with the Craftsman imprint for me to see: “See, I remembered.”)

Karen Mains

Stratford Shakespeare Festival

July 7 - 12, 2008

The cost for six plays, 5 nights housing in delightful B&Bs, chats with the actors, picnic along the Avon, lunch with the Mainses, delightful mind-challenging conversations each morning over breakfast is $1100 per person per shared room (it is $300 extra for a single room). A $500 deposit will reserve your place. We must have all reservations by May 2008 and full payments by June 1, 2008.

Respond to David Mains ( ) as soon as you know your plans; that will help us greatly. We have 4 B&Bs reserved and almost filled and will have to reserve another if our count goes higher. Bravo for the Bard!

Microenterprise Trip Opportunity

If you are interested in studying the effects of microenterprise ventures in Kenya, we are putting together a small group in conjunction with Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology to journey to Nairobi next year, March 25 to April 6, 2009. The itinerary and the pricing are still being negotiated. Contact Karen Mains ( ) or by phone at 630-293-4500 and we will get back to you when this information is finalized.


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen in Kenya

Karen in Kenya, February 2008. Greeting women (refugees) in a sustainable-income sewing project called Amani ya Juu.

"I remind myself that any activism regarding improving the world must come out of patient, unrushed, centered contemplation that focuses my mind on God."

Recommended Reading

An African Awakening:
My Journey into AIDS Activism

By Valerie Bell

Enter the world of AIDS and prepare to be bombarded by overwhelming statistics, confusing medical acronyms, and complex global inequities. In her own conversational style, Valerie Bell crashes through the clutter as an earnest seeker bent on understanding the world’s greatest humanitarian emergency and how one person can make a real difference.

Highly revealing and challenging, Bell’s soulful reflections resemble intimate journal entries from a pilgrim intent on seeking God in all of His creation; a world that includes wrenching poverty, social injustice and AIDS.

Bell provides a useful guide in understanding the critical issues pertaining to global AIDS. On a deeper level, An African Awakening is an essential companion if compassionate response is a life-long goal. This book helps answer the inevitable question that arises when one experiences a transforming interaction with victims of the AIDS pandemic: Now what?
(Steve W. Haas, Vice President, World Vision/United States)

VALERIE BELL is an author who travels widely as a conference speaker and is frequently a guest on radio and TV. She lives with her husband, Steve, in Kildeer, Illinois.

Buy From WillowCreek

2008 Pilgrimage to France

God Through the Eyes
of the Artist and the
Artist In the Eye of God

October 24 - November 10, 2008

This is a journey for men and women. The land fee is $2592. Half ($1296) is due by May 1, 2008. The balance is due August 1, 2008. Airfare is not included. Depending upon the exchange rate (the dollar being low), we may have to add a bit more to the land price, but we hope not to do this.

If you can pay your full fee by May 1, 2008, we will be able to give you a reduction of $200.

If you have any questions,
contact Karen Mains ( ) or Valerie Bell ( ).
We can provide you with a flyer that has all the details and the general itinerary or you can go to the travel site at to print off the pages you need for full information.

Buy from Amazon

Copyright 2006-2009 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

More Soulish Food | Hungry Souls Home