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Issue 10-11

Sleeping on the Danube

“There aren’t many Americans who can say they’ve slept on the Danube,” laughed my new friend Catherine Sevier. She is an R.N., PhD, and former Vice-President of the Diabetes Foundation. Catherine, along with her husband David, was in charge of the Health Consultation track for the Hope for Europe Congress II. Our little group of 42 folk (out of the larger 1000-plus attendees) were rooming in a “botel”—a ship-turned-hotel docked at Quay 21 on the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

The 42 of us, tasked to discuss the relationship of the church to health issues, represented 18 countries, most of them European. Leaders represented health-related ministries such as Ukraine Medical Outreach, Global Hope Network International, Healthcare Christian Fellowship, International Christian Medical and Dental Association, YWAM (Youth With a Mission) Budapest, various ministries for drug addicts, etc.

So what was Karen Mains, with no medical training in her background, doing in this crowd? My role was to represent Medical Ambassadors International. I’ve served on their board for the last year and a half.

When I was asked to visit the Medical Ambassadors board for a “check-one-another-out” routine, I announced to the roomful of men, “Maybe you can’t see it, but I am on my knees begging you, begging you, to let me serve on this board!”

“That was pretty unusual,” reported one of my new board colleagues, a couple months later (after they had unanimously approved my acceptance). “Usually it is we who are begging people to work with us.”

While traveling to the International Council meeting, I found I was sitting at the board table with a group of wonderful men. As I scrambled to get my mind around an international organization serving in 104 countries, I discovered a series of lesson plans titled Women’s Cycle of Life and met Charlene McWilliams. A former public-health nurse, she had designed the 19-lesson series. The lessons dealt with conception, birth, menstruation, nutrition, sexual relationships, menopause and everything in between—everything that marks the passage of earthly feminity. Because of the philosophy of health of Medical Ambassadors, fieldwork (preventive healthcare; training nationals to train nationals; a holistic approach; story-telling and seamlessly integrating Scripture into what is now over 10,000 lesson plans), the Women’s Cycle of Life lessons are designed in a learner-participatory fashion so that even illiterate woman can understand and begin to teach others.

But no one on the board had become a WCL advocate—perhaps because they were all men dealing with the heavy demands of raising funds for an international ministry. I immediately sensed the potential of the Women’s Cycle of Life material as a sample way to demonstrate to American women what Medical Ambassadors was doing around the world. By empowering nationals to take responsibility for their own health and well-being (preventive and community-based healthcare), they also had become an evangelistic and a church-planting outreach.

Karen and Charlene in Budapest
Karen & Charlene in Budapest

During my novitiate days as a director, across the world in Ethiopia, Sharon Abebe—a Medical Ambassador worker and an Ethiopian—trained 42 women for a week in conference settings. Many of these African women had never been out of their villages. They were lodged in a dormitory setting. None of them had ever had someone else do the cooking for them. They spent five days in intensive training and most of their nights chatting together like college girls on retreat. Sharon stressed to them that the purpose of this training was to train other women.

Three months later, during verbal interviews, Sharon discovered that these 42 women had trained some 1,680 other women regarding portions of the cycle of life.

So Charlene and I ran eight focus-groups across the country, seeing what things worked in small-group presentations and what things could be improved. During that time I made a challenge presentation to the board, they all read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and his wife Cheryl WuDunn. After the focus groups, we designed a final home presentation, and requested and received a development grant of $16,700 from the Medical Ambassadors grant committee. In addition, I was asked to interview a local nurse whose PhD has an emphasis in preventive and community-based healthcare. I found her to be delightful, and she is now in the process of being hired as the International Resource Director for Women’s Cycle of Life. I’m breathless.

We are right now seeking Women’s Cycle of Life Champions who will host home groups for this presentation, for the purpose of making friends and raising funds. It costs about U.S. $1000 to provide transportation and room and board for a week of in-country conferences overseas. The donations from these home presentations will be allotted to teaching national women all over the world, training them to train others. Think of the potential multiplicative impact of $1000.

Since the last Medical Ambassadors board meeting in July, the training kits for these presentations have been prepared. Video footage has been filmed and edited for a DVD that walks the hostess through the home event. The Women’s Cycle of Life lesson plans have been revised and printed in a spiral-bound booklet. Forty WCL teaching toolkits have been prepared, and some shipped already around the world. (Toolkits include a baby doll, placentas, uteri—knitted by an 83-year-old California woman—breasts for self-examination, etc). Charlene is currently in a South American regional conference in Argentina, training more WCL trainers. In Kenya this last October, Winnie and Tirus Githaka, MAI East Africa directors, told of holding a WCL training where the husbands of the women trained felt strongly that men should also receive the training (as they should). A day-long meeting had already been held for brainstorming what it would take to make that possible. I plan to go back to Africa to observe training on the field next April.

Who knows?—when you say “yes” to God in whatever way—who knows where that will take you? You might find yourself sleeping on the Danube, or attending a Lamaze class taught in Swahili in Nakuru, Kenya—as I did in October with about 15 young women in various stages of pregnancy.

Think about this: At this stage in my life, 68 years of age (69 in January) I get to advocate, be a cheerleader for, encourage, affirm and support a worldwide program that has the potential to empower, bring health to and introduce Jesus to literally hundreds of thousands of women. Given the same circumstances, who wouldn’t be ecstatically happy and deeply, exhilaratingly grateful?

Karen Mains


Karen Is Blogging

Check out Karen’s blogs at Her blogs for next week include: “Fugues, Funks and Fogs," Greens by the Side of the Road," "Shopping for Teenagers," "Using What Is at Hand" and "The Oil Lamps Burn Bright Beside the Path."

These blogs are a daily journey of finding God in the commonplace.

We Need Some Prayer Friends!

Carla Boelkens, Director of the Global Bag Project, and Karen Mains need to go back to Africa in April. The Global Bag Project is still at the place where face-to-face interaction is crucial. David and Karen Mains and Carla Boelkens have made an accumulated total of 11 trips to Kenya and need to find the money to underwrite the April 2012 trip for the two of us. Our out-of-pocket resource pool is depleted!

If you love us, please pray this way:

1.  We need about $3,000 each for air costs, ground expenses, and money to invest in small projects when we are there. Pray for funds to be found.

2.  We will continue to make bag products to sell in the States, but we need to work with our Kenyan partners to find products that will sell locally at local prices in local markets. This helps Global Bag Project Kenya to launch itself into sustainability. A mini-back pack made with drawstrings is the first product we would like to develop and test. The next effort would be to set up meetings with the voluntourism industry that is developing in-country in Kenya. What could the Kenyan sewers make that tourists could buy from hotel shops, resort centers, more up-scale travel markets that shout “This hotel is helping local women become entrepreneurs!”? Pray that we will find ideas to make GBP Kenya sustainable.

3.  We need to find investors who will underwrite the development of new bag products. When in Kenya in October, Karen’s friend Pam Klein helped the sewing room women at Africa International University design a gorgeous wraparound skirt (with its own travel bag). We would like to order 100 more skirts but we don’t have the funds to do this. We need investors (who understand that their dividends and returns will be changed lives) to help us underwrite the start up costs to make these products. “Investments” totaling $1000 would get the women started (and of course, these will be tax-deductible).

Salome modeling a wraparound skirt

While shopping in the Somali wholesale fabric markets (that is an incredible experience, believe me), my friend Pam noticed beautiful kikoi cloth, another typical East African fabric—we have been using kanga designs for our reusable shopping bags. Purchasing some bolts, she took them back to the sewing room and ordered pillow “bags” for her denim couch in the television room. We realized that Pam had just capitalized the start up of a new “bag” product line.

Kikoi cloth

Pray for us, if you love us, that we will God will help us find investors who provide the funds so we can develop new bag products to sell here and in Africa. Right now, we have no resources for new product development.

Christmas “investments” and end-of-year gifts can be given to Global Bag Project and mailed to Box 30/ Wheaton, IL 60187. Receipts for 2011 will be returned in time for January tax accounting.

Voluntourism Trip to Kenya in 2012

The Global Bag Project will be sponsoring a voluntourism (working and tourisim combined) trip to Kenya in October 2012. Right now, depending upon the general Kenyan election, we are planning to travel the first two weeks in October.

We will be “flipping” some of the seamstresses’ houses, shopping in the markets for fabrics for them to make new products from, and renovating some rooms in the Kijiji Guest House (where we will be staying) on the campus of Africa International University. Guests who stay on campus often become customers, moving the GBP sewing room there toward profitability. While we are in Africa, we want to help find products that guests will buy and take home with them: age-appropriate toy bags for boys and girls made out of east African fabrics (just in case you haven’t had time to go shopping).

We will go to church at Nairobi Chapel, shop in the Arab markets, have lunch at one of the older tea farms, visit the Rift Valley and take English tea at Lake Navaisha Country Club (a throwback to English colonialism), examine some development projects with a proven history of success—Kaburi Beads, the artist colony at Kitengela Glass (where “Nothing Is Wasted”), tour Amani Ya Ju (the mother of all sewing projects), meet the GBPK seamstresses in Kibera slum, have lunch with the bag-makers from the sewing room at Africa International University—all this and safari too! We will look at the Women’s Cycle of Life, a methodology that teaches women (even illiterate women) how to educate other women on hygiene, nutrition, the stages of menses, sexual relationships with their husbands, birth and post-natal care—all of which is seamlessly integrated with Scripture lessons. We will ask you to tangle with some of the dilemmas that keep helpless people helpless and see if we can actually provide solutions

We promise that you will never think of the world the same after this journey.

The land cost will be $3500 ($500 of this will be a donation to Global Bag Project Kenya and you will get to choose how to spend it in Africa!).

More details to follow, but we will need a deposit of $500 and your registration by April 2012. At that time we will begin our journey through a series of monthly getting-to-know-each-other and cultural training conference calls. These will begin in May. We recommend that people read:

•  When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, John Perkins.
•  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.
•  The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz.
•  Out of Africa by Karen Blixen.
•  Africa Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz.
•  Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Some of these books will be topics of our conference-call book discussions.

Registration will be open January 2012. At that time we will have final details. But if you want to go, you might want to ask for financial gifts to help underwrite the journey.

Do the math: $3500 (not counting airfare, which was about $1600 this October) divided by 10 months would mean you would need to put aside $350 each month to have a travel money fund by October 2012. Please come. We would love to share this remarkable experience with our friends.


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Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“Who knows?—when you say “yes” to God in whatever way—who knows where that will take you? You might find yourself sleeping on the Danube, or attending a Lamaze class taught in Swahili in Nakuru, Kenya—as I did in October with about 15 young women in various stages of pregnancy.”

The Blue Sweater

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
by by Jacqueline Novogratz

This is a wonderful book for any of us who want to make a difference for good in the world. If you give to a development organization, support overseas workers or are involved in any kind of social entrepreneurship efforts—microenterprise, microcredit loans, water projects overseas, etc.—this is a must read. It is a handbook that looks at the mistakes and lessons learned from the failures of well-meaning people and governments. Novogratz eventually leveraged her twenty years of mistakes and successes into the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital firm for the poor that invests in sustainable enterprises bringing healthcare, safe water, alternative energy and housing to low-income people in the developing world.

The flap copy explains: “Jacqueline Novogratz left a career in international banking to spend her life on a quest to understand global poverty and find powerful new was of tackling it. It all started back home in Virginia, with the blue sweater, a gift that quickly became her prized possession—until the day she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, she spotted a young boy wearing that very sweater, with her name still on the tab inside. That the sweater had made its trek all the way to Rwanda was ample evidence, she thought, of how we are all connected, how our actions—and inaction—touch people every day across the globe, people we may never know or meet.”

While reading, I highlighted extensively, knowing that I was sitting at the feet of someone who could help me bridge my own eager, but potentially misguided, desires to find ways to help the poor help themselves. My pages, marked by yellow, are an indicator of how valuable I found this book to be.

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