By Loree Johns —
“I need you to come with me to the place I have lunch,” David, the local Rwandan University minister, told Jamie of Belay Global and her assistant Gabie. “I need you to see something.”
What followed would change the face of their ministry.
Jamie Boiles and “Gabie” Ingabire laughed and wondered why David would invite them to lunch. But upon arrival, he made it clear they were not there for lunch. He had a higher purpose.
Already dialed into a thriving mission plan—teaching God-infused work readiness and entrepreneurial courses for young women graduating from high school or university, Jamie felt settled in her role as director. Rwanda, like many other African countries, has more graduates than jobs available so an entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged.
But on that day the calling they thought they were fulfilling would be shattered. David led the way to a tiny narrow street somewhat hidden from view. What they saw stood in stark contrast to the meticulously clean face the city of Kigali displayed to casual observers.
The street reeked—littered with trash and bottles. Lined with bars, women hovered in open doorways.
The sights shocked, Gabie, who had lived in Rwanda much of her life but had no idea places like this existed. Prostitution is illegal in Rwanda and raids and jail time are a common occurrence.
David walked toward one of the women to see if she would be willing to talk. An enlightening hour-long visit in the cafe ensued with a shy young woman. As they paid the girl for her time, she seemed delighted with five dollars.
They later were sickened when they discovered the average client pays around sixty-five cents. They can make more money if no condom is required.
Word spread that some people wanted to help. Packed rooms full of women showed up at designated meeting times. Stories flowed for hours on end. Many had come from the countryside and wanted a better life, so they looked to the city for more opportunities. Some were forced out of their homes because they were older and there were too many mouths to feed. Most were illiterate so their hope lay in becoming domestic help.
One had enough money to buy clothes to sell but soon someone stole all her merchandise. What now? She had a child to feed.
The unifying theme? They found themselves jobless, hungry, desperate. Sex work seemed the only way to keep from starving.
From these meetings, a new division of Belay Global was born called DuHope.
It began with a handful of women who proved their desire to leave the streets by faithful attendance at meetings and bible studies. Holding tenaciously to their dream of freedom from the streets, a plan was formed to help by teaching them a sustainable skill, jewelry-making.
Initial design prototypes were created by volunteer, Cherri Westhouse—and supplies were purchased.
As the big day arrived and the supplies distributed after a devotional, instruction began. But there was a huge problem. They were dealing with many who had attended little to no school.
So what does schooling have to do with learning to make jewelry? These adult women didn’t even know how to hold a pair of scissors to cut the supple leather for earrings. And they certainly had no idea how to read and use a ruler for accurate measuring. So at first, the jewelry production crawled along like a baby.
But they got better. A year later we were blessed with a small room on a rutted street and Betsie Everritt Kubwayo who has a background in design joined the team. A shop was opened—a retail co-op that sold DuHope jewelry and partnered with other local non-profits featuring hand-made goods.
A DuHope.org website was created and a loyal following developed.
Zoom forward five years— The Hope Shop prospers as the infusion of God’s word and his steady hand has blossomed in lives that were hopeless. Literacy, life skills, and trauma training round out their days.
Now when I visit, they beam with pride as they show me their lovely jewelry, handcrafted with exquisite precision. But in each face, I see beautiful lives of joy— perfected by God.
Loree Johns is an author, blogger, pastor’s wife, and the chairman of the board for BelayGlobal.org. She lives in Texas but her heart is in Rwanda. LoreeJohns.com