Friday, March 16, 2012

A fragrant offering - Nesdoly

Cherril Holcombe listened with horror as Marilyn Skinner, guest speaker at the May 2010 Life Women Conference in Surrey, B.C., described the facial mutilation many north Ugandan girls suffer when they try to escape from sex slavery at the hands of soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Marilyn first became aware of the problem when she saw a photo of Nancy, a woman with no nose, no lips, and no ears. Then Marilyn met Nancy and heard her story.

Nancy was only seven years old when she was abducted by the LRA. She escaped but was abducted a second time. After her recapture, another child soldier was forced to do the facial mutilations with a razor blade.

Marilyn went on to describe how it was virtually impossible for these women to integrate back into normal society. Their repulsive appearance and the way food dripped out of their mouths when they ate meant that nobody wanted to be around them. When they started businesses, no one wanted to do business with them. They were rejected by everyone, even shunned by their own families and left isolated with no hope.

Then Cherril watched Nancy’s Story, a short video that showed how plastic surgery transformed Nancy’s face from grotesque to beautiful. Cherril was moved to tears—and determination. As president of Women by Design (WBD), a women’s ministry of Christian Life Assembly (CLA) in Langley, B.C., she knew that taking an offering was one way to fund surgeries. But she wanted to do more.

Jasmine Wiebe, CLA’s pastor of women’s ministries, was at the same conference. Marilyn’s presentation drove Jasmine to her knees. As Jasmine prayed, Cherril and her husband, Grant, came up with the idea of donating the lavender that grew in thick hedges along the driveway of their Langley acreage as a fundraiser. With volunteer labour, Cherril figured they could make $10,000.

The actual work began on harvest day, mid-August 2010, when more than 30 people joined Cherril in the first step of the WBD “Lavender Project.” She describes that day:

“We worked to cut bunches and tie them with elastics. Then we loaded them onto a truck, drove it to the barn, and lifted the bunches into the hayloft, where wires were strung and waiting. Four people hooked the lavender onto the drying wires. It took us four and a half hours to cut and hang over 1,000 bunches. Then a large fan was left running 24/7 for two weeks to keep the air moving to dry the lavender bunches."

Work in the lavender barn / The women bagged hundreds of sachets.

Come September and the beginning of the WBD fall session, Cherril had lots of womanpower at her disposal. Through September and October, work bees of ladies went to the barn three nights a week to shuck and sift the lavender. When that was done, Rebecca, a local craftswoman, was given enough lavender to make 400 bars of soap. The remainder was packaged in pre-made sachet bags of various sizes.

Selling the soap and sachets got underway at the WBD’s Christmas event. After Cherril explained the project and showed the Nancy’s Story video, interest was high and sales were brisk. In fact, events took a turn Cherril never anticipated. In her own words:

“Not only did we sell lots of product, but the donations started coming in—far more than we ever hoped for. A few Sundays later, the story of the lavender was told again. God moved on the hearts of the congregation, and over $13,000 was donated. We were not asking for any donations; we only asked that people help out by buying our lavender products.”
Sales continued into March 2011, when Marilyn Skinner was a guest at CLA's mission conference. This gave CLA's women a chance to hear directly from her about the needs of African women and catch her passion. Cherril was also able to personally present her with a ceremonial cheque in anticipation of the total monies earned. The actual money sent to Africa that April was $50,584.89—enough to pay for twenty surgeries!

The success of that first fundraiser, combined with the continuing need for reconstructive surgeries, convinced Cherril to launch another lavender project in the fall of 2011. More products were added, including lavender milk bath, foot soak, body scrub, and aromatherapy bags. Lavender sales parties at which Nancy’s Story was shown brought in hundreds of dollars. Along with sales at Christmas events and in CLA’s foyer after Sunday services, a local farmers market displayed and sold the products over the Christmas season. Sales are continuing into 2012.

When asked what impact this project has had on her, Cherril talks of being encouraged in many ways.
"God encourages us to step out in faith when He gives direction. He also tells us that He will be with us each step of the way and will step in when we cannot do any more. He has done that way past our expectation and we are awed. Hopefully, we are all encouraged to keep going and not get tired in doing good. As a leader I want to keep encouraging the women of WBD to step out of their box, be creative, and trust God to try different things.” 

First published in the March 2012 issue of Testimony Magazine.

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by Violet Nesdoly:


Peter Black said...

A wonderful story, Violet!
The Lord has raise up such a tremendous ministry through Marilyn and Gary. Your account is a reminder that we can all participate in ministering to needy lives abroad through joining hearts and hands with those serving on the ground in other places.

Diana said...

Violet, This is an amazing and moving story. I love how God works with people when we care, when we are willing to do what we can. How God takes our small bit, like the loaves and fishes and expands it beyond our imagining.


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