Microenterprise project transforms lives in Middle East

The sale of olive wood crafts provides support for families in the Middle East. CBF photo

By Melissa Browing, CBF Communications
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
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Editor’s note: Due to global security concerns names and specific locations of some CBF field personnel will not be publicized.

ATLANTA – For centuries, the olive tree has been a central part of Middle Eastern cultures. In Christian and Jewish traditions, the olive branch has long been a symbol of peace, as in the biblical story of Noah and flood, the dove returns to the ark with a leaf from the olive tree, giving hope that the world will be well again.

Now, for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship the olive tree represents a new way of embracing the world. Elizabeth, one of CBF’s field personnel in the Middle East, watches as lives are transformed through the simple process of creating crafts from olive wood. In this microenterprise project, individuals with disabilities and others who have been marginalized by their communities are able to work and provide for their families.

"For many, this is their family’s only source of income," said Elizabeth. "The project not only provides employment, but it raises their self-esteem."

In communities where jobs are scarce and many live in poverty, people with disabilities have a difficult time finding employment. The microenterprise model enables those with little money and a good idea.

Many widows provide for themselves and their families through the crafts they make. These women are able to work from home, sewing table runners or tote bags. They then bring the products back into the shop where they are sold, primarily overseas clients. From individual online orders to church sales, the table runners, Christmas ornaments and nativity sets that are created in this project represent a new way of life for the workers who create them.

For Elizabeth, the most important part of this whole project is the relationships. She loves to sit at a table with girls who are creating crafts or to visit the workers in their homes in the evenings. In fact, hospitality is one of the greatest lessons Elizabeth has learned from living in the Middle East.

"The people we work with, they have so little, but when they invite you into their homes, they share everything they have," she said.

When she first began serving in the Middle East 11 years ago, Elizabeth said it took time for her to adjust to the new language and culture and she was often discouraged. With a medical background, Elizabeth’s ministry originally focused on medical missions. She continues to use her medical skills as she visits workers and their families, providing health education and screenings.

To learn more about partnership opportunities, please contact Chris Boltin at (800) 352-8741 or cboltin@thefellowship.info.

CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

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