Whenever Jan Stravers came home from the mission field, she brought crafts made by the Philipino women she worked with to sell to the churches she visited. In fact, the crafts were from family businesses that the Christian Reformed Church missionary and her husband had helped to start, and her supporting churches were among their main clients. "When we would go on home service and speak to churches, I would bring baskets and wall hangings and knit things that the ladies made," she says. "I did really well at selling because I told them I know the people who made this—and it's keeping their families alive."
In the 10 years that the Straverses worked as missionaries in the Philippines, they saw how small businesses can provide food, education, clothing, and a hope for the future to the poor in developing countries. So, after retiring from the mission field 10 years ago, Jan Stravers jumped at the chance to run International Arts and Gifts, a South Holland, Illinois, store selling handmade products made by artisans in the developing world.
Stravers is not alone. Slowly, the idea has been catching on among Christians that fair trade is a unique way of supporting missions and providing jobs to the world's poor. Fair trade is a rapidly growing industry where companies like the Mennonite-run Ten Thousand Villages work directly with artisans in the developing world, offering better prices for handmade arts, crafts, and clothing. To be certified by the Fair Trade Federation, workers must earn enough to support their families, pay for education, and food. Fair-trade products must also be environmentally friendly and created under safe conditions, and the Western stores must commit to building long-term relationships with the workers. ...1