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Mission trip changes women's fair-trade mission

Friday, November 21, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CST
Volunteer Tammy Backman, left, and Treasurer Christina Weaver joke with each other behind the counter of their nonprofit organization's new downtown Columbia shop. Mustard Seed Fair Trade, located at 25 S. Ninth St., opened in October but hosted a grand opening celebration Nov. 8.

COLUMBIA — Business owners will tell of the planning, dreaming and work that goes into opening a store. Add a baby shower, a Third World experience and personal faith, and the newest fair-trade store in Columbia is born.

It had been a typical baby shower in March. Women were chatting about the newness the baby would bring while passing around an endless supply of snuggly blankets. It was then that three friends conceived the idea of a fair-trade store. Little did they know they would soon have a real-life experience to go with it.

"Fair trade seemed to be the issue on our hearts, so as the conversation got going, we talked about actually opening up a store," Becca Brauer said.

Mustard Seed Fair Trade

LOCATION: 25 S. Ninth St.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go to mustardseedfairtrade.org, or e-mail info@mustardseedfairtrade.org.


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The dream Christina Weaver, Brauer and Ann Daugherty had to open a fair-trade shop in Columbia came from a common source: conviction. The three friends, who attend Karis Community Church, began sharing frustrations about the injustice merchants experience when their craft is sold and nothing is received in return.  They quickly began collaborating with fellow Karis member Jessica Linneman, who they knew shared their passion for fair trade.

Linneman said that her faith has played a major role in her decision to open a fair-trade store but admits the need for fair trade extends beyond religious beliefs.

"I think for a while I was trying to intertwine Christianity with fair trade, but that's not entirely possible because you don't have to have faith to believe in fair trade," Linneman said. "Because I'm a Christian, I practice fair trade, but if I were a non-Christian, I would as well.

"Spiritually, I've been loved more than I deserve. Fair trade is just one of the responses I have to my faith."

However, it was a mission trip to Uganda in June that affirmed the friends' convictions. Five Karis members, including Linneman and Weaver, traveled to Kampala, Uganda, to offer support to missionaries and African churches. They soon met people in desperate need of fair-trade advocacy, which put a personal touch on their views of fair trade.

During the trip, Linneman and Weaver met Madinah, a translator with a Ugandan church. Over the course of the trip, the women learned of Madinah's poverty, the two children she worked to provide for and her absent husband, who had abandoned the family after Madinah left the Islamic faith to become a Christian. Madinah and fellow translator Sarah became quick friends of the group.

"I personally was moved through meeting Madinah and Sarah. These people are just loving, connected and very communal in a way that we're not. They have to depend on each other way more," Weaver said.

The American and Ugandan women soon became more than just friends; they realized that each was an answer to the others' prayers.

“One day, she (Madinah) asked us what we did for a living, and we told her that we were going to sell fair-trade things,” Linneman said. “She got this quirky, mysterious ‘I knew this would happen’ smile and said she had been praying for help and equality to come to her work.”

Little did they know Madinah was a victim of unfair trade practices. She makes beads by hand for necklaces to make money for her children’s education. Her constant struggle to earn a living was enough to inspire Linneman and Weaver to use her example in their pursuit of a fair-trade store in Columbia.

“I’m moved by having that connection and knowing what we’re doing now is very meaningful. We’re changing people’s lives by providing something for others to buy,” Weaver said. “It gave purpose to what we were doing here and so much hope to those women, just wanting to see their products sold and their dreams realized.”

Soon after they returned from Uganda, the four women opened Mustard Seed Fair Trade. Items for sale include scarves from India, bowls from Bangladesh and stationery from Vietnam, but the most popular items are the necklaces that Madinah made. The group bought $200 worth of her jewelry to sell in the store, and now only one necklace remains.

MU sophomore Jaylyn Salmons was another Karis member who traveled to Uganda and occasionally volunteers at the store.  Salmons first heard about the idea for the shop from Weaver, who is part of a small fellowship group formed by Karis members.

"By hearing her talk about it, I could just see the vision God gave her, and now it's real. It gives me goose bumps," Salmons said.

Coming home after the trip was harder than Salmons expected, especially as the  slums of Uganda were replaced by interactions at Fulton Country Club, where she works.

"I had a hard three-week adjustment period; it was such a stark contrast to what I saw in Uganda. I realized how much I had taken for granted before," Salmons said. "Now I'm hypersensitive to the way I spend my money, and I've recognized the tendency we have as Americans to have a sense of entitlement."

Salmons looks back on her mission to Uganda and recognizes the growth it provided for her faith.

"That stirred me to give more since I have so much, and it's no longer 'them over there' but brothers and sisters in Christ."

For Brauer, the practice of fair trade does not stay behind the wooden doors of the store. She has learned through her experience in the business world that integrity and justice are hard to come by.

“My faith affects every area, and it should affect the way I see and do business, too,” Brauer said. “There are a lot of unethical business practices, and through connections, you can make a difference.”

Weaver expresses her passion for the issue in ways that extend beyond borders and cultural differences.

“We’re providing people a connection to people in Third World countries and providing them a beautiful and tangible way to show love with us,” Weaver said. “We’re serving Columbia because everyone wants a way to give.”


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