Written by Emily Mullins
Marjorie Royle is fascinated by the recycled glass beads sold by the African women of Global Mamas. First, the women take old glass bottles and grind them down into a fine dust. They re-fire the dust inside clay ovens and mold the hot glass into beads of different shapes, sizes and colors, which are then polished until smooth. Global Mamas then sell their colorful beads to wholesalers throughout the world, which is how they ended up as one of the recycled items Royle and her congregation's Bridge of Faith group will sell at environmental festivals during Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's 50-day earth care initiative beginning April 1.
"It's an amazing thing – you can tell I'm into this," said Royle, member of First Congregational Church of Verona in Verona, N.J. "It demonstrates that what we throw away can be made into beautiful and useful products."
Bridge of Faith will sell its products May 17-18 at the Garden State GreenFest, a large, regional event in its sixth year. They will also have booths at Earth Day festivals in Edison and Kinnelon, N.J. The group began selling primarily African crafts, like paper beads and figures made out of aluminum cans, a few years ago, but now sells a variety of items from many different places, such as jewelry made from scrap wire in Kenya, purses made out of car seat belts from India, and coin pouches made from plastic grocery bags in Ghana. Royle said the group earns $6,000 to $8,000 per year having booths at street fairs, festivals and even General Synod, and all of the proceeds go to support various programs in Nigeria.
"What we like to do is cosponsor booths with local churches, so the church is seen to care for environment," Royle said. "It's fun to do, and supports a few causes that I value – the environment being one, and the work in Africa is another."
With its proceeds, Bridge of Faith has provided food, clothing, children's books, infant formula, mosquito nets and generators, among other items, to Nigerian schools, orphanages, and maternity health clinics. They recently started an annual soccer tournament among four area schools, which was so popular they plan to include more schools next year, and are also working to implement math and science enrichment programs. A member at First Congregational UCC's partner church, Faith UCC in Union, N.J., is a chief in the Nigerian village and has been critical to establishing the Bridge of Faith partnership there. He helps coordinate visits for Royle and her husband to deliver supplies, makes sure mailed shipments are received by the right people, and also makes personal visits from time to time to ensure everything is running smoothly and the supplies are serving the people who need them.
"That is why our group is called Bridge of Faith – we have a human bridge of people helping make this happen," Royle said.
Along with supporting her interests in the environment and African culture, Royle said Bridge of Faith fulfills a need for others who also want to support these issues. She says they are often thanked by people who visit their booth and appreciate the opportunity to buy recycled items, and Royle sees each event as a chance to educate people about things like buying fair trade certified goods. So at the end of the day – or at least at the end of the festival – everybody wins.
"It's rewarding in a lot of ways," she said. "We can do public education about fair trade items and recycled items and the fact that people in Africa are creative and can create beautiful things."
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.
To learn more about how to count earth care hours, watch this.
Share the goals of Mission 4/1 Earth with your family and friends and invite them to join the movement.