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I sat there for almost five hours. A hot breeze would occasionally brush my cheek, reminding me that I was in Africa on January 10. Man, I was grateful to be here. Just one week ago I was sitting in my car, shivering as I stared at the -1 on my dashboard. Halfway across the world, things were completely different.

In more ways than one.

  • I watched a woman walk with a large blue bucket of water on her head, balancing what must have been a crushing amount of weight. As she walked past me on the dirty road, I wondered – how far away did she live? How long would she have to carry that? I realized that every morning, I just wake up and turn on the faucet. I knew this; I grew up here. But somewhere in between the familiarity of comfort – I had just forgotten. Forgotten what it was really like to live here.
  • I left my phone at home; it was useless to me out here. Wifi was rare, and our hotel didn't even have access. There wasn't Google maps, or even street signs for that matter, so you actually had to pay attention and figure out where you were going. Driving four, eight hours was always a risk and a danger – were we going to end up in the right place? At one point I felt so OTG I thought, "I could just disappear and no one would ever know where to find me."
  • Certificates are a big deal here – you know, like the kind you got in middle school for getting an "A" or for passing the grade. Sherri, our relationship manager and resident missionary in Tamale (she visits with our By Grace girls regularly!), said Ghanians will give them to her whenever she speaks at an event or leads a group in any capacity. They are just cheap pieces of paper, but they have meaning here – as in, when you apply for a job, this can actually help you make more money. She said that they are SUCH a big deal in Ghana because the threat of slipping into obscurity is so tangible. If you are not someone here, you are nobody.

Achievement is somewhat difficult to measure in Ghana. One of the most beautiful parts of this culture, in my opinion, is their attitude towards it.

I heard a story about this man who got up to sing in church. He was entirely off-key and it sounded absolutely terrible, but he gave all of his heart and soul into this song. When he sat down, everyone crowded around him and said, "You tried!" with great enthusiasm and admiration. And what I learned is this: this culture values the effort, not the result. They don't care whether you crash and burn, they care whether you gave it your all. That, I thought, was pretty cool. So what if you failed! "You tried!" And that's a commendable thing.

There's a quote from Growing Deep in God that says, "The problem with the Western church is that they are so focused on commitment instead of surrender. Commitment is about DOING, surrender is about BEING."

And I remembered what Sherri told me earlier on that day, as we were sitting in a compound visiting a friend. She said, "People think that you have to be an excellent speaker or teacher, but really, 90 percent of it is just being here." As we went from one family to the other, sitting and sitting and sitting, I started to realize that just BEING here spoke more than anything I could DO. Just being here told them I cared about them. That I loved them. I didn't have to say anything great or quote a Bible verse or teach a lesson – I just needed to be here.

But as I sat there for four hours, on a plastic chair in a courtyard surrounded by small family living spaces – I was really overwhelmed with how much By Grace had changed.

I talked with girl after girl after girl, and learned each of their stories. They spoke of how their parents were petty farmers and traders, unable to afford training for them. They spoke of how they wanted to create a better life for their children (some were in their thirties). They spoke of how they were so thankful for this gift they had been given, that they prayed, "God would bless the person who did this for me." If you are reading this, and you're a donor or customer – that's YOU they are praying for.

As we were driving to our building – this incredible new building that we were opening up – I thought of where we would be in three years. And the truth is I really have no idea. But as we dedicated that space, and the girls were laughing, playing and eating lunch, I knew that something special was going on here, and that God has a plan for each one of their lives. And how cool is it that we get to play a part in that.

This trip to Africa made me thankful for small things like coffee and Google maps and RX Bars, but also thankful for big things, life things, like this journey of By Grace and how far we have come. And more than that – I had a strong sense that we are just beginning. I'm so excited for what's to come.

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Until next time,

Emily

Started under a tree, now we're here - A look inside our Ghana campus

Under the mango tree where it all began in January of 2015.

Under the mango tree where it all began in January of 2015.

It's true. Three years ago, our very first workshop took place underneath a mango tree. 

In January of 2018, we had a building dedication for the By Grace Ghana campus. Our class of 2018 was there to celebrate this new space as our official workshop.

Thank you to everyone who made this dream possible!

It's just the beginning.

Dedication of the new building. We presented the girls with certificates to mark their one-year of training, had prayer and devotional and shared a meal with the women. 

Dedication of the new building. We presented the girls with certificates to mark their one-year of training, had prayer and devotional and shared a meal with the women. 

"Her House" on the Rosebud Reservation

Co-founder Emily outside of "Her House" with the women of the Rosebud Reservation

Co-founder Emily outside of "Her House" with the women of the Rosebud Reservation

We work with women recovering from abusive situations on the Rosebud Reservation. The number one reason women return to their abusers is because of financial dependence. As part of the recovery process, we partner with the local women's shelter to provide women with training and payment in exchange for beaded products. 

By Grace works in a two-room area in a renovated home called "Her House." This is located next to the women's shelter. This provides a space for the women to work that is safe and clean. While they are beading, the women are able to form relationships and friendships. 

Abuse on the reservation is rampant. Below are some shocking statistics of the current situation:

  • 1 in 3 report rape
  • 80% unemployment

You can read more about the situation in this article For Native Americans Facing Sexual Assault, Justice Feels Out Of Reach, published by NPR.

"Her House" is a great space - we are so thankful for it! There are a couple of items that need repairing. These include - painting, new lighting, new workspaces and new organizational equipment. These women have been through so much, we want this to be a beautiful retreat for them. Because of the state of poverty here, their access to items (there's no Target in sight) is very limited. 

Collaborating with the women of the Rosebud Reservation on the By Grace line in the space of "Her House."

Collaborating with the women of the Rosebud Reservation on the By Grace line in the space of "Her House."

By Grace and "Her House" are working to end violence against women. This is the sign on the entrance of the door. 

By Grace and "Her House" are working to end violence against women. This is the sign on the entrance of the door. 

Director of the women's shelter, Janet, says she's "little but I'm loud." She has dedicated her life to fighting for women's rights and By Grace is honored to partner with her and her staff Debbie and Cheryl. 

Director of the women's shelter, Janet, says she's "little but I'm loud." She has dedicated her life to fighting for women's rights and By Grace is honored to partner with her and her staff Debbie and Cheryl. 

We have hope - we are changing the world, one woman at a time.

We have hope - we are changing the world, one woman at a time.

The Broken Windows Theory

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Written by Bethany Moon, a student at American University studying Justice and Law. Bethany interns with By Grace - Rosebud. 

I sink into my chair as my elbows take their familiar position at my desk. The wind and the bitter snow shake the windows, but that is all they can do. In here, in this warmly lit space, I am untouchable. For this is a space that has intentionally been set apart. The oxygen here is full of peace, full of freedom to dream, full of creativity to express. Most of us have a space like that. Perhaps yours is the coffee shop on the corner; you know, the one with the funky mugs and string lights. Or maybe it’s the nook by the window with the ordinary yet oddly life-giving view. Maybe it’s your kitchen table; full of room to skim an abundance of scattered papers. Or possibly, like me, you have something simple like a desk with a warmly glowing candle. Wherever it is, we all have a space that turns work into a labor of love; that inspires us to create, that welcomes us in and closes the door on the windy world outside.

In one of my Justice courses this past semester, I learned of Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory. Essentially, the theory asserts that the environment we live in sends signals. Therefore, if a neighborhood is scattered with litter and rusted cars and broken windows, then it sends a signal that no one cares about it. As a result, people are more likely to partake in crime of all kinds.

  • In 1969 Zimbardo conducted an experiment examining the relationship between physical conditions and social behavior.
  • He set up two automobiles without license plates and with their hoods up: one in Palo Alto, CA and one in the Bronx.
  • The car in the Bronx was vandalized within ten minutes, stripped within twenty-four hours, and then continued to be randomly destroyed (windows smashed, upholstery ripped, etc.).
  • The car in California was untouched for about a week, that is until Zimbardo smashed a part of it with a sledgehammer. After this, strangers started to partake in the destruction, and within a few hours the car had been turned upside down. Because cars are more often abandoned and stolen in the Bronx, the experimental car was destroyed much quicker there; however, the experimental car in Palo Alto, once dented with the sledgehammer, sent the same signal that nobody cared about the car, and people began react to that signal by partaking in its destruction.
  • Building on this experiment and other research of their own, researchers Wilson and Kelling proposed the Broken Windows theory: untended disorder and minor offenses give rise to serious crime and urban decay.
  • In other words, the physical environment sends signals about what is appropriate behavior in that environment. Therefore public drunkenness, panhandling, vandalism, and broken windows all lead to more criminal acts. This inspired new methods of policing such as heightened crackdown on minor offenses like public drunkenness, as well as rapid repair of physical disorder such as graffiti.
  • An example of this is the 1984 New York City Transit Authority’s intensive program to eradicate graffiti. As a result, there was major reduction in all crime on the subways, not just minor crime.
  • Similarly, Prince George’s County, right outside of Washington DC, underwent a Graffiti removal program and experienced the same crime reduction. Another researcher, Kees Keizer, placed an envelope with money in it into a mailbox. When the mailbox was clean, only 13% of strangers stole the money; however, when it was sprayed with graffiti, 27% of strangers stole the money. 

The results of these experiments inspired new methods of policing. Instead of focusing on major crimes, police departments began to crackdown on minor crimes, such as graffiti and public drunkenness, in order to improve physical conditions and alter the signal that nobody cared about these environments. The results were incredibly positive and crime reduced in the cities in which these strategies were implemented. 

What these experiments and successful programs tell us is that the environment greatly impacts our behavior; whether that be in the context of crime or work. We take cues from the environment about what others value, and then act based off of that assigned value.

The person working in the dusty basement of an office building, surrounded by coffee stained files and fluorescent lights, is simply not receiving the same message about how both he and his work are valued, as the person working on the sunny fourteenth floor.

The women of the Rosebud Reservation are creative, important, highly valued, capable, talented, beautiful, and powerful. We want a work environment that sends those messages to them. We want them to shut the door on the biting South Dakota wind and sense that the peace they feel in that space will not fade, for with every stitch and every bead they are transforming their futures. Right now they have a few plastic tables, purple walls, and a cracked window.

We are not just renovating a space - we are sending a message of worth and dignity. 
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ByGraceFoundation_HerHouse_RosebudReservation
ByGraceFoundation_HerHouse_RosebudReservation

Meet our team: Sherri Paulson, Ghana

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Sherri is a missionary with SIM that works with By Grace in Tamale, Ghana. Sherri is involved in meeting all of the women that By Grace trains and employs, checks in the workshop and takes all of our the pictures overseas!

What originally brought you to Ghana? 

I originally came as a short termer in 1998. To be honest, I didn’t get accepted to the university that I wanted and thought my life was over (I can get a bit dramatic :) ). This opportunity came up and God opened up all the doors so I just kept walkin’ thru them and ended up in the Upper East Region of Ghana and I loved it.

Sherri first came to Ghana on a short-term missions trip to live with Emily and her family.

Sherri first came to Ghana on a short-term missions trip to live with Emily and her family.

What is your favorite part about living in Ghana?

I love the warm weather and the warmth of the people. I love that if I get lost there is someone to not only tell me the way, but sometimes take my hand and show me!

What is your biggest cultural learning moment to-date (funny or just memorable!)?

I would come home from a youth activity or church program complaining to my mentor about how they never start on time, or they are not serious, or whatever.

I was with a group of Ghanaians (ages 17-27) who went on a missions trip from Accra to Chiana, in the Upper East Region. They would get so angry because the Ghanaians in Chiana never started on time. I said, “but in Accra we also never start on time”. They gave a flimsy excuse or would say, “it is not the same”. Also, on that trip, the southern Ghanaians didn’t like the Northern food and instead of being gracious to the people who were cooking and trying it, they went out and cooked their own food. That really insulted the people.

All this to say — we are all ethnocentric. We all think our own culture is the best and judge people accordingly. I became aware it wasn’t just the white people who come along and think we should do things a certain way, we are all thinking like that.

A funny one—my friend, who is from the North, who lives in Accra took me out to eat dog. (FYI I do love dogs, I do!) I really thought it was great. So, I was telling one of my friends from the south and he looked at me repulsively. “Sherri, how could you do that? How could you eat dog?” I said, “um…don’t they roast bat in your village?” He said, “yes”. I said, “do you eat bats?” he said, “of course”. He didn’t see the connection but I did and laughed!

I am sure there are more but I can’t think.

What's your favorite part of working with By Grace?

Hearing the stories of the women’s hardships brings reminders of God’s love in my life. He is so good to me. I don’t deserve such love and favor. It makes me want to give back to Him.

What is your favorite proverb, quote, Bible verse or life motto?

  • Verse: Psalm 37.4 Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. I love how He makes His desires my desires!
  • Fave movie quote: You are everything I never knew I always wanted (I think this about God but the movie talks about a man/woman relationship).
  • Twi Proverb: o ho o ho te se ago far a stranger is like a child (being a foreigner, a stranger in a new culture, you don’t know anything. You are like a small child)
  • Life motto: It’s not about meeeeeeee

What's a typical day look like for you?

At this point, I am learning the Dagbani language. So, I listen to my recordings that were done the day previous with my language helper. Then I go out wandering about finding people and friends that I can practice what I have learned. Then in late afternoon I meet with my language helper to talk about new things I learned, cultural things I wasn’t aware of, and get some new words or dialogue.

What is your background? Where did you come from? What did you want to be when you grew up, and did you ever fathom you'd be where you are now?

I am a dairy farm gal from a small town in Wisconsin, USA. I have 1 sister and 3 brothers. Growing up I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be so my sister said I would have to take over the farm. All of us children hated farm chores. They all knew what they wanted to do with their lives, I didn’t. Therefore, I was chosen…forced, from them,  to accept that I would be a farmer and inherit the farm when Mom and Dad retired, which was absolutely the worst idea to me.

But Mom tells me that I told my first grade teacher I wanted to be a missionary. I found out after meeting up with my best friend from junior high a few years ago that in sixth grade I told her I wanted to be a missionary. I don’t remember either of those instances. In tenth grade I went to a youth group retreat for the weekend and at the last session where the man was speaking, I was crying. I don’t remember what he said but my friend next to me nudged me and I looked at him and cried and said, “I'm going to be a missionary!” But, I didn’t know how to go about that, and you know, only weird people end up being missionaries :). I had no idea this would be my life. I think growing up I thought I would be like everyone else and get married and have kids. I wanted lots of kids.

I love my life. I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I have no regrets in being obedient to God. It is (almost) not a sacrifice, it is a privilege (there is a quote John Piper has about that).

When things are hard or discouraging, what keeps you motivated?

I have moved north from where I lived for the past 11 years. I am starting over. It is hard making friends. It is hotter than I thought. It is difficult to be a dork in language learning. It is hard to be away for holidays or family picnics and events. It is hard to not have a Culvers restaurant nearby…LOL!!

When I look around me I see the difficulty in people’s lives, mine seems so small. My problems are nothing compared with people who have no food or jobs or even holes in the soles of their flipflops.

When I find myself whining about I don’t have or how hot it is, I try to remember what is amazing. God is amazing. Snow and cold are not amazing :). Kinkey with fish is amazing. A roommate from India is amazing. People who do things differently from me are amazing. Life that is so different every day is amazing. That reminds me to put things in perspective. When I have that flitting thought of maybe I should go home because it would be easier, I sense the Spirit in me say, “and you will be absolutely miserable.” He is right. I would be bored.

Though, it can be challenging here I find It also helps to remember that God called me here not to do do do, but to be be be. He wants me to be like Him and for some crazy reason He thinks the best place that can happen and how to learn how that can happen is Tamale.

So. CRAZY!!! God is soooo cool!!!!

What would your advice be to someone who wants to make a difference?

A woman once wrote to me and said there are only 2 things that go to heaven with you—people and God. If you want to make a difference start with God. He will change you to make a difference in people’s lives, whether you know it or not.
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