Our Kenya Story

kids-in-kenya

The story begins with my friends Devry and Curtis who are resident missionaries at Kenya Relief, a medical clinic, orphanage and school in Migori, Kenya. For several Christmases, we – the Mint Julep team and you all (i.e., our amazing customers) – partnered to send money for the fantastic programs and to further the efforts of this mission.

But, in the fall of 2015, God called me to do more than send money and to pray. He told me to GO to Kenya…AND to take an embroidery machine. This, I realize, is absolutely Crazy.

I laughed at God and said, “OK, let’s figure out how to do that!”

March 2016

A few months later, I found myself on a mission trip with Kenya Relief still harboring this crazy embroidery machine dream. I had only told the mission team and a few very close friends because IT. DIDN’T. MAKE. SENSE. There were just so many obstacles that it was insane!

While at Kenya Relief, I realized, though, they had a location, a need and a training program that would work with an embroidery machine and sewing room. I called Steve James, the director of Kenya Relief, as soon as I got home. His response stopped me in my tracks, “We’ve been praying about this call for 3 years.”

April 2016

Each year for a while now, I speak at The Everything Applique Conference and am friends with the directors of this fun event. This particular year, they encouraged me to present my current (reminding you – NUTSO) vision for getting an embroidery machine to Kenya. The directors thought it would be a great opportunity to tell it to a large crowd who shares a passion for all things embroidery.

Turns out this group was passionate about Kenyans embroidering too! These people started walking up and donating cash ($1137 to be exact!)…after they had spent 3 days eating out, in hotels, shopping, etc. My heart was so full, and I knew then that God was not going to take no for an answer.

We started partnering with people and businesses to make this dream a reality. S&R Sewing and Vacuum Center, a store in Huntsville, AL, offered me a machine at cost and threw in all kinds of extras. Kathy, Jefferey and the entire team at Applique Corner rallied more support and funding. Vendors like Blanks Boutique and participants at a conference the following weekend (Everything Embroidery Market) all donated! Those are just a few examples of the generosity we experienced!! So many people helped, many of which I don’t even know their names.

In fact, we surpassed the donation goal! I took, well shipped, a brand new machine to Migori, Kenya!

The words below were written right after I learned the amount of money we raised. They are a reminder to me, and perhaps you, that God can do anything.

“I sit here and cry at God’s faithfulness. There is absolutely nothing – NOTHING – that makes sense about this crazy journey. It’s out of a story book! I am so shocked, yet not at all surprised at how this unbelievable tale is being written! To God be the Glory! There are no words!”

embroidery-machine-kenya-relief
God, Why?!

Embroidery machine shipped. End of the story.

Right?!

Nope. Nada. Not even close.

We left for Kenya on Thursday and arrived on Sunday, August 21st to help Kenya Relief get this new machine up and running! (I had to keep pinching myself that this crazy God-inspired dream was coming true!) On Sunday morning, we went to church and visited with some local families to learn more about the orphans living in this community and to meet their extended families.

THEN, we got to see our new office! Y’all, they had named it Hillary’s Hut! AGH!! I cried! I couldn’t believe it. Such a sweet gesture!!

Me in front of Hillary’s Hut

On this mission trip, Kristi Coulson, whose family owns our local sewing store, came to help train and to be there in case repairs were needed. Kristi and I unboxed the machine, set it up, turned on the generator for power…and it DID. NOT. WORK.

We tried every test, different threads, different needles, bobbins, every setting you can imagine. But it kept saying the same sensor error. After 10 hours of us punching buttons, we quit.

I posted a prayer request on my personal Facebook page but couldn’t shake the frustration. See, we weren’t able to contact a professional tech in the U.S. because it was Sunday, and even after getting home phone numbers of some techs, the eight-hour time difference squelched that plan. We had exhausted every option imaginable.

With interviews and training scheduled for Monday, August 22nd, we weren’t sure how to proceed with no machine. Why, God, bring us this far just for us to fail?!

Monday, August 22nd

While the U.S. (and our possible technical help) slumbered, we chatted with and interviewed some amazing women to operate the embroidery machine…if we could get it running. Two ladies – Lucy and Jackline – were a perfect fit! They were (and still are) amazing!

Jackline, pronounced like Jaclyn, runs the shop, and Lucy is her back up. They work seamlessly together, and I know God put them right there for us on that Monday.

Full Circle

Jackline is an orphan who grew up at Kenya Relief. Read that sentence one more time and consider His power. Jackline had just graduated from a sewing technical school and was the only interviewee who knew what an embroidery machine was. She speaks fluent English and needed a job! Isn’t God’s full-circle story amazing?!

Lucy on the left and Jackline on right

But, Still No Machine

Meanwhile on Monday afternoon, we consulted with every technician at Babylock, the machine’s manufacturer. Still, no luck.

We had employees ready, items to monogram, a fully set up shop but no working embroidery machine. By Monday night, we were desperate!!

After dinner, Kristi and I headed back to the hut to try more options. Exactly what options…who knew?! We started retrying all the suggestions from the Babylock techs. We pressed every button, ran every test, restarted it 100 times, etc. We took the machine apart and even unplugged/replugged things on the motherboard. (Definitely in over our heads! But we were desperate!)

We also tested the voltage, and it was functioning fine. (Did you know there’s an electrical difference in the continents? Yes. I can tell you all about it! Ha!) As a last ditch effort, Kristi decided to slow down the machine, which usually runs at 1,000 stitches per minute.

And all of a sudden, IT WORKED.

Slowing Down to Move Forward

The embroidery machine worked at 200, 300, 400, 500 (we’re literally jumping at this point!), 600, 700, 800. Kristi asked, “Should we try 900?” Everyone in unison yelled, “NOOOOOO!” Side note – Several amazing people from the dental team we accompanied on this mission trip and Curtis, the resident missionary and my long-time friend, had ventured to the hut to lend support this night. They knew we had reached panic mode. So, we were all squeezed in that little hut witnessing the machine working for the first time.

Our guess is that the machine couldn’t operate at 1,000 stitches per minute, which is a common rate in the U.S., due to the difference in electric voltage used in Kenya.

But no matter the technical reason, I realize looking back that God gave us that moment so even more people could witness His power.

Lessons Learned

Of course, I was frustrated for losing a day and half. But I learned several lessons along the way. 1.) It’s very hard to wait 8 hours for an answer in the U.S. This lesson was an invaluable one for me. 2.) Every thing you expect and know to work in the U.S. are different in Kenya. 3.) We had faithful people praying all over the world. I’m so glad God answered these prayers. I knew He hadn’t given me this dream, send me around the world, involve hundreds of people and set up two girls for their lives to be changed just to have us go home without a working embroidery machine. He showed up in a big way!

Hillary’s Hut was (and STILL IS) in business! God is good. Every day.