Este has been working in Panama on a Freedom-Challenge supported project for the last four years. Here she shares why she felt called to serve God in Panama and how this project is giving women back their dignity
How did you end up living and working in Panama?
My husband and I are from South Africa. Our very first short-term mission trip was to Iran. There the Lord changed our hearts to serve Him full-time as missionaries. A couple of years later, in 2008, I went on a short-term mission trip to Afghanistan. There I saw the widows of Afghanistan, living in poverty, without food, with no education and no skills. And there I engaged with a ministry that teaches women to sew and to support themselves. There the Lord changed my heart for the unprivileged, women with no skills, women lost without Jesus.
The Lord prepared my heart for a ministry with women, for one day, somewhere and that day happened when He called us to Panama in 2013. We live in Volcan among the indigenous tribe, the Ngobe Bugle Indians. Poverty, alcohol abuse, drugs and teenage pregnancies are part of their daily lives.
Children as young as 12 or 13 years old with their own little babies is a common scene. They have no education, no skills and very low self-esteem. So Joya de Esperanza – Jewel of Hope – was born.
Tell us a bit more about the project that you lead in Panama
I didn’t actually like sewing at all until after I came back from Afghanistan. All of a sudden, I just wanted to make quilts. Starting with baby quilts. And that is exactly what I do and where we start with each new lady that joins Joya. All of them start by making a baby quilt by hand. Most of them don’t have sewing machines. I want to teach them how to do it properly by hand, so that they can go back to their community and teach others to do the same.
The first quilt they make, they can keep for themselves. After they complete their first quilt, I give them a certificate. Then, I teach them how to use a sewing machine. Then little by little we start making aprons from men’s shirts. I want to teach them that you can make things from ordinary items, instead of buying fabric.
We then sell our items – mostly to visiting mission groups – where 60 per cent of the selling price goes to the lady and 40 per cent goes back into the ministry.
And of course, along with all the sewing we have devotion time every day, which involves chatting, building friendships, sharing women’s love, joys and sorrows, and where we can share God’s love, mercy and truth.
Can you share any stories of how this project is changing lives?
“I like Joya de Esperanza for the way Este treat us. Este is a kindly person that treats people with love and she is friendly. She reminds me a lot of my mom, my mom used to treat us the same way that she does. I started to come to Joya de Esperanza because I was lonely at home. Coming to this ministry I met new friends, but more important I gave my life to Christ.
First I went alone to church. I invited my husband to come with me, first he don't want to, but later he joined me and also gave his heart to Christ.”
Now, both of them are fully involved at the church. Sonia's husband, Jacobo is part of a soccer ministry at the church, with the youth."
“Coming to Joya de Esperanza my health improved significantly. I have toxoplasmosis; some of the symptoms include constant headaches, cough and blurred vision. I was home alone, and very anxious about my sickness and my situation. I met Este and all the other ladies, who are very loving.
While sewing, I got so distracted from my symptoms that my headache, cough and anxiety faded away. I like to come every day to learn about quilting but, at the same time, I like the fact that I have a group of ladies that I can talk to and have friendship with.”
What are some of the challenges you face here?
For sure the most challenging is commitment. Commitment by the ladies. Our ministry is growing, little by little. Nearly every week a new lady turns up who wants to join Joya de Esperanza. We have interviews with each one and have certain criteria and we ask that they attend for at least three months.
To encourage the ladies to attend regularly, we give an incentive every other month for the lady who has attended classes the most regularly and on time. We rent an apartment that is spacious, airy and light, and a safe place (in not such a safe area). We also have a kindergarten for the little ones while the mammas do their sewing. A challenge is the monthly rent of $350. As well as more sewing machines, quilting fabric, scissors etc.
How can women in the US make a difference to the lives of these women?
Give thanks to the Lord for this ministry and pray that He will use Joya de Esperanza to bring Hope where there is no hope, that He will make Jewels out of women who see themselves as of no value and who have little self-esteem.
Together we can make a difference. Together we can take hands, together we can be His hands and feet, together we can serve Him – the King of Kings!
I thank you.
Este de Nysschen