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'God's love is what they pass on'

Fair trade is a mission for a Wittenberg University grad, students and faculty

For 26-year-old Jacob Schmalzle, growing up meant giving back. As a child he lived in the Republic of Kenya, where he shared God's love alongside his ELCA missionary parents, Robert and Denise Schmalzle.

Kenya — a country of 39 million bordered by the Indian Ocean, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania — quickly became Schmalzle's second home. For 12 years, his family served with ELCA Global Mission and the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church, "building new churches and developing many outreach programs, including a nursery school, a sewing school for unwed mothers, AIDS support groups [and] wellness education clinics," Schmalzle said.

"Every other year," he added, "our family returned to the United States from Kenya to share the exciting story of Lutheran missions."

In Nairobi, Kenya, Mary and Joy Mwikali
In Nairobi, Kenya, Mary and Joy Mwikali make jewelry for Village Markets of Africa, a venture begun by Jacob Schmalzle, a graduate of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, with help from the school.

Over the years, Schmalzle's global perspective grew, changing his life. Then during his freshman year at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, he had a light-bulb moment. "I was often asked by family and friends to bring home unique gifts from Kenya," he said. "So many people started asking me for 'treasures from Africa' that it was impossible not to see the potential for a business model."

Working with Wittenberg's international student organization, Schmalzle began selling gifts in the school's student center. He then took advantage of independent study opportunities with Wittenberg's business faculty to develop a comprehensive business plan for a fair-trade venture. The willingness of faculty to take a personal interest in his education helped him apply what he learned in class directly to his business plan, he said.

Schmalzle quickly realized his plan could help "create employment for people to work their own way out of poverty with pride instead of relying on charity."

By the time Schmalzle graduated from Wittenberg in 2007, the foundation had been laid for Village Markets of Africa (VMA), a mission of the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church, an ELCA partner. This fair-trade effort develops "Christian partnerships between concerned consumers in North America and artisan cooperatives of the Lutheran church in Kenya, both working for global economic justice," he said. Those partnerships help artists provide life necessities for their families.


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