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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Bringing baskets to market

She's a one-woman African bazaar

Mary Ann Sheets-Hanson is amazed by what she calls "God's incredible timing." In 2002 just after the financial planner started to work with the Sierra Pacific Synod hunger task force and the ELCA Stand With Africa campaign, a missionary friend asked if she would sell baskets made by women in Uganda.

"He told me about these women and how hard it was to get someone to market their baskets," she said. "Somebody from New York said once they would sell the baskets on consignment, but they ended up sitting in a warehouse."

Sheets-Hanson, a member of Our Savior Lutheran, Lafayette, Calif., was planning a Stand With Africa talk at an ELCA congregation. She took those warehoused baskets, unsure if anyone would buy them.

"I'm telling you, those baskets just walked away!" she said.

Since then, Sheets-Hanson has become a one-woman, traveling African bazaar.

The next year her husband, Jack Hanson, visited the
basket-weavers in Uganda and forged a relationship with women at the Mwika [Tanzania ] Lutheran Bible College who make dresses, pillow covers and other textiles.

"Last year I purchased $16,000 worth of baskets and fabrics," Sheets-Hanson said.

She marks up the prices — though they remain well below those at most import stores — and sends the profits to Stand With Africa and similar church projects.

In June, Sheets-Hanson will travel to Uganda and Tanzania to meet the women whose products she markets and offer them a class on money management.

"It's easy for me to see God's hand in this," she said. "The timing was just incredible. As soon as I started working with Stand With Africa, I found out about these baskets.

"What I've learned is that we all can make a difference. It's easy to feel powerless sometimes, but if you just find one small thing you can do and take control of, you can really help."

Besides taking the goods to congregations where she's speaking, Sheets-Hanson ships items to anyone wishing to sell them. For more information, e-mail her at masheets@astound.net.


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