MAF Chad team member, Merilee Henderson talks about her involvement in local community projects. By teaching single mothers how to make knitted items with a manual loom to sell and generate income for their families, it opened the door to also be able to share the Gospel with them.
Phil and I went to Prairie Bible Institute for the aviation program, where God provided for all our needs, financially and in many other ways. That was a good faith-building time, to prepare us for joining MAF. When MAF Canada suggested Chad, we were able to look back and see the ways God had provided for us in the past, and we were able to look forward to a difficult place with confidence that God would be with us.
We definitely didn’t choose Chad; there were so many initial reasons to say no. But if we said no, it would be like telling God we didn’t really trust Him to take care of us. When we first arrived I didn’t engage much with the neighborhood around me, as I was so busy caring for my family. But when we arrived back after a break in 2018, it felt like coming home. I had more capacity to look at some of the needs around me, to ask, ‘what are things that I can get involved with?’ And the Lord just brought things.
There was a lady living nearby with eleven kids and I wondered if there was a way to help her make a living for them. I thought of helping her start a little roadside store, and she was very excited about it. One of my friends in Canada heard about this opportunity to help a mother with eleven kids, to pay school fees, to increase their social and economic standing, to allow them to be sustainable without having to borrow from others. This generous donor was eager to help, and so we partnered in a social business venture.
We discovered that little roadside stores are a great way to teach about money and to create opportunities to share God’s love in a practical way. We wanted to see people gain freedom from borrowing money and being a victim of life’s emergencies like unforeseen medical expenses. So that’s where this idea came from and it has flowed from there.
I have also been involved in an income-generating project with some single mothers, which came about randomly but was obviously God-ordained. In March 2019, I met a lady called Sarah. Sarah was a single mother of eight kids looking for income. I hired her to take care of an older lady who needed 24/7 care giving.
I had found this older lady one day trying to cross the street, even though she couldn’t walk. I asked someone to help me and we took her across the road where she just wanted to sit in the dirt. Her dress was soaked in urine and she hadn’t bathed in a long time, yet she was smiling at me and shaking my hand. It was really upsetting to me that someone was living like that, it broke my heart and I cried when I got home.
Through a friend, I was connected with Sarah and she agreed to look after this lady. It was a messy job as she was incontinent and didn’t have running water or proper toilet facilities. So Sarah had to clean up a lot of mess, wash her, cook for her, and be with her. She said yes to the job when a lot of other people said no; she has a heart of gold. It was a huge challenge, but she did it with joy, and through Sarah, that older lady became a Christian and is now with Jesus.
One day, Sarah brought her loom machine to work with her, a manual non-electric loom that makes knitted items very efficiently. She could make a knitted baby hat in 20 minutes! When I learned these machines can be bought in Chad, I realized this would be a perfect skill for Sarah to teach other single mothers. Through contacts in the neighborhood, Sarah found Muslim single mothers who were really struggling, to come and learn how to use the loom. So many ladies heard about it that she had to turn people away as we could only have five in each class. We wanted to provide this opportunity to single mothers who did not know Jesus.
The main reason we pursued these ladies is because we want them to come to know the everlasting hope that God gives through His son, as life here is hopeless for so many. Sarah was a God-appointed teacher as she was be able to share her testimony with the ladies as she interacted with them. We also started this loom class to help the ladies gain financial wisdom. A lot of people in Chad live day to day and most have never been taught or had the means to save for life’s emergencies.
Each class lasted for about three months, and by the end they could make hats, socks, diaper covers and baby leggings; child and adult size sweaters; and baby blankets. Now they can make between $2-$6 CAD profit on each bag of yarn they buy, and that will go up as their proficiency increases.
Once they started making money, we taught them to divide it into four categories. Some is put aside to buy more yarn, some goes towards their micro loan, some is saved for repairs to the loom, and the rest they keep for their family.
Running the loom classes has been an up and down journey. I was excited at the beginning, but when the second class started, I felt low when I realized they weren’t going to make as much money as I had thought. I journaled about it and the Lord brought a verse from Corinthians to my mind which says that we need to focus on things that are unseen, not things that are seen. This allowed me to pull back, take a deep breath and remember why I was doing this. I am doing this because I want the ladies to know Jesus. I don’t know the ways God is working in each of their hearts; those are the things that are unseen.
Now that the classes have finished, I am thinking about what to do next. There are always so many needs, so I am praying about where God wants me to focus my efforts. In the meantime, I’ll continue supporting the people we have already come alongside.
Phil and Merilee Henderson, along with daughters Kaitlyn, Lily, and Evelinne, have been serving with MAF in Chad since 2013. Phil works as a Pilot and Merilee is involved with projects in the local community. Click here to learn more about them and their ministry with MAF.
Story by Merilee and Kaitlyn Henderson with photos by Katie Machell