United Women of Faith volunteers from the Western North Carolina Conference help to sort and organize crafts brought by Central Conference delegates to the postponed 2020 General Conference. Photo by Patrick Scriven (PNW) for WJ communications.

By Kristen Caldwell, WJ Communications

Through sweatshirts and tote bags emblazoned with brightly-colored designs and stitch work, Juliet Nabukalu is empowering women in her rural Ugandan village to develop their own income in a post-COVID world.

And because of a group of committed volunteers from the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) and the United Women in Faith of the metro district of the Western North Carolina Conference, Nabukalu can focus her attention on serving as a reserve delegate for the Uganda-South Sudan Conference here in Charlotte.

“I’m teaching young girls, young mothers, vocational skills,” Nabukalu said. “I feel like God called me to do this.”

The Worldwide Craft Market is taking place at the Hilton Garden Inn a block away from the Charlotte Convention Center every day during General Conference (except for Sunday) from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. All of the profits from the sale of wares from Africa, the Philippines and Palestine go right back into the pockets of the individuals selling their goods to support various ministries.

“It’s all about building global relations,” said Priscilla A. Muzerengwa, a communicator from the Zimbabwe East Conference, who volunteered to coordinate these efforts. Muzerengwa also serves as a Global Communications Technology field project manager for United Methodist Communications.

Often delegates from central conferences bring items to sell to support ministries of their churches at home. But they have had to negotiate time to do it between worship, committees, voting and all the other requirements made of delegates.

“It gives a chance for delegates to focus on the work of the conference floor,” Muzerengwa said. “The global market is bringing them relief.”

Rev. Karen Nelson, a retired elder from The Oregon-Idaho Conference and assistant to the convener of LYNC, said global ministries supporters have been trying to get a market like this set up at previous general conferences, but for whatever reason, roadblocks were put in the way to making it happen.

LYNC is already utilizing meeting space at The Hilton Garden Inn, so the non-profit advocacy group was more than willing to dedicate one of those rooms to the market. Volunteers from the United Women in Faith are voluntarily staffing the room throughout the week, too.

“We want delegates to be able to take 100 percent of their proceeds home with them,” Nelson said. “It’s important we do this because it gives people a way to sell their crafts to directly support their ministries.”

In addition to ringing up sales and keeping track of inventory, Diann Back and her fellow volunteers from the United Women in Faith here in the Charlotte area have been doing a little shopping, too.

“It is in our blood to support missions,” Back said. “It was a way for us to be part of General Conference and meet some interesting people.”

Nabukalu calls this market a “good initiative” for delegates trying to support their ministries at home.

“Someone is doing that work and you’re doing what you’re supposed to do,” she said.

Nabukalu was called into this work after moving from the city to rural villages with her family post-COVID. She’d never lived in a small village and she admits that at first, she was depressed.

“I asked God to help me,” she said.

She grabbed a small speaker and started preaching to people in her village. She noticed that there were young women who left school during COVID and they didn’t go back. They had small children, they were young, and they often didn’t have a source of income.

When she started running her small business – a resale clothing boutique – she set up one sewing machine. She now has four. And she works with 15 women to create applique-designed sweatshirts using fabric scraps sewn together. The women have also worked to make reusable sanitary napkins for the girls in nearby-schools. They were able to distribute a package to 150 girls at one of the nearby schools this last year.

“I think I’m in the village of hope,” Nabukalu said. “This is what I’m supposed to do.”

The Hilton Garden Inn is located at 508 E M.L.K. Jr Blvd. You can learn more about the Global Market at www.worldwideumccraftmarket.com.

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