When we moved to Atlanta in January of 2009, it was to make a beat up 2 bedroom apartment a home in Atlanta's Buford Highway Corridor.
We knew that our immigrant neighbors would save us.
Save us from greed. Save us from religion. Save us from a life of empty self fulfillment.
They would give us the opportunity of a lifetime.
We were following God's invitation to meet with Jesus by welcoming the immigrant. (Matthew 25:32-40).
We started the work even before we knew how it would work.
We were desperate. We were both Bible College drop outs, and were in the pursuit of something real, something true.
Our work began with a knock on our door. A Dad with his little boy asked, "Can you help my son to read this book?". It was clear he had rehearsed his English just for the occasion.
My heart burst with joy. Here was our chance.
So we started with a small group of kids, helping them with homework a couple days a week.
We've been helping kids with homework ever since.
From the beginning, God has always used the things we love and the things we are good at to connect us to our neighbors and our community. Those things have changed and evolved over the years. Soccer, gardening, reading, cooking, writing, and for me a big one has been jewelry making.
I found jewelry making to be a great tool to foster community with a small group of refugee women I met. Out of our community, Refugee Beads was born.
It was a beautiful, sweet time of walking through life with these women. I will forever be grateful for what I learned from them!
Even after those women had moved on, we found jewelry to be a great way to bring in income, and sustain the work God had given us to do.
In 2016 we felt the need to refocus our work and we became Presencia. We wanted it to be clear what we were about; being present for the immigrant kids and families in our community. The name Refugee Beads was a distraction from that.
So as Presencia, the jewelry making became a way I could spend time with the older girls in our program, engage volunteers, and provide job opportunities to some of the older students.
At the start of our move to Atlanta in 2009, we both worked outside jobs to sustain our new life. But we found we had little time to really give how we felt led.
We wanted to help kids with homework everyday. The needs where huge. We wanted to serve them meals. Many of the kids were going home hungry. And the number of kids in our home began to grow rapidly.
So we began raising funds through a missions organization.
Then we had the opportunity to go under the umbrella of an Atlanta Non-profit collective, FCS Ministries and started raising funds that way.
And eventually we became our own 501c3 in May of 2016!
All the while, jewelry sales have always been a large and crucial part of sustaining the work financially.
We have been through a lot of changes but what has always remained at the heart of what we are about, and why God brought us to this place, is to love our immigrant neighbors.
That love grew into a tutoring program. And those kids grew up and became leaders. And out of their love, grew new leaders.
Our mission had become clear: to provide tutoring, mentoring and leadership development for the children of immigrants.
But running a non-profit and a jewelry business as part of that, was not joke, especially with only one full-time staff member, me!
And as the jewelry sales become more successful it become more demanding as well. In 2013, we had $47,845 in jewelry sales!
I was getting more and more wrapped up in the business side of things as years went on. It took tons of sweat, blood and tears. It was stressful and time consuming.
But I thought it was worth it!
It enabled us to be a part of such good work in our neighborhood and it was really making an impact in kids lives.
Sales had been growing rapidly in the beginning. But sales began to drop as we began to shift our focus from refugee made jewelry, to jewelry that supported immigrant children.
Whatever was working before, wasn't working now.
Then I became a mom!
And then a mom of TWO!
So now I was a mom, running a jewelry business, and the executive director of a non-profit.
Thankfully I have a supportive, loving husband, who due to his flexible work schedule, could help out with the kids part of the day, work in the evenings, and watch kids on the weekends when I had big sales events.
Also, our student leaders are amazing and could run the tutoring program with little assistance.
So I began to think, "My job is to hold this all together by making business good, so we can keep doing this meaningful work."
But it started to get harder and harder to sell jewelry. The demands to stay up to speed on all the latest fashions, get enough exposure, compete with the best of the best, and manage all the administrative tasks of applying for events, working events, running inventory, paying bills, running an online store and customer care became overwhelming.
I hit a string of about 5 sales events that were total flops and I broke.
But giving up the jewelry business was a devastating and terrify thought to me. I had invested so much time and energy into it.
All the while God was putting new things on my heart too. I wanted to spend time with the youth in our program who had become moms, because I was a mom too now!
I wanted to do a better job of equipping our student leaders through regular staff meetings. I wanted to really know them.
I wanted to have time to feed my own soul and learn, so I could pass that on the the younger leaders in our program.
I wanted to be a better mentor and teacher by being present. I wanted to do a better job at recording and evaluating improvement in the kids who participate in our tutoring program.
I wanted to have time to meet with other leaders of non-profits to learn, partner and grow together.
But I didn't have time for any of that! I was so consumed with running a business in order to keep the non-profit afloat.
I didn't want anyone to know I was failing. I just kept thinking it would get better, and I could just keep on working harder and harder to fix it. But it was just one disappointment after another.
Like any business, it had lots of expenses too. So when we had several events that weren't a success, we began to suffer financially. Not only did we have the expense to recover but we counted on that income to run our program.
I began spiraling down into a deep depression filled with hopelessness. I am sure new mom hormones didn't help either!
Feeling worthless, stressed, depressed, beat up and disappointed, I finally took a minute to stop beating my head against a wall, opened up to people, and asked God what he wanted me to do.
I don't know if you have ever been in that place, but it is scary.
When I broke into tears one Sunday after Heather asked me how I was doing, I began to tell her, and the whole table, at our church community dinner what had been going on. It felt like a confession.
First, she assured me, I was not a failure. I didn't really believe her, but it was still somehow an encouragement.
Then she encouraged me to open up to our student leaders at the tutoring program, to let them into my struggle.
She also said that whatever the answers were to my questions and doubts, God would most likely speak through the kids and student leaders in our program.
Well, she was totally right.
When I shared my struggles with the student leaders that week, with tears rolling down my face, they got teary-eyed too. They responded with love and encouragement. And to my surprise they lit up with ideas of things they could do to raise funds for Presencia!
Then Miguel who grew up in our tutoring program, volunteered for years, became our first paid neighborhood tutoring director and is now on the board said, "Ruthie maybe we should go back to just doing the gatherings in homes, that were community based, were we could share about the work and also have jewelry for sell."
This also resonated with me as a great idea.
I still felt a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. How was this all going to work!
Then my pastor, David, brought a powerful message on Sunday about the prophets in scripture and why they were so important then and why the prophetic voice in the church is still so important today.
We need to be reminded of the heart of God, even if it is hard to hear and even harder to obey and follow!
He read out load from Isaiah 1 and my chest began to pound. I was finally getting some clarity!
I knew God was speaking to me through David's prophetic voice in that message! He was reminding me of what was important to God. That ultimately God is the one who provides what is needed to accomplish the work he had called us too.
It wasn't up to me!
God was bringing to mind all those things that had been on my heart but I didn't have time for. All the things I was to busy for while trying to make everything work all by myself.
He was asking me to do those things he had placed in my heart and trust him, to rest in his abilities and not mine.
My worth and value didn't not lie in being a good jewelry maker or business person. My worth was found in his love for me and my love for my neighbor.
He was telling me to stop running a business and start doing what I knew he had for me to do in this time and place.
It was going to require me to trust that he would make it work. That he would bring the right people along to step into the roles I would be leaving behind.
So in that moment, as David read aloud, I let go of the jewelry business and made the choice to trust God with the finances of Presencia.
I felt a huge amount of relief and a large burden lifted. But I also felt terrified.
As the days have past I have gotten more and more clarity.
I have had conversations with friends and family that have been clearly God ordained.
So we will keep rolling out some community based events, and home gatherings for jewlery as we move forward.
We are a non-profit that provides tutoring mentoring and leadership development for the children of immigrant. All of our resources will go towards that.
Fundraising will now be a joint effort! And those fundraisers will be dreamed up by our community.
God has been made strong in my weakness and I know who it is that my help comes from!
And as our youth love to sing.... "He is a good good father!".
So I will continue to share what God is doing and invite people into this meaningful work! Maybe this is your que to step into what God has for Presencia. Maybe your heart is pounding now too!
However God leads you, I would appreciate your prayers as I continue to listen and follow God's heart for my neighbors.
Much love and gratitude,