Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Behind the Bag- Frank

Oh, Frank Pass. Frank was my Visiting Orphans team leader when I came to Rwanda (and Ethiopia) for the very first time. I think Frank thought I was crazy. I think he still does. 
But I think we get each other now. :)
One of the last days on trip (2 years ago!), Frank said that I reminded him of one of his daughters. Shortly after I moved to Rwanda, I got email from Frank saying that I felt like one of his daughters. And that is how he has treated me ever since. Frank is encouraging and protective and such a huge supporter of No.41. 
He and his wife Robin sponsor one of our girls, Amelie, and are the poster family for what sponsorship should look like. When Amelie was asking for a "hot, white man" to be her sponsor, Frank swooped right in and claimed his spot. What Amelie was really asking for (in her own hilarious way) was a dad and what she got was an entire family! Dad, mom, 3 sisters, and a baby brother. And we have ALL been so blessed to see God's plan come together.
Frank, I could throw in so many inside jokes here, but I'll just let you tell your story....

Hope. That’s what comes to mind when I think of No. 41. It is a place that brings hope.

I have the opportunity to visit many orphanages and organizations that minister to orphans and there is one thing that most of them have in common. A lack of hope. There is a hopelessness to being an orphan. An orphan rarely says, “everything will work out”, because it seldom has. An orphan rarely looks to the future with hope because there is little in their past to cause them to do so.

I remember the first time I visited Noel orphanage. It is easy to become overwhelmed. Over 500 kids, all of them orphans, and so many needs. The babies tug at your heart strings but it’s the older ones that devastate you. You look in their eyes and you see it, or rather you don’t. It’s a lack of hope.

That’s what makes No. 41 so special. It’s a place that brings hope to the hopeless. I have had the privilege of visiting Tara, Alison, and the No. 41 girls several times and their eyes are filled with hope. Their eyes have joy. Their eyes look to the future with expectancy. These are not the same girls I saw at Noel just a year before. These girls are full of life. These girls have hope.

Catching Amelie up on family photos...

We all know how cool the bags are. They are stylish and they’re great conversation starters. We all know how one bag feeds one child for one year and we all know how these bags provide an income to the girls who make them, but it’s so much more than that. These bags bring hope. And hope matters.

I wish that everyone could see the excitement in the faces of the girls when a group of visitors arrives. I wish you could see the pride in their eyes when they realize that we are here to buy something that they made. And that’s the key. These girls are not taking handouts. They’ve created something and it’s something that people want and because they’ve done it once, they now know they can do it again. Many of these girls are now enrolled in university and they know that they will succeed because they already have. They believe their future can be bright because they can now look in their past and see light. 

Hope is contagious. When you buy a bag you help to spread it.

If you have a story to tell we'd love to hear/share it. Send me an email:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Behind the Bag- Jamie

Next up in the Behind the Bag series is, Jamie. It's tough to put into words what an asset Jamie has been to the No.41 team. When I ran into Jamie at church in Kigali last spring, I had not idea how the Lord would bless us with her passion, skills, and projector screen. :) Alison and I 'vacation' most weekends in Kigali at Jamie's house. We eat good food, catch up on the latest episodes of The Voice, and we laugh. Alot. But more importantly, Jamie has loved these girls something fierce since the first time she came out to visit us for a business training she had arranged. She has continually given of her time, energy, and resources to see the girls succeed. And we could not be more thankful. Somehow, Jamie, we love you!

Behind my bag is a face, a sweet face with a smile and kind eyes. Deep in her eyes sits a life that I will never understand, those kind eyes have seen more than most. I own a few No. 41 bags, which represent several sweet faces resting on burlap and ikitenge (African fabric). I have sat in the room with the No. 41 faces and looked into their kind eyes, wondering who they were and what they were interested in.
A few No. 41 girls have been in my car, showing them around town, giving them an opportunity to see the potential careers they have only heard about on the radio. It is a joy to watch their kind eyes light up as a businesswoman takes time to share a piece of her life and business with them. 
I thought No. 41 was a great cause helping some girls from a village, started by a girl from my hometown. I loved sharing the No. 41 story with my friends, but it was a story, someone else’s story.
Tara told me there would be three No. 41 girls who would be moving to Kigali to start university soon and asked would I be interested in hosting them while they get settled. At first, I think I said yes and then said no and then after they got here I looked into those kind eyes and told them to pack their bags they were moving to my house. 

left to right: Diane, Julie, Passy, Jamie, Amelie

I wasn’t sure what I was thinking at first, I just knew that behind my bag was a face with a smile and kind eyes.
I think we were all a little nervous at first. We didn’t know each other and were suddenly thrown together by a bigger plan from a bigger God than I could ever fathom. We didn’t even have beds for them the first night; they were on couches and cushions pushed together.
The face behind my bag got a name, 3 names actually. Now, I introduce them to people as “my girls”. We share our likes and dislikes, eat pizza and drink Fantas. We watch movies, dance, jump rope and laugh. My goodness, we laugh. I have never had little sisters, but I try to do all the things for them that my big sister did for me.
One of my girls loves kids and loves on the hurting. She sees everyone as needing to be loved on and it’s her job to do the loving. Another one seeks Jesus with such passion and depth. She prays from a place deep within her like God specifically cut a hole in her for Him to rest. And then there is the other one, who I call sassy pants. She educates me on American pop culture and always has a witty quip ready to pass on. She loves to read and recently requested some notebooks to “write her thoughts down”.
No. 41 is now part of my story. I don’t know what amazing things God has in store for the amazing girls of No. 41, but I know that you can be apart of it by making a donation, buying a bag and saying a prayer. All three, please, there are a bunch of girls out there changing our lives and we need your help to return the favor to them.

If you have a story to tell we'd love to hear/share it. Send me an email:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Behind the Bag- Wynne

Woohoo! I've been waiting for Wednesday and it's finally here. Today you are getting the lovely, Wynne. I couldn't think of a better person to kick off the Behind the Bag series. Miss Wynne has quite the story, herself. She is a photographer, with a huge heart for all things Africa and two sweet Ethiopian babes. Wynne is a natural encourager and she has been a cheerleader for No.41 since the very beginning. Well, I'll just let her tell you the story....

where oh where do I start.
so if you know me, you know I absolutely love to purchase with purpose. 
this idea that you can wear something fabulous that also helps people in the developing world is my fave.
it's the bees knees.
so of course I love my No. 41 bag(s).

photo by: alison holcomb
but my love affair with No. 41 bags goes back, and I just have to tell you the's pretty much a god see this girl?  the one that has more joy + life in her face than I've ever seen?
yep, that's my girl Alison.  funny story about that.  last year the day after Christmas we hopped a plane to visit for the very first time, Rwanda.  We were on a 12 day mission trip with Visiting Orphans and this was both our first time in the land of a thousand hills.  
to say this girl fell in love would be an understatement considering 4 months after returning from said trip she packed her bags & MOVED there. 

she moved there because God told her to.
and because this girl (yep, I'm talking about you Tara) asked her to room with her. total god thing I tell ya.
ya see, Tara is a dreamer.  
and she was dreaming up something big.
and Alison is a dreamer. 
and they are both DOERS.
so when you put two dreamer/crafty/exceptionally relational and passionate southern girls heads together...
you get No 41.

this picture is just proof that I too was on the trip.  :)
and I too fell in love with the beauty of Rwandas hills + most importantly the people.
and I grew passionate about being a part of something that was giving these older girls who had placed out of the orphanage a HOPE, a FUTURE, a TRADE, a DREAM and a BETTER LIFE. 

so, of course I jumped at the opportunity to be a part.
to help get the word out, to help buy sewing machines, to pray for and encourage my two wild eyed missionary friends who set out to do something pretty incredible.
you see what they are doing.  what god is doing through them, is changing lives.
they aren't only teaching these girls how to sew, but they are teaching them about life.
they are pointing them to jesus.
they are giving them DAILY BREAD.
and when I get to the end of my life I hope I can say the same about what I did with the days I was given on this earth.

{this is my plug for you to GO BUY A BAG!!!}

tara + alison -- I love you both dearly and am in love with the huge task that God has graciously given you.  you have been faithful with little so He has given you much.  press on.  know that the work you are doing, the stories you are telling, they matter!  it's a big world out there - but your corner of it seems pretty cozy. 

Thank you so much, Wynne! We love you right back.
If you have a No.41 story that you would like to tell, we would love to hear it.
Send me an email at

Monday, January 14, 2013

anatomy of a No.41 signature bag

Hey there! It's my first ever guest poster! And you're in for a treat, because you get to meet alison! Alison is my other half at No.41 and all of the beautiful photos you see of the girls and their bags are hers! Today Alison is putting her talent to work and showing you how the girls make the No.41 signature bags, start to finish! Ready? Go!...

we are so thankful for our no.41 girls. they are incredible.. seriously. AMAZING at what they do. i thought this little post would be interesting for people wanting to know about the process that goes on to make the bags. for those of you who don't know, we struggled for a while trying to find burlap locally. we took a last minute trip to uganda recently and made a connection who found it, we wired him money (then crossed our fingers and said a few prayers)- and he had it on the bus that night. now the girls are constantly working their booties off.. not to mention, we can hardly get them out of the no.41 house.. they can choose when to come and go, but they want to be there. it's exciting to see. we are so proud of the work they are doing. here's a little "behind the scenes" look at all the hard work and love that goes into making each signature no.41 bag. literally every single step of hard work is 100% credited to the girls. have i told you we are proud?! :)

**most of these photos are of our fabulous art student, clarisse. she is a little go-getter, and always has a solution when something crafty needs to be done. she absolutely thrives on her artistry and takes so much pride in her work. since giving her a little extra responsibility, we've seen her confidence building and her work ethic is incredible. we have to tell her to go home because she always has her hands in something- which is why we call her boss:) clarisse is clearly an asset to our no.41 family.
as you probably know, each bag is screen printed on both side. we originally had a screen from the states, but after a month or two, it started tearing. after panicking and thinking it was all over, clarisse came in to save the day. here she is taking paint thinner to get rid of the old stencil on the screen.
 it all starts out with a print out of the logo.. 
then it must be lined up with the green stencil sheet
then, she very carefully traces around each letter so when she places the green part on the screen, the paint will go through.
 once the letters are all cut out, she removes it from the paper..
the mesh screen is then placed over the stencil
 paint thinner is swabbed on so the stencil will stick to the screen
 it's important to make sure your screen and the stencil stay in place so you don't have a wonky print when it comes out:)
  cleaning the screen and making sure it's perfect.
there's a clear film attached to the stencil that must be removed so the letters can be exposed to the paint that must be taken off very carefully in order not to be ripped.
  screen is completed and ready to print onto the burlap.

and here's where all the magic happens...
 before any fabric is cut, the girls use a pattern to make sure our size is consistent.
jeanette and zawadi are cutting the fabric for the insides and straps of the bags
ange is pinning the fabric and burlap together for a strap
fanny is sewing her straps together
our sewing teacher- medi, donatilla, rosine, valentine
clementine is putting the finishing touches on her bag
after finishing up a bag, the girls put their tags on them.
therese is holding the screen so clarisse can screen print without the print getting shifted
now all that's left is to let it dry!
viola! the bags are then hung up in our living room when they are finished.

whew! lots of hard work. hope you guys enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes look at what goes into making the bags. to visit our website and see what else the girls are up to, click here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Behind the Bag.

There's a lot of talk going around this year about stories.
Telling your story. Living your story.
Joyce Meyer says, "Let your life be your witness." I love that.

We're pretty pumped about the story God is writing for our lovebugs at  No.41.
Stories of redemption, hope and His unfailing love.
You can read the stories of each girl proudly displayed on the tag for each bag they have sewn.
But, we're equally pumped that all of you have become a part of our story.
Changing the world is no joke. And you have changed our whole world.
We'd love to hear and share your stories!

Do you have a story about No.41 that you'd like to share?
Have you visited us?
Bought a bag? Been gifted a bag?
Sponsor one of the girls or students?
We would love to hear about it.

We'd like to start a weekly series around here.
Behind the Bag. Your life-giving story. Your purchase with a purpose.

To tell your story, shoot me an email-
Can't wait to see where we end up!