Inside a bright red converted barn along FM 1488 in Magnolia, fair trade, handmade goods of colorful jewelry, blankets and greeting cards line the walls. A black-and-white chalkboard map of the world marks the more than 30 countries that the unique products come from.
This store is a Mercy House Global shop, which means that all the products were made by artisan groups that provide jobs for women living in poverty; yet getting fair trade products into the hands of consumers is just one aspect of the nonprofit’s mission.
About 10 years ago, founder Kristen Welch was a resident of The Woodlands and living what she said was a life without purpose—despite running a popular blog for moms that had quite a following and had led to a few book deals.
“I had more than I needed, but instead of sharing it with others, I was getting more for myself,” Welch said.
That’s when she was invited to take a three-week trip to Kenya with the nonprofit organization Compassion International, a humanitarian aid organization focused on helping children in poverty. Her world was changed. She began to see how she could leverage her life to serve.
“It was a huge wake up-call for me in every way. I fell in love with the poor, because they had something I didn’t have — it was purpose and joy,” Welch said. “I came home and spent about five months trying to figure out what my response was going to be.”
That was 10 years ago, and Welch’s response evolved into Mercy House Global: a multi-faceted faith-based ministry that exists to engage, empower and disciple women around the world. She began the nonprofit to initially fund maternity homes for teen moms in Kenya when she learned about an unfortunate reality.
“We discovered that there were moms who, because they didn’t have options, were desperate. They were putting their daughters into human trafficking to provide for the rest of the family,” Welch said.
Now, the nonprofit funds three maternity homes in Kenya and has helped more than 50 teen moms who were rescued from human trafficking. But Welch didn’t want to stop there, desiring to give the women a way out of a broken system before they fell into human trafficking.
“We stepped more into the prevention side, and dignified jobs became our focus. The maternity homes are our flagship ministry, and we’ll continue to do that. But selling fair trade products is a way to fund dignified jobs and the maternity homes,” Welch said. “Everything you buy here was made by a survivor of human trafficking or a woman at risk for being trafficked.”
That’s how they came to partner with between 75 and 100 artisan groups worldwide to purchase goods made by women trying to escape that world. Welch also created a subscription club called Fair Trade Friday — a selection of four different boxes with themed items that club members can choose from.
“The subscription club catapulted us to a whole new playing field. We started hiring women who are illiterate, uneducated and have medical problems and turning them into skilled artisans while finding room in the market for them,” Welch said.
Nearly 4,000 Mercy House Global subscription boxes are shipped across North America monthly from this barn in Magnolia; they’re filled with items made by those artisans and stuffed by volunteers in the back of the nonprofit’s store.
Welch’s team is starting to work with refugees in Houston as well in addition to educating local community members about the importance of shopping for fair trade items. Welch’s husband is the nonprofit’s CEO, and they’re also able to support about 20 staff members to ensure operations run smoothly in all aspects.
All of this, Welch said, was risky to start. But for her, it was necessary to take the leap. She said that every aspect of her life has been touched by this story — including the books that she has written, her family’s lives and the way she shops.
“I don’t think you have to go across the globe to find a place to serve. I think I had to so that my life could radically change, because I’m stubborn and selfish and needed to get out of my comfort zone,” Welch said. “And it has changed everything.”