Cindy Manny Stewart, left, a volunteer at 'Peace of Thread,' seamstress Tehera, a refugee from Afghanistan and Peace of Thread Memphis founder Renee Rutledge Lamb of Hernando rare among volunteers who give hope to the growing immigrant community in the Mid-South.

Courtesy Photo

The nonprofit "Peace of Thread" organization is an outreach effort to women of the refugee community in the Mid-South to enable them to earn a living and improve their quality of life and the lives of their families.

Renee Rutledge Lamb, a member of Longview Point Baptist Church in Hernando, helped to organize the outreach program, which teaches immigrant women to sew and then sells high-quality, decorative purses to provide for their sustenance.

"A friend of mine started this organization in the refugee area of Atlanta and I brought it to the Memphis area to help these women and their families," Lamb said. "It gives them a door to step out of poverty and their sad struggle to earn money and provide for their families. Many of these women don't have the English to go out and get a job. Most of these African women didn't have the privilege of going to school. This helps their self esteem as well. They are working alongside their husbands to earn a living. These are smart, hardworking people. They are striving. They are thriving. They are looking for ways to improve their standard of living. We see God bringing these people here so that we can help them. God has laid this on my heart. Everyone needs help from time to time, whether you are a refugee, a veteran, or homeless."

Lamb said she is disheartened when she looks around and sees the bigotry and hatred which plagues society, especially against immigrant people yearning to enjoy the blessings of life and liberty.

"We live in a very selfish world," Lamb said. "People say, 'Well this is my country. Give me my stuff. It's all about me. God can take all of it away in a breath."

Lamb said for most of her adult life, God has been calling her to help and assist the refugee community.

When a planned trip to help war-torn Iraqi refugees fell through in 2003, Lamb said that she was "crushed."

"But in 2004-05, I went to Beirut, Lebanon to help the Lebanese people," Lamb said, adding that she was able to help refugees in other Middle Eastern countries in 2008 and 2009.

"My heart has always been for the international community," Lamb said. "I've always thought that I should go and live in the Middle East."

Forming "Peace of Thread," a play on words, is a natural outgrowth of her Christian faith, according to Lamb.

"What we are doing is reaching out to these women in the refugee community," Lamb said. "We empower these women by teaching them the art of sewing. Once they are fully trained, we teach them how to run a business. We've been there four and a half years, now."

The operation is run out of a room provided by First Baptist Church of Memphis.

"They come by and pick up a purse kit," Lamb said. "They get 50 percent of every purse we sell. The ladies get paid after we sell their bags. What we are hoping to do is secure a grant so that we can pay them up front."

Lamb said the "Peace of Thread" effort is literally about turning the proverbial sow's ear into a silk purse.

"All of our purses are one-of-a-kind," Lamb said. "They are uniquely made with high-end fabric. They take purse kits home that are given to them by Peace of Thread. When they finish the project, we turn around and sell them all around the Mid-South. Our purse fabric comes from local manufacturers and showrooms. Many of these are swatches of fabric that become discontinued. We take something that was probably going to end up in the trash and make a beautiful purse out of it."

Lamb said one of the women who has benefited from the program is a woman named Tehera, a native of Afghanistan.

"She is a real go-getter," Lamb said. "She had never sewn purses before. She was producing sellable purses in two days of being in the program. It's amazing. God is amazing."

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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