Serving God through pillowcase dresses

Published Aug 02, 2015

FAIR OAKS — First Baptist Church in Fair Oaks is on a journey of developing followers of Jesus Christ from every generation, on mission, for the good of the world.

Retired Senior Pastor JT Reed has said of the church, “We are to be in the world, not of the world, for the good of the world.” First Baptist’s journey is a story of how the Holy Spirit is using prayer, pillowcase dresses and sustainable hygiene kits to share the gospel locally and around the world.

The Lord leads women to use sewing to spread the gospel

Some five years ago, the Lord impressed upon the hearts of First Baptist’s women’s leaders the idea of spreading the gospel through the “Dress a Girl Around the World” ministry, which encourages churches and other community groups to fashion dresses out of pillowcases for young girls in oppressed areas of the world. These dresses bring hope for girls who are often dressed in rags.

The purpose of making the dresses and sending them with missionaries and mission teams is two-fold. First, it provides missionaries an entry point to interact with specific people groups by meeting the physical need of clothing for young girls.

Second, the Holy Spirit provides opportunities for the missionaries distributing the dresses to talk with people about their spiritual need for Jesus Christ.

Although the Dress a Girl ministry is consistent with the church’s mission statement, it struggled during its early years.

In the beginning, a few women did all the work of cutting, sewing and decorating the dresses. They located missionaries or mission teams, arranged shipment and/or pickup of dresses, made financial sacrifices, and spent much time away from their own families. The work was taking its toll and the vision of joining God in His mission was becoming blurred. This frustration led to the next step in the journey.

God was reminding the women that His mission is just that … His! He is the One who draws people to salvation through faith. He is the One who places within believers the desire to meet the needs of others. He is the One who provides opportunities and prepares the people (both those serving and those being served) for His glory.

In the summer of 2014, God led women at the church to pray about what He would have them do to further His Kingdom. At the time, focus for the Dress a Girl ministry was on impoverished girls in third-world countries. God, however, was about to reveal His bigger picture. Dress a Girl was joined with “Days For Girls,” as the women from First Baptist learned of the need for sustainable hygiene kits.

Sonia Burnell, a missionary with International Commission, introduced the group to the need, and Alene Sayles-Jones and Carole Hanna (co-leaders of First Baptist’s ministry) decided to add it to ongoing efforts.

God is now using the combination of Dress a Girl Around the World and Days For Girls to springboard His work.

Within the church

God is using children in grades 1-6 to make bracelets to put in the pocket of each dress. Burnell said many girls in Africa have never had clothing with pockets. She tells of the children’s smiles when they reach into their pockets for the first time. As American children learn about ways they can help and encourage other children, they are given opportunity to participate in a tangible way.

Both the younger girls (from age 8) and the older women (some 80 and older) serve together and cut, pin, iron, sew and assemble dresses and hygiene kits. Sayles-Jones said there is a task for everyone, regardless of ability or skill-level.

God is using Dress a Girl and Days For Girls to bring multiple generations together in a single ministry effort. As fellowship takes place during group events, friendships are formed and testimonies are shared.

Within the community

God continues to bring individuals and community groups to First Baptist through registration with both organizations. When people from the greater Sacramento area contact Dress a Girl and Days For Girls, they are immediately connected with First Baptist as a local source of information.

God is drawing women from Christian churches, secular community organizations and individuals who simply enjoy sewing. Many work on dresses or kits in their homes and bring their completed projects to the church for distribution through missionary contacts. Others donate fabric, trim, thread and even a few sewing machines.

Anyone is welcome to group sewing events, where the women work on projects, share about themselves, provide helpful hints on sewing, enjoy fellowship, and of course, refreshments. The high point of each group event is testimonies of lives being changed because of the delivery of dresses and hygiene kits to those in need.

Within the state

God is opening doors of opportunity to meet women outside the community. One woman, from an El Dorado Hills Latter-Day Saints ward, came to a group sewing event. She said she felt so welcomed and included that she invited the Baptists to a sewing event at her church. About a month later, three of the First Baptist group traveled to El Dorado Hills for an evening of working with more than 30 teen girls and their mothers.

The El Dorado Hills group had an opportunity to talk with Sonia Burnell, and were excited that their hygiene kits were going with her team to Kenya and Uganda. Other LDS wards in central and northern California have now contacted First Baptist about the ministry.

Within the nation

God has opened the women’s eyes to the vision of reaching others through inspiring testimonies from mission team members themselves. They have taken their experiences back to their “circle of influences,” and the Holy Spirit has used the teams’ excitement to encourage others to be part of His mission. Testimonies also have been published in Woman’s Missionary Union Missions Mosaic magazine. Because of these, churches across the country are seeking dresses and hygiene kits for their mission trips.

Around the world

God is providing opportunities to reach the world. First Baptist has sent more than 500 dresses to Brazil, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Haiti, El Salvador and Gabon. Another 300-plus dresses are ready for a Kenya/Uganda trip in August. Personal hygiene kits also are being sent out.

More importantly, the Lord is changing lives and saving souls through presentations of the gospel by mission teams: with the delivery of the first 50 dresses to Zimbabwe, volunteers reported 7,466 decisions for Christ.

Most recently, 200 dresses sent to Gabon were used by God to draw 2,014 people to Christ. These numbers represent only the known salvation decisions.

Ultimate success, however, is not based on numbers but on each individual’s obedience to the Lord in sharing the gospel. All believers have a part in God’s church and in God’s ministry.

As JT Reed has counseled, not all are called to be pastors or teachers or evangelists. All, however, are called to use the spiritual gifts and talents the Lord has given. God has created each one with a unique set of attributes that include personality, temperament, skill-sets and interests.

(For more information about Dress a Girl Around the World visit www.dressagirlaroundtheworld.com. For Days for Girls see www.daysforgirls.org.)