God can use anyone with a willing heart. In 1996, Kathy Gaulton was embarking on a new job with a global merchandise company that recruited her. Luxury designer brand boutiques were her focus, and North America was her territory.
But just before she started this new job, she went on a missions trip to Tanzania with her church and Empowering Lives International. That was the deal with the company — hold the job, and she will start when she returns. As a fourth-generation Free Methodist, Kathy grew up in the church but didn’t feel she had any gifts and abilities. Her only gift – discovered in 1967 at 19 years old – seemed to be shopping and making companies money. This led to an almost 40-year career in retail merchandising and buying. She got paid to shop! She asked God to give her a global job, and then He offered her a dream job – travel the world; wear designer bags, shoes and accessories; and spend other people’s money while getting paid a six-figure income to do so. It seemed like the American dream.
As they set foot in Tanzania, Kathy quickly felt that something didn’t make sense. At the core, she is a problem solver. She thought, “How can I share God’s love with people when they are starving?” The flies on the children’s faces, the distention of their bellies, and the poverty broke her heart.
Two days before they were to leave Tanzania, ELI International Director Don Rogers asked Kathy to help five ladies start a small business. Kathy was given a short amount of time to start the business, but she had a willing heart, and the women had treadle sewing machines. Jumping to her gifting, she went shopping in the local village market with her friend, JoAnne, to find fabric. For each lady, she purchased a meter of fabric that would make exactly 15 bags.
The meeting with the women took two hours, because it was translated into two languages.
The women were told to make drawstring bags. They were to do simple sewing, and they would be paid by the piece to make the bags. The next day, four of the five ladies showed up with more than 300 bags. They had sewn in the dark and used any fabric they could find. The materials didn’t match, the fabric was frayed and tattered because they had bad scissors, and the threads didn’t match the fabric. Despite the way the items looked, Kathy saw these women wanted the same thing she did — to feed and provide for their families, and they heard, “I’ll pay you by the piece.”
Traveling down a dusty road on a bus to the airport, the journey home to the United States began. Kathy saw a lady shouting and running after the bus. It was the fifth lady, who had felt sick the day before, but now she came with a huge bag full of bags. The bus stopped, and Kathy paid her for the bags.
As she returned home to California, Kathy realized that God put a dream in her heart to serve the poor. She thought, “Handicrafts are made all over the world by people. Maybe I could help them with my gift of shopping and experience in product development. If their bellies are full, then maybe they would be more open to hearing the love and hope of Jesus Christ.”
Dreaming with her husband, Free Methodist Pastor Gary Gaulton (who later served as the Pacific Coast Japanese Conference superintendent), they made a plan to have Kathy start her global job, and when the Lord felt the timing was right, He would release her to start Heavenly Treasures. Everyone thought she was crazy: Why leave such an amazing job? She had a stable income and was living the American Dream! Even her small group questioned her. Two people – Bishop Kevin Mannoia and Kathy’s husband, Gary – encouraged her to step out in faith and allow God to work on the dream in her heart. It wasn’t easy. Kathy often struggled with feeling like a selfish Christian. She thought, “How can I be serving the rich when, in my heart, I want to serve the poor?”
Setting up boutiques and traveling to luxurious European countries would make most people super happy. She was grateful and amazed she was able to experience these things, but the vision God placed in her took over the sparkle and lure of the luxury lifestyle. Five years later, Kathy was able to quit her job and start Heavenly Treasures out of a garage. She began getting speaking engagements at churches and shared the vision God gave her with whoever would listen.
Heavenly Treasures was founded on Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Heavenly Treasures are people, God’s people, who are so deeply loved and highly cherished. They believe God told them to reinvest 100 percent of the products’ sale proceeds back into their tiny businesses so they can grow and hire more people and break the cycle of poverty.
But how would they sustain their ministry operations? They heard the Lord say He would provide; 100 percent of Heavenly Treasures’ operating costs are donor-funded, missions-driven and faith-based.
Heavenly Treasures was incorporated in 1998. This month, Heavenly Treasures celebrates 20 years of ministry. With more than 2,000 artisan families in 22 countries around the world, Heavenly Treasures works to fight poverty through handicraft projects in the poorest of the poor countries. Employing artisans — including widows, orphans, refugees, the physically disabled, and the lowest of the low — is the heart of Heavenly Treasures. This microenterprise network gives people hope where there is no hope and shows them that God can use them. Heavenly Treasures believes in the gifting and talent of people in remote villages where they have not yet been discovered or given opportunity.
Outgrowing the Garage
In 2002, Heavenly Treasures outgrew the garage, and Kathy’s daughter, Christina (Gaulton) Gruenberg offered to help her full-time in the ministry. They opened a tiny storefront in Glendora, California, thanks to a Free Methodist pastor who believed in the ministry. That led to a bigger store in another part of Glendora that became a beacon of light and hope to the community. People would come in just to hear the worship music playing because they felt at peace. Local customers have been prayed for, one lady came to Christ, and many seeds have been planted.
The drawstring bag has become the iconic piece of Heavenly Treasures. Not only is it a cute bag, but it is used in the ministry as a gift bag. Ultimately, the bag represents transformation. God can take a tattered, unmatching, imperfect piece and make it into something beautiful — just like people. Three years ago, women in Kenya who made drawstring bags “graduated” from Heavenly Treasures. They learned business skills and self-worth to be able to provide for their families. These women now own all the businesses in their community. A new group of women are making the drawstring bags now. This group in Laboret, Kenya, expanded their product line to make reusable shopping bags out of indigenous fabrics.
In 2016, the Heavenly Treasures-branded “Shop with a Mission” store moved to the world famous Route 66. With the help of local Christian builders, who often create sets and homes for television shows, they designed and built the new store interior out of reclaimed and recycled wood. The entire store is a handicraft — even the tables, cash wrap and walls! It is an amazing and beautiful place, which showcases products that help bring the love of Christ to the nations.
These handmade products have not only supported global artisans, but the product sales over the years have helped support nine Cambodian Free Methodist pastors. Missionaries and church planting in Thailand have been impacted by Heavenly Treasures as well as artisan projects in the Philippines. Hands of Hope was one of the first Asian projects being supported by Heavenly Treasures. Thousands of bags made by the leprosy-affected have been made and sold. Free Methodist handicraft projects in Ethiopia have been helped, Free Methodist pastors’ spouses in Kenya have been able to make an income, and Kathy helped Kali Long (MiaTribe) in the beginning stages with product development for Greece. Last year, Heavenly Treasures became the main economic arm for Impact Middle East – supporting refugees in Jordan. Heavenly Treasures products are going to be in missionaries Al and Diane Mellinger’s (Bulgaria) temporary retail store, Marketplace Manna – Around the World Shop, in the Jackson Crossing Mall in Jackson, Michigan.
“We love partnering with people in economic development, as it helps their income and provides access to market and distribution in ways we — or they — wouldn’t have been able to on their own,” Kathy said.
For 10 years, Heavenly Treasures has worked with a talented jewelry artisan named “Sam” in Thailand. She was a Buddhist. A friendship was built with her, and, a few years ago, she asked Christina about God. Christina was able to give Sam a Bible reading plan. It turned out that one of her shop workers was a Christian and read the Bible daily in Burmese. God is so good! Two years later, Sam put her son in a Christian preschool in Chiang Mai. That is unheard of and rare to find that kind of transformation, according to a full-time missionary friend.
In Guatemala, artisans are being discipled and transformed by our pastor friends Nely and Edwin who are the project managers. They do marriage seminars and work with artisans up to a six-hour drive away. Heavenly Treasures has gone annually to work in Guatemala and has taken two donor teams there in the past few years. One of the people sewing, Tomas, has been working with us for 10 years, and he now employs six people in his village near Lake Atitlan.
The HT Kenya ministry has grown so much. Through the World Fair Trade Organization, artisans have been trained in product development, business and finance. This relationship has also allowed four of our artisans to get orders from HomeGoods. A group of artisans are partnering together to do table banking. A Fair Trade store featuring Heavenly Treasures artisan product has opened in Nairobi as well.
These artisans have been freed from alcoholism, addiction, slavery and so much more. They have changed lives.
Heavenly Treasures has become missions at all levels. Missions can be fun, not scary. Going on a short-term missions team, you can visit and do ministry in artisan communities. Heavenly Treasures can work with your church missions strategy or personal charitable giving. You can also host a gift fair in your church. It’s a great outreach opportunity.
The tag line is “every product represents a changed life.” However, the changed lives are not only the artisans but the lives of the staff, donors, customers and people who have been touched by this ministry. God has done immeasurably more than we could have ever asked for or imagined.
The heart of Heavenly Treasures is the same heart as the Free Methodist Church: to see people find wholeness and holiness in the following ways — freedom from poverty, freedom from slavery, and freedom in the Holy Spirit. God can use anyone with a vision and a dream. All you need is a willing heart to follow God’s call in your life. He will guide, and He will provide.
Here’s how you can make an impact:
Shop – Go online to shopwithamission.com or visit our flagship store — Shop with a Mission, a Fair Trade Marketplace — at 1325 E. Route 66, Glendora, CA 91740.
Host – Invite us to your church, social club, retreat and more. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 626-963-7717.
Pray – Become a member of our prayer shield. We welcome prayer. Email email@example.com for more information.
Give – Add Heavenly Treasures to your missions strategy.
Go – Send a short-term team to an artisan community.
Caroline Sakanashi is married to the Rev. Philip Sakanashi. They have two children, Kara, 12 and Kai, 8. They serve at Orange Coast Free Methodist Church in Costa Mesa, California. Caroline is the full-time director of merchandising for Heavenly Treasures and is Kathy Gaulton’s eldest daughter