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Aug29TueLed by Cadet Andrew Benson, The Joyful Project combats human trafficking with ethical fashion. August 29, 2017
For two winters, Cadet Andrew Benson lived and served among the poor at a Salvation Army drop-in centre at Crossroads Community Church in Edmonton. While a candidate, he founded The Joyful Project, an initiative that provides ethically sourced products and organizes events to alleviate problems associated with poverty and human trafficking. The Whole World Mobilising content producer Melissa Wallace recently interviewed Cadet Benson about “well moments” and why we should change our perspective about people in need.
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Why did you start The Joyful Project?
I became tired of pointing out the problems around me and not doing anything about it. As I saw poverty and human trafficking issues around the world, I knew I could do more than share a post on Facebook (which is still a good thing to do!). I also wondered what would happen if we put a modern spin on some older ministries of The Salvation Army, such as the match factory and the pub ministries. I had a vision for The Joyful Project, a solid community that was encouraging and supportive, and I knew it was time to take a step of faith and go for it. Jesus talks about the poor and the outsiders a lot and I wanted to follow his example of love, compassion and justice.
How did you come up with the idea? What was your inspiration?
Jesus. I strongly felt his call while I was working at the Army’s drop-in centre in Edmonton. As I walked the streets and listened to people tell their story, I quickly began to love them and was able to see them the way God does—as a beautiful masterpiece. I grew close to the people in this neighbourhood and I learned that people need more than food and clothing; they need genuine, meaningful relationships.
Ministry to the poor is often one-sided. If we want to restore dignity in people’s lives, we need to realize that the poor have something significant to offer the world. One individual, Sterling, stood out to me. He was an artist living on the streets and would visit our drop-in to work on his paintings. His art was incredible and was enjoyed by many. I have a couple of his paintings on my wall at home. Giving people a helping hand in a time of need is important and we need to continue doing that. However, if we think there is nothing they can bring to the table as well, then we are fools. We need to share hope with one another and build each other up.
As I shared my vision for The Joyful Project with others, it began to become reality as people came on board and helped out along the way. It is amazing what can happen when people come together in unity. This is not a solo mission; there is always room for one more.
What do you hope to achieve with The Joyful Project?
I want to provide an inclusive avenue where people can creatively share the love of God. In practice what that looks like is sharing joy and empowerment through ethically sourced products and organizing high-quality concerts in local music venues. One of our purposes is lived out in our partnership with Freeset Global in India. They provide meaningful employment to women who have escaped the sex trade. The workers are paid a fair wage, have safe working conditions and enjoy many rights that we often take for granted, including health benefits. Freeset ethically sources all their materials, even the cotton used to make the clothes. We love that and are happy to partner with them.
As a social enterprise, we hope to provide financial support to local ministries. Call it “tent making” if you will. And we hope to bring awareness to issues of human trafficking as it relates to the fashion industry. A quick Internet search into the cotton and fashion industry will quickly reveal an ugly reality. There are terrible injustices happening around the world and we need to shine more light on them. It’s not enough for us as consumers to say, “That’s a quality product.” What about the quality of the life of the person who made that product? People are being exploited. We need to do something.
Why are social justice issues such as poverty and human trafficking important to you?
They are important to me because they are important to God. I always try to remember that when we talk about poverty and human trafficking we are talking about real people, with names, stories and a hope for their life. There is something special about it all that makes me come alive. It is a deep-rooted passion for me. Jesus had me at “Follow me”—what else can I say? Personally, it doesn’t seem right to stand by holding a glass of water while someone goes thirsty.
How is The Joyful Project doing so far?
It has been incredible. We celebrated our first anniversary in May and had two great concerts at two different music venues in Winnipeg. Those were incredible opportunities for us to build relationships with people in the city and form solid partnerships with other organizations, bands and bar staff. We also set up shop at two local night markets and met a lot of people there. The conversations were fantastic and some of the people we met are now involved with The Joyful Project. Our team is growing and I am inspired by their passion and energy. Sales have been steady, which is good news because it means we can continue to support the employment of women in India. We have a couple new designs coming out this fall and are hopeful those will be a hit. We have also been in contact with other companies around the world who share a similar vision for justice and freedom, and have partnered with The Salvation Army and 1 Just City here in Canada as well. One of our team gave a presentation at FUSE in Newfoundland and Labrador this spring.
How are you mobilizing through The Joyful Project?
I love the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. What strikes me is that their encounter would not have happened if Jesus wasn’t at the well that day. We consider the concerts in the bars our “well moments.” My belief is that if there is a place of cultural influence in your town, a popular place where people gather, we as Christians should be there, too. We often meet with people at universities, coffee shops and bars, or on the streets. We regularly engage people in the community on issues of social justice and invite people to get involved in what we are doing. One of the things we love to do when we’re at markets is set up a random acts of kindness initiative. We have a huge sign and small cards with a random act of kindness written on them that we encourage people to try. It’s fun watching people get excited about it and participate.
What would you say to people who feel as passionately about these issues as you do?
The world needs you to be you. Let the Holy Spirit guide you and go for it! But don’t go alone—bring others along on the journey with you. Learn as much as you can on the topic you are passionate about and get involved where you can. Don’t be afraid to start small and don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. Have some fun with it. And keep your feet on the street. It is too easy for this to become about you or to lose sight of the people you want to help. That “homeless person” has a name and a story worth listening to. Engage people as human beings who are equal with you and have something to offer just as much as you have something to give. Let today be the day you get out and do something. Even if it is the simplest and smallest thing it still has meaning, and who knows where it could go from there?
How can Salvationists and other friends of The Salvation Army support you?
Please pray for us and for the women who make the clothing for us. Encouragement is always welcome. Let’s spur one another on to love and good deeds. Other practical ways our friends can help is by liking and sharing The Joyful Project on Instagram and Facebook. We are still very new and awareness is huge for us at the moment. Spread the word!
Cadet Andrew Benson is the founder of The Joyful Project and will begin his second year at the College for Officer Training in Winnipeg in September. For more information, visit thejoyfulproject.com.