MONROE, N.C. (ABP) — A single idea to make evangelistic dolls for children in other lands seeded an ecumenical project in North Carolina that has united women of many different churches to touch hearts worldwide.
“We asked for an apple and God gave us an orchard,” said JoAnne Mucci, 70, who by sheer force of enthusiasm and simple faith “organizes” an effort that she says is in the hands of God alone.
In their living rooms, sewing rooms, kitchens and dens ladies from churches in about a 30-mile radius of Charlotte cut donated cloth into a simple “stick person” doll shape. They sew the halves together, stuff them with filling, hand sew the stuffing hole closed, attach “hair” and ready them for two faces to be painted – one on either side.
One face is sad, the other face happy. A laminated card with a message written in a language common to the doll’s destination is attached to the doll with a string of colored beads. The message walks the reader through the sad, dark tunnel of sin in a person’s life, explains how Jesus died to forgive their sins and offers the good news of new life in Christ.
The smiling face on the other side of the doll reflects that new life.
Mucci paints all the faces, nearly 8,000 by now, and intends to do so as long as she can see. Macular degeneration is slowly taking her sight, but “as long as God gives me my sight, I’ll use it for His glory,” she said.
Once a month volunteers congregate in a building in Monroe, N.C. to cut, stuff, sew, paste and paint dolls together. No two monthly events gather the same crowd, but there are no strangers in the room, as Mucci and Doris Davis mingle among them, popping out insight and encouragement like Pez dispensers.
Materials are mostly donated. Mucci never declines a request for more dolls by groups going overseas and she never worries about where the materials will come from to make the dolls. “It’s God’s project. He’ll send it,” she says, shrugging.
Originally Mucci and Davis thought it would be good if they could sew 100 dolls and contribute them to some team going overseas. They got the idea from the November 2007 issue of Missions Mosaic, the national Woman’s Missionary Union publication.
They would accept no money for the dolls and only asked for a picture of local children enjoying them. Frankly, they had trouble finding anyone willing to cart the dolls along with them in already crowded overseas baggage.
Michael “Welch” McCullough was an early believer and hauled some to Uganda. He distributed them as gifts and gave some to local ministries to be utilized in their outreach.
The dolls opened doors as he walked and visited with locals on the street or on porches. McCullough traveled with Visiting Orphans, a group whose mission is to awaken the church to the world’s orphan crisis. McCullough is a member of First Baptist Church, Lincolnton, N.C.
Marvin Tarleton of Monroe took 1,000 dolls to Kenya and said it’s the best outreach tool he’s ever had. North Carolina’s largest Baptist church, which took 50 dolls as a favor on a recent trip, now wants 500 when they go again.
One man took 35 to Peru and was using a doll to explain the plan of salvation to a group of children. When one of the children started crying the man thought he was doing something wrong or the interpreter was not explaining him correctly.
Then a girl in tears came forward and embraced his feet, and told him she “wanted to know Jesus.” Thirty-four other children followed her and now he will take all the dolls he can carry with him in the future.
In places where children stand in line to receive something as simple as a piece of paper, a doll is an unimaginable treasure, clutched to the bosom as if they were underwater and the doll was an air tank.
On one Saturday in Monroe, utilizing office space owned by Doris Davis’ son-in-law, about 30 workers finish and pack 263 dolls bound for Swaziland, 104 for Slovakia and 50 for Mozambique.
When Davis turned 78 she prayed God would enable her to share her faith with 1,000 people before she died. The opportunities came slowly until she realized when her group had sewn 1,000 dolls and she said, “Lord, you have over met the goal.”
Each doll is sewn, sealed and sent with love, Mucci said. “I want to cover the whole world.”
Volunteer Susie Wiggins, who works long, odd hours as a driver, said making dolls is something she can do at home. “If you can’t go, you can send,” she said.
Mucci considers herself “just a weed in a rose garden – but you can’t get rid of weeds.” She floats like dandelion seeds on the breeze among the volunteers, encouraging, helping, packing and carting, her enthusiasm infectious.
“Every time we get together, I see God smiling,” Mucci said. “Sometimes I hear Him laughing.”
For more information see www.dollsonmission.net
Norman Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.