Transformed by God's Grace

Greene is the founder and owner of Peru Paper, a company that employs Peruvian women to hand-make greeting cards sold in the United States and other countries. As a result of Greene's vision, women in impoverished neighborhoods in Trujillo, Peru, have found new lives as respected artisans, and their work is winning hearts for Christ worldwide.

"Five years ago, I could not have imagined I would be here," Greene says. "It just shows you that Gods plan for us is so much cooler and bigger than we could ever imagine."

Home to some 800,000 people, the city of Trujillo, Peru, includes neighborhoods marked by extreme poverty. Unemployment and underemployment are high here, particularly for women.

Grace Bateman Green made here first trip to Peru as a 17-year-old high school student on a mission trip offered through First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. "I was heartbroken by the poverty I saw, but I also saw the Lord working and building His church, and the difference that was making," Greene recalls.

That short trip changed the course of Greene's life. She enrolled in Mississippi College, where she pursued a double major in social work and Spanish with dreams of someday returning to Peru as a missionary. Greene made short-term trips there during her college years, finding herself drawn to the people of Peru and becoming even more convinced she was being called to serve there. Following her 2004 graduation from MC, Greene accepted a one-year position teaching English through Peru Mission, an organization working to plant churches and build Christian communities in the Trujillo area.

Greene quickly formed friendships with the Peruvian women who attended the local church. Impressed with the women's artistic gifts, Greene bought paper, scissors, and glue for the group and suggested they make a few greeting cards. It was intended as a simple crafts project, a way for the women to spend time together and an outlet for their creativity. But when a visiting group from the United States immediately snapped up the cards and asked for more, Greene realized she and the women had stumbled upon something bigger than a hobby.

Greene believed the cards could be a way to help these women, whom she had come to love, out of the cycle of poverty and enable them to provide better lives for their families. Greene also realized that in order to make that dream a reality, she would need additional training. When her year of service in Peru ended, Greene returned to the United States and completed online economic development courses through the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, then enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University, where she earned a master's degree in international community economic development, all the while continuing to promote the cards part-time.

In 2007, Greene returned to Trujillo, and with the enthusiastic support of a small group of Peruvian church ladies, officially launched Peru Paper. What had begun as a crafts project was now a full-fledged business with Grace Bateman Greene as its CEO, manager, and lead prayer warrior.

From Crafts to Company

By 2008, Greene had formed an LLC and hired a Peruvian manager, but there was still plenty to be learned about how to run an international business. Greene's first tough lesson in importing came when U.S. Customs officers in Miami confiscated her suitcase full of Peru Paper cards.

"I had declared all of the cards, but I wasn't aware of all of the procedures and channels you have to go through to import merchandise for sale in the United States," Greene recalls with a wry smile. "Fortunately, I did get all of those cards back."

Peru Paper hires women who might otherwise be unable to earn a livable wage. The company began operations with four employees. Today, Peru Paper employs 16 Peruvian women who have discovered new talents ranging from paper-making to card design to business management. The women handle every phase of production, from making the paper to creating the designs to packaging the finished cards. The final products are shipped to Greene in Jackson, Mississippi. Greene then sells the cards to retail shops and directly to consumers through the company's website.

The business is run from the women's homes, allowing them to care for their children and work around their families' schedules. Work is assigned and coordinated through Danny Hernandez, Greene's manager in Trujillo. Hernandez's husband is a local pastor; many of the women are recruited through the church.

"Our idea is to give the women jobs and help them financially, but also to get them involved in the church and evangelize them," Greene translates as Hernandez explains.

"We have ups and downs like any business, but I can see the Lord working in their lives. The greatest reward for me is being involved in these women's spiritual lives."

From Impoverished Women to Respected Artisans

"Peruvian women are creative and industrious, thriving in even the most difficult situations," Greene says. "Peru Paper has grown to where it is today because the women who are part of the company saw its potential early on and have worked hard to make it a success.

The process begins with women like Marleny Fernandez, who greets visitors to her simple brick home with a warm kiss and a warmer smile, then ushers them through the house, across carefully swept concrete floors, past shelves overflowing with sheets of colorful paper, and into the small, sun-drenched area behind her home where she makes paper by hand. Fernandez takes visitors through each step of the complex process she uses to transform scrap paper into vibrant, richly textured sheets of red, blue, yellow, and green.

Though she speaks through a translator, Fernandez's pride in her work is obvious.

"You have to do this with care and calmly, or it will not work. When I first started to do this, it was so difficult I wanted to cry," Fernandez says with a laugh. "But now, I am good at it. My husband is a carpenter. Sometimes he has work, sometimes he has no work. The money I make from the paper fills that gap."

Another of the women, Deisy Pretell, sets specific goals for the money she earns designing cards. She has renovated the kitchen in her modest home, putting ceramic tile down where there was once a dirt floor, purchasing modern appliances, and installing kitchen cabinets. Her next goal is to save money for her sons' education. Thanks to Peru Paper, Pretell's children will have the opportunity to attend college.

"My husband and my sons are proud of my work and that I am spending this money wisely in our home and for our family," Pretell says.

"I know these women are my employees, but I don't think of them that way. I spent time with them and with their children in their homes, and long before we started this business, we were friends. They are my still friends and my sisters in Christ and they give me so much motivation. When things get hard for me, all I have to do is think about them."
-Grace Bateman Greene

Perhaps none of the women has seen her life transformed to as great a degree as Azucena Aguirre. Five years ago, the petite woman was living in poverty. Because she had no money for childcare, her small children stood with her in the busy, dangerous streets where she peddled candy for handfuls of change. Then Aguirre learned about an opportunity with Peru Paper through the church, and left the streets behind her. She now holds a supervisory position with the company, developing card designs and making patterns for the other women to follow. The money she earns from Peru Paper in one week surpasses what she could earn in months of selling on the street.

"The biggest difference is it's calmer. Before I had to take my children into the streets with me, and this is safe," Aguirre says through a translator. "I give thanks to God for bringing Grace into my path and for bringing me this work. It seems now that whenever there is a need in the home and I wonder how we will meet it, Danny brings more work. God makes it happen. I can see how God is in control."

Born with developmental disabilities that made it difficult for her to find work, Azucena's sister, Louisa Aguirre, also fills an important role with Peru Paper. It is Louisa Aguirre's job to slip every handcrafted card and its matching envelope into a plastic sleeve. As the last of the women to touch the product before it is shipped to the United States, she takes great pride in her work.

"I hope the customers see that the art on the card is pretty," Louisa Aguirre says. "And I hope they think that the presentation is nice, too."

The women are paid varying amounts depending upon the jobs they perform. The women who make the paper are paid by the sheet, the women who design the cards are compensated based on the number of cards made and the complexity of the design, and the women who fold and package the cards are paid by the number of cards handled.

The average pay comes to approximately $5.40 - $6.50 in U.S. dollars per hour — as much as five times the amount the women could make cleaning homes or performing other jobs in Trujillo that do not require a high school or college education. Those other jobs would also require expenditures for transportation and childcare, while the women of Peru Paper are able to work out of their homes.

In addition to gaining greater financial security, the women have been uplifted by the dignity that comes from having their creativity acknowledged and seeing that their work has value. Fernandez was invited to her children's school to deliver a presentation on how to make paper.

"When my children's friends come over, they say, 'Wow, your mom knows a lot. She should teach us to do that,'" Fernandez says.

Monica Alegre began working with Peru Paper in February of 2008. A gifted artist, she is responsible for the majority of Peru Paper's latest card designs. One of Alegre's three sons has told her he believes this to be her calling in life, for he never knew that she was so gifted until she began designing cards.

"As a child, I liked to draw," Alegre explains through a translator. "But this is my first time to do this to earn money. This work also helps me to relax. If I have problems going on in my head, I can work on the cards and concentrate. Then I feel calm and satisfied."

The women sort through discarded scrap paper and salvage recyclable pieces. The women have become experts in locating "raw material." Many Peru Paper greeting cards began life as church bulletins.

The paper is torn by hand into tiny pieces, then soaked in water for several days to create a pulp. The pulp is processed in a blender to ensure it is completely liquefied.

The women add dye made from food coloring, flower petals, and even coffee beans to give the pulp unique textures, colors, and scents.

The pulp is drained through a screen and spread on fabric to dry. Some pieces are dried in the sun, others in the shade, which leads to variations in the final color of the paper.

Once dry, the paper is peeled from the fabric and is ready for use. It takes approximately two hours, not including soaking or drying time, to make five pounds — 36 sheets — of paper.

The women cut the paper into various shapes and sizes, then meticulously glue individual pieces together to create a one-of-a-kind greeting card. While the women use patterns to ensure some uniformity in the finished pieces, each card is unique.

The women fold the cards and package them, along with matching envelopes, in a plastic sleeve.

The cards are shipped to Grace Bateman Greene, who sells the cards online and to retailers throughout the United States.

The Gospel in a Greeting Card

Grace Bateman Greene works fulltime operating and developing the business, attending industry trade shows and wholesale markets, building relationships with retailers in the United States and other countries, and working with the women to develop new products. Ideas in the developmental stages include monogrammed stationery, bookmarks, scrapbook items, and gift bags and tags.

Peru Paper also accepts custom orders. The company has produced one-of-a-kind cards for companies and organizations including the Chalmers Center for Economic Development and Coca-Cola. Peru Paper cards were even included in swag bags presented to celebrities at the Academy Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Emmy Awards. But perhaps the most important order came in the fall of 2010, when Grace Bateman and her fiancé, Mason Greene, commissioned Peru Paper to create a special paper for their wedding invitations.

"So many invitations," Marleny Fernandez says with a mischievous smile and a dramatic roll of her eyes, "I was ready to quit!"

What Good is it, my brothers and sisters,

if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. — James 2:14-17

As the business grows, Greene is committed to ensuring that Peru Paper remains true to its original mission — operating as a company that is economically and environmentally stable, provides rewarding, meaningful work for Peruvian women, and most importantly, serves as a ministry. As they have moved from unemployed women to working artists, the women of Peru Paper have become role models for other women in their communities.

"The women's attitudes are changing. Their confidence is growing," Greene says. "They want to make a difference in their community, to give back and to serve other women."

When a woman inquires about work with the company, the women of Peru Paper see the inquiry as an opportunity to share with that woman, to invite her to church, to reach out to her in the same way that Grace Bateman Greene once reached out to them.

"I've found what God has called me to do. It's to bless other people through my artwork," Alegre says. "We are so thankful to Grace and so glad she brought this work to us. Because of Grace and the cards, more women are involved in the church."

"The money is not everything," Pretell adds. "The thing I like best about working for Peru Paper is when Danny talks to us about the Bible. There is a spiritual part about Peru Paper."

Retailers who carry Peru Paper cards are drawn to the idea of offering a product that's not only unique, but was inspired by a ministry.

"My customers love the story behind the cards," says Betsy Liles, owner of B. Liles Fine Art Jewelry and Studio in Ridgeland, Mississippi. "When they buy one of Grace's products, they know they're contributing to something that makes a difference. And as an artisan myself, I appreciate the work that goes into these handmade cards as well as the difference I can make for the Peruvian women by carrying them in my shop. Whenever I touch the cards, I get a good feeling."

For Grace Bateman Greene, the young woman who arrived in Peru on a mission and has now found a new mission of her own, the excitement, frustrations, and rewards of running a business in a land far from home all come down to a calling.

"The ministry aspect of this business is what drives me," Greene says. "Poverty is dehumanizing and degrading. We could tell these women they were children of God and that they had value, but everything else in their lives was telling them something else. Their gifts and potential were always there, but poverty had taken away their hope. This work has given them confidence. Now they can believe these things about themselves.

"I think of James 2:14-17, which asks if we see a brother or sister in need and say, 'Go and be fed,' but we don't help them, where is our love for them?" Greene continues.

"When I look at Azucena or Monica or Deisy and I see these very tangible changes that I've helped make in their families' lives, I realize I don't have a choice. There is not an option to not do this."

That Greene has made sacrifices, has dedicated her own career, and has poured her heart into the business that supports them is not lost on the women of Peru Paper. For these 16 women and their families, Grace Bateman Greene is much more than their boss.

"Grace is a beautiful person," Deisy Pretell says, her brown eyes filling with tears of joy. "She is a sister and a friend. She always thinks of me. I will carry Grace in my heart until God takes me."

For more information about Peru Paper or to purchase cards online
visit the company's website at www.perupaper.com

Comments:

Posted by Grace Greene on
Thank you for this amazing article! Love every detail of it!
Posted by Nancy Bateman on
What a wonderful story! They accurately showed the real Grace as well as the ministry. I'm so proud of you and your work!
Posted by Jeremy Correia on
God always comes through and provides. May we all take from this the putting down of ourselves and taking up of God's plan and mandate for each of us who are called.
His ways and this story is Perfect!!
God bless you and your team Grace!!
Posted by Freddy Campana on
Grace,
I am Peruvian and live in Miami,FL and came across this through Tim Challies's blog. I am inspired and moved by what our Lord Jesus is accomplishing in you and through you. Thank you for thinking of my people. We shall as a family continue to pray for you and your ministry. Please feel free to include my email in any emailing list you have, if you indeed have one.

Let be known that my wife is a scrapbooker so I have come to appreciate this craft very much!

Continue impacting the Kingdom for His glory!

Coram Deo,
Freddy Campana
Posted by Merrick Jackson on
WOW! Grace, you are beautiful in every way... How inspiring! I'm in awe of you and and am blessed, thankful and grateful you are my sister-in-law! God is smiling certainly....
Posted by Emory Colvin on
Grace--this is just beautiful. How inspiring! I loved reading how the Lord has used you for His glory and the good of His precious children. I am so proud of you!
Posted by Elizabeth H Johns on
I wonder why something like this wouldn't work in the poor sections af Appalachia in the USA?
Posted by Stacey Bloodworth on
Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
Posted by Sarah (Braddock) Howard on
Wow! So encouraging and exciting to read about. Press on, Grace...
Posted by Elizabeth Milner on
What a beautiful article! How wonderful to see Grace persevere to make her dream become reality. God's plans for us are truly amazing!
Posted by Vicki Williams on
Grace, our dear Lord Jesus is truly reaching the poor and needy through your work. It's precious to see the way He is showing grace through Grace! God bless you richly.
Posted by Rebecca Kirk on
Wow! Grace, I was surprised to see my fellow collegian when getting my first electronic copy of The Beacon. I'm so glad MC did this article; it brought tears to my eyes because I know what a passionate spirit you have for this and how you didn't give up in the midst of so many others' apathy! I'm so proud of you and want to order from Peru Paper. I had no idea about all of this and will tell others!
Posted by Wynette Peacock on
Oh, Grace, God is so great, God is so good, and I am so thankful that he has chosen to use you in this wonderful ministry! Your Aunt Wynette and Uncle John are so proud of you, and we pray God's continued blessings on you and your precious ladies in Peru!
Posted by Marita Walton on
Amazing Grace indeed! Beautifully told story of this venture and partnership in love.
Posted by Alisa Brashear on
Ever since we spent our last time together, Grace, I have followed you in total amazement. I knew you to be amazingly gifted and full of "grace" as you worked with the women and children with me almost ten years ago! I knew then & know NOW, even more, that you are sooo anointed for God's work and building His Kingdom in people's lives. Much love & prayers to you, dear!
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