MOHI baking program: ‘Will you dare to dream with me?’
Professional baker Jill Shuck felt God challenging her with this question a year ago while visiting Missions of Hope International (MOHI) in Nairobi, Kenya, and she knew her response had to be a “yes!”
“I truly felt like God reached down and looked me in the eye and said, ‘Will you speak up to (MOHI Founder and Director) Mary Kamau and tell her about your passion for baking and your experience running a business?’ ” said Jill. “So, I took a deep breath and shared my story with Mary, and within weeks I was the point person tasked with creating a vision for the new baking skills program at MOHI!”
It all started with sponsorship
Jill and her family are members of Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland, a long-time partner with MOHI. Jill was also on staff at the church.
“My relationship with MOHI began through sponsorship in 2007,” she said. “After years of exchanging letters with our sponsored children, my interest in going to Kenya continued to grow.”
Jill’s first mission trip to Kenya was in 2016 with a small team of MCC women and focused on women’s ministries, but she was also able to spend time with the children sponsored by her family.
“My heart exploded with love for them, so when I heard two months later that one of our sponsored children, Sandra, had died in a tragic building collapse at the age of 11, I was devastated,” said Jill. “So, in 2018, I returned to Kenya on my own to visit Sandra’s mother and listen to her share her memories of Sandra, which was very meaningful. I found my passion for Kenya and MOHI continued to grow and knew I had to return.”
A hobby becomes a business
Meanwhile, Jill’s passion for baking grew also, and she felt God nudging her to do something with her hobby.
“So, a few years ago, I launched “The Country Cookie” and now bake hundreds of cookies in my home and sell them at the Farmers’ Market in Havre de Grace, Maryland, and for special orders,” said Jill. “I had to learn what running a small baking business looks like. It’s not only the baking but planning and organizing the supplies, orders, finances and more.
“As it turns out, the decision to go into business and my crazy love for organizing and planning was getting me ready for something I didn’t know was coming!”
That “something” was presented to Jill during the trip she made to MOHI in February 2019 with a team of women from MCC and her 17-year-old daughter Sarah.
“While touring one of the MOHI centers, I learned that MOHI was thinking of beginning a baking program at their Technical Training Institute (skills center) in Kariobangi, a slum area in the Mathare Valley,” said Jill.
“The center teaches marketable skills, such as sewing, jewelry making, welding, hair design and more, and helps the students along the path to financial stability,” she added. “When the community was surveyed about the additional skills they were most interested in, baking was at the top of the list.”
When Mary Kamau heard Jill’s story, she was quick to ask for her help to get the ball rolling for a baking program at the skills center.
“They knew they needed someone, but they didn’t know it would be me, and I didn’t know that either!” said Jill. “In order to make space to respond to God’s calling, I decided to step away from my position at Mountain Church and focus on the baking program and my cookie business.”
The program begins
Jill spent two months putting together a detailed proposal for MOHI to launch the baking skills program and made the commitment to visit Kenya three times a year through 2022. She returned to Kenya in September 2019 to research, plan and prepare, and started fundraising for equipment and supplies.
“Through the generosity of MCC members, we raised three times the amount needed to begin well and grow in the future,” Jill said. “I also made the decision to use 100 percent of the profits from my cookie business to help support MOHI and the development of the baking program.
“And as I started to share my connection with MOHI on social media and at my market stand, others started asking about MOHI and signed up to sponsor children,” Jill added. “And then, two fellow market vendors asked to join me on my next trip to Kenya to launch the baking program in February 2020.”
There were 16 students in the first class, with many more on the wait list.
“They were all bright, eager, ready to learn and hard-working,” said Jill. “The instructor, Jackson, is professionally trained, and knowledgeable about baking, business, marketing and customer service. He cares deeply about the students’ well-being and encourages them to share their struggles and joys and to pray for and with one another.”
While the class began in late January, the official dedication and launch took place on Feb. 14.
“It was a day filled with excitement, as many MOHI board members, staff members and the other skills classes participated in a ceremony,” said Jill. “The guests were then welcomed into the classroom, where the students were beaming with pride beside their desserts and freshly baked pizzas!”
The baking program has quickly transitioned to selling items within MOHI for special events and to staff members, and there are exciting plans for future growth, including an official MOHI bakery.
“I love the vision MOHI has for continued growth and empowerment,” said Jill. “And while I won’t be able to return in June due to COVID-19, I can continue to pray for MOHI and dream about God-sized possibilities for the future.”