Jon and Carla Reinagle are far from home. The Rolla couple, along with their three small children, have been serving the poor in the coastal town of Beira, Mozambique, since 2014. They are the founders of Equip Mozambique, a Christian organization that hopes to break the cycle of poverty through discovery, partnership and empowerment.
The couple met while studying at Missouri University of Science and Technology more than a decade ago. It was their interest in the foreign missions that brought them together. Carla graduated with a degree in English and Jon with a bachelor's degree in physics in 2007. They got married and were soon on a plane to Mozambique to serve at orphanages. The two said that it was such a powerful experience that they stayed for three years. They returned home to Rolla in 2011 and worked at Missouri S&T but their hearts were in Mozambique. They did research on the country as well as programs and projects that successfully helped alleviate poverty and brought meaningful change to people suffering.
“What we've found is that after decades of civil war, Mozambicans need more than just classic charity and aid work that simply provides for the needs of today,” noted Carla. “That model so often perpetuates the poverty mentality in the recipients. Instead, what we are hoping to do is encourage and empower them to make a difference in their own lives and communities.”
Much of this is accomplished through Equip Mozambique's sewing school called “Restoring Hope.”
“We train widows and single mothers how to sew and make that a livelihood,” explained Jon.
However, he added that they are doing much more than just sewing colorful aprons, bags and purses.
“I would say that the school is 60 percent about sewing and 40 percent about learning life skills,” he said. “These would include how to handle money, run a small business and run a household.”
The Reinagles related that dozens of women of have already gone through their apprenticeship program, and the Restoring Hope school concept has begun to take shape in five other area churches.
“It so beautiful to see the ladies go through the school and begin to smile again,” noted Carla. “They are like little kids holding up their creations saying, 'Look, I made this.' These women can now dream and aren't helplessly begging relatives for food. Their kids can go to school, and they can move into their own homes. They have a sense of dignity and pride.”
As it is now, the sewn goods made by the students are mainly sold in Mozambique. However, the Reinagles would like to get to a place where they are shipping boxes of product to retailers in the United States.
“We want to connect with the global market and create a system where Mozambique is not just an importer of need but rather an exporter of goods. We're asking,'What does Mozambique have that the rest of the world wants?'
Some of that has already been answered locally here at Old Town Antiques in Doolittle. Equip Mozambique bags, purses and book covers can be purchased through a booth there. The Reinagles certainly want to grow this concept.
While Carla runs the sewing school, Jon and his Equip Mozambique team are busy with a number of IT projects. These include the creation of a smartphone app called Fountain of Life. It provides an audio Bible in more than 20 local languages or dialects. Jon noted that Mozambique is plagued with a high illiteracy rate. “The app allows them to apply what they are hearing in church and grow in their faith,” he said. “We've already had 37,000 downloads of the app.”
Jon also provides training in electronic repair, web design, video production and other technical/media skills.
“As Africa is rapidly catching up with the developed world in terms of technology, we are finding a great dearth in knowledge for how to use that technology effectively or how to fix it when it breaks,” said Jon. “Our training has provided several jobs and is another step toward equipping Mozambique to catch up economically.”
The couple has also opened a Christian library to help educate and empower local church leaders and followers.
Carla said, “Print resources are extremely scarce here and especially in the national language of Portuguese. These books provide a valuable addition to the local community. We have books to help people study the Bible, have better marriages, raise their kids, lead worship, and many other topics.”
The couple just welcomed their third child into the world a few weeks ago. They are planning a February 2018 visit home to Rolla to see family and friends. They are humbled by what they've been able to accomplish in their Mozambican home and community.
“I know it sounds cliché, said Jon, “but I'm learning more than I’m teaching. The people are so generous with what little they have and they stop everything to help you. We are very, very blessed.”