Concordia missionary to carry Little Dresses to Africa

June 19, 2012

During a visit this week to Neighbor to Neighbor, Chelsey Horkman chats about her upcoming mission to Africa.

The Little Dresses for Africa will soon be headed to Africa, packed in the luggage of a Concordia woman who will serve as a missionary in Burkina Faso for the next three years.

Chelsey Horkman learned about the 100 dresses made by women at Neighbor to Neighbor through a fellow member of The Wesleyan Church in Concordia. In fact, it was that church member, Sandi Hubert, who took the idea for the project to the women’s center in downtown Concordia to begin with.

Sandi Hubert shows off a "Little Dress" made from sunflower fabric as women gathered at Neighbor to Neighbor this week to meet Chelsey Horkman.

When Hubert first learned about the Little Dresses for Africa project from a sewing program on television, she talked with Sister Jean Befort at Neighbor to Neighbor about it. Sister Jean in turn talked with Sister Ramona Medina, another of the three Sisters of St. Joseph who run the center, and before long there was something of a mini manufacturing line of sewing machines set up.

More than a dozen women embraced the project and by early May they were halfway to their goal of 100 little dresses. As word about the project got out, donations of fabrics, thread and other sewing notions flowed in.

Then Hubert asked Horkman to help deliver the completed dresses when she goes to the small West African nation of Burkina Faso next month.

Horkman, a Concordia native and graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, has being studying French in Quebec, Canada, for the past year as preparation for a three-year mission with Child Evangelism Fellowship. She leaves for Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, in mid-July.

There are three other CEF missionaries serving in Burkina Faso, she noted, but she is the first  non-native to serve there and will be the only one in the capital city.

The small nation of Burkina Faso is within the red square.

Burkina Faso is roughly the same size as the state of Colorado but has about 3½ times as many people. The high population density and limited natural resources — issues shared with its neighboring countries — make that area of West Africa one of the poorest regions in the world. About 60 of the Burkinabe people are Muslim and another 15 percent practice tribal religions, with the remainder predominantly Catholic, according to the World Factbook.

The 25-year-old missionary, the daughter of John and Marj Horkman of Concordia, has already been to the equatorial nation three times, but each visit was for just a month. This time she is committed to a three-year stay with the goal of starting “Good News Clubs” for children and then teaching others to carry on her work.

Her goal in Ouagadougou, a city of about 2 million people, is “building relationships” with children as a way of introducing them to Christ.

That goal seems to blend perfectly with the Michigan-based Little Dresses for Africa Inc., a nonprofit Christian organization that began in 2007.

Founder Rachel O’Neill of Brownstown, Mich., believes that Little Dresses for Africa deliver a small dose of hope and love to girls across the poorest regions of Africa (and now, around the world), in the form of simple sheaths sewn by volunteers using mostly donated fabric and notions and then delivered by individual travelers — whether tourists, mission workers and even a National Geographic photographer — to wherever they’re needed.

So far more than 560,000 dresses from all 50 states have been distributed in 31 African countries, as well as Honduras, Guatemala, The Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico, Haiti and poverty-stricken areas in the United States.

Horkman will add to that flow 100 more dresses — each with a matching hair band and a label that reads “Made with care, especially for you by your friends at Neighbor to Neighbor, Concordia, Kan., USA.”

But that doesn’t mean the project is completed for the women at Neighbor to Neighbor, Sister Ramona adds with a laugh. “Now we’ll just start on the next 100.”

 

More about ‘Little Dresses’

The Little Dresses for Africa — sometimes called “pillowcase dresses” because the simplest way to make them is from pillowcases — are brightly colored sheaths with ribbon ties at each shoulder.

To create them, the downtown Neighbor to Neighbor center has become something of a mini-manufacturing line: On a recent afternoon, it includes one woman to cut the fabric, another to sew the seams, another to add binding to the edges and sew on the ties, still another to add the label (“Made with care, especially for you by your friends at Neighbor to Neighbor, Concordia, Kan., USA”) and a final woman to iron and package the dress and its also-handmade matching hair band.

To learn more about Little Dresses for Africa, you can go to the organization’s website: http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/