Christine Bisch is a justice warrior who channels her passion for protecting the poor into creating beautiful knitted accessories. After an eye-opening trip to the developing world, Christine started Freedom Knits to support the work of IJM Canada. She hasn’t looked back since then and was kind enough to share her story with us.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Christine. I'm happily married and have 3 really great kids. My husband owns a bridge building company so my day job is keeping the books and helping him with whatever needs to be done. We're avid nature lovers and enjoy spending our summers near Tobermory.
Can you tell us about your personal justice journey? What led to your passion about issues of injustice?
I first heard of IJM in about 2009 or 2010. The church we were attending at the time showed a talk given by Gary Haugen. What he shared about his experience in Rwanda and the beginnings of IJM had a tremendous impact on me. I became a freedom partner and began learning about the issue of human trafficking and IJM's response. In 2011, I traveled to Ecuador. It wasn't my first trip to the developing world but it was the first time I travelled with an understanding of how violence affects the everyday lives of the poor.
"I determined during that trip to not allow myself to forget what I had seen and felt, like I had after previous trips to developing countries.”
I knew I had to find some way to keep my heart and mind stayed on justice issues.
Around that time, I enjoyed browsing the beautiful handcrafted things on Etsy. My Grandmother taught me to knit when I was a child and I would look at the knitted things and think, ‘I could make that’.
But it seemed selfish to spend my time creating things for myself and I had a terrible habit of starting projects and not finishing them. One evening as I was knitting and considering what I could do to meaningfully engage in IJM's work, I felt God telling me, "Use what is in your hands".
When I realized what He was saying, the idea of freedom knits began to take shape. I realized I could do something I love, knitting and making beautiful things, for a greater purpose than for my own use. I opened my Etsy shop in 2013. I make hand knit and machine knit items with fair trade yarn from Uruguay. All proceeds from the items I sell are donated to IJM.
Is there a particular IJM casework type or a story that resonates with you?
Of course, the issue of sex trafficking and cybersex trafficking is heart wrenching and horrifying, but what resonates personally is the work IJM does to protect widows and orphans through their property grabbing projects. My parents divorced when I was very young and because my father had a mental illness, there were times that the police were called to our home.
"I cannot imagine what it would be like to have someone standing in your doorway, threatening violence against you and your children and not have someone to turn to for help.”
And yet, that is the situation for many women and their children in developing countries.
What makes Freedom Knits special? And how do you use it to fight injustice?
If I may be honest, I don't feel that what I am doing is special or unique. There are many people doing something similar. What is special is that we are all called to participate in a bigger story. God is at work in a million small ways, rescuing and redeeming his children and we have the opportunity to join hands and engage with what He is doing.
Having the platform on Etsy has allowed me access to a worldwide market and has created opportunities to raise awareness of IJM's work in ways I wouldn't have thought possible otherwise. I've received orders from around the world, from Australia to Singapore to Jerusalem to Spain. I will say that I am proud to be using the fair trade Manos del Uruguay yarn in my knits.
The Manos cooperatives began in 1968 by five women, with the goal of providing economic opportunities and benefits for women in Uruguay. Today, there are 17 cooperatives employing over 350 artisans. It makes my heart happy to know that not only is freedom knits supporting IJM, but also impacting the lives of women and families in Uruguay.
Of the items you create, which is your favourite?
That's constantly changing! It's usually the latest creation or something made with newest colour I have to work with.
I began working on that pattern in June of last year, roughly around the time that IJM's Willie Kimani and his client and cab driver went missing. They and their families were on my mind a lot and much of the time spent knitting that scarf was also spent praying for them. When I listed the shawl on Etsy, I wanted to honour Willie in some manner, so I named it after his wife, Hannah.
What’s the #1 tip or piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to use their talents to create change?
I'd say just go for it. I am sure I am not alone in having doubts and fears as an artist, wondering if what I'm doing is worthwhile.
"What I have learned is that when we are true to ourselves, offering up our passions and gifts for the benefit of others, that's the place where the most good can be done. It can be frightening and thrilling at the same time.”
I've experienced long periods of not selling anything and it's easy to become discouraged. Thankfully in those times, God has a way of reminding me that what I am doing is for a much bigger purpose than the selling of things. Using freedom knits to raise awareness of IJM's work is like the scattering of seeds.
I may never personally see anything come from them, but I know God uses it all as He wills. If nothing else, my heart is being shaped, and my attitude changed. The struggles of the oppressed and vulnerable become my own. It’s important that each of us engage in justice issues in whatever way we are able, in a personal way.
The fight to end slavery requires a collective effort. As Mother Teresa said, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples." Even the smallest stones create ripples.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Oh, so many things! I really need to get better at time management and become more consistent in what I do with freedom knits. I seem to go through periods of being actively engaged and promoting and knitting and then days and weeks will pass and I'll realize life has gotten in the way and I haven't done anything. I need to find a better balance between hobby and business.
If someone would like to purchase one of your pieces, how would they do so?
[You can also find Christine on Facebook at www.facebook.com/freedomknitsco/.]
Fun question: Tell us an item from your bucket list.
I don't really have a bucket list other than wanting to learn to play the violin , and maybe overcome my fear of heights by taking up rock climbing. What I really, really hope to do sooner rather than later is visit the Manos del Uruguay cooperatives that create the yarn I use.
I want to meet and chat with the women, watch them work, and just love on them in some way. It may sound strange, but I feel connected to them when I knit with their yarn. I would love the opportunity to meet them in person and show my admiration for what they've created.