Most people today know me as the Founder of Imani Collective, which I still find mind-boggling. The dream of Imani Collective started small; so small. I remember as if it was yesterday, but let me take a couple of steps back.
I was raised knowing Christ and I am extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to be born in a family that shared the truth, took me to church, showered me with scripture and told me every day that Jesus loves me. As I have gotten older and have lived in many different contexts, I have realized more and more how lucky I was to have all of that at my fingertips.
My relationship with Jesus really formed in my later years of high school and even with all the scripture and truth in front of me, I committed my life to Christ when I was 17 at a Polar Bear weekend with YoungLife. Lyndsie, my young life leader, was there for me in my darkest moments and I am so thankful for her. When I was sixteen my parents got divorced and my so-called perfect life turned upside down. I quickly figured out that I was really good at living a double life. I made perfect A’s in school and would quickly join the next party on the weekend. I began skipping out on church and instead of running towards God when I needed him the most, I turned the other way, but it was in these moments that I grew the most. My life verse is Psalm 18:19.
“The Lord brought me out into a spacious place and rescued me because he was delighted in me”
This verse reminds me that no matter where I have been, the Lord picks me up, holds me tight, and whispers into my ear, “Jenny, I am so proud of you.”
It is a reminder that he still and will always love me even when I run the other direction.
So, how, when, what, and where did Imani Collective form from?
I was 18 when I slipped into the back of a megachurch in San Antonio. I wanted to go in and out without being noticed. It was that Sunday that I read in the bulletin on the last page: “If you want to go to Mombasa, Kenya call this number:”
My family never traveled, so I do not know why this small little line became so big to me at that moment, but it was an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit that said: GO.
So, I went and then I went again and again. From 2009-2012 I went every summer to visit my friends. It was in these years that I developed relationships with these women and all I wanted was to give them an opportunity to learn how to sew. It started simple. I wanted to give them an opportunity to learn.
In 2013, I sold everything and moved to Mombasa, with the intention of only being there for 7 months. This move was not easy though. I remember in my head I kept saying, okay, I will only be here for 7 months, but in my heart was a different story. The first few weeks I cried out to Lord, “Why me? Why now? Why?”
I had a really great job in the United States, I had finally started coaching on a regular basis and loved it. I had a great group of friends and I was finishing up my masters. Life was almost too good to be true. Then in my heart, the Lord kept saying, ‘Go’ and as soon as my feet hit Kenyan soil, I had this immense amount of peace. I was exactly where I needed to be.
Even so, I struggled; missing the worldly pleasures that I left behind to live in a village with no power, no electricity, and so many bugs. I could go on for days about the bugs. Also, in it all, I did not have a solid plan. I did not have the finances, and I felt small and inadequate. In fact, I was living off $100/month at that time. Can you imagine?
But I stepped out and did it and Imani Collective began. It started on May 24, 2013. I learned a lot from our first class. I quickly found out that over 60% of our women had no former education; meaning they could not read the numbers on their measuring tape to even make a pattern. I immediately pushed the sewing machines aside and started teaching numbers, literacy, and Bible classes. It was in this moment (yes it took me all the way to this moment) that I realized Imani Collective was much more and I was going to be in Kenya way longer than 7 months.
Fast forward to today: Imani Collective employs over 70 artisans and staff in Mombasa, Kenya. We believe that together we can unleash a woman’s greatness through empowerment, opportunity, and community. My hope is to shine Christ’s light in all that we do and let our women’s stories be heard in every stitch that they create.
Has the road been easy? No. Have I wanted to quit? More times than I would like to admit, but what it has come down to is my why. When people question what we do and why we do it, or if I feel far from the Lord, I close my eyes and I think about moments of the journey like the first time I stepped foot back in Kenya in 2013, and the immense amount of peace that rushed through my body. Or the faces of our women when they learned how to count or made their first product. Or our first big launch in New York when I had a platform to share our story globally.
These are moments that make me smile and say “Wow God, you are big and your plans are always way better than I could have ever planned.”
This journey has been a process. It has been hard and I have had to let go of plans, expectations, and comforts. I am here today because I keep calling on Him for where to place my next step. The process is much harder when I try to do it alone and if I have learned anything, it is to always run towards Him because even in the hurt, heartache, and adversity, He always knows. That is what has kept Imani (which means faith in Swahili) alive; always faithfully following him even if it involves no power and many bug stories along the way.
I’m sharing all of this in hopes of inspiring you. If there is something stirring in your heart and you feel a nudge, listen to it, pray through it, but most importantly start. The number one fear for most people is the fear of failure, but we are failing ourselves if we do not even take the first step. Pursue your passion with intention, heart, and grit. There is going to be a lot of opposition thrown your way and your mind will put limits to your ability, but you are capable. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. Do not forget that and remember, you serve a big God. Now take that first step and keep your eyes on Him.