Christmas JOY: Embera Bead Project supported, lives impacted

Workers with the Embera Bead Project crafted 4,000 JOY ornaments that the IMB commissioned to give as gifts. Earnings from commissioned projects and jewelry sales is used to provide for the artists’ families, many of whom live in extreme poverty. IMB Photo

Twenty-five Embera people were busy at work, taking care as they handmade each ornament. For two months, Casa Embera, the meeting place for the ministry started by International Mission Board missionaries Travis and Beth Burkhalter, was bustling with these workers. At the end of the two-month period, they’d made 4,000 ornaments in the shape of stockings – all bearing the word JOY. These workers are part of the Embera Bead Project, which Southern Baptists have been supporting through their generosity and prayers.

For the 25 workers, the joy the small stocking represented meant they’d get a meal each shift they came to work. The bead project meant that instead of having to sell their handmade crafts on the side of the street, desperate for the purchase of a tourist passing by, they’d have a fair wage and stable income for those two months of production. Most importantly, the Embera artisans had the opportunity to hear the truth through Bible storying.

“We’re really planting God’s seed in their lives,” Travis said. For those in this unreached people group, Casa Embera is the only place they might hear the truth of God’s Word.

The Embera Katios de Alto Andagueda (the Embera group the Burkhalters work with in Medellin, Colombia) are unreached. Their plight is bleak. They don’t speak Spanish common to the area and they have little to no education. Most live day to day, trying to feed their families. They live in violent areas and are largely overlooked by their own government. Beth Burkhalter began the bead project because she saw the beautiful crafts these women made and was burdened to help them. Her husband, Travis, has been learning their unwritten language in order to effectively share the gospel in their heart language.

While they’ve seen lives on earth changed through this project, they’ve also seen eternal fruit from this project. Sarah became the first believer in her tribe. In April 2022, Travis was able to baptize her in her village. Now, she’s moved to another city, and though the Burkhalters are sad to see her go, they’re thankful that she’ll be able to share the gospel with the people she lives among there.

IMB missionaries Travis and Beth Burkhalter live among the unreached in Colombia. They began the Embera Bead Project to help families in desperate poverty and also to present them with the gospel. IMB Photo

When the IMB commissioned the workers for the Christmas ornaments, they were all grateful for the steady work. When all 4,000 ornaments were completed, the artisans celebrated with a party. There was food, relief at the massive task being completed, a Bible story, and a special video from IMB President Paul Chitwood, thanking them for their contribution in getting the gospel – a gospel most of them have yet to understand – to the nations.

“I want you to know that by using your talents to create such beautiful ornaments, you’re taking part in God’s plan for all nations to know Him. Thank you for your work, and thank you for your partnership,” Chitwood said.

The Burkhalters want to remind all Southern Baptists that the difference the IMB made by placing this custom order can easily be replicated. The Embera Bead Project, which is supported in part through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®, can make custom orders for any event of any size. More lives can be changed through the project – on earth and in eternity. Their store is also open for individual orders.