It seems Judy Ann Kennedy has been running a parallel course to Sew Powerful but it wasn't until the Spring of 2021 that our paths crossed. Judy is an accomplished bag maker, notecard maker and most importantly has a heart for mission work. Her missionary work in Russia and the Philippines involved educating children living in poverty, affected by natural disasters and those who never had the opportunity to hear God's Word. Amazing changes happened, but many were totally unexpected.
Meet Judy Kennedy
IN THIS EPISODE
missionary in Russia, God in schools in Russia, Christian ethics and morals, missionary in the Philippines, orphanages, adoption, notecard making, postcard collecting, sewing for charity, San Francisco, Virginia
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
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The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Judy Kennedy
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Today we are blessed to be talking with Judy Kennedy. Judy is a relatively new Sew Powerful purse maker. But what she may lack in seniority with us, she has more than made up for it by participation. Let's get right to it and you'll see what I mean. Welcome, Judy Kennedy.
Judy Kennedy, Guest 00:43
Thank you, Jan. I'm excited.
We're so glad you're here. How are you today?
I'm great. I'm great. Enjoying the beautiful weather we have here and I'm ready.
Well, before I hit the record button, you shared with me what you've been praying about today. Share that with our listeners.
Well, I'm not great at public speaking, and to me this is kind of public. And I really have been praying this morning, and I had my husband pray for me as well, that this will be a time of glorifying God and not focusing on me. And that's what I'm really hoping will happen with this.
I'm sure that will be the case. So, let's get to know Judy a little bit better. Where are you from originally, Judy?
I was born in San Francisco, California. And right now, we're living in Virginia.
And so, we're going to get to the place between San Francisco and Virginia because a lot's happened. How long have you been in Virginia?
It was split up into two sections. We came here in 1990, were here for 10 years, were gone for a period of time that we'll talk about later, and then returned again in 2012 and have been here since then.
Okay. All right. So not a native Virginian but pretty close. It must feel like home after all this time. And so did you grow up in California?
Yes. In San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in a suburban area just outside of San Francisco and went to school there as a child and up through college.
Okay, and where did you go to college?
Okay. And you're married, when did you meet your husband?
Let's say that would have been in 1974. Yeah. And we married in 1982.
All right. You wanted to be sure. And where did you two meet?
We both were working at a bank and we met there. We were friends for a long time, and then eventually became loving marriage partners.
Oh, how wonderful. Well, and I met my husband where I was working on a part time job. So that's a very cool coincidence. And so, tell us a little bit about your sewing background. When did you learn to sew? How did you learn to sew?
Well, I started when I was about 10 years old. And I can remember it very clearly. My Mom decided that she wanted to help me learn to sew. And so, she got together about three of my girlfriends in the neighborhood and she started a sewing club for us. And believe it or not, to this day, I still have the apron that we made. I gathered the waistband and did an embroidery of my initial on the pocket. And she was very encouraging to me about that. And that's probably why I continued loving to sew. I really did. And she really instilled in me to do the absolute best that you can. And so that's what I always try to do.
Well, my mom always sewed and she taught me but when my Mom passed away and I went through her things, I found the apron that I made in Brownies. It was a white apron, it had green and white check ruffle and a green and white check waistband, and I never saw her wear it. I don't know that it was worthy of being worn. But, you know, it meant something to her. And then it really meant something to me that she had kept that.
Absolutely. That's wonderful.
Yeah, yeah. And so, what kind of things beyond the apron, what kind of things were you making originally?
Well, I do remember I made several dresses and blouses. She even taught me back then when we would have suits how to do the tailoring aspects of doing the collars and I really learned a lot from her. I didn't carry through with it for a while, but I still always remembered how I loved that. And actually, another memory that just came back to me is, I've always loved fabrics and colors with fabrics and textures of fabrics. And I remember (this was probably when I couldn't have been any more than about five years old) my mom gave me this little tiny piece of cloth. That was probably early rayon, maybe, I'm guessing, when it was first coming out. And I remember feeling it and the colors of it were so dramatic to me. I can still even remember that sensation, how much I loved playing with that little, tiny piece of fabric. It's just one of those memories.
Well, and you know, honestly, that's not surprising, having seen the photos of the purses you've made so far. I think it was your purse number four was the one that I really loved. And it had a floral design on the front and a trim, and just the most interesting, vibrant colors on the inside that were different patterns, but they all went together because you tied the color theme together. It was just such a beautiful purse.
Well, thank you, I appreciate that.
And you know, I think about a girl in Zambia who's going to pick that purse. They, you know, they spread them out on the table and the girl goes up and picks the purse she wants. And I can just imagine a lot of girls eyeing that purse and then they call them up one by one. And so, the girl who gets that is going to feel really blessed to have a Judy Kennedy original. Okay, let's get to the the really juicy part of the story here. You shared with me that you were busy in your life, but it wasn't until your early 40s that something really dramatic happened. Tell us about that.
Yes, I was just living my life as I would. And we moved California to Virginia. And it was a job change from my husband. And we didn't really know people. It was brand new for him and brand new for us, and we knew no one. But my husband remembered from his childhood that there's some awfully nice people in church. Maybe we should go to church and maybe we could meet some nice people there. So, there was a church that was just probably half a mile down the road. And we said, Okay, that looks like a nice one. And it was sort of like a Little House on the Prairie church. And we thought, Oh, boy, let's just let's try this one. Well, we walked in the door. And I can still remember thinking, Oh my, something's happening. And God really got a hold of me there. And within two years, we actually were missionaries in Russia. That was the first experience, and it was going to be just a year. And we we committed to a year, we came back to Virginia and realized that we had totally changed. God just really changed us. As a missionary, you naively go to a place thinking you're going to change others, but God is the one who changes you. And that's exactly what happened. So, we spent the next three years raising our support. And Jan, to be honest, I remember every time we'd have to go to a church or do a presentation. I was just as nervous then as I was this morning getting ready for this, but God always calms you down and gives you peace. So, we ended up raising our support and going to the Philippines for 12 years.
Okay, but let's back up a little bit to Russia here. So, what part of Russia were you in?
We were in far northern Russia. It's called Arkhangelsk (Archangel). And we were there for a year. And it was part of a program of 80 Christian organizations got together at the request of the Russian education department to bring God back into the schools. And so, we went to train teachers and work with teachers in a Christian Morals and Ethics program that had been put together. And we taught teachers to teach it to their children because the government realized that when they took God out of their country, it just collapsed and they wanted Him back.
Well, now was this when the Soviet Union became Russia again, was that that time?
Yeah, it was after the Berlin Wall fell. We were there from 1996 to 1997 and the program.
Did you speak Russian or?
No, no. And that's how God works, amazingly. We did not, and they didn't expect us to. But what they did was they would get interpreters, Russian students who wanted to learn English. And the incredible thing is, they were atheists just like everyone else. But by the end of this program, the majority of them had all become Christians, because they said the stories and heard the word so often that it became a part of them, too. It was just an amazing story.
Wow. That is wonderful. And so how many children do you think were affected by the work that you did there? Do you have any feel for that?
Well, my husband and I worked with three different groups. And here's the amazing thing. Beyond the rest of the amazement of this whole program, when we went there, like I said, I was a new Christian myself, just two years a believer. And my pleading with God was how can I, as a new Christian, really help anybody or relate or even tell anything? And it became clear to me that because I had not been a believer myself for so long, I could really relate to all these questions that people were asking, because those were my same questions. And so that's how He used me in that regard. It was really amazing. And the rest of it is, we were not supposed to teach children directly. The program and request had been to teach the teachers, but an atheist school principal came to us and said, I hear that you're in our city, and you're teaching English. And we said, Yes. And he said, well, I have a private language school. I'd like you to come and teach our students English. And we said, well, we will, but we will teach them Christian morals and ethics and use the Jesus film as part of our curriculum. And he said, I don't care what you teach them, just teach them English.
He didn't know what he was in for. Oh, my gosh, that's amazing. Okay, so you were in Russia for one year. Okay. And then you came back to the United States.
Virginia. Okay. And then you were raising funds for your next mission. Is that correct?
Right. When we came back, we realized that we had changed, and God had really worked in our hearts and knew that going back into the secular world jobs was just not gonna work for us anymore. So, we did raise support with an evangelical Christian mission agency. And so, we raised our support and were able to go to the Philippines.
Okay, hold that thought because we're going to take a quick break. And listeners, when we come back, you are going to hear an even more fascinating story as Judy relays her time in the Philippines and the parallels that she sees with Sew Powerful. So please stay tuned. Listen to our message here about the We Are Sew Powerful book, and we'll be back with you in just a minute.
Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original bestseller, 4.9 out of five stars, by the way, is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget, when you place your order, if you use smile.amazon.com and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful. And now back to our podcast.
Welcome back. We have been speaking with Judy Kennedy, a relatively new purse maker to Sew Powerful but a woman with a very interesting list of experiences and skills and talents. And she just relayed to us the time she spent in Russia as a missionary there teaching English and Christian morals and ethics there and the lives she touched and changed while she was in Russia. We're about to hear about the work she did in the Philippines. So, Judy, take it from there. You came back after a year in Russia, and you raise your support to go forward again. So, tell us what happened next.
When we came back, we spoke with our agency. And we thought that the place that we were supposed to go was going to be Ireland. And that was because I knew that I was not very good at learning new languages. And I thought, well, Ireland would be a great place to go. Well, it turns out that we raised our support, and we had raised it to go to Ireland. We were all ready to go. And then through all kinds of situations, it became clear to us that, that was not really where God wanted us to be. Keith and I, my husband, and I jokingly call it the "holy bait and switch". Because if I knew that I was going to another country where I might have to learn another language, I think I would have argued with God a lot more than I did. But He got me, and we went to the Philippines, because our agency understood that we felt that God was calling us to a different place. And they were fine with that. So, we went to the Philippines. And it was absolutely, exactly where God wanted us to be.
Okay, and so where were you in the Philippines?
We were in what's called Metro Manila. We were in the big urban area. There's quite a few cities that are all blended in together.
And what language do they speak there?
There are eight main languages in the Philippines. But in Manila area, it's mainly Tagalog. And we did learn a bit, but not enough to converse in it. But that was, again, the beauty of what God had called us to do, was to work with the Filipinos. And they were truly the ones that were going to be doing the work. And for me, I was more of an organizer helping them get started and the encourager for them to really do the work that needed to be done.
Explain a little bit of what your goal was in going into this urban area.
It was actually a new mission that our group started. And what's incredible to me of some parallels here with Sew Powerful is there was a woman her name was Edith. And she had been herself living on the streets for a while. She was in the church that we were affiliated with and she felt called to start a ministry to the street children. And she clearly knew what the life was like and knew what they needed, and not what we, as Westerners, wanted to provide, but what they needed because she had her own experience as well. And I can remember our field leader's wife invited Edith and me to her home, and we sat down at your kitchen table and Edith started to speak about this ministry that she felt that she was called to and wanted us to be a part of. And she was talking, and I was listening, and I actually lost my ability to speak. I really think that God took that away because he wanted me to listen to her and hear what she had to say. And she did and, and she kept looking at me waiting for me to say something. And finally, I got my voice back. And I said, Edith I've been waiting to find out what God has called me to do, and clearly this is what he wants me to be a part of. And so, we, together, started this ministry, and we would do so much praying and so much finding out what really he wanted us to do. This ministry has been going on now for 20 years. It started back in 2001. And the Filipinos are totally running the ministry now. And when I left the Philippines, it was in wonderful hands and it has expanded far more than anything that I could ever have done, being the Westerner there, because it really was something that they needed to do, and they needed to be the leadership. And it's so amazingly similar to what Sew Powerful is doing.
In what ways? Tell us about that.
Well, main focus is education of the children. And the way that happened was there were about 2,000 people that were living under a bridge. And that was where we would go every Saturday. And we would do Bible studies, we'd bring snacks, we would just love on the kids. And we continued, whether it was rain or shine, typhoon or not, we would be there. And I think the difference for those children was that others had gone, but not continued with it. They would go in and provide something and then they wouldn't be there anymore. And so being consistent with these children made all the difference in the world. And we ended up starting a tutoring program. And the kids would come to the church. We would have volunteers from the church, all Filipinos tutoring the children. We were able to get the church members to help support the children. And all they needed was, believe it or not, about $10 a month to continue their education. They needed their snack, they needed to buy their uniform, just very simple things. But the parents could not afford that. And so many of them would be out on the street trying to raise money to support the family. But if we could help them and get the children to stay in school without them having to do those expenses, then they were able to continue with their education.
Wow, that's amazing. And before we started recording, you shared with me that there was a particular blessing to your family while you were in the Philippines. Can you tell our listeners about that?
Yes, my husband is a great photographer. And he was asked by one of the members of the church to [go to] an orphanage to take pictures of the children because she wanted them to be able to go into foster homes, and hopefully be adopted. There wasn't much that was going on in this particular orphanage in that regard. So, we went and he took pictures. And that night as we were driving home, I said, and Keith agreed, I think it's more than pictures that we're supposed to be doing here. Making a long story short, we foster-parented and ended up adopting our daughter, Melody. She was 16 when she came into our home. Now she is 31 years old.
So she's been our daughter for 16 years. And we also have a granddaughter now too.
Oh wow. Oh, that's wonderful. And where does Melody live?
She still is in the Philippines.
In the Philippines. Uh huh.
And she and her husband and our granddaughter. She is a Filipino at heart, and we didn't necessarily adopt her to take her back to the United States. We adopted her because we loved her, and we wanted to give her an opportunity to be more than what she was in the orphanage. And we're just amazed at how she's become such a Christian woman raising her daughter in the same way. So, it's great.
When did you come back to the United States?
In 2012. And so that was the end of your mission work abroad, right?
So what have you been doing since 2012?
Well, believe it or not, I started making purses, but not for Sew Powerful. Actually, I started because I love to sew. And I actually did some sewing while we were in the Philippines. When they had a typhoon that came through, that was just devastating, I was able to take a lot of the clothing that had been donated and convert it to pillows and sheets. Many of the people lost everything in the flooding. And so I was able to do some sewing there and help them out in that way.
Well, and there's one more of your crafty skills I don't want to overlook and I found out about it because of your email address. But you know, in Sew Powerful we make purses and then we ask people to make note cards. And both of these seem to be in your wheelhouse. Judy, tell us about your notecard making.
Oh boy. Well, and that's what's just so amazing about this connection that I've made with Sew Powerful. I'm just so blessed about it. When I was a child about 12 years old, I started collecting postcards. I had inherited from several people, postcard collections that had started by others back about the turn of the 20th century. And the postcards, I just loved them. They were just beautiful, beautiful things. And I had this huge collection of postcards that I'd stored away for like 20 years and I started thinking about it and I thought, Man, what a waste. People need to enjoy these. So, I decided okay, I'll take these postcards and I'll turn them into greeting cards, note cards. So, I would mount them onto scrapbook paper and then have the note card blank inside, usually. But then I would make envelopes out of the scrap of paper that coordinated with the postcard. And then I ended up selling some of those through my brother who has a shop out in California, and they were big hits. They don't seem to be doing real well right now and I thought, wow, this is a perfect time to be able to use some of these for the girls in Zambia.
Oh, my gosh, what a connection. Well, we're going to wrap it up. But if you have a chance to meet or talk with Judy in person, I know there's a whole lot more stories there that we could explore. And I really look forward to trying to have a real face to face real meeting with you, Judy. But this has just been so fascinating and such a pleasure and you are truly a blessing to Sew Powerful. So, thank you for your time today.
Well, thank you, Jan and you, you have been a blessing to all, I know. Thank you very much.
Oh, that's very sweet. We'll see you soon. Bye bye.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at email@example.com.