Interview with Suzette Munson of Love 41
Interview by Angela Roe // Images by Jillian Zamora
When Suzette Munson got her first glimpse of the African nation of Rwanda in 2010, her heart was deeply burdened by the utter desolation and suffering its people were experiencing. The 1994 Rwandan genocide had claimed the lives of up to one million people, and the aftershock left the country in shambles in every way possible. She knew she had to do something—she was called to be the church, and she knew God had gifted her specifically with an eye and flair for fashion that could benefit her Rwandan friends. So, she began designing everything from leather handbags to unique necklaces and decided to donate 100 percent of the profits to Africa New Life Ministries, a Christian organization seeking to stabilize, educate, and provide for Rwandans. Now, she runs a thriving business—all for the Lord and his people—based on Psalm 41:
Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health (Ps. 41: 1–3).
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and a brief description of how you became a Christian? How did Love 41 get started?
I’m the youngest of 10. I grew up with parents who loved Jesus, so although I don’t know the exact age, I remember as young as kindergarten wanting Jesus in my life. I didn’t fully understand it all, but I knew enough that I wanted him. I’ve never had a squeaky clean life even though I accepted Christ young. I still had my teenage years where I fell away from the Lord but came back when I was 19.
Love 41 was born after my first trip to Africa in 2010. I came home from that trip with a dream that repeated itself for over a week. I knew the Lord was talking to me. What I witnessed was forever impacting on my life and I knew my American bubble just got POPPED!
What is your business mission statement?
We do business as a ministry. We educate the uneducated, we feed the hungry, we train the unskilled, we love the unloved, and we get to see the power of sharing Jesus through the Word and acts of compassion. Without Jesus, the rest is just good works. Good works alone is not enough.
Psalm 41 is at the heart of your business. Have you been well received by customers? What caused you to be so bold when you know you are marketing products to churched and unchurched people?
We’ve actually been very well received. Far greater than I ever imagined. Most people want to do good even if they aren’t of any faith background. I don’t hide my relationship with Jesus, no way. This life is far too short to focus on what others are going to think. I do what I feel God's leading me to do. That can be hard sometimes but I have learned that following his leading is far greater than any other calling. I wouldn’t call that boldness but maybe just obedience.
Have you ever found that your company’s deep Christian faith and mission opens up conversations with non-believers? How do you engage potential customers?
ALL THE TIME AND I LOVE IT! My husband calls me the “story evangelist.” You see, I love to tell stories, and I’ve learned by telling people all these stories about life transformation through Jesus—they aren’t offended or feel I’m pushing my faith on them. They simply listen to these interesting stories, which also allow me to share Jesus. I love to share Christ in this way and it’s natural for me.
How do you approach the different aspects of your business, such as finances, with the Gospel as your cornerstone?
It’s not hard to do. We give 100 percent of our profits away to faith-based programs as our focus, but everything is bathed in prayer. We know we can make some big mistakes if we don’t ask for direction and wait on that. We haven’t done it right all the time, but we know the importance of waiting on God's leading, and it's how we approach things including finances and all other areas of our work.
How does your faith inform the way you and your family live?
I think many people today have become disenchanted with Christianity. We just live life full of Jesus. Jesus ate with sinners, he loved sinners, he died for sinners. We love to have ex-cons, addicts, the broken and orphaned near us. It's how we live our lives and we love it that way. We are comfortable around sinners because we are sinners too. Our home is open all the time to all kinds of people, and I know it's what God would want. Love goes a long way when you're broken. There are broken people all around, and we live for them.
How has Love 41 benefited the people of Rwanda so far?
It’s really incredible to see how God has used this business. We’ve been able to get over 375 kids sponsored through Africa New Life Ministries.
We raised over $65,000 to start a new program called the Dream Day Care in Rwanda. This is the first of its kind there in Rwanda, and it’s for the women who are trying to learn a skill but have no money to care for their children. It’s a powerful one and super well run. These kids come in malnutritioned and unable to walk or crawl when they should be able to developmentally. Within a short time, they are doing all they should be able to do and more.
We’ve also helped open a new church in the slums of Kigali and support it with donations of supplies for Sunday School classes and clothes for children as well as visits to help on the ground. We’ve been able to host “Spa Days” for the poorest of the poor in Africa. We use Jesus as the example of washing others’ feet. This has been a far more powerful ministry than we had expected as well. We give monetarily to support several programs in Africa for women who need Jesus and to know a skill, as well as the Dream Day Care. We are also involved in Mexico where we opened the Leonsito’s Day Care of superior quality for our workers who make our bags. Honestly, the list is extensive. It’s been amazing to see people rally around to be a part, and we know God’s not done yet.
Where do you hope Love 41 will take you in the future? Any ultimate goals that you have?
I have lots of ideas. I’m praying a lot about them. I want to work with a local faith-based company to begin helping women and girls victimized through sex trafficking. I also want to give scholarships to young Rwandan men just graduating high school to be able to attend the best Bible school (Africa College of Theology or ACT) in Africa. Both my husband and I went to Bible school. Neither of us are pastors or missionaries. We run businesses, but that foundation of the Bible is the basis for true success in all that we do. I’m passionate about that, and our own adopted adult sons in Rwanda are currently enrolled in ACT, and it’s been quite the eye opener for them. I also have this idea of bringing women together for an event called “Intents” (read: “intense”). Since I live in tents, it fits well and I want to host it out here on our land. I want women to get real—real about their struggles and real about their walk with God. It’s time to get Intents. There’s a lot more to it but I’ll leave you with that for now.
Are there any particular ways that you incorporate biblical principles into the design of your handbags, jewelry and accessories? We’d love to hear about them!
Everything we do we pray about. My sister Tina is my rock in this business. She came on with me after asking her to pray about starting this company and the ideas I had. She’s a woman of prayer too, and all the women who work with us are driven for eternal purposes. It’s beautiful. Everything we do we ask God's direction. It’s not at all uncommon for me to work with my design specialist and tell him I need to pray first before we begin. I know that the Creator of All will do a far better job than I would ever do in creating a bag, so why not ask him?
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