Sally spoke with a quiet self-confidence as she explained how she believes she has found her calling as an entrepreneur by following God’s will. “I think a lot of times for people who grew up in the church they have kind of a belief that to do God’s work you have to work in the church or non-profit, like a Christian based organization or something and I just don’t think that’s true.”
After receiving her undergraduate degree at a school in Birmingham, Sally was drawn back to St. Louis to complete her masters in counseling at Covenant Theological Seminary. As part of her studies she traveled with a group to Ethiopia to offer counseling for HIV/AIDS patients and the trip changed her direction in life.
She realized that if she was serious about pursuing counseling in other cultures, she wanted more formal theological training to spread the message of God through her work. “I think it was just a year of exploring my beliefs. I’m a Christian and I just think there’s so much work that we can be doing that God affirms.”
The summer before she began classes for her second masters degree she had what she calls “a kind of opening up” or a realization that, “I can do anything and I realized that my crazy pipe dream that was always in the back of my mind was wanting to travel around the world by land and sea.” She quickly added, “but not flying.”
As she began researching her crazy dream it dawned on her that she could make this a reality, the one hang-up? It was important to Sally that she do something good for people. “Opening up this business is a way to do good in the world, help people, and be faithful to what God calls me to do through business. I thought business was really cut throat but I decided that society is built on business in a lot of ways so I can be an influencing force there and that’s a good thing.”
And so the idea for Mari et Terra was born.
Combining her desire to help with those overseas who were in great need and her need to travel and explore, she began spending half of her time studying and the other half working on her idea. Eventually she partnered with groups overseas to help them sell their products in the United States. These groups, nonprofits or mission groups, were trying to help those in extreme poverty earn above minimum wage by teaching them how to make products like jewelry, bags, and scarves.
Where these groups’ expertise ended was getting the products to the US and in stores. That’s where Mari et Terra comes in. “In this type of business products are usually low quality. They need help with quality control or marketing. I just saw a need for it and got started with people who were in my network.”
Sally does so much more than just serve as an intermediary between these groups and US stores. She has worked with them to redesign the products so they are more suitable for our market, including: improving the quality of the materials used, researching and communicating the type of products that are trendy, and recommending unique designs that are not already available.
Too Adventurous for A Desk Job
“I’m too adventurous for counselling. I mean I have a lot of friends that are counsellors and I think they’re wonderful people and it’s a really important field and I use everything that I learned every day... but I can’t really picture myself sitting in an office all the time. I just want to travel and do different things.”
Sally has certainly encountered challenges while launching the business, but rather than halting her progress, she says they have motivated her because she knows her purpose and mission. “What I really wanted and what I was aiming for is to build a company that I can go and engage the world with and bring something of value to people that I meet when I am travelling.
And I think part of it for me is wanting to really celebrate different cultures and celebrate their strengths and be able to offer something that is like a mechanism to bring that into the global market, American market. That’s my dream…” she soliloquized before adding, “and it fulfils me.”
Finding Faith in God and Herself
Sally was raised in a Catholic family and regularly attended mass and participated youth groups as a child. Her life has always been centered around her relationship with God, so the decision to attend Covenant Seminary was an easy one. “I wanted to look at the world according to what the Bible has to say and Covenant did a great job of teaching that.”
While her faith has been unflagging, the decision to trust isn’t always easy, primarily because Sally struggles with divining His Will. “I think in a lot of ways I’m in kind of a period of waiting. Waiting for the time to move into that phase of travelling, which is hard. It’s hard to wait but still wanting to be active and not passive. I think that’s part of what faith is, being willing to wait but simultaneously be active, so... actively waiting.”
One of the ways the Sally maintains her patience with the journey is through remembering the story of the Prince of Egypt. God uses a cloud of smoke by day and a cloud of fire by night to lead his people through the desert. A journey that takes 40 years.
“It’s a good illustration of… okay if they were called to follow God to the promise land, but there is a period where they’re waiting and moving behind him, not rushing on, because if they rushed on who knows what would have happened they probably would have been obliterated by all the armies there. They also were tempted but they didn’t go back to Egypt either, they stayed and they followed.”
“And I think for me, especially in business, I’m sometimes called to move forward really quickly or take huge risk that I can’t wrap my mind around because it doesn’t make sense. But other times I think I just need to wait and listen and be content and that doesn’t mean that I’m not working on my blog or interacting with my suppliers or business. I’m still living and working. But I’m still waiting or I might feel a call to do or take particular action but kind of waiting for the results to come and not giving into the temptation to be anxious about that. So that’s the way that my faith comes in and compels me and leads me.”
As we cleaned our cups and trash from the table, Sally summed up her entrepreneurial journey beautifully. “People call me bold a lot which I think is funny, I never describe myself as bold, but people say that to me pretty frequently. People say I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I don’t know... it always strikes me as funny because that’s not really me, you know? It’s just because I feel that nudge, that whisper from the Lord that says this is what I’m calling you to do. I may not know where it leads, so I am sort of having this vision of what I think I’m called to do or where I think it’s going. I’m holding out for that joy but not really knowing the exact way to get there and I wouldn’t have the strength or the ability to do it if it weren’t for that faith.”