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308 || Vi Bella: Rescuing Beautiful Lives With Beautiful Jewelry

Subscribe Fall 2015 Shattered Magazine

This story is from the Fall 2015 issue of Shattered magazine! Subscribe for more stories that break down barriers to knowing Jesus and loving others.

Retirement is some- thing most working people look forward to and understandably so. It’s usually the time in life where many slow down, rest, travel and enjoy the finer things. But for Julie Hulstein, life looks drastically different; retirement has featured the most accelerated growth curve of her life both spiritually and personally.

Julie spent 27 years as a band teacher where she impacted hundreds of students each year but admits her Christian walk had become predictable and comfortable. “I had been drowning in my own business,” she explained, “keeping a full schedule with my own stuff instead of really asking God what He wanted me to do.”

During her last year of teaching, God kept bringing a specific passage to mind: “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations.” (Psalm 46:10)

Where a Dangerous Prayer Leads

She had no idea what God was saying to her, but in her first year of retirement, Julie wanted to find out. Her faith matured, and she developed an intimacy with Jesus that had been foreign to her in her previously rushed schedule. As she spent more and more time in the Word of God, she began to pray what so many have discovered is a costly and dangerous prayer: “Lord, give me Your heart for people.”

That prayer led Julie out of her comfort zone; she never really felt called to the mission field, and her demanding schedule served as a great excuse to stay put without guilt. But she went on her first short-term mission trip to Mexico in the spring of 2009, and then in the summer of 2010, she felt God nudging her to a second trip, this time to Haiti. A devastating earthquake had demolished the country just months earlier.

In Haiti the team spent most of their time ministering to a tent city where the desolate and homeless dwelled in the aftermath of the earthquake. There she met a 17-year-old girl we’ll call Susanna who lived in a makeshift home. Sticks held up a painter’s tarp for a roof, and the dirt below was the only ground covering. Susanna literally had nothing; her only possession was a ragged blanket, and like many of the Haitians in that area, food and water were a luxury.

His Daughter, Susanna

As they went through the many tents assessing needs and praying with people, young Susanna took a liking to the team but particularly to Julie. She followed them around and soon began calling her Momma Julie. A few days into her trip, Susanna shared, through an interpreter, that she wanted to know Jesus but felt that He could never love her. You see, to provide for the basic needs of her and her siblings, Susanna had begun to prostitute herself. That day, Julie and her team were able to share the life-transforming message of the Gospel, and with great joy, Susanna accepted Jesus into her life.

The day before the team departed, Susanna asked Julie when she would be coming back. Not knowing when, or even if she would ever be back, all Julie knew to do was pray with her. As she sat on a plane headed home, her heart grieved for wanting to help these people, particularly Susanna, but she didn’t know how. While many relief organizations came in and out of Haiti with resources, very few provided any sustained hope for change. Jobs were scarce-to-none, and much of the country was dependent on relief organizations for their survival.

When she got home, Julie’s heart couldn’t shake its burden for the people of Haiti. One afternoon while she was praying, the call to do more became unmistakably obvious. As she prayed for Susanna, she felt a whisper in her heart from the Lord: “That’s My daughter; I don’t like what I see either.” Her heart broke, and she knew her life would never be the same.

A few months later, with the help of some business-minded friends, lots of googling and tutorials on jewelry making, Julie began Vi Bella Jewelry.

Beautiful Jewelry For A Beautiful Life 

In Haitian, Vi Bella means beautiful life, and that’s what Julie wanted for Susanna and for the women of Haiti. Vi Bella first set up business in a test market in January of 2011. The jewelry was originally made out of recycled plastic, and women living in transitional housing here in the States crafted the glass. In April of that same year, Julie and her husband traveled to Haiti where, within a few weeks, they secured two production centers as well as Haitian managers to run them.

Here’s how it works: The on-site Haitian managers choose employees based on need and desire to work. Each Vi Bella woman is taught on-site to make jewelry, paid fair wages, given access to Bible study resources and even, as an added benefit, given the tuition for their kids’ schooling. The women learn not only the trade of making jewelry but also, for the first time in their lives, learn how to work. Each piece of jewelry is made by a woman who is enjoying peace and new life as a result of the opportunity for employment.

Jewelry artists use exquisite patterns and plans to design Vi Bella’s high-quality original jewelry pieces first. Then the women in the centers in Simonette, Haiti, One Vision, Haiti and Pesqueria, Mexico learn the skills to reproduce them one by one. Many of the pieces are produced from recycled or eco-sustainable elements as well, which gives them a unique look.

The Vi Bella line of jewelry is available online and via catalog but also through ambassadors who host at-home trunk parties. Nearly five years after its origination, Vi Bella has grown into a booming business employing over 30 people in three unique centers in Haiti and Mexico.

Lasting Life Change

Susanna’s life has been changed by the love of Jesus not only for eternity, but also in the here and now. A couple of years ago, they were able to help her get a real house, and Julie and her husband are godparents of Susanna’s older daughter. That’s not to say her life has been without struggle though; change is a process, and Julie and her family continue to love, pray and encourage Susanna as she betters her life.

The Vi Bella story hasn’t always been easy. In fact, most days Julie’s journey has required daily surges of faith and preserving. As Julie shares the grand adventure of the past five years, she reminds others that she was never a business major nor a crafty artisan. She was simply an obedient, though sometimes reluctant, follower of Jesus.

Sometimes she even laughs at the success of such an unusual start-up: “It will be really clear that God gets the glory, because if a retired band teacher can start a jewelry company, anyone can.”

Get involved with Vi Bella Jewelry by hosting a party, becoming an ambassador or helping with fundraising. Visit www.vibellajewlery.com for more information!

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