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Blessed Are the Piece Makers

The playful atmosphere of this Colorado quilt shop draws people to crafts—and to Christ.

Tucked away in Estes Park, Colorado, just a mile from the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, High Country Amish Quilts is a handicraft-lover's paradise. Its walls display the quilting talents of Amish and Mennonite women from across the nation, while its shelves are stocked with one-of-a-kind table runners, wall hangings, and baskets. A unique selection of neo-vintage fabrics, quilting supplies, and cat-themed gifts round out the store's inventory and draw quilters from all over the world. "Quilters love cats for some reason," says store owner Sherie Strong, 46. "I think it's because cats love to sleep curled up in quilts."

Sherie, on the other hand, rarely has time for a catnap as she manages her bustling, eight-year-old business. Along with her local customer base, many of the approximately three million tourists who visit Estes Park each year also make a stop at HCAQ. Even though some visitors never realize it, others come to know this fact quite well: High Country Amish Quilts isn't just a business; it's a ministry.

Amish Roots Run Deep

Sherie is Mennonite, a Christian denomination with close ties to the Amish faith that shares its emphasis on community and simplicity. One set of her grandparents were Old Order Amish, and she grew up playing under a quilting frame. Now she sells quilts made on similar frames by more than 100 Amish women across the country. There's no delivery schedule; the women send the quilts to Sherie when they can, often between the births of their babies. "You'd think we'd either have too many or too few quilts at some point, but we never do," says Sherie.

The quilts take up to ten months to create, and sell for as much as $1,200. With each quilt, Sherie includes a bio of the quilter, a short history of the Amish, and the salvation message. "These women pray while they work and they see their labor as an act of worship," Sherie explains. "Their workmanship is exquisite."

Because many customers are curious about the Amish faith and the origin of the products Sherie sells, it's not uncommon for employees to engage in spiritual conversations. And these conversations sometimes give way to spontaneous prayer with patrons. "Sometimes a woman will look at me and say, 'I'm having a really bad day,' and start crying. And I'll say, 'Why don't you come to the back room so we can pray for you?'" says Sherie. "We don't do that for every customer, but we do it as the Holy Spirit leads."

Come for the Quilts, Stay for the Prayer

In fact, praying for customers is so important to Sherie and her staff, it's part of the store's four-point mission statement: First, glorify God in what they say and do. Second, encourage, inspire, and pray for customers and each other, focusing on spiritual and creative growth. Third, give 100 percent of their profits to various missions as God directs. And fourth, have lots of fun doing the above.

To these ends, Sherie recruits staff members who share her passion for outreach and, after their salaries, she uses the store's profits to sponsor children through Compassion International. "We want God to fill a wall of our shop with photographs of the children we sponsor," says Sherie.

Christian products—books, CDs, plaques—also dot the store, and a box, blank cards, pens, and an invitation to write down prayer requests all sit prominently near the cash register. Every Friday morning, the store's 11 employees, plus any members of the local Christian community who happen to be in the store, gather in the back room of High Country Amish Quilts to pray for those requests.

Often it's the fourth point in the HCAQ missions statement—fun—that serves as a catalyst to deeper spiritual conversations with customers. "We jokingly call ourselves The Twisted Stitchers," says Sherie about her staff, "because we have a very twisted sense of humor. We laugh a lot and play practical jokes on each other. For example, yesterday we got my mom (who serves as HCAQ matriarch and administrative assistant) with reigniting candles on her birthday cake. A lot of our customers say that when they come in here, it's like a party.

"One man came in and said, 'Boy, I've never seen Christians be so fun-loving,'" remembers Sherie. "He told me he wanted to trust God, but just couldn't. He mentioned he had an upcoming surgery to amputate a finger. And I told him we'd pray that he didn't have any pain associated with his surgery. As soon as I said it, I thought, What are you saying, Sherie? I can only attribute it to the Holy Spirit, because this man contacted me a few months later and told me he trusts God now because he didn't even need to take an aspirin after his surgery. His doctor asked him why and he said, 'Well, there's a bunch of crazy quilters in Colorado praying for me.'"

In addition to health concerns, prayer requests for family members are also popular. And since the customer base is predominantly female, that often means praying for the husbands who sit on the store's front porch where Sherie provides rocking chairs, magazines, and popcorn to help them pass the time while their wives shop inside.

"We don't cram our beliefs down anyone's throat. We don't ask people if they're saved or anything like that. But since we provide a caring, fun environment, people usually bring up the topic of faith themselves," says Sherie.

"This Is God's Business"

While her religious and cultural heritage, steeped in crafts and community, obviously informs her current business-cum-ministry endeavor, Sherie never would have guessed she'd be selling quilts in Colorado someday. The story of how she got from the heart of Indiana's Amish country, where she grew up, to Estes Park, Colorado, is full of as many miraculous twists of faith as are the answers to prayer that flow out of HCAQ.

It began when she was a teenager and visited the small mountain town for a Mennonite youth conference. "I fell in love with the place and told God I wanted to live here someday," she says. Almost 20 years later, God honored her desire with a series of "coincidences" and leaps of faith—including the sale of their large home in Dallas when Sherie and her husband felt God leading them to simplify. That sale gave them the ability to buy their small dream house in Estes Park.

The store evolved from another string of what Sherie calls "God-incidences," such as when her husband took a position as music minister for their church and needed to use Sherie's sewing room at home for musical equipment. Sherie rented a room down the road to sew in, and even though it wasn't a business, people stopped by. Within months she had three years' worth of custom quilting orders—and the rest is history. The entire experience has given Sherie an intimate appreciation for the personal attention God gives our lives—and the fact that you never know what he has planned for the future.

"People come in and say, 'Oh, I love your store,' and I say, 'It's God's store.' It really is. Wherever God wants to take it is fine by me," says Sherie. "I'm learning to hold the store, and everything God gives me, with an open hand. Who knows where we'll be ten years from now? Maybe we'll be across the world in India visiting some of the kids this store supported!"

In the meantime, Sherie is happily providing a fun- and prayer-filled haven in the Rocky Mountains. "We've found even people who aren't Christian like being prayed for, especially if they're in a crisis," says Sherie. "We put a card in every bag and try to tell people regularly that we have an e-mail address to which they can send prayer requests. We've had people say, 'Oh, I'd never do that!' But then a crisis hits, and guess what? They remember those crazy, funny women in Colorado. 'They said they'd pray for me.' And we do."

Sherie's group of fun-loving quilters is on the web at www.highcountryamishquilts.com.


Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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