Looking for a beautiful Valentine’s Day gift? What if the gift you buy also helps those in need? Hearts in Harvest provides just that: an excellent product that gives back.
Hearts in Harvest soap is made entirely of pure Lebanese olive oil. It is gentle on wounds and blemishes and helps exfoliate the skin. Sonoma Christian Home was able to sample the soap: it feels rich, moisturizes, and helps illuminate the skin. Hearts in Harvest natural soap is a wonderful gift! The soaps also make great party favors or other gifts.
But there’s so much more to Hearts in Harvest soap than meets the hand! For every bar of soap purchased, a bar of soap is given to Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Through the company’s partner Heart for Lebanon, 2,400 families receive food, hygiene, and education while also hearing about the love of Christ. Co-founder Tom Atema describes: “We want to take care of their physical needs to the best of our ability, so when we have time to give them a bible and talk to them about God and Jesus Christ, they’re willing to listen because they know we care for them.”
SCH contributor Kathryn Sommers caught up with Atema to hear about Hearts in Harvest’s soap, mission, and ministry.
SCH: What are the benefits of Hearts in Harvest soap versus other soaps?
TA: I think everybody knows the health benefits of pure, handmade Lebanese oil soap… especially if you have allergies and skin infections. The pureness of the olives helps heal skin without any irritation. In my opinion, the bigger benefit of our soap is that number one, it helps the Bedouin and Gypsy community have reliable jobs on a steady basis; and number two is that for every bar of soap bought, another bar is given to the refugees, either the Syrian or Iraqis. So it has more benefits than just the health benefits.
SCH: How does Hearts in Harvest specifically help the Bedouin and Gypsy communities?
TA: In 2006 Hezbollah and Israel got into a war, and basically all of south Lebanon is where Bedouins and Gypsies live. For the most part their economy was devastated. We came in and said, “Listen, you got all these olives that are rotting: let’s teach you how to make handmade olive oil soap.” We taught them how to make it, and make it naturally—a lot of people put fragrances in it, and a lot of people like that; but one of the things a fragrance does is cover up impurities in the soap.
We don’t want that: we want pure olive oil soap. So we teach them, help them get the machinery, help make the right ounces, and then put it into our Hearts in Harvest factory where we cut them and dry them for fifty-five days, and then wrap them, box them, and ship them to the United States and around the world. Our olive oil soap goes to four countries: the United States, Canada, Australia, and England. Outside of Lebanon, that is. Obviously Lebanon is a small market, but we do sell some in Lebanon as well.
We only hire Bedouins and Gypsies that otherwise would not have an opportunity to have an income and a steady job flow. Some people call that microbusiness. It is microbusiness to a great degree, but it’s far more than that: we’re trying to help them to scale it. So it takes care of more than just immediate families. They can actually make a business out of it.
SCH: Will you expound on giving soap to Iraqi and Syrian refugees?
TA: Hearts in Harvest started as a ministry of Heart for Lebanon that works with south Lebanon Bedouins and Gypsies. Then the Iraq War broke out and we started dealing with them as they fled to Lebanon. Three or four years ago Syrians also started coming into Lebanon. We started helping those people and filling the gap with something they can take with them. So we feed 2,400 families—average family of six—every month.
But it’s more than feeding: it’s providing hygiene, education, education for their children. It’s one-on-one counseling, emotional counseling, visiting with each one in your community, sharing with them the love of Christ. Also sharing with them what their next step could be and helping them get there. So when Americans buy a bar of soap, we also take a bar or bars of soap in a Ziploc bag and put it in a refugee’s hygiene packet that month.
SCH: How is God working in this ministry?
TA: Oh, God’s working in marvelous ways. In fact, we basically have a two-part philosophy: We invest in people, and then we invite them into spiritual conversations. And we’ve never been turned down. We give out bibles freely to Muslims, we give out Christian literature to their children, and we’ve never been turned down. We’ve always been able to have that conversation because we’ve built relationships with them. When we commit to care for a family in a holistic manner, we promise to do so for 12-13 months.
That might not be the end of it, but that’s what we re-evaluate: where they are, what their goals are, progress made, attitude. Over time people have the conversation. I go over there probably five or six times a year. I hear all the time: “My religion tells me to hate you, but you guys are taking care of us…” And it gives you an open door to explain the truth to them about what’s really happening and going on. And we have seen lots of people come to Christ because a lot of Muslims right now are at a point where their religion just isn’t working for them, and they just see a lot of fighting, and they’re not sure what to believe anymore. So they’re asking questions.
Watch the Hearts in Harvest story below:
SCH: So when customers buy your soap, they could indirectly help people come to Christ?
TA: Oh absolutely! I’ve been in ninety countries in the world; I’m not bragging, I’m just saying God’s given me that privilege. And years ago I was in the Congo, and an old Congonese man came up to me and said, “We have an old Congonese proverb: If you give me a potato, I’ll read your bible. But if you give me a bible, I’m going to sell it and buy a potato.” And I’ve never forgotten that; so when we started Heart for Lebanon, that was a core principle of ours.
We want to take care of their physical needs to the best of our ability, so when we have time to give them a bible and talk to them about God and Jesus Christ, they’re willing to listen because they know we care for them. So that’s our investment before we invite them. You want to invest in them as individuals before we invite them to the Savior. The other part of our philosophy simply is that we fill the gap so they can take it with them. That is, we want to help them improve in healthy eating, nourishment, understanding hygiene, why you should brush your teeth, why you should take care of yourself, and so on; so when they leave they can take that with them.
Many of these refugees have the opportunity to go to Germany or Canada or even the U.S., so we just don’t want to sit there. Another way of saying it is, we’re not interested in transactional relief: just back up the food trucks, feed everybody, and that’s the end of it. We’re not interested in transactional relief. But we are interested in integrational relief. And integrational relief is: how do I integrate the food, the health, the medical and all this into their daily lives so that they can become something. They can take this habit, this relationship, with them wherever they might go. And integrate them into the church, into bible study; all that is part of integrational relief.
A lot of the Iraqi refugees come to the United States, and they end up in San Diego or Michigan or Nashville, Tennessee area; those are the three main places. But Syrian refugees go mostly to Germany; very few get to come to the United States. It’s very hard for them to get out of there because they have no papers. They ran when their house was bombed and they have nothing, so they have to look to the UN to take care of them.
SCH: How can we pray for you, both Heart for Lebanon and Hearts in Harvest?
TA: I think the first thing for Heart for Lebanon is to pray for wisdom: with everything that’s going on in Lebanon and in all these cultural issues you have to have wisdom. For Hearts in Harvest our prayer request is that we will be able to, between now and February, sell 20 cases of soap. There are 76 bars in a case, and we give free shipping to anybody that orders cases. We really would like to sell 30, 40 cases of soap between now and March. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is a big deal.
I think they make good prayer reminders. I think they’re a good practical conversation piece. You can talk about what’s happening: this is what this ministry is doing that’s unique and different. I think one of the misconceptions of when people buy soap is now I helped the ministry. And it does help, but it helps the individuals more than it helps Heart for Lebanon. Unless something drastic happens in a positive way, we’ll never sell enough soap to really support our ministry. We’d have to sell 200 cases a month for that to happen. We’re just trying to help people have a steady income so that they keep themselves out of sex trafficking or whatever else they might be involved with because they have to make a living.
You could take part in sharing Christ with “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) by helping Hearts in Harvest or Heart for Lebanon. Please join us in praying for the ministry and workers for the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38)!
For more information about Hearts in Harvest and its pure olive oil soap, please visit Hearts in Harvest.com
For more information about Heart for Lebanon, please visit Heart for Lebanon.org