Unique Ministry Provides Hope, Life, Vision to Impoverished Worldwide

Jim and Amy Schneider (Pepper Glen)

Jim and Amy Schneider describe their eyewear company as a "business of ministry." Based in Western Pennsylvania, Eyes of Faith Optical designs eyewear—which features Scripture on the temple of the glasses—and sells the frames to independent eye care professionals across the U.S.

The mission is not to make money off of God's Word, but similar to what TOMS Shoes does, with every purchase, the Eyes of Faith's Wear & Share program donates eyewear to someone in need. Kingwood, Texas-based Sight Ministries International (sightministries.org)uses the funds to deliver eyewear and eye care to impoverished individuals around the world.

On most days for the Schneiders, that means working in the office, designing new frames and making business contacts. But on one particular trip, Jim's work took him to a small village deep into the Kenyan bush. Jim has been to Kenya three times on Wear & Share optical mission trips, setting up appointments and making glasses for people with no access to eye care. On the trip, Jim turned to his companion, a doctor from Illinois, and asked if anyone from the village had ever seen an eye doctor before. His friend laughed: "There's no way."

One of their patients was a 75-year-old pastor from the bush who had been unable to see clearly his entire life. Jim and the team determined his prescription and outfitted him with his first pair of glasses. The pastor walked out the door, put his glasses on for the first time, looked out at the horizon and then shouted excitedly in Swahili, "I can see my people!"

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Bishop Moses, an African church planter, noted that this was not the only success story from the trip.

"I remember this one woman who put on glasses, and she literally fainted in shock," the bishop says. "I mean, she was so overjoyed she even collapsed."

These Wear & Share optical missions have brought eye care and the gospel to 35,000 people around the world—but none of it would have been possible without a leap of faith eight years ago.

Mission Appointment

On the morning of Sept. 28, 2008, Jim was praying for God to reveal his purpose in life. What did the Lord want him to do? As he prayed, the thought of an eyewear company sprang to mind. Jim says it wasn't a shout from heaven or anything overwhelming, but the thought stuck in his head. He woke Amy from her sleep and told her about his idea. Bleary-eyed, she responded, "You're crazy. Go back to bed."

But when the sleepiness wore off, Amy realized Jim's idea for an inspirational eyewear company was an answer to her own prayers. She too was seeking guidance for her life and wanted to serve God more directly. She remembers praying, "Lord, I don't know how You can use me. All I know how to do is love people and fit them with eyewear."

One of the largest optical industry events—Vision Expo West—was set for later that week in Las Vegas. The Schneiders decided to go and investigate how realistic it would be to create a Christian eyewear company. Even now, Jim is amazed as he recounts how quickly everything came together.

"On Sunday, the thought came to me, Monday we're booking a trip, and Wednesday we arrived in Vegas," he says. "We looked around for a few days at this big event and noticed nothing in this world represented faith."

Eyes of Faith was born there, and for the next six months, the Schneiders worked passionately at making their new company a reality. First, they had to take a leap of faith. Amy's fibromyalgia diagnosis meant a steady income was important for the couple. Jim was a part-owner of one of the largest insurance agencies in their hometown. He had a very successful book of clients, but he also felt strongly led to resign his position.

Leaving the company, he sold off his entire interest in the organization and used the money to fund Eyes of Faith.

By May 2009, the Schneiders were ready for the official product launch; they just needed a platform. Jim read in an issue of Charisma about Night of Joy, a Christian music festival at Disney World, and joked to Amy that they should launch their brand there. The next day, Jim got a phone call from a man named Buddy, who said, "Have you ever heard of Night of Joy?" Buddy was the sponsor coordinator for Night of Joy, and he was interested in having Eyes of Faith take part.

"It was super-crazy," Jim says. "One day I read about it in Charisma, and the next we're flying to Disney, looking to become the first-ever state sponsor of Night of Joy."

Amy can see how God used their past experience and their talent to prepare them to launch Eyes of Faith. She wants that experience to be an inspiration to other believers who wonder how God can use their particular gifts.

"(I want) people to be able to step out and use their gifts and talents to honor and serve the Lord," she says. "It doesn't matter what those gifts and talents are. I didn't think I had any except being really good at my job as an optician, and I didn't know how I could use that for the Lord. But by praying and asking for His guidance, He opened up this beautiful ministry that no one in the world was doing. He gave this gift to Jim and me, that we could use our gifts and our talents—Jim's business giftings, my optical workings and frame-design skills—to do something that no one in the world was doing."

Mission Moments

A shopper who visits his local eyewear company will see lots of designer brands on the shelf—Versace and Vogue, Ralph Lauren and Ray-Ban, to name a few. But that shopper will only see one Christian-themed designer brand—Eyes of Faith—and that sets it apart from the pack.

"We joke we're the largest and the smallest faith-based eye care company because no one else is doing it," Jim says. "We don't sell to Christian bookstores. We sell to eyewear companies. ... We are considered a designer line of eyewear. Everything is custom done and done by us. That's why we can sell to these independents who are looking for something unique and different in the marketplace."
He believes their position in the industry as the only faith-based company presents them with unique opportunities for "mission moments."

"There's something in a name," Jim says. "The name 'Eyes of Faith' is automatically the trigger for folks: 'Hey, what is this company about?' We want people to know more about it based on the name. But then we name our frames 'Honor,' 'Compassion' or 'Grace,' and every frame has a corresponding verse that matches the name of that frame. So when you're in an eye care professional's office and you see Eyes of Faith and pick up Honor, you read Psalm 62:7. So that in itself creates a really cool fellowship opportunity, and there's even potential for a brother or sister in Christ to pray for one another inside the optical office."

But Eyes of Faith's true customers are not the people buying the glasses; rather, its customers are the eyewear companies. Eyes of Faith is beginning to develop a reputation for excellence and positivity within the industry. They have a continued presence at optical industry events, like the Las Vegas show where they began their company.

"We try to lead by example in our industry," Jim explains. "We want our behavior to show the love of Christ in our industry that's predominantly Jewish from the supply-side element. We've become wonderful friends with so many people in the optical industry. ... We just try to shine a light in the industry with our brand."

"We're helping other people in the optical industry to serve and use their gifts and talents," Amy adds.

The company also has a page on its website where anyone, including their customers, can submit prayer requests—and Jim and Amy will pray for them corporately and individually. Jim models faith for his customers through his openness about prayer. He believes prayer should be an integral part of the workplace, and he isn't afraid to ask potential clients if he can pray for them.

"I love it when people say, 'Hey, let's pray right now together,'" Jim says, affirming the power of prayer. "We do that on phone calls. If I'm sensing something when I'm talking to one of our eye care professionals—what's really cool about our brand is they open (up) to us like they would never open up to someone else—we'll just pray then and there. You don't know how much they can appreciate that or how that can reverse their day from 'Nothing is going right.'"

In Matthew 11:5, one of the signs of Jesus' ministry is that "the blind receive their sight." Amy and Jim hope Eyes of Faith can follow in Christ's footsteps by giving people the gift of clear sight.
"Jesus gave the gift of sight to so many people," Amy says. "He showed us we could do that within the secular world, bringing Him the glory."

Mission Impact

Another way that Eyes of Faith takes after Jesus' example is in its focus on the poor and needy. Through the company's Wear & Share program, every eyewear purchase also pays for eye care for people who may never otherwise receive it. Sight Ministries International—on whose board Jim serves—conducts optical missions in Costa Rica, Ghana, Haiti, Indonesia and other countries where many have zero access to eye care.

"We like the term 'Wear & Share' because when you wear Eyes of Faith (glasses), you're sharing glasses and the gospel with someone you may never know," Jim says. "We support pastors by going and putting the clinic right in that church. It drives people to that church to get eye care and prescription glasses. We supply it on the spot for them. We have a unique program that provides a brand-new pair to that individual. We also supply reading glasses and sunglasses."

Jim has seen the powerful impact of these trips firsthand. He says his own prescription is a -7, bad enough that he can't see without his glasses. He met a little girl in Kenya whose eyes were -12. She had been coping, but when Jim gave her a pair of glasses, he says she "lit up" with joy.

But Jim and Amy don't have to go far from home to find people to help; Amy has been blessed to serve in a neighboring school district that has a homelessness problem. As part of the Wear & Share program, she meets with the school nurse, who brings students in to see her. She makes sure each student gets an eye exam, personally fits them for lenses and makes the lenses for them.

"Eighty-five percent of learning happens visually," Amy says. "If these kids can't see, they can't learn—and if they can't learn, that holds them back in life. It's so sad. I'm helping with these homeless kids, and we're hearing stories these kids' grades are going up, and they're participating in the classroom. So domestically, we're seeing we can help in schools and help these kids."

Mission Accomplished

As the mission to Kenya was concluding, an elderly man from the village animatedly shared his feelings on camera in his native dialect while sporting his new Eyes of Faith glasses and a radiant smile. When he finished talking, the translator explained why the man was so excited.

"He is now able to read the Bible," the translator says. "He has known the Bible with his head and heart; he just now can see it."

Everywhere Jim and Amy go, they hear about the amazing impact their frames have on people. Whether it's the eye care professionals or the people—young or old—receiving glasses for the first time, they are grateful for the ministry of Eyes of Faith. And it never would have happened if Jim and Amy had not taken that leap of faith and followed God's mission for their lives. They trusted Him, and in return, He's given them a thriving business and ministry opportunity.

"Eyewear is the most visible accessory we can wear," Amy says. "And anytime you see someone who has a new pair of glasses or a fun pair of glasses, it always sparks a conversation. ... Sometimes it can lead into an icebreaking conversation with a nonbeliever."

And that, as Jim explains, serves as a powerful reminder that companies operating from a scriptural worldview can serve a much larger audience than only Christians.

"(The eye care professionals) are an amazing group of people who want to support a brand like this," he says. "They may be active in the church or they may not be, but they see this brand and they want to support it. They love the positive message behind it. In this day and age when people are trying to move faith out of places, we're trying to move faith into new places."  

Taylor Berglund is the assistant online editor at Charisma Media and co-host of the "C-Pop" and "Charisma News" podcasts.

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