The slick-paper, colorfully illustrated catalogue of the giftware business headquartered here resembles the dozens of others that have flooded the mails this holiday season, except for one thing.
The SERRV catalog is more sermon than sales pitch, pointing out that purchasing any of the 1,500 handcrafted items advertised is a contribution to world peace.
Contributing to world peace was never more alluring than browsing through the catalogue or the attractive retail shop set up in a rambling basement room of what used to be Blue Ridge College here.
There are teak chests of every size, camphor-lined and intricately carved in Hong Kong. There are dainty baby garments, hand smocked and hand embroidered, from Haiti, Pakistan, Jamaica.
There are little water buffalo carved in teak by Thai lepers ostracized by society; Alpaca sweaters, scarves and gloves knitted by Bolivian artisans who have formed their own marketing cooperative; wooly sheepskin slippers from Lesotho; hammered brass trays burnished to a soft glow in India; mother-of-pearl jewelry from Jordan; carpets hand woven in traditional Tibetan motifs by refugees at a self-help center in India.
The basic idea behind the nonprofit SERRV is to help artisans and crafts people in the Third World by importing their handiwork for resale in this country with the lowest possible overhead.
"We make the markup just enough to cover our overhead," said Ginny Grossnickle, who is associate director for customer services. "We want to be certain the crafts people get their equitable share, which usually runs about 50 percent" of the retail price.
SERRV is a project of the Church of the Brethren, a historic peace church with a strong commitment to putting Christian beliefs to work for the betterment of humankind.
It was called the Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation, understandably abbreviated to SERRV, and although the original name is no longer relevant, the acronym has survived.
The enterprise developed out of the post-World War II Displaced Persons camps in Germany. American church workers discovered that some of the refugees were skilled artisans who produced pottery, embroidered blouses or hand-wrought jewelery in designs reminiscent of their homelands.
The Americans brought home samples of the handicrafts and some items were put on sale at the Church of the Brethren's Service Center here, where they found a ready market. The idea of an international handicraft cooperative linking Third World producers with American consumers was born.
Since the service center here serves many ecumenically oriented Protestant denominations, word of the SERRV idea spread rapidly through missionaries and service workers throughout the Third World, opening up an international network of crafts producers.
Some of the products, like the wooden animals hand-carved by lepers at the McKean Rehabilitation Insitute in Thailand, are the fruits of long range efforts of missionaries to provide some dignity -- and some income -- to lepers and others who are shunned by their cultures.
By now, Grossnickle said, SERRV is well enough known that "the producers get in touch with us." Peace Corps people also have led SERRV buyers to artisans.
Basically, she said, SERRV "is a ministry of self-help to people who can make items but who don't have a way to market them." SERRV also will work with crafts people to help them make their products more attractive to American tastes.
In addition to three retail shops -- located in conjunction with church offices here, in suburban Chicago and in California -- SERRV makes its products available on consignment to more than 2,500 churches and other nonprofit groups for sale at bazaars, conferences and the like.
With no advertising except an occasional listing in church bulletins, and with their direct salesrooms well off the beaten paths of population centers, SERRV will do more than $2 million worth of business this year, Grossnickle said.
Most of it comes through churches and other groups that order items for resale at a bazaar or conference or other one-time event. That's the reason for the 50-page catalogue; SERRV doesn't accept consignment orders of less than $50 or wholesale orders of less than $150.
Other churches support the program actively. When National City Christian Church members used the conference center at the New Windsor Service Center for their annual retreat, National City member Hilda Koontz brought back a shipment of SERRV items that she offers for sale each Sunday after the morning service.
The profits this year go to church work in Zaire. Three years ago they managed to send $1,800 to church workers in Kenya who used the money to build a public toilet and washing facility in an area of Nairobi where refugees from a searing drought had congregated.
Kenyan health authorities credited the facility with preventing cholera, Koontz said, adding, "We felt we'd saved lives. The church feels this is one way we can serve Third World countries."