Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Sally Strle was showering in her house in Virginia, Minnesota, when the vision appeared in her mind: an open Bible with the words Rest On His Word scrolled on the pages and a pillow adorned with Catholic art and scripture.

“I could see the beautiful pictures, even the phrase ‘Rest On His Word’ there, and I knew that God was calling me to do this business,” recalls Sally, fifty-four, a full-time mother and grandmother.

She hopped out of the shower that June day in 2005, and, at seven o’clock in the morning, called her older sister, Barb Johnston, to share the news about her God-given business plan: Catholic-themed pillowcases. Within two months, the sisters had found a place that sells Catholic artwork in California, had nailed down a digital printer and contacts with a pillowcase manufacturer, and were ironing and packaging hundreds of pillowcases in Barb’s tiny brown-sided house off Minnetonka Boulevard in St. Louis Park. “Oh, it was just absolute madness,” recalls Barb, sixty, an ESL teacher. “We had five ironing boards set up, our sister Bonnie was cutting ribbon, Peggy was messing with the packaging, and I think we went through thirty dozen pillowcases that day.”

They set up a website and dipped their toes into a $4.63 billion-dollar Christian retail industry that traffics in books, Bibles, and sacramentals, as well as all manner of Christ-themed accessories and products for even the most secular of challenges, right down to bad breath and fitness fatigue. Christians no longer have to settle for Altoids, Aquafina, and Luna Bars; they can pop in a Testamint, chug a bottle of Formula J’, or grab a Bible Bar on the run (fortified with the seven “good” foods in Deuteronomy 8:8—wheat, barley, honey, figs, olive oil, grapes, and pomegranates.)

And, as it turns out, God has a pretty good ear for marketing, because Rest On His Word pillowcases turned out to be a hit, and the sisters have been receiving more than a thousand orders per year from Texas and California, to Ontario and New Jersey. One enthusiastic woman in Green Bay, Wisconsin, started using the twenty-dollar pillowcases as a Catholic school fundraiser. Another group inquired about selling Rest On His Word in Hungary, and several people have asked for the Our Lady of Guadalupe pillowcases in Spanish (the sisters are on it).

Then the stories started to come in. They heard about a young girl who didn’t feel so scared going to sleep because she knew the saint printed on her pillow was going to protect her. They heard about a Canadian homeschooler who gave a pillowcase to the “atheist” boy next door, who cried and asked his parents if he could be a Christian. Barb gets teary-eyed when she talks about the daughter and father who slept on identical “Guardian Angel” pillowcases while Dad was stationed in Kuwait.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown a pillowcase to someone and they’ve just started crying,” says Sally. “You can see the presence of God when you see the artwork on the pillowcase.”

But perhaps the biggest change has been felt by the sisters, who say they have been validated in their faith like never before. Sally was once a lackadaisical Catholic, and now goes to mass every day. Barb reverted to her childhood faith from Lutheranism, her late husband’s faith, and says, “Since we’ve started the business, I’ve just never been more in love with Catholicism.”

In the few years since founding Rest On His Word, Sally’s family has traveled to the Holy Land, and Sally went to pray with a stigmatist in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Barb and Sally traveled to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Hercegovina to see the shrine where apparitions of Mary have been reported. While there they absorbed the indigenous Christian products economy, stocking up on Our Lady of Medjugorje medals and rosaries. But they imparted little blessings from America, too: The sisters left behind Rest On His Word pillowcases at a Hercegovinian addict’s shelter and an orphanage.
—Alyssa Ford