Imagine growing up on a small tropical island, an island full of hillsides and tea plants as far as the eye can see. Imagine tropical flowers to fill your senses and mango and guava trees to climb and play in. Imagine you could run barefoot all day long while monkeys watched you soak up every ounce of childhood at its finest. That was the life of Hashmareen Griffin.
Hashmareen was born in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, located off the southeast shore of India. The area where she is from is predominantly a Buddhist nation. Only 2% are born again Christians. Her Grandfather was saved at an Assembly of God missions church as a young boy. Hashmareen reflects on the story that transpired before she was even born. She has a deep sense of gratitude knowing that those missionaries obedience to spread the Gospel is what has changed her life as her grandfather went on to raise three generations of Christians to serve the Lord.
When Hasmareen was a little girl her father managed multiple tea estates and they lived on the estates.
The cool tropical climate there was perfect for tea, which is part of the reason Sri Lanka is the second largest tea manufacturer in the entire world. Hashmareen remembers her days on the tea farm fondly. As a tomboy, she was always running around outside with her curly hair untamed and knobby knees covered in scrapes and bruises. She loved the animals that shared the land with them which including the native birds and monkeys as well as goats and chickens which were a part of the farm. Hashmareen loved playing outdoors but she knew she had to come inside at sunset. Her father told the children stories of a witch that would come out at night and turn the sky red. When you saw the blue sky begin to turn yellow then orange, and red you knew it was time to get back in the house. In third grade Hashmareen and her little sister were sent to boarding school two hours away. She doesn’t look back at those days with as much wonder and delight as the years she spent at home, but she made many friends and she was always well cared for by the three widows that ran the school. When Hashmareen was 10 years old Sri Lanka was going through a lot of political issues and it was becoming dangerous to live there so her family immigrated to Seattle Washington.
They landed in the states on December 23, 1983. Hashmareen had no idea what to expect of their new home but through it all she trusted her parents. America was so different than what she was used to. The air felt cold and dry. She went from a tropical paradise to a city that felt dark and gloomy. Her nostrils physically hurt breathing this new piney air. Once they settled in she started to become acclimated. She enjoyed school. The people in America were all very welcoming and her favorite part of all was SPORTS! She loved that her new school had so many organized sports. This was the chance for Hashmareen’s athleticism to shine, especially in volleyball.
A couple of years later when Hashmareen was in middle school she was walking around the mall with her mom when out of the blue she was approached by an internationally renowned modeling agency out of New York. Hashmareen was offered the chance to travel to New York and have them represent her. This was a lot for a young teen to even process. Hashmareen describes herself at the time as “Not at all comfortable in my skin. I was dark and underweight with knobby knees and big, puffy, frizzy hair. People called me giraffe! I wasn’t insecure because my focus was all about sports but I certainly NEVER thought of myself as beautiful”. In the meantime, her mom was excited thinking maybe someone could get this girl to finally act like a girl, but she also wasn’t ready for her baby to be carted off to New York!
After some discussion, it was determined that Hashmareen would stay local and gain some modeling experience in the Seattle area. So she started working in the Northwest fashion circuit after school and on the weekends. During the summers Hashmareen would travel to other states and cities to work for different department stores and fashion houses. Upon graduating high school she received an Associates in business but the fashion world was calling her in a big way. She was even personally invited by Oscar de la Renta and Badgley Mischka to come and work for them in New York! It was like living in a dream. At that time she decided she was ready to travel full time and so Hashmareen had the opportunity to work Internationally in New York, Miami, LA, Milan, London, and Australia. She was modeling for top designers walking the runways of major fashion houses. Hashmareen modeled from 1986-2002 which really shows how much the favor of God was on her life as most modeling careers do not last that long. She was also a pioneer for women of color and diverse ethnicities to be featured as serious models on the runway and in print. When Hashmareen began modeling almost all of her modeling peers were the classic “all American look” which included almost no minorities.
Hashmareen’s look was such a unique niche that she created a demand for it. When she traveled an agency would scramble to find a replacement for what was considered an exotic look.
Hashmareen says of that period of life:
“Throughout this 20-year career I got to model everything from Taco Bell uniforms to 2 million dollar Versace dresses where security would walk me down the runway and back. I loved every minute of it!
I have done some covers, appeared in some commercials and TV spots. I had the opportunity to shoot a pilot talk show for Warner Brothers and Dick Clark that we are currently talking about redoing for a possible new show.
What I remember the most during this season in my life is that the Lord protected me from all the dark realities of this industry. He kept me pure, drug free, alcohol free and party free. I have some of the most amazing memories of witnessing to designers, models, hair stylist, and makeup artists. They all knew who I was and who I was in Christ. I guess you could say I was “salt and light” in the world.”
Hashmareen has a different platform these days but one that is equally as valuable. She has been married to evangelist Allen Griffin for 21 years and they have two handsome teenage boys who are both honor students and not surprisingly they both LOVE sports.
Besides being a busy mother who teaches, counsels, negotiates, and leads these two very strong godly young men, she is also the vice president of a nonprofit called Excellerate. Excellerate is a program founded by Allen and Hashmareen which helps teens in the foster care system that are coming of age. Allen and Hashmareen have always had a burden and a calling to help the fatherless. Through many years of being involved with helping foster and adopted children they noticed a missing demographic. The older children in the foster care system were slipping through the cracks unnoticed and when God placed a vision in their hearts to do something about it the answer was YES! The statistics are astounding. 60% of these teens have been bounced around from home to home, have been returned by their adoptive parents, have faced some of the most horrific stories you can think of and have never found a forever family. They are at high risk to be trafficked, commit suicide, end up in jail and repeat the same cycles their parents have experienced. Excellerate was designed to help these kids transition into adulthood successfully by offering them a faith based 16 week life skills program. They learn about social skills, financial responsibility, professionalism, and their spiritual walk with God. Upon successful completion of the class they are gifted a used car so they can get to work, college, and church. Most of all they are connected to a community by introducing them to people that care about them. Since Excellerate’s inception they have had close to 200 students go through the classes and graduate and they’ve been able to donate over 160 cars to these young people!
They are currently planting 5 new locations around the country and God is doing amazing things through the ministry.
There are so many incredible testimonies and breakthroughs that could fill pages about all that is happening with Excellerate. You can find more information at excellerateyouth.org. If you have a church or an organization interested in hearing more about the program you can contact Excellearate about coming to your area. Or maybe you would like to make a donation or sponsor an individual. We can make a difference! God cares about these teens and whether it’s prayer, volunteering, giving, or spreading the word, chains can be broken and lives can be transformed forever! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions at all.
I personally want to thank Hashmareen Griffin for taking the time out to share her incredible testimony. From the tea farm in Sri Lanka, to the runways of New York, to helping teens in Florida in a life-changing way, Hashmareen truly is an inspiration.