H, from Vietnam, wondered aloud why her life is so hard. Why did her husband leave her? Why does her 21 year old son have kidney disease and have to go to dialysis every week? Why did she have stomach problems two weeks ago and go to the emergency room and then get a bill for $4000? Why did she have to leave her home country?
F, from Afghanistan, brought her brother's paperwork and we looked over the Department of Defense form that will have to be filled out in order to try and locate his American supervisors. We came up with a list of things she will have to find out from him in order to complete the forms. His life is in danger. He just wants to bring his family to this country to be safe. F is desperate for any help she can find to help make that happen.
T, from Nepal, told me about her husband's friend's mother who died yesterday from blood cancer at age 52. There will be a three day wake which, she said, is very hard on the family.
How little it seems our sewing can do in the midst of problems like these. What a small thing it is to sit beside a woman and show her how to thread a sewing machine. And yet ... I have a waiting list of many more beginning students than we can accommodate in the new classes we'll add in September. Women who want to be in a sewing class for two hours in hopes, of what?
Full time employment at a living wage? I can't promise that.
Their own business to provide a fair wage income for their family? I can't promise that.
Solutions to the problems like the ones I heard today. I can't begin to promise any of that.
But there are things that after three years of teaching sewing classes to refugee women I can offer ...
Teachers that will share the love of Christ in word and deed; who will offer not only their knowledge but their hearts.
Teachers that will patiently walk beside students as they learn new skills and show them over and over and over again, as many times as it takes, how to thread the machine, where to put the bobbin, how to sew a simple seam. As many times as it takes.
Teachers that will go beyond the classroom into their homes and become friends. Teachers who will walk beside them, trying to learn and understand their struggles and helping with needs as we are able or pointing them to others who know better than we do how to deal with their problems.
Laughter. I can offer them laughter. Plenty of it. And smiles. And hugs.
Creativity. I can offer them the opportunity to stretch their dormant creative wings, to try new things and not have to worry about judgement. I can offer encouragement support, and applause for their efforts.
I can offer a place that is safe and warm and welcoming, where hurts can perhaps be salved for a while to the rhythm of a sewing machine. I can offer that balm, and hope for healing for women who have experienced traumas I can barely imagine.
Classes are over for this term for those of us who work with Make Welcome. We need a break to refresh and recharge, to plan and prepare so that we will be ready for a new term of classes come September, when the learning and loving and growing will continue, Lord willing.
We can't pay hospital bills, or heal kidney failure or cancer, or bring families fearful for their lives to safety. But we can show up with fabric and scissors and sewing machines and instruction and love. That's what we'll do and we'll wait, expectantly, to see how God will work in our midst
[. . .]
We didn’t have our Make Welcome class this week. We usually schedule class for three of the four Fridays each month and take one week off. While we’d love to have class every week, we do need time to plan, prepare, and do other behind the scenes work.
The word to describe this week for me is collaboration. Make Welcome was invited to participate in the first of the Building Integrated Communities lunch forums hosted by Project 658, a refugee services organization that has just opened a center here in Charlotte. The lunch was an opportunity to meet and connect with others who are working in the refugee community here and find ways to support, encourage, and collaborate to serve the community. Over lunch, we talked at our tables a bit about what it means to build an integrated community and we did a lot of connecting! We met people that work in education and housing, people who help non-profits get started, and those who work with special needs kids. We met another craft entrepreneur and shared some ideas about ways we might work together. We heard about the refugee youth programs and a catering school. Finally, we listened as a refugee couple from Ethiopia told their personal story of the struggles, obstacles, and joys in coming to this country. I expect that every person at the lunch walked away encouraged. I know my head was buzzing with ideas about how Make Welcome might be a part of a thriving, integrated, healthy community here in our city.
That time of connecting with others is important as we find our way. We continue to define what we are doing by trying ideas, listening to our students, discerning needs and desires, and stepping out. Hearing what others are doing, and seeing ways we might glean from their experience, benefit from their wisdom, and perhaps even partner with them gives us a wider vision for the work of Make Welcome. We have a sewing class, yes. But, it is so much more.
That is collaboration on a larger scale. This week, I (Beth) have been collaborating on a smaller scale, too. As we design products to be sewn in our Make Welcome classes and sold through Journey Home crafts, I have to make samples. This involves taking ideas we have and sewing them. I have to figure out how, for example, to sew a rice bag wrist clutch, and then work out the best way to teach the women how to do it. I have to break down and order the steps and determine what skills are needed to make this item. I have to develop a teaching plan and make sure I am not skipping important details.
I have found that to be a good teacher, I need to learn and practice and explore. Sewing samples gives me the opportunity to do this. I am also a quilter and this work helps me be a better teacher (I hope!) It was in my quilting that collaboration on small scale happened this week. I am currently working on a project that requires me to make a quilt with a limited set of fabrics. As I've worked with on this quilt, I've been posting pictures online. I've gotten feedback from others and today, a friend even dropped everything she was doing and came over to help me figure out a quilt design. It was so helpful to have another set of eyes and another brain to help me think through the design. When it was time for my friend to leave, we were both refreshed by our collaboration and I was further along the path toward a finished quilt.
Collaboration is so important – in big and small ways. As I think about the women in our Make Welcome class, I want the efforts of this week to make a difference for them. I want the connections we made at the lunch to be helpful to the women. I also want them to experience the joy of creative collaboration as their sewing skills increase and their creative confidence expands. I want them to enjoy getting together with others to try out ideas and reach for creative solutions – in their sewing work and in the bigger challenges they face in life. How I hope and pray that Make Welcome will continue to be a place that fosters this kind of creative, encouraging, collaborative community.
[. . .]