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
[. . .]
Sewing class days are some of the best days of the week for Make Welcome teachers and students. We find ourselves greeting each other with hugs and questions about our families and our weeks, what's been going on in our lives and what we're concerned about. There is so much sharing that happens when we gather and a whole lot of laughter.
Those of us who don't speak Burmese or Swahili or French or Ciin miss a lot as the laughter peals across the room. "What did she say? What are you laughing about? What's funny?" Our students may try to explain, but often the humor gets lost in translation. Ah well, we laugh along anyway, glad to be sharing a light moment with these friends whose lives have been full of heavy, hard struggle. The laughter in class is a gift!
Sewing days are also times when our students have the opportunity for uninterrupted concentration on a task that is sometimes quite challenging for them. Many of our Make Welcome women are mothers with small children at home and thanks to a dedicated group of childcare helpers, class time is the one time during the week when the women have a chance to sit and work, to learn something new, to practice and perfect a skill. We share many moments of triumph and accomplishment each week with our students. It may seem a small victory to accurately sew a casing seam in an apron, but it is a happy moment nonetheless.
LG working with Sara and concentrating intently on cutting out a pattern - a new skill for her.
Wah (below) working very hard to sew the curve on her apron strap casing.
Class days are often times of celebration like when a project, like the aprons Kyi and Wah are wearing, is completed. Each woman chose her fabrics from our large supply of donated fabric. They worked hard today finish this apron project, which was designed by our talented teacher/designer, Lisa. I was trying hard to get these two to smile. One thing we've noticed is that our students don't really smile for the camera, but looks like I got at least a little bit of a grin from Kyi and Wah!
We celebrate, too, when a goal is reached. This Wednesday three of our students had reached their attendance goal and brought in the required payment to cover the rest of the subsidized cost of their new sewing machines! We love being able to give women their new machines - machines that have been earned through regular class attendance and a final cash payment on their part.
We'll be telling you more in the weeks ahead about how you can contribute to our Sewing Machine Sponsorship Program. We are eager to raise additional funds to continue this program with our current students and with the new students we anticipate in the months to come. We'll have more details soon for those of you who may be interested in being a part of this great program![. . .]