Monday, October 9, 2017

And then it came...

When Argentine and Mapendo and their families went in for interviews with the Canadian government a few weeks ago, they were hoping to come out with medical forms. They knew that was a sign you were really going to be resettled, when you got to the medical exam stage. They left the interviews with no medical forms, and only the promise that soon they would be contacted about the next step! It has been a long couple weeks of holding our breath.
Today they received their medical forms! And onward they move to the next stage in this journey. Medical exams, background checks...With each step it becomes more real that soon (just in time for winter?!?!?) they may find themselves in Canada.
Let's celebrate this latest step on Mapendo and Argentine's journey and at the same time also remember Solange and Riziki, who remain in Congo. 
Many times on this journey I have wondered about the different paths we all take. When do you stay in your home and when do you flee? Which road will prove safer? Please keep Solange and Riziki in your thoughts and prayers these days. Living the daily work of life is never easy and in Goma, it can be a real struggle. Yet these women endlessly impress me with the beauty they create, and the steadiness of their hands each day.

Monday, September 18, 2017

"A Memorable Day in Our History"

That is what Mapendo's husband called this day...the day this photo was taken.

They were sitting in an office building waiting to meet with Canadian Visa Agents.  How amazing that this day should ever arrive.

They were asked many questions. The interviewers were kind.  And shocked by all they had been through.  And by the clothes they were wearing.  Argentine was wearing a dress she had made (if you look real close at the purple cloth she has on you will recognize it as a SHONA cloth!)  The interviewer asked "Did you really sew that dress?  On your own?"  She loved the dress.  And the hands that made it,

Their fingerprints were taken.  They signed forms.

And then they were sent home to wait some more.  We think everything went well, but still it is a nervous wait.

Perhaps the SHONA women are better at waiting than I am.   Perhaps all of Africa is.

When it rains in Congo, you find a roof to stand under and you wait.  That  is what everyone does.  You stand with complete strangers, huddled together, just barely out of the rain.  But there is no cursing the sky and looking impatiently at your watch.  There is chatter and laughter.

It always felt to me as though no one had anywhere else to go, nothing else planned.  Then I would glance at the basins full of tomatoes they had been carrying on their heads, the bags of charcoal by their sides, and I would know that they were headed somewhere.  We all are.  My schedule was no more urgent than theirs.  They just knew to expect the rain.  And to expect the sunshine after a while.

We will let you know as soon as we hear more!  Thank you for sending your love and prayers!  And in the meantime please keep shopping SHONA! 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Chalk dust

It's loud outside.

In the world these days.

But here I find myself in the quiet.

Unpacking a shipment

of new bags from Mapendo and Argentine.

I unfold each bag slowly, feeling the cloth in my hands.

tracing the stitches made just slightly uneven, by a hand-peddled sewing machine.

My heart rests for just a minute.

Soon I will go out in the world again.

But first I peer inside the darkness of each bag,
and look for what I know I will find.
White dust on black cloth,
The line of chalk that Argentine drew.
The path her scissors followed.

I let my fingers trace that path.
It is not enough.
Selling these bags.
Argentine and Mapendo are only 2 refugees.

But I know their names.

So I fold each bag carefully
and am thankful for the chalkdust that rubs off on my hands. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

In search of miracles

A miracle happened.
I just don't know when.

Maybe that is the way that miracles work.  They dance in the shadows, just out of sight, and you can never quite see them full-on.

Let me explain.   You remember that Refugee Resettlement Fund...that fund which so many of you donated to months and months ago. Remember how it seemed like we could never possibly reach our goal?  Guess what!   We reached our goal!!! $58,500! (.That amount is truly unfathomable to me. It seems like a miracle and I am incredibly grateful.

But where did this miracle start?  Did it start with a small group of Canadians who started this fund...who heard about Argentine and Mapendo and their families and decided to try and sponsor all 9 of them at once.  Never mind how much money they would have to raise, or the paperwork they would have to do...or the fact that they had never sponsored that many people before.

Or was the miracle when so many of you showed up and chose to support the fund.  Because honestly...   You could have looked at the numbers and gotten discouraged.  But you gave anyway.  That amazes me.

And then, out of the blue, I got a message from a supporter.  Her family wanted to donate some money toward the fund.  That sounded nice.

Then it turned out they wanted to donate the whole rest of the fund.  Can you imagine that?  At the time both SHONA and AIRSS had been working really hard.  And had raised around $25,000.  Over $28,500 left to go.  It seemed like an awful long way.  And now, in a moment, this generous family wanted to donate the rest. They said they wanted to remain anonymous and that it was a reminder of God's provision.

A miracle, right? Yes, and we are so thankful.

But maybe miracles aren't really about where you arrive at, no matter how amazing.

They are about where you started from...  and the little acts of faith that carries you forward each day.

Because here is the thing.  That family that showed up in the end...they didn't really fall from the sky, Hollywood style.  They actually showed up  8 years ago.  And bought a few purses.  Purses that the women sewed themselves.  And then this family stood with us, exactly the way all of you have stood with us.  For a long time.  Making small donations, sending love, praying for these women.  And that, to me, is the miracle, dancing in the corners, just out of sight, scattered in a thousand pieces.

 The miracle is that each of us have our piece to the puzzle.  And then somehow, when we least expect it, those pieces fit together.  Thank you all for each piece that you hold.

Learn more about the Resettlement Process and where we are now 



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The text

Argentine's daughter Rachelle died a year ago. 
This year, on the anniversary of that date,
Argentine sent me a text. 
It came late at night.
As I lay in my own bedroom
with the blankets tossed across my bed.
And my daughter asleep beside me.
The sound woke me,
and I froze there for a minute in darkness
wondering what bad news might await.
Mustering the strength to pick up my phone, 
finally I did.
And there was Argentine's text...
"Sister" (she calls me)
We have finished a year without Rachelle. Pray for us"  
And in my own bedroom
my eyes dance away from those words.
Into the darkness.
My own daughter's face warm beside me
suddenly glowing in the pale yellow light of my phone.
And as I lay there 
I imagine Argentine writing this text.
Sitting in that small shack
in a refugee camp, the dirt rubbing at her feet. 
Her arm raised at an odd angle,
tilting her phone just so.
I can see how that pale yellow light 
would spill out in the darkness... there, too.
Illuminating the face of Argentine's new baby girl,
only a few weeks old, nestled in her arms.
The new baby is called "Asante Mungu"
Her name means Thank God.
I sit in that darkness.
I type my response.
"we remember."
 Baby Asante Mungu
 Baby Rachelle

Friday, June 24, 2016

From a refugee camp in Africa...


The steps for taking a family picture with a toddler.  (Apparently they apply no matter where you live.) 


Step 1:  Parents prepare for the picture


Step 2: Toddler stands still for the picture

Step 3: Parents give up on that

Step 4: Toddler celebrates

This is Mapendo and her husband,along with her 2 sons and the 2 nieces that she cares for.  They have been in this refugee camp for 5 months.  They previously were in another refugee camp in another country.  In fact they have been forced to flee their home in Congo at least 4 different times.  Both Mapendo and her husband wear metal leg braces and walk with crutches.  Can you imagine what it is like to flee for your life and carry these little guys with you...that one who won't even stand still for a photo?  Can you imagine what it is like fleeing with these young nieces through war zones in which rape is far, far too common?  The questions go on...

We have an amazing opportunity.  After years of being refugees, of fleeing in circles, again and again...Mapendo and her family (and Argentine and her family) are being sponsored for resettlement in Canada by Athabasca Interfaith Refugee Sponsorship Society.

It is a long process, involving a lot of documentation and a lot of waiting.  And a lot of friends helping us out along the way.  I have been working on filling out the documentation for months now.  It has been countless hours on the phone with each person, reliving the events that brought them here.  It is a crazy process.  Here is how Argentine and Mapendo described their trip to the refugee camp. 

We took a bus.  When we got on the bus everyone told us "that road is very dangerous.  You might make it or you might not.  All you can do is pray."  While we were riding in the bus we heard shooting up ahead.  Our driver stopped the bus.  He got out and walked ahead in the forest to try and see what was happening.  All the other passengers got out of the bus and hid themselves along the sides of the road.  But not us.  We just sat there in the middle of the bus.  Our disabilities make it hard to get in and our of the bus.  So we knew there was nothing we could do but sit there and pray in that empty bus.  After a while the driver would get back in the bus and drive us forward. We passed by the bus that had gone before us. It had been stopped by bandits and pillaged.  They took everything from those people, even their clothes.  Some people had been hurt.  Some people had been killed.  We drove on.  And then we heard shooting again.  The driver stopped the bus again.  All the people got out of the bus again.  And we just sat there...again.  And prayed...  That is what it was like...the whole way.

This was just one small story, of the road they traveled to get out of Congo.  But the truth is that each one of these 10 people has a million stories like this.  To listen to their stories is to break your heart again and again.  But it is also to marvel...marvel that they have survived.  And it is to understand...understand in an instant... what it would mean for these 10 people to have the chance to live in a place where the word "safe" has meaning...where the bus doesn't stop again and again., listening for the sound of shooting around the next bend in the road. 

 I love this picture of Mapendo's 2 sons. After months spent listening to the stories of war, it brings me back to hope.  You wouldn't know that these little guys are refugees.  They are just little guys.  Filled with lots of giggling and so much promise.

And like all of us, they deserve a future where they don't have to listen for shooting around the next bend in the road.  And the great news is that we have a good chance of giving them that.

*SHOP:    Argentine and Mapendo (along with 2 other disabled women who have remained in Congo) sew beautiful handcrafted bags.  Each purchase is an affirmation of their dignity, beauty and talent.  

 *Resettlement FundYou can donate to this fund on our website.  Donations here help us prove that our Canadian friends at AIRSS will have enough money to care for Mapendo and Argentine and their families when they arrive in Canada.

*Refugee Fund:  This fund helps care for the women and their families while they are still refugees in Africa.  It is a long waiting process until the group can get resettled in Canada and in the meantime emergencies happen and life is hard.  We are currently working on moving the women from the refugee camp to a safer place closer to a hospital so Argentine can give birth in a safe environment and so that they all can get better medical care. 


Sunday, April 10, 2016

On what it means to be a "mother"

Mother's Day is exactly one month from today.  So now is the perfect time to stock up on SHONA bags to give to all the amazing women in your life.
 Because we are all in this together.

Do you remember when this picture of European parliament member taking her daughter to work went viral a few years ago?  When I saw it I thought immediately of this picture of Solange sewing.
What struck me wasn't the difference between these 2 mothers.  It was the similarity.  The way that across countries...across languages, cultures and economic differences... so very much remains the same.

And then I thought of this picture.

That is Solange again.  With a baby on her back again.  She is in the process of delivering SHONA stock to the post office.  But wait... it is different..that is Mapendo's son on her back.  Yet what strikes me again, is not the difference but the similarity.  Can you tell the difference between the photo where she is carrying her own child and the photo where she is carrying a friend's baby?  I can't. 

And then I thought of this picture.

Of the arms wrapped around Baby Marlaine.  Whose mama died in childbirth.  Whose family couldn't care for her, but who found the loving arms of Mama Sifa wrapped around her at Family Bethlehem.  And who grew up into this adorable little girl.  In part, thanks to many of you, who helped get her there.  Because they are all our children.

And then I think of Argentine, and her daughter Rachelle.

When Argentine lost her daughter Rachelle, I can't count how many of you wrote with stories of you own, of the loss of your own child, or the suffering of a friend who had been through something similar.  Because they are all our stories. 

And that is precisely why I want to share this picture with you today.

That is Argentine, in a photo from a few weeks ago. I am happy to announce that she is pregnant again.  That is one of the reasons why she needed to flee to the refugee camps again, she needed safety for herself and for the new life growing inside her.   It is why we are incredibly thankful to our friends in a refugee sponsorship group, who are working so hard to sponsor her for resettlement in Canada.  It is why we pray that will happen miraculously fast.  And why we continue to ask for donations to our Refugee Help Fund, in case that doesn't happen fast and we need to look for emergency medical care for her while she is still in the refugee camps.

But mostly it is why our heart breaks with Argentine, for all that she has lost, and soars again, for all that is still possible.

I have learned that this is what it means to be a "mother".  To love fiercely in the midst of whatever world we find ourselves in.  To offer our hearts to another, fearlessly in the midst of a fearful world.

 We love our own children, or the children we find next door, or down the street, or across the world.   We love the children we carry on our backs and we love equally those we carry only in our hearts.

Because, in truth, we are all mothers to someone.  And we are all in this together.

Shop SHONA and share the story of 4 incredible mothers this Mother's Day.  And remember that 100% of the profit from every bag goes back to the woman who made it...and the children she supports.

Mother's Day Sale: SHOP this week and get an amazing 25% off all your purchases.  Do you need another reason?  
Use code: mother in the discount box at the end of checkout.