We left Maasai Mara on Monday, so our first day back in high gear was Tuesday the 10th–the day my mother’s home, way across the world in Texas, was to be sold. I awoke with a sense of homelessness, a sense of wanting to belong somewhere but not having anywhere to belong. I felt adrift and alone.
I knew there had been nothing left of my parents in that home for most of the year. She had been gone since March; all her special belongings had been sorted and shared with family and friends; and the rest had been sold in an estate sale months before. But her home represented family to me, life, love, hope. a place of belonging.
My mother had come from a very poor childhood and would have cried to see the signs of extreme poverty I was seeing all over Kenya. I woke up with my heart broken for the people of Kenya; because I was lost and alone without a mother; because I had no home. This was how I began our first morning back in Nairobi.
That day we visited Amani ya Juu, a “sewing and economic development program for marginalized women.” In Swahili, Amani ya Juu means higher peace. We were greeted by Maggie, an effusively warm and loving Kenyan woman, one of the original four women who were the beginning of Amani back in 1996. Although Maggie and Michelle were connected through mutual friends, ours was not a pre-arranged visit, nor did Michelle know that Maggie would be at the shop that day. Maggie never dreamed that someone she “knew” would simply walk into Amani one day, with six other friends, all the way from America. We were welcomed in like family–something Maggie does with every visitor, but ours especially welcoming–and later given the grand tour of both the shop and the work center.
One by one, Maggie wrapped each of us in a deep embrace, filled with love and warmth and the feeling you had just arrived home after a long journey away. She was simply that kind of generous-hearted person, and that kind of maternal love was what I desperately needed that day; and I basked in the glow of her hopeful exuberance. Worlds away from my own home in Georgia, worlds away from my mother’s home in Texas–in a place I had never even been before–I had come home.
The women of Amani greeted us with warmth and compassion, singing us a beautiful song of praise as we entered the workshop. Everywhere we turned we were greeted by smiling faces–some filled with energy and excitement, some more tentative and shy; but all of them filled with love and hope…and a sense of belonging.
The women of Amani use their sewing and creativity as a way to make a living. Their workshop that day was filled with smiles; contentment; and the quiet, enduring spirit of family. A family woven of women from all areas of Africa, rescued from all kinds of tragedy, brought together to heal and grow and love…and provide a better future for their own families.
There is a chapel in the Amani workshop, where the women begin their day in prayer; because as our tour guide, Grace, told us, “The night is long and much can happen since last we met.” They pray for concerns, clearing their hearts of worry before they begin work, and also give praise for the blessings which have occurred overnight. A simple act of clearing the heart of stress and filling with gratitude that makes the day much brighter and more filled with joy–oh that all of us could learn to follow this practice more diligently!
Then their work day begins. Sometimes one of the women will need to bring her small infant, and the women will take turns watching the baby as they work. If a woman has much to attend to at home, or if bus fare becomes too much of a financial burden, she can take work home and return on the day it is finished. Like a family working together to complete a task, these women come together, sharing the load to make it lighter for all.
At 3:30, they all attend chapel to close their work day in praise for another fruitful day, as well as to fill their hearts with God’s higher peace as they head home to be the Amani Watoto (children of peace) in their own homes and communities.
In the chapel, there is a quilt and one of the squares shows Africa’s countries broken apart. Grace explained that this signifies the brokenness of Africa. Most people worldwide realize this brokenness exists, but too few take action to correct. The women at Amani–the children of peace–are striving to repair this brokenness, one beautifully crafted item at a time, weaving together a family and a community along with the threads of their work.
Without knowing they had done anything more than a normal day’s work, the women of Amani ya Juu helped heal the brokenness in me that day; they filled my grieving heart with the peace of belonging–belonging to God’s family. Despite the grief I felt for the loss of my family home and the realization that my mother was truly and totally gone, I felt loved and at peace in the midst of these beautiful women who had found their place, far away from their own families of origin.
In a world far removed from my own, I was reminded that it isn’t about location or even how many blood relatives you have around you, but a sense of God’s worth for your life filling your heart, filling you with a higher peace–His higher peace–a higher, truer sense of what it means to belong, what it means to be home.