After a hectic commute weaving in and out of Nairobi’s rush-hour traffic, we approach the Amani Ya Juu headquarters. In the midst of a bustling capital city, the Amani compound is a serene and peaceful hideaway complete with lush gardens. Barely discernible from the street, the buildings are discretely set back to the rear of the lot. Simple and streamlined, they are designed in a way which seamlessly combines modern architecture with old-world charm in a style I can only think to describe as rustic elegance.
I feel an odd sense that my life in Congo and my life in America may not be so hard to unite as I had originally imagined.
Walking up the driveway, I enter the Amani shop. Immediately, am transported from primitive, sub-saharan Africa to an upscale boutique resembling downtown Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Melanie, a volunteer from America, orders a latte for me which will be delivered from the garden cafe as I peruse the assorted products and posh decor. This unique atmosphere appears an ideal marriage between the dichotomy of Africa and America.
As I finish my latte, Melanie directs me to the building which houses Amani’s production and design department. More than twenty-five women emerge from behind sewing machines to greet me. They’ve been awaiting my arrival. Forming a circle, they welcome me with voices raised in song, hands clapping, feet dancing, and faces shining…there is a light emanating from within these women.
My hostess and tour guide, Josephine, embraces me with a tender hug, “Welcome home, Sister.”
I feel like a foreign dignitary as the women line up to introduce themselves. We exchange greetings, hugs, and kisses.
Somehow my African skirt and broken Swahili tear down any walls or assumed pretentiousness in my visit.
Somehow we have an instantaneous bond which transcends our skin color and economic status.
Somehow each woman is radiant and joyful despite the brutality of their circumstances.
Josephine receives me with genuine honor and proceeds to share her story with me…
Nearly 10 years ago, she and her family fled Congo as refugees. Shortly after arriving in Nairobi, she came to Amani and learned how to stitch. At Amani, Josephine found training, employment, hope in Christ, and a community of women who share a similar story. She explains that healing is best found in community. I recall the mosaic mural on the back wall of the production room which boasts “Pamoja Tunabadilishwa”, together we are being transformed.
As the day continues, I visit with more women in a variety of different operations (jewelry, quilting, export, quality control, distribution). Each shares her individual story and acknowledges the many advantages of coming to Amani. They all point toward God’s love and peace as the primary benefit.
These women recognize that the spiritual far outweighs the material. Can we please bring this lesson to America?
Numerous times throughout the day, tears well up in my eyes…
What a gift I have been given in receiving such an abundant and loving embrace.
What a privilege it is to partake in this organization, in the lives of these women.
What a calling to unite my passion for design with my desire to serve the Lord.
Some may say that Amani has been a life-saver for these marginalized women. And although many still live in the slums, they can now afford to send their children to school, to provide food for their families, to receive healthcare, etc. The remarkable thing is that not one of these women credit Amani as their savior. Instead, they declare Christ as the One who has saved them from the pit of despair.
American or African or Asian, we have all found ourselves, at one time or another, in the pit of despair. As the women at Amani can attest, God stretches down his arm, offers us His hand, and pulls us out. He rescues us, restores our hope, heals our hearts. And with mended hearts, the women here minister with an outpouring of love sewn through the eye of a needle.
Day one draws to a close
I find it difficult to articulate what I feel. I am humbled by the welcome I have received, overjoyed to be part of this tight-knit community. I feel spoiled by their love…a selfless, communal love which they lavish on me without even knowing me. I’ve been swept off my feet by love.
This is Amani: a broken, non-traditional family. The members of this family represent different races, nations, tribes, and tongues. Together, our brokenness is made whole, we are restored as God’s children, and united by His love.
“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love—and that love comes with community.” – Dorothy Day