The sun blazed and dust swirled. Sweat dripped in every crevice of my body. My belly swelled announcing my third baby, expected to appear sometime that winter. My unexpected assignment that summer: to help start a jewelry business employing women in the mountains of Haiti.
I arrived in Haiti, excited and nervous. I knew I had to start by building trust with the women, but the task felt daunting with the cultural barrier between us.
A small collective of mamas gathered under the church awning to learn how to roll beads. As I prayed for an open door to connect with them, an idea flashed through my mind: I ran into the kitchen for a pitcher of cold water and a stack of cups.
A few of the women looked at me sideways as I approached their circle. No one said a word, and the awkwardness hung thick in the humid air. Then one of the women smiled and walked over to me.
“Dlo?” I pointed at the pitcher. “Water?”
The other women didn’t make eye contact, but Madame Moise took a risk and invited me to sit next to her. I watched as she held the skewer in her left hand and used her other fingers to roll strips of cardboard into perfectly-symmetrical beads. She spread glue over the beads to seal them.
She showed up the next afternoon with an English-Haitian Creole dictionary. “How are you?” she pronounced each word with care. Her question invited me in. “I want to learn to speak English,” she said.
“I want to learn to make beads,” I said, pointing at the rainbow-colored skewers full of beads drying in the sun.
After a few weeks, Madame Moise and I were exchanging a smattering of English words, Haitian Creole phrases and hand gestures to communicate. She helped me understand the process of cutting cardboard, rolling, gluing, varnishing, and drying the beads, and I taught her to use the tools to make the beads into earrings and bracelets.
Working side by side, I learned more of her story too. She lived on the edge of town with her husband, who was a teacher at the nearby school. They struggled to provide food and clothes for their kids, and her life narrative teetered on the edge of scarcity. She longed to save her earnings from jewelry-making to build a home, so we prayed and God provided, and with her hard-earned money she bought sacks of cement, one by one, to make the blocks that would build her a home.
When she proudly invited me over one day, I saw in her a new sense of dignity, and I experienced the same hospitality she had shown me that day I sat next to her to make beads.
As our friendship has grown, we have experienced glimpses of God’s glory while walking with each other through grief. She prayed fervently over me when my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and later graduated to Heaven; I encouraged her through the death of her mother.
Through the years I have learned that sometimes friendships are forged unexpectedly, and we are often richer when we embrace the awkward and discover what we have in common.
The other day I received a video message from Haiti from her kids. They affectionately call me Mom since I am a godmother to them now. I responded with emojis and a selfie taken with my three daughters. Technology draws us close despite the miles and ocean between us, and I’m reminded of these words in Hebrews:
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us
not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another,
especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)
I didn’t know the offer of water would bear such fruit in our friendship, but it has. Madame Moise infuses me with courage. We motivate each other to keep acting and working with the love of Christ. We pray for each other. We cheer each other on. Her friendship to me is like cold water on a hot summer day — refreshing and life-giving.