Zambian Blessings

Leslie Unruh

Auburn, WA USA

I have a circle of sewing sisters and they are all very good girlfriends. I haven't always had women friends, as my career as a mechanical engineer led me to a workplace with few female employees. It's not that I didn't want girlfriends; I just couldn't find women to make friends with. Even at church, I found it hard to find a community to plug into that fit. Finally, in 2001 my church offered a "Craft Day," and since I have always loved to sew, I signed up to attend. That one day was a huge turning point in my life. I finally found my community! My church sisters whole-heartedly welcomed me. I was even welcomed to their quilting group. With the hectic pace of my work life, it took me four more years to finally accept their gracious invitation to attend "Quilt Night" and it was awesome from the very beginning! Why did I wait so long?

There are about twenty to twenty-five of us quilters now in 2019. We call ourselves the "Cuties" for short, or the "Quilting Together Sisters (QTS)". Some ladies come and some ladies go, but most of us are dedicated to getting together the second Thursday of the month for "Quilt Night" and for our annual retreat. Everyone in the group has different passions and skills, and we love it all, whether it is quilting or not. One passion, of making dolls and doll clothes, led a member to recommend another charity for us to support. As you can probably guess, it was Sew Powerful! This was in 2014; the first year that Sew Powerful was collecting purses to send to Zambia.

That year we went to visit my mom at Christmas on Cape Cod, and I suggested to my mom and sister that we make these Sew Powerful purses. They agreed, and we had a fun "Sew Day" together, watching the YouTube video and sewing along. I chose this pretty vibrant cotton fabric that my mom had used as a backing for a quilt. The scraps were perfect for making a purse. I had such great joy in working on these purses and sharing the opportunity with my mom and sister. Mom and I finished our purses, my sister still has some work to go on hers, but we packaged them and our five-dollar donations up to mail and sat down to write our notes of encouragement. At the time, I don't remember much guidance on note writing, but I do remember that we didn't sign our names, just the town where we are from. After the holidays, we went home to Auburn, WA, and I went back to work.

Not too long after this, I had the option for early retirement. I jumped at the opportunity to have more time to explore my passion for sewing in a bigger way. Sew Powerful was still on my mind, and since they needed seamstresses, they supported girl's education, and they were located right in my hometown, I wanted to volunteer with them! About eight weeks after I retired in 2016, I set up an interview with Jason and Cinnamon. I dressed up in my work clothes, brought my resume and my sample purses. I was ready and hoping they'd take a chance on me, even though I had no professional sewing experience. Little did I know at the time, that they weren't quite sure what to make of me, but I do remember them graciously saying, "You are an answer to prayer!" I was in! Yeah!

I started setting up and teaching small classes. Many times the only ones in my classes were my QTS friends, but it was joyful and purposeful and a real use of my talents. I remember when Jason and Cinnamon took off for their trip to Zambia in 2016. I followed every detail that was posted on Facebook; I just couldn't seem to hear enough about how this vibrant charity was growing and helping more and more girls. I especially loved seeing the purse makers in the group with the lovely Zambian girls that had chosen their beautiful creations. In early 2017, it came time to start planning another trip to Zambia. Although I had delighted in watching the previous year's trip, I didn't see a place for me and my husband to go. But, God had another plan. Jason asked if I would work with the seamstresses on a sewing project. I was hooked.

In July 2017 we arrived in Zambia. Day 5 was the first Purse Distribution Day. All of the purse makers on the trip, Loretta, Vivian, Irene and myself, brought with us several purses we had recently made. The purses were filled with their feminine hygiene supplies and added to other purses from which the girls could choose. After a bumpy ride to Ngombe Compound, we arrived at the Pakachele School. As the girls were arriving for the ceremony, Cinnamon and Ester were setting out the purses. I looked over at the display of purses, and what?, I couldn't believe it! The purse I had sewn with my mom in 2014, is sitting smack, dab in the middle of the table!!! That is incredible! My purse is selected by Immelda! After the girls return to their seats to wait for everyone to get a purse, they immediately pull out their encouragement cards! They read them and quietly sneak peeks at their friends' cards, too. I can't wait for the choosing ceremony to be over so I can meet the girl who picked my very first purse! When the time comes, I start towards the girl, but she makes an even faster beeline for Cinnamon. I arrive just in time to hear her telling Cinnamon that her purse maker is from Auburn, WA and Cinnamon just had to know who made the purse, "Please!" I speak up and say, "Hi! I made your purse!" She looked so happy that I was there. "Please, please, you must sign my note!" I had not remembered that Mom and I had not included our names on our note cards when we wrote them out. I am so happy that God arranged it so that I could meet Immelda and she could meet her purse maker! I do believe that her urgency in wanting to know my name is that she wanted to thank me, in perhaps the best way she can, she wanted to pray for me by name. What an outstanding blessing! My thoughts up until then were that our efforts at Sew Powerful are a one-way exchange, into Zambia. But, I was so misguided and wrong. I believe I have dozens of young Zambian angels sending prayers to heaven just for me. Perhaps it's for my welfare, perhaps it's for my continued purse making, but no matter what, it is an incredibly humbling blessing. I hope all the purse makers know that little ones far away are asking God for special blessings just for them! As I look back on the telling of this story, I see how God's hand was and is in all the small details and decisions that brought me to Sew Powerful. I thank him profusely for my circle of sewing sisters, without whom I would never know of my Zambian blessings.

My first purse in the center of the table.

Immelda with her purse.

My first purse in the center of the table.

Immelda with her purse.

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