The next day, my team and I woke up bright and early to attend morning devotional in the meeting hall. The beating of drums and the high pitched shrills of jumping women announced the start of service. The early morning air was thick with worship and excitement for the day to come. For me, service truly captured what a heart for Christ should be all about. Passionate and praise filled. It was a beautiful sight to see and tied in with the morning’s service, given by our missions pastor. Psalm 118: ” God’s love endures faithfully forever,so how will you respond?” The Ugandans have taken ‘Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” (Psalm 98:4) very literally. And shouldn’t we all?
After service, I went into town with Joyce back to the women on Dorkus’ porch. This time there were twice as many women gathered around the porch including all the women from yesterday. Sarah smiled at me as I approached and held up her knitting. I was amazed, she’d knit several inches on the swatch and had almost no mistakes. In fact, all of the women had been practicing and had very few mistakes in their work. Nothing a few minutes of tutorial couldn’t fix. I’d dare say it was perfect. Today, I had much longer to spend with the women and I was able to bounce back and forth to every individual to give them one on one time.
I was finally able to meet Dorkus. She is an incredibly kind woman and owns the hair braiding salon that all of the women gather at. I was told that, out of a desire to serve the women in her community, she began meeting with a small group of women in order to offer support and help them find an alternative income instead of prostitution. Over time, the group has grown to around sixty. Dorkus was very eager to pick up knitting and, after casting on, immediately took up the garter stitch.
After an hour, all of the women were knitting away. I was so distracted by them that I hadn’t noticed a small group of children gathering in front of us on the street. When I looked up, I saw them- barefoot and covered in dirt. They were all holding bits of string and sticks from a nearby garbage pile and were mimicking knitting. When I looked closer, I saw that several of them had actually cast on. One girl used a piece of string and a lollipop stick to cast on a dozen stitches. I was totally overwhelmed and started fighting back tears. In front of me were a group of children who’d probably never been to school and whose parents couldn’t even afford to give them shoes, yet they were clever and curious enough to learn how to cast on stitches simply by observing.
I smiled at the kids and walked over to sit with them. I pulled out more needles and yarn and passed them out. They all sat around me and on my lap and leaned in to watch as I cast on. Every time I turned my attention away from them, they would tug at my shirt.
“Hey, lady, lady, what do I do next? Help me!” They were all so energetic and eager to learn, however after a while I started to feel my energy level plummeting. There were ten women I’d taught to knit behind me asking questions and I had a small crowd of children sitting around me and in my lap. It became especially trying when some of the women and children were unable to grasp the basics of knitting their first stitch. I would explain and explain and show and show put they continued sliding the needle into the wrong spot or pulling the yarn so tightly that they couldn’t even slip the needle in. Suddenly, I realized I was sweating profusely and grinding my teeth from the heat and agitation.
I took a mental step back and remembered Who I was really here for. Not myself, and not even the women and children around me, but for God. Instead of relying on my own strength, which was quickly fading, I needed to rely on His. Quietly, I started praying for patience and perseverance. I reminded myself that if someone wasn’t understanding my teaching, I needed to change my method. For each person, I started to either count the steps of knitting “One, two, three…” as I deliberately knit in front of them. Or I would rest my hands on theirs and knit with them, or use a word for each step,”In, around, pull…” I began walking around the group gently tapping hands to encourage looser tension or pushing up needles to the correct position.
One of the girls who was still having a horrible time casting on after an hour caught my attention again. She seemed so content and happy to try again and again and again, whether or not she ever had any results. I sat next to her and watched quietly for a while before having a realization.”Hey, what hand do you write with?” She gave me a confused look.
“I mean, what hand do you eat with?”She held up her left hand; this whole time I’d been showing her to cast on right handed. I sat her in my lap.
“You knit like me! Left handed, do it like this” I showed her how to cast on and she mimicked me perfectly. I handed her another needle and showed her to knit. Again she did it perfectly. Within five minutes she was finished with a row. I cheered her on excitedly with each stitch and she grinned while her friends laughed at my excitement.
Another small hand tugged at my shirt. I turned to see a girl who’d taken to knitting right away and had been quietly working at her swatch while I helped the others. She held out her work with about half an inch of completed rows.
“Hey, lady. Like this? ” I clapped and shouted “Perfect! Wonderful! Just like that! You’re great! What’s your name?” She grinned ear to ear and fingered the silk yarn.
“Nancy…I like this.” She sat next to me and kept knitting, Nancy looked up at me.
“When will you be back?” I sat in front of her and explained that I didn’t know, but that I wanted to come back again.
“Will you take me with you to America? I want to go with my father, but I don’t think he can go. Can I go with you so I can see it?” I put on my sunglasses to hide my tears.
“Well, you know I can’t bring you with me, but I’ll bring you in my heart and think about you. ” She thought for a moment, then smiled.
“Alright, then I’ll keep you here with me in my heart.” I left a suitcase of yarn with Dorkus and let her know that any of the women or children could have more supplies. I high-fived all the kids and hugged the women goodbye. They told me to come back soon. Everyone waved at me as I drove away and I started crying as soon as we rounded the corner. Happy tears of course, but I still looked like a hot mess.
Later that day, I was able to teach another pod of mamas to knit. Again, I felt my energy dip and I felt frazzled by the difficulty some of the women had with catching on. I had to pray again for God’s strength and patience, and again I suddenly felt rejuvenated and had the clarity of mind to begin explaining differently to each woman so she could better understand. After an hour, all of the women were sitting in a circle and happily chatting while they knit. Other mamas who I’d taught the previous day drifted over and joined us. We chatted about cooking and cleaning ( they can’t believe I have the nerve to make my husband help clean the house!) and what America is like.
That night, it was my turn to lead devotional. My section was James 3, the first line being “not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers…” Since our second mission prep meeting, I knew this would be my verse to lead our group with, yet I was still unnerved about the implications of it while I went about teaching knitting and trying to display the Gospel. I was even more anxious about leading a devotional on this verse.
On teaching, the chapter explains that not many of us should teach even though we know the Truth, because those of us who teach righteousness and fail at it will be punished more severely. James reminds us that we all stumble and must be aware of keeping ourselves in check at all times, even when we’ve been elevated to the level of “teacher”, “leader”, or “expert”. The chapter goes on to discuss taming the tongue. That is, though the tongue is small, it is the biggest trouble maker in our entire body. In the same way a massive ship is directed by the small rudder and the fierce horse is tamed by a bit, our lives can be tossed back and forth if our tongue isn’t in check (v.3/4). Specifically, a tongue that spews both praises to God and hate towards others is an untamed and deadly one.
“ Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
As I prepared for this lesson, I was expecting to feel guilt tripped at my own failings and to discuss how much we need to work to control ourselves. However, after an intense day of teaching, I realized that this chapter was not entirely a criticism of human failing. It was also a reminder to rely on God. If “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (v.8)“then how are we to do any good? How do we love our brothers and sisters with our words when it’s surely inevitable that we’ll turn around and curse them later? By relying on God. The entire day, I had to lean on God to keep my patience, to speak carefully,kindly, and explain gently and clearly the steps needed to knit. When fatigue sets in with life and we want to gossip hatefully about the people around us, to curse God with the same mouth we use to praise Him, to speak impatiently and sharply with students, we have to remember to lean on Him for a teacher’s heart, a heart filled with fresh spring water.
That night I prayed for perfection among my new knitters again, but I also prayed for God to pull me closer into Him so I could find relief from my exhaustion, tap into His endless patience, drink from His streams. Because ultimately, it’s no surprise that we slip up and fail. I don’t think James, or anyone for that matter, is trying to convince us that we have the capacity to stop wagging our tongues. But he is trying to tell us we have the capacity to open our hearts to God when we realize what we’re doing. When we do that, our minds (and tongues) find rest and our students prosper…
to be continued in pt.2/4 of From the Other Side: Knitting in the Mission Field.