The sitch on the stitch - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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The first ideas of making protective masks started in our Maryknoll house as more of a jest, with no big plans in place. Maybe we could handstitch a few for those at Grepen (the agronomy center), the hen house, and some of our elderly neighbors.

I’m sure you know the Yiddish proverb that says, “We plan and God laughs.” A few days after this discussion, I went to deliver baked goods to our wonderful Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJMs) friends and was offered a sewing machine to begin the masks.

Abby and Jill, cutting the fabric in preparation for sewing the masks.

In sharing the news with Geri Lanham, another great friend, we discussed the possibility of really going big with the project. She mentioned that Mercy Beyond Borders (MBB), the program that she works and I volunteer for, had some funds available for the project if our Maryknoll community was up to it.

In two days, we recruited some help. Diana, a fabulous Haitian who is Wonder Woman to me, located and fairly priced materials. Although fellow lay missioner Sami Scott is still hard at work almost every single day at the hen house, while they’re recruiting more help, she said she’d help sew.

Our third Maryknoller, Jill Foster, offered to help cut until we could teach her to sew too. Cutting is no small thing—we’ve cut almost 500 pieces of fabric to get started, and there’s still a mountain’s worth to go. She is a Godsend!

Just as we were getting into the swing of things, life threw us a wrench. Perhaps the boastful nods made about us being our generation’s versions of Rosie the Riveter jinxed us? We got five masks done and “kaput”—one small yet important piece malfunctioned.

Ye olde Singer

After two frustrating hours of attempted repairs, I asked Geri if MBB still had access to the old-fashioned Singers they had used for a previous class. She jumped to the task and had back-up plans ready should plan B not work.

We refocused the next day for preparations. By the end of the day, almost 100 masks were prepped for sewing and we felt better moving forward. Whoever ended up sewing them now had an easier job.

This Monday, Geri had an antique Singer Sewing Machine delivered to our house. Determined to use a machine three times my age, I researched and quickly had it threaded. However, I failed epically to get it sewing, having never learned to use a treadle sewing machine (foot pedal).

Despite efforts after tutorials and housemates, it still flopped. Not giving up, Geri connected us with the wonderfully patient Marie Jeanne. She came and instructed me on how to use it, why it hadn’t been working, and reminded me to grace myself with patience as I go.

The finished mask

“Don’t get discouraged!,” she told me. “You’re just getting started, give yourself time. You won’t be great today, be patient and practice.” She is not the first gentle, kind, and loving Haitian woman to encourage me, nor do I believe she’ll be the last. Her patience and grace were humbling. She was so supportive and I felt a connective love that binds us all together.

This same love dictates every good act in this time of uncertainty, pain, and fear. This same love brought three organizations together to generate a truly important piece in protection and prevention. The RJMs didn’t have to offer us the first machine, Geri didn’t have to connect us with MBB resources, our community didn’t have to take on this task, and Diana and Marie Jeanne didn’t have to agree to be life savers in realizing this project. It fills my heart to know that so many people are vested in achieving our project!

Creating 900 masks—our starting goal—is no small undertaking. We are planning to distribute them to clinic workers in the communal sections and to our Mercy Beyond Borders students and their families.

Having the means and hearts to help is all the motivation we need. This is how we can show love and support the most right now. Some recipients will never know us, and that’s so OK; acknowledgement is never what mission is about.

People will know love in every stitch, and, I pray, they will be better guarded against illness. In our lives, what is a better reward than to know that others know love and are empowered?


Abby Belt
Abby Belt is a returned missioner (Class of 2018) who served in Gros Morne, Haiti. She now teaches English language arts and reality 101 at Derby High School in Derby, Kansas.