In the fall of 2015 I participated in my second round of Velvet Ashes Connection Groups. There were four of us who met faithfully on Skype, and if I’m honest, I still miss those Monday night “get-togethers.” This was a special group of ladies!
At the end of our official time together we agreed to share newsletters and post on our group Facebook page from time to time. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Nancy saying that she and her husband were considering a ministry trip to my country of service in Africa! We spent a few months writing back and forth discussing details pertinent to her trip and sharing bits and pieces of our personal lives. A few days before they arrived I traveled to meet them and then started to get a bit anxious. Are we going to click? Are they going to be bored out of their minds? What will I feed them? Am I crazy meeting someone that I only know online? At the very least, I’m the one on familiar territory, and I can run away if I need to!
From Central America:
I wanted to take her something unique from the country I live in but what do you buy for someone that you have never really met? As I wandered around the souvenir shop fingering beads, purses and other trinkets, I wondered what my “virtual” friend was like. Toya and I had become acquainted a year previous, sharing our thoughts, feelings and laughter over the irony of overseas living during a Velvet Ashes Connection Group. In spite of the 6500 miles of physical distance between Central America and Africa, our friendship grew as we met with our group each week.
In the fall of 2016, my husband and I were scheduled to travel for work to the country where she lived, and Toya and I made plans to meet up. She gave us the lowdown on visas, malaria and which airlines had the best food and wouldn’t lose our luggage. But seriously, we really didn’t know each other that well. What would she be like in person? What if we got bored with one another after a few hours? I was excited and nervous all at the same time. Back in the souvenir shop I settled on a small purse made from typical Central American fabric and some guava filled chocolates, thinking that purses and chocolates were bound to be a hit with any woman.
When we finally met in person, and I handed her a gift bag with the purse and chocolates, I was pleasantly surprised as she handed me a bag with a beautiful piece of African cloth. How did she know that I am a textile lover? Immediately, I knew that I had met a soul sister, as we each wanted to give the other a little piece of our “home” to mark this special occasion.
What a delight to finally meet and have all of that anxiousness squashed within moments. Nancy and I hit it off right away! We talked so much in our first few minutes of meeting that I actually forgot the taxi driver I had hired for the day was in the car waiting for us!
We rode all around the city and I got to experience life in my country through their eyes. That was special indeed. When it came time to eat, they opted to go for local food and some of my national friends agreed to host a little cooking party. Understanding that prices go up considerably when foreigners are present, Nancy and her husband endured sitting in the hot car with the driver while I quickly ran through the market to gather ingredients for a local meal.
My African friends welcomed us with open arms, and the ladies took over their kitchen while the men “talked shop.” We had a delightful day, and as the afternoon disappeared into evening, we headed back to the guesthouse where we ended up spending a few more hours together. I was sad to say good-bye so soon after saying hello, but they were on their way to a remote village the next day.
It was a special treat to meet Nancy and her husband. We had fun together. They loved on me, ministered to me and provided much needed advice. What they didn’t know was that I was going through an extra tough time and their visit started the beginning of a turnaround for me.
Nancy brought a USB drive with the Velvet Ashes retreat and shared it with me. In the days after they left, using the retreat as a guide, I had a time of renewal and refreshment with my Father and for that I will forever be thankful. I’m so blessed that through this Connection Group, I didn’t just form a connection and gain a new friend, but instead, I gained a sister (and a brother with her husband). I’m eternally grateful for my family around the world and look forward to our next meeting!
From Central America:
Spending the day with Toya was like finding a long lost friend. While we drove around the city looking at scenery, I was thankful that my husband was happily taking photos out the window as Toya and I talked non-stop. There was so much to learn about and from each other.
As the day wore on, and we began thinking about lunch, one of her suggestions was to visit her African friend and cook a meal together. Since I am a foodie and love cultural experiences, the idea sounded perfect. We stopped at the market and the grocery store to get the needed supplies and headed off for a true local culinary class. What fun we had chopping potatoes, carrots, green beans and assorted herbs for “hot pot” while talking, laughing and singing with her dear friend. As darkness loomed on the horizon, we knew that it was time to say good-bye. Before parting ways, we shared some more of our ministry hopes, dreams and strategies, and we knew that this wouldn’t be the last conversation that we would have.
When we returned to Central America, I had someone make a beautiful dress out of that African fabric to remind me of the wonderful gift God gave me in spending a day with my Velvet Ashes soul sister Toya. We continue to e-mail and talk on the phone and one day, we hope to meet up again in my country of service.
When were you surprised and blessed by an unexpected relationship that God gave you?
Toya Mac is living a dream that she didn’t have as a child. “The Lord has taken my love of Him, my joy of travel, my ability to multi-task, my heart for the hurting and my organizational skills and given me a new life that I never knew was possible. I used to lead a wonderful life rubbing noses with celebrities and sharing in “the finer things of life.” I thought I was happy. Today, I rub the noses of snotty children with my bare hands, crawl in the dirt to play with children, live in a house with or without running water depending on the day and I can tell you that I’m truly happy. “
She currently lives and serves full-time in Africa. Her work involves fostering medically fragile and/or abandoned children, running an elementary school, facilitating medical clinics in rural villages and local prisons, as well as ministry to orphans and women without hope. Her life and schedule are full but she wouldn’t have it any other way.