Article by Christine Chow
Executive Director, Salem Arts Exchange
“I remember one day....they announced at church.... they start Salem Arts Exchange.
They said something about sewing. I never doing that. I asked someone to tell me more.”
Four years ago and new to America, Christine Ndayishimiye had found herself alone and jobless. Injured from her first job and with definite orders from the doctor not to work, she sat all day at home, worrying about her family and feeling hopeless. Her husband and children were still back in Africa and there was no definite timeframe of when they would be reunited.
“A button fell off my dress...I didn’t know how to fix it. In Africa, it is cheap. Here you pay a lot of money. Everyone wants money every hour.”
A month in and hearing good reports from her friends, she decided to go. “I want to learn how to fix my own clothes. I want to learn a new skill for my future.”
Her First Day
She was greeted by Anna Behnen and Trudi Whitson immediately when she walked into The Salem House. Anna and Trudi became her first sewing tutors.
“Anna is very special to me. My first day, I called ‘Anna......Anna....’every few
seconds. She was behind me the whole time. She helped me a lot. If Anna is on vacation, then I call ‘Trudi...Trudi...’”
With a laugh, she reminisced about completing her first handicraft product – a
pillowcase! We looked all around her house for it so I could take a picture. Apparently, it was in the laundry, being washed.
“I was so happy when I finished my pillowcase. After, I made many things. I made
baskets, pencil cases, purses...bags.”
Her first few minutes with the sewing machine was rather unnerving. She stared at it and thought to herself, “I have time.” Nodding emphatically, she added, “If it’s hard, maybe I learn slowly, I have time.”
But then, once the lesson got going, her fears went away. I asked her why. “They showed
me love.” A big smile spread across her face. “When I got there, it became easy because they
showed me love.”
“I was alone in America. I worry about my family all day. It was a terrible time. But when I get
to Salem Arts, I’m not alone anymore. It’s like an answer to prayer.”
"They showed me love"
“One day, I was sick. Kris Engel came to my home. She helped me clean my kitchen and do my laundry. I felt like I was back in Africa. Can you imagine?”
“I forgot my birthday one year. I was thinking about my family at home. That day, Anna
called. She asked me to be with her family. Her son was son going away to college and they
want to celebrate. In Africa, I went out to eat at nice restaurants with my family. I never do that
here. I felt like Anna was my family when I went into the restaurant. After, we drove around to
see Christmas lights. So beautiful. I came home and realized it was my birthday. Wow, God
loves me! He sent Anna to celebrate my birthday with me.”
“Sometimes, when I feel very bad and worried about my family, they will ask me for
news. I share with them and they pray for my family. Can you imagine?”
A Valued Grace
Christine is reunited with her family now. She has healed from her injury and is working several jobs to support her family. Her children are in American schools, learning English and working hard. Her husband recently found a job as well.
“God used Salem Arts Exchange to teach me something valuable. Now, I know how to
fix clothes for my family. He told me, ‘You’re not alone in America. I have other people for
you.’ I will never forget those words.”
"God used Salem Arts Exchange to teach me something valuable"