Joy, Heartbreak, and Faith: Experiences in Charlotte and Africa

Life can feel like a roller coaster ride full of highs and lows that can leave you breathless. We experience moments of pure joy, followed by dread, worry, and heartbreak. Times with family and friends, weddings and celebrations, moments of humor, lift us up, while illness, poverty, division, and death bring us down. God continues to remind us of His unwavering love whether we are feeling joy or sorrow.  


In the midst of life’s roller coaster of emotions, recent experiences in Charlotte and Africa have underscored the power of faith, resilience, and connection.

Our city has faced much heartbreak in recent weeks, bidding farewell to too many good people. Two that have hit close to home for me are Jean Graham Ford and Perry Liles Lucas, pillars of faith and inspiration in our community.  Jean’s wisdom and leadership touched countless lives, including mine.  She was a powerhouse in every way, and had a way of making everyone she met feel special, seen, and valued, always with a quick wit and full of compassion.  And Perry?  She faced her battle with ALS with faith, courage, love, and laughter. Even in the face of this cruel illness, she thought of others first, and shared her optimism and love deeply.  Heaven has gained two wise and amazing women, and they both leave legacies that will have ripple effects for years to come.  I feel blessed to have been in their orbit.

Just before these losses, Abigail Cancelliere and I embarked on our annual trip to Africa to visit our BraveWorks artisans. In just 14 days, we ran the gamut from tears to laughter, from despair to hope, all wrapped up in a dusty African adventure. Amidst the heartbreak of declining health in two pillars of our community, a journey to Africa with my dear friend Abigail provided both solace and inspiration.

Heartbreak struck as we witnessed the struggles of the women we serve in remote villages in Rwanda and Uganda. Staggering poverty and hardship cast long shadows, but amidst it all, there's a resilience born of faith. The artisans shared with us their trials—the threat of displacement, the struggle to provide for their families—but their undeniable sense of hope was embodied in their laughter and their dancing.  These women carry burdens heavier than we can imagine, yet their spirits remain unbroken, buoyed by a trust in God that is contagious.

In the face of such adversity, the impact of our work with BraveWorks artisans becomes even clearer.  Each design we create with them provides not just income, but also a sense of dignity and empowerment, helping to lift them out of poverty.

God brought us moments of undeniable joy and laughter amidst the heartbreak.  Moments that are often elusive in the chaos of everyday life back home. Like the evening unwrapping of newly acquired paper bead samples from our Ugandan Artisans.  As we emptied the bag of samples in my hotel room, dozens of black bugs escaped all over my bed.  This was followed by a frenzy of moving everything outside, only to have rains come in the middle of the night.  I was in my pj’s and raincoat at 4:30 in the morning, moving beads (and a few black bugs, sadly), into my bathtub for protection from the downpour.  There are just some experiences that we don’t tend to have at home, that bring hysterics to our jet-lagged state of mind.  We laughed until we cried.  But don’t worry, we left those bugs behind!

 The laughter helped ease the pain, but our trip was joyful because we connected with the artisans on a deeper level, sharing in their triumphs and tribulations.  Our trip was hopeful as we worked with the women on new product ideas to bring them more work.  We hugged and loved on the artisans, played with their children, and bonded over our similarities and faith. We sang, laughed, danced, and prayed together.

The entire experience was a testament to the enduring beauty of Africa, both in the sights and the souls within; a land that never fails to change my perspective and deepen my faith.  It leaves an indelible mark on my soul and gives me hope.  And for that, I am endlessly grateful.

- Beth Bell


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