FUERTEVENTURA, Canary Islands (BP)–When she smiles, her whole face lights up. But the smile quickly disappears; she tightens her lips and fidgets with her head scarf, pulling it closer to her face.
Mahmouda is a 30-something woman who was born in the Western Sahara, once a Spanish colony but controlled by Morocco since the 1970s. She spent her childhood in Algerian refugee camps after the Moroccan occupation of her country. Her discolored teeth are a constant reminder of the time spent with little access to food, running water or electricity.
“The stains on my teeth are due to the water that we drank,” Mahmouda says. “Everyone my age … we all have stains due to the water.”
As an adult, Mahmouda was able to move to the island of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands for a better life, but she misses her family in Western Sahara. On the island, she discovered an uncle she never knew existed. He, too, grew up in an Algerian refugee camp.
Despite the bond she and her uncle have formed, Mahmouda longed for the companionship the women in her family shared.
When she met Ana Castillo*, an International Mission Board missionary journeyman, the two quickly became friends — today, they are more like sisters.
Mahmouda taught Ana about Saharan culture: how to perform a tea service, how to properly eat couscous and goat meat with her hands, how to prepare Saharan dishes and how to speak some Arabic. But most of all, she has been able to share the love she has for the Sahara.
In return, Ana has shared about her life — including the Savior she serves. Ana’s prayer is to have the opportunity to share more of her faith so that she and Mahmouda continue their sisterly bond into eternity.
*Names changed. Emilee Brandon covered this story for the International Mission Board.