Several years ago, a co-worker gave me a little book entitled Things I Learned about God from Quilting. I laughed, and thought I could have written this book. So, here are a few of the things I’ve learned and a story or two.
At North Seattle Friends, I direct the church’s quilting ministries. In the Stone Soup Quilting Ministry, our volunteers make over a hundred quilts each year as gifts of warmth and comfort and the love of God for long-term cancer and trauma patients at University of Washington and Harborview Medical Centers. Everything we use to make these quilts is something somebody else doesn’t want any more: our fabric is donated, our thread is donated, even our sewing and quilting machines are donated. In the hands of some very talented designers we take these cast-offs and make gifts that are beautiful, warm, comforting, and creative (all attributes of our loving God) and simply give them away to some people fighting for their lives.
We get cards and letters from people who have helped us sew the quilts together telling us that while they worked on the sewing, they felt a sense of peace around a loved one’s death from cancer, or even their own battle with cancer. We get cards and letters from quilt recipients or their families, who tell us of the strength and love they received from the gift and how important the quilt was to them as they completed their difficult journey with cancer – some surviving, some dying. We get cards and letters from hospital staff, telling us how the quilts brighten the patients’ rooms and makes their difficult jobs easier. God takes cast-off materials and redeems them and transforms them into God’s own image (love, care, warmth, beauty, comfort) and uses them to restore the kingdom of peace, love, strength, healing, and beauty.
I also direct our Peace Through Pieces quilting ministry. Using our experiences of the healing power of quilts, I have joined with Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services (THARS) in Burundi, Africa, to bring quilt-making as a tool of trauma healing and economic development to the women’s support groups of THARS. The support group women are survivors of the civil wars and of sexual violence in Burundi and the surrounding region.
This ministry has had amazing results. In the communities where the women are quilting, everyone wants what the quilt-makers have learned to do, including the men. Women who have been raped and rejected by their families and communities, cast out and unwanted, essentially the “lepers” of their communities, have been restored and redeemed, and have become celebrities and leaders. God is using quilt-making to restore the kingdom.
Another story from Burundi. When I first traveled to teach there, I took well-known quilting teacher and author, Carolann Palmer, with me to teach. When I returned to teach again, Carolann was not interested in going, so instead of bringing a second teacher from the U.S., I hired some of the Burundi women who had been trained in the first workshop to be teachers in the second training. In Burundi, much hatred and mistrust remain between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, the hatred that has led to many years of civil war and armed ethnic conflict there. The third ethnic group in Burundi is the Twa, or pygmy, people. They are the smallest, poorest, and most marginalized ethnic group, and until recently, were often not considered to be fully human. Well, as it turns out, one of the women I hired to teach this second quilting training was Twa. When the other students arrived at the training center from all over the country and learned that their teacher was Twa, they were awful. They spoke with disdain about her and said they weren’t taking any lesson from this Twa – with almost a spit over the shoulder. They spoke many, hurtful, hateful things to the teacher. But the teacher, instead of retaliating, simply set about teaching quilt-making. By the fourth day of class, we were all taking a break outside in the warm sunshine, discussing what the students planned do with their newly learned skills, when the most egregious offenders started spontaneously apologizing to all the teachers, saying how much they appreciated them, and how even though they come from different places, different backgrounds, different ethnic groups, they will leave this place as friends. God is using quilt-making to heal the hatred among the ethnic groups of Burundi. God is using quilt-making to restore the kingdom.
I love how God doesn’t wait until we have things figured out before God uses us. God just takes whoever we are (even a simple quilt maker, even a “leper”), whatever place we find ourselves in (even Seattle or Burundi), and whatever we have in our hands (even other peoples’ cast-offs) and makes something beautiful and redemptive and uses all of it to restore the kingdom. ~~~
Patty Federighi is a recorded Friends Minister in Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends and serves on the staff at North Seattle Friends Church. Her award-winning quilts have been featured in print and in several prestigious regional and international shows.
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