LWR quilts wrap the world in God’s love.

by Anne Basye

IS THERE ANY MORE POWERFUL symbol for resilience than a quilt? Patched together from scraps of worn clothing and linen, quilts blend beauty with thrift. Stitched with love by their creators, they strengthen their owners through good times and bad.

For ELCA congregations, these symbols of resilience wrap the world in God’s love, thanks to Lutheran World Relief. Lutheran World Relief began distributing “Mission Quilts” made by North American Lutherans to people in war-torn Europe following the Second World War.

Today, LWR distributes about 300,000 Mission Quilts a year to people who have endured war, natural disaster, economic strife, drought and other crises. Some of those crises make headlines; many more never do. But everyone who receives a quilt gets a jolt of love and encouragement.

The people behind Mission Quilts are members of ELCA quilting groups from Alaska to Puerto Rico and every place in between.

Some have been quilting for decades, like the women at Faith Lutheran Church in Valders, Wisconsin. Laid end to end, the 25,000 quilts they have made since 1979 would span 30 miles!

Quilts made by a mother or a grandmother inspired some members to take up the craft. Whether they have quilted all their lives or are taking their first stitches, everyone can contribute to making an LWR quilt.

FROM QUILTING FRAME TO NEIGHBORS HANDS LWR collects congregational Mission Quilts through regional biannual quilt Ingatherings, where they are trucked to warehouses in Maryland and Minnesota. There, they are baled, banded by straps, shrinkwrapped in plastic and sent to sea in shipping containers. Although frayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this supply chain proved resilient.

The piles of quilt tops in closets and storerooms grew when LWR’s regional quilt Ingatherings were canceled or postponed. LWR kept responding to requests for quilts. The 264,585 quilts shipped in 2020 declined to 122,400 in 2021. Ingatherings have resumed, and 2022 numbers should be back to normal. Quilts make their way around the world through LWR’s network of partners with local connections.

Multiple containers of quilts may be delivered directly to a large refugee camp, where displaced people may use them as bedcovers, simple tents or floor coverings. When a crisis is brewing, quilts may be pre-positioned in partner warehouses.

Some years ago, on national television in Timbuktu, Brenda Meier Kimaro, who headed up LWR’s Quilt and Kit Ministry from 2001 to 2012 and continues to work on special projects, explained to the people of predominantly Muslim Mali that quilts being distributed through a high-profile partner had been made by Lutheran Christians in the United States as an expression of Christ’s love in the world.

Anne E. Basye is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest and the author of
Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal (ELCA, 2007).

This is an excerpt from the July/August 2022 issue. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.