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Warmth and Healing Along the Way
A Manitoba Mennonite church has found a creative way to bring healing to a northern Manitoba native community using quilt tops.

The story starts eight years ago in Grunthal, Manitoba, where Gertie Braun was looking for ways to use the surplus clothing from the local Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) thrift shop.

Cross Lake school teachers Karen Maclsaac and Cheryl Plaisier put the final stitches on quilts their students made, which will be given to elders within the First Nations community in northern Manitoba.

"I couldn't handle throwing them out and so I talked with the other volunteers about cutting them up for quilts;' said Braun.

Maria Funk started cutting the squares and Braun, with her industrial sewing machine, sewed the squares together for quilt tops. Over the years, she has sent their creations to various missions.

Recently, the quilt tops have brought delight to students in the northern First Nations community of Cross Lake, Manitoba. When between 80 and 100 of these heavy quilt tops accumulate, Norm Voth, director of evangelism and service ministries for Mennonite Church Manitoba, arranges for them to be delivered to Cross Lake.

Florence Benson-Umpherville, a leader in the Cross Lake Living Word Church (an MC Manitoba congregation) and principal at the local school, has discovered creative ways for the quilts to continue their journey. In her school, which has students from nursery-aged to Grade 9, she developed a character education program. As part of this program students work together in groups to finish the quilts and then send them to the Mennonite Central Committee.

Several of the quilt tops completed by the Cross Lake students found their way last spring to the remote community of Pauingassi, Manitoba, where they were used in a healing circle. Ten families met at a retreat centre and each family unit was given a quilt to complete.

"Every couple and their children worked on a quilt,” said Eric Kennedy, a member of the Pauingassi community, in a phone interview. "They were encouraged to make the quilt so that it would have significance to them. Each one was different. A lot went into the making of each quilt. It brought families together on a project. There was interaction with each other."

While the event took place last April, Kennedy noted that these families continue to cooperate and come together in ways they didn't before. "We hope to do the same thing at a community level," he said. "We want to have someone come in and teach us how to make the quilts from scratch. We already have a heavy industrial sewing machine."

This year, Benson-Umpherville gave the quilt tops to a group of her older students, who are sewing them for elders in the Cross Lake community. "They will each choose an elder in the community to give it to:' she explained by phone from Cross Lake. "They are not to give it to someone in their family, but will present it to someone they feel is deserving."

Braun said that, while it is hard work and takes time to put the quilt tops together, she plans to continue making them as long as they are meeting needs along the way to their final destination.

Originally published in Canadian Mennonite, January 2009.




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