God’s humor gets creative when it comes to grabbing people’s attention. For Moses, it was a burning bush; for Balaam, a talking donkey. For Irene Bornman, it was bathroom floor tiles.
A ceramic floor tile pattern in a Senegalese guest house was the inspiration for two of the quilts currently showcased in the “Senegal Fabrics in Indiana Patchwork” exhibit at the Goshen (Ind.) College Library Gallery. The quilts will remain on display until Sept. 5.
“The Sand and People quilt is a pattern I picked up off the floor,” Bornman said. “It was the bathroom floor tile, so I was in there with a paper drawing it all out,” she said of the floor mosaic featuring a dark tile in the center of neutrally colored geometric shapes (see photo).
Bornman chose beige fabric for the background of her quilt as a symbol of the ever-present sand in the region of Senegal where she ministered for nine years with Friends of the Wolof, a Mennonite Mission Network partner. When Bornman began sewing pieces, she altered the floor pattern so that two spots of bright Senegalese cloth touched, becoming pairs of squares instead of isolated blocks of vivid color.
“I put them together because when you look down a sandy street, you often see two or three people walking together,” Bornman said.
Bornman began her quilting projects when the Atlantic Ocean separated her from many of her grandchildren. Although three grandchildren lived near her in Senegal, as their parents Carol and Jonathan Bornman were also serving with Friends of the Wolof, Irene Bornman’s heart ached for those she could not hold.
“I started thinking that maybe I could make a quilt for each of the grandchildren to have some kind of relationship with them,” Bornman said. “So, while I quilted, I prayed for them because I had no other influence in their lives, it seemed.”
In addition to letting her grandchildren know that she hadn’t forgotten them – as of June, Bornman has 15 – she also stitched the outline of the country of Senegal into the corner of each quilt, to help them become aware of the importance of mission.
Bornman, who sensed God calling her into overseas mission as a young girl, finally realized this vocation when she went to Africa at age 56. Her husband, Roger, had died in 1992, after 28 years of marriage, and all but one of her five children had left home. Irene Bornman’s youngest child, Sarah, went to Senegal with her.
In 1999, Bornman joined the Friends of the Wolof team sent by Communion Fellowship in Goshen, Ind., now LifeSpring Community Church. This congregation organized a partnership that included individuals, businesses, congregations, and mission agencies to share the good news of Jesus with the Wolof people, the dominant ethnic group in Senegal.
After a couple of years of intensive Wolof language study, Bornman began to travel to villages where friends invited her to spend a day visiting and telling Bible stories in chronological order, beginning with the sacred history that Christians and Muslims share. From this foundation, Bornman went on to present the radically new idea of salvation as Jesus’ gift of grace rather than salvation that is earned through works.
Wolof culture is closely tied to Islam, so followers of Jesus are often persecuted and shunned by their families. (Wolof followers of Jesus prefer not to be called “Christians” because the word evokes images of eating pork, adultery, alcohol, the medieval Crusades and American bombs.) Many Wolof followers of Jesus practice their faith in secret. However, as more people attend worship gatherings and Bible studies, the followers of Jesus are growing in their faith and becoming bolder.
As Bornman worked on the Sand and People quilt, stitching the two squares of African prints together, she added prayers for the followers of Jesus to her prayers for her grandchildren. She also interceded with intense longing for those seeking a deeper meaning to their lives.
“O Lord, let them come together in churches,” Bornman prayed.
She received inspiration to make another quilt based on the same pattern.
“I enlarged the motif and set it differently so there were four colored pieces together and that represents churches. It’s my prayer that people will come together and there will be churches all over that sandy place,” Bornman said.
Although Irene Bornman and other members of the Friends of the Wolof team no longer live in Senegal, they continue to support the followers of Jesus through prayer.
“My prayer for those who heard the gospel and believed, is that they would continue. [And for those who have not heard], that they would have an experience with the Lord, and know that, yes, Jesus is living. [Let] somebody be there to tell them and give them an opportunity to believe,” Bornman said.
The Senegal Fabrics in Indiana Patchwork exhibit is sponsored by the Mennonite-Amish Museum Committee of Goshen College.
Mennonite Mission Network personnel who continue to serve in Senegal include, Margaret De Jong and the Jim and Paula Hanes family. In May, Bill Frisbee completed a short-term assignment working with a leadership training program in conjunction with Mission Inter Senegal, a local Mennonite Mission Network partner.
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.