ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) Piecing the disparate bits of her world together has become a way of life for Mennonite Mission Network employee and quilter, Carol Honderich. When Honderich heard about a request for instructors at the New Way Life Quilting Center in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, she immediately began forming a pattern that stitched together her gifts, her friends and this need.
When Honderich, who works in marketing, contacted Mission Network's workers in Mongolia, they were eager to help her dream become reality. Soon, three other women who belong to Honderich’s quilting guild, Maple Leaf Quilters, were also on board for the three-week mission trip. They jokingly call themselves “Chicks with a Mission”.
Mennonite Mission Network and the women’s home congregations have donated significantly toward the trip. A sell-out crowd attending “A Mongolian Sampler” event held on Feb. 9 at Calvary United Methodist Church in Elkhart contributed the remaining finances needed to send the mission artisans on their way. The women are still collecting funds to purchase 150 rotary cutting kits for the Mongolian quilters with whom they will work.
The fund-raiser included samples of Mongolian cuisine, a quilt auction and a drawing for the women’s “Chickens with a Mission” quilt.
Edith Shanholt, one of the quilting ambassadors to Mongolia, sent Mary Lou Weidman, creator of the original chicken quilt block pattern, a photo of the “Chickens with a Mission” quilt. Weidman was so impressed she has decided to feature it in the revision of her Whimsies and Whynots quilt book where the pattern initially appeared, making “Chickens with a Mission, a “published quilt” and increasing its value.
Mary Mishler, former missionary in Ethiopia with a Mennonite Mission Network predecessor agency, won the “Chickens with a Mission” quilt in the drawing.
On May 2, Marie Troyer and Marcia Vierck of Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart and Shanholt of Calvary will depart for Mongolia with Honderich, member of Eighth Street Mennonite Church in Goshen. Their main ministry will take place at the New Way Life center, but they will also travel to villages in the Gobi Desert.
Four years ago, Selenge Tserendash, a Mongolian attorney, created the New Way Life Quilting Center to give her countrywomen skills for earning an income. Since then more than 400 women have participated in the program. Some are earning a living by selling their handicrafts – quilts, tote bags and other items – through local department stores.
The four quilters from Indiana plan to work most closely with 30 quilting instructors, who are participating in New Way Life’s leadership training program. Vicky Ramsey, with Mennonite Mission Network in Mongolia since 1999, has been the on-site coordinator of the mission trip from her home in Ulaanbaatar.
Sewing is an ancient Mongolian art, but quilting adds a new and viable twist to it, Honderich said. The primary materials can be obtained for next to nothing if the women gather the scraps from clothing factories.
In the traditional worldview, Mongolian patterns provide benefits beyond their aesthetic appeal by encouraging long life and prosperity or providing protection from wild animals or evil spirits. The ubiquitous ölzii design, a never-ending knot, signifies the universe and the continuing cycles of life and death.
The timing of the mission trip intentionally precedes the Beijing Olympics. Mongolia expects an influx of visitors this summer as tourists flock to the Far East. Quilting will add a unique touch to the Mongolian souvenirs, and the Indiana four-some may be able to serve as consultants to help design products that appeal to occidental tastes.
Part of the reason Honderich enjoys quilting is the sense of community that grows out of working together to create beauty. For her, the most moving part of the fundraising event was looking at the wall displaying 26 of the quilts the four women had made.
“I thought of how much we had helped each other in the making of the quilts – in designing the blocks, choosing the fabric. Sometimes one of us would start a quilt, and the others would finish it, round-robin style,” Honderich said.
Troyer finds that quilting and friendship are almost synonymous. She looks forward to extending her community though the trip, even though she is not sure what to expect.
“I hope to make lasting friendships and give encouragement that makes sense to the women in Mongolia. God has a habit of blessing you even when you get yourself into situations where you don’t know what you are doing,” Troyer said.
The trip to Mongolia is just one of the ways Honderich has found to use quilting to promote mission. She created a Women of the Bible quilt inspired by a Mennonite Mission Network Bible study for which she has helped to provide leadership since 2000. This 52-block quilt depicts the lives of biblical women through traditional patterns, such as the “Garden of Eden” representing Eve.
In 2005, she put this Bible-study-through-quilting online. Since then, more than a thousand women from around the world have deepened their faith and fashioned master-pieces.
For more of Honderich's story, see the July 28, 2005 article on the Mission Network website written about Carol.