This story began in late fall of 1997. It grew from a small idea until it reached around the world. It does not yet have an ending…
In a San Juan Record article published January 21, 1998, the question was asked, “Who can know the outcome of these acts?” Now, exactly 15 years later, an amazing answer can be given to that question.
The article, entitled “1,000 quilts for North Korea”, told the story of Covers for Kids, a project organized by Linda Lewis. She was inspired by her sister-in-law, who had spearheaded a quilt-making project in Snowflake, AZ for victims of the Croatian War.
Linda was confident the people in Monticello would be receptive to a similar project. She contacted Garry Flake, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Aid Division, to ask about need.
He told her of a devastating drought in North Korea that had led to widespread starvation. The lack of proper nutrition was compounded by the extreme cold. Millions of people were dying. The children, he said, were especially in need of warm coverings.
What started as a Monticello community undertaking with a goal of 500 quilts quickly spread across two states, eventually producing 1,100 quilts, 138 receiving blankets, 740 hats, 127 pairs of pajamas, 140 pairs of gloves, 75 pairs of booties, 120 coats, and boxes full of winter clothing.
At the end of the two-month project, a meeting was held in the Monticello Stake Center and Linda told the congregation of contributors, “I knew you were good; I didn’t know you were this good!”
Many of the quilts had teddy bears or other small stuffed animals wrapped up in them. Lawana Palmer, of Blanding, made a quilt with a road design on its top. She added a zippered pocket, filling it with toy cars and a state road map with Blanding circled, adding her name and address.
Lawana never received a response to her effort of communicating with the quilt’s recipient, but Diane Balch, also of Blanding, did. And that is what this story is about.
Diane had organized and managed Blanding’s contribution to the project, overseeing the production of 100+ quilts. She tagged the quilts with a note, written in both English and Korean, which read, “This quilt is made for you with our love”, adding her name and address.
Just over a year later, Diane received a letter of thanks from a 14-year-old boy, but he wasn’t from North Korea. Jonathan Amankwah’s family lived in Nkawkaw, Ghana, and at that time he was attending a boarding school three hours away from home.
The nights were getting colder so he had written his mother, asking her to please send him an extra blanket. She went to the local second hand shop and bought him a quilt.
When Jonathan received the quilt he found Diane Balch’s name and address pinned on the corner. How a quilt bound for Korea ended up in Africa is a mystery that may never be explained, but the intent of the quilt—to warm a child—was fulfilled, and that’s what really matters. As well as expressing thanks, Jonathan asked Diane why she had made the quilt. Diane answered him, and thus began a correspondence and friendship that has lasted to this day.
Jonathan expressed an interest in the church whose humanitarian efforts (at that point) had helped people in 137 countries. Diane answered his questions as best she could, occasionally sending him articles from church publications concerning Ghana. She also sent him a copy of scriptures, with her testimony written inside the front cover.
Knowing how destitute Jonathan’s family must be, Diane and her husband, Calvin, began sending care packages or occasionally wiring money. One time they sent eight jogging suits, one for each member of Jonathan’s family, placing a five dollar bill in the pocket of each suit. Later, they learned that $40 paid for one semester of school for Jonathan.
In 2004, Diane and Calvin answered a call to serve in the Canada Vancouver LDS Mission as an office couple. As part of Diane’s duties, she transferred referrals to other missions. It dawned on her that she could send a referral to the Ghana Accra Mission for Jonathan and his family, giving a local landmark as there were no telephones or addresses in their region. Though the family lived outside the mission boundaries, special arrangements were made to contact them.
Several months later, Diane received a letter from Jonathan, which included a picture of his family and a dozen other people, including two American missionaries. The letter read, “Through your efforts, the missionaries have found their way here at last. They arrived on the 22 of August and came back the next day. We had supper together with my family and later on in my house a lot of people from the neighborhood joined us to listen to them teach about the church.”
It was easy for the missionaries to recognize which were members of Jonathan’s family: they were all wearing San Juan Bronco baseball caps Calvin and Diane had sent them. The Amankwah family had already read the copy of the scriptures Diane sent Jonathan, before the missionaries found them, and they all wanted to be baptized. In October all eight of the family, plus five others, were baptized in a river by their home.
A year later, a church congregation was created in Nkawkaw, with 85 members and 35 investigators. Jonathan’s father was made the first counselor; he was made the branch president several years later. On July 28, 2007, Jonathan received a mission call to the Nigeria Enugu Mission. To date, seven young men from that branch have served missions of their own, including Jonathan and his two younger brothers. The congregation continues to grow.
Jonathan is currently attending the university in Tarkwa, receiving aid from the Perpetual Education Fund of the LDS Church, as well as support from the Balch family. He is on track to graduate in 2014.
When the meeting was held in the Monticello Stake Center 15 years ago, Garry Flake told the congregation, “The little quilt that someone has tied here in Monticello will become an heirloom for generations to come for someone in North Korea.”
That may well be true—and perhaps someday a story to that effect will surface—but for now, the legacy of the one quilt that found its way to Ghana demonstrates how incredibly powerful the gift of love can be.