In 2010, under the leadership of former Curator Ruth Brindle, the Quaker Heritage Center of Wilmington College created an exhibit that celebrated a doll exchange program that occurred in 1927 between Japan and America to help build relationships between our two cultures.
I was fascinated with the idea of building bridges with a culture before Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki and Hiroshima; another reminder that each generation needs to be building peace, one day at a time, passing that torch to the next generation.
The 1927 dolls were made of a hard resin material that were beautifully crafted and then dressed by individuals or groups of people in quaint cultural attire. Some 12,000 dolls were sent to elementary schools in Japan.
Our county sent seven dolls. One such doll came from the Friends Meeting in Wilmington — her name was Ellen C, named after Ellen C. Wright, a professor at Wilmington College.
Ellen was a brave little doll dressed like a little Quaker girl who traveled all the way to a village called Hirado, in Southern Japan. It was in Hirado that Ellen found her new home, surrounded by loving children and schoolteachers until the bombings began in 1945.
It was then Ellen was hidden, before she was destroyed, by dedicated individuals who wanted to protect this precious symbol of peace, hope and love.
This 2010 exhibit really tugged at my heart, challenged my mind and beckoned my spirit to become more involved in acts of reconciliation. I was feeling called to something simple, yet profound – something with and for children.
In 2018, I started to share my tender feelings about these dolls with the current director of the Quaker Heritage Center Tanya Maus, and the spark of creativity began under the great umbrella of God’s Love. I could not imagine purchasing hundreds of dolls, yet I could imagine rag dolls.
I had an elderly friend who years before had made beautiful dolls for me that traveled alongside of me to Belize. These dolls always brought such joy to the children there.
But Kathryn had long passed — and yet I felt her strong and determined spirit encourage me on. It soon became clear to me I was not to do this on my own but involve a community that understood the importance of working together. I knew plenty of people who could sew, create, and stuff little rag dolls of peace, hope and love.
So, I spread the word and the response was amazing. People of all ages gathered around tables and shared stories as they created quaint little dolls of love, all the while building “Sacred Community.”
The dolls were a variety of colors with hair that was straight, curled, knotted, braided and pig-tailed. Some dolls had hand-stitched faces, some painted, but all were designed with great love from a group of diverse people who believed in the miracle of Hope as they participated in making these offerings of Joy.
Each doll was given his or her own unique outfit to wear — but the greatest gift was given when a hand-cut heart was stitched carefully, with intention, on each little doll symbolizing a prayer of love for children everywhere – especially for children and their little rag dolls.
There are many God Moments in this story — perhaps the biggest was when I was asked to go to Japan to hand-deliver 108 hand-crafted dolls by friends on the commemoration of the 74th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
These little dolls that had started out as a nudge had become “Ambassadors of Peace,” and as I stood before Ellen C. (yes, she is still in Hirado), I felt the courage and the presence of Christ in a radical way, a way that shook my mind and altered my heart.
What are the ways you are being called to be a person of reconciliation?
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal 6:2
Nancy McCormick is Co-Pastor of Chester Friends and Springfield Friends Meetings.