By all accounts, Pastor Del Akech Del has lived an extraordinary life so far. As a member of the refugee group that came to be known as the Lost Boys of Sudan, he lost family members, fled from civil war, and sought refuge in two different countries before coming to the United States as a refugee in 2001.
“I fled the country with other Lost Boys because of the war in South Sudan that broke out in 1983 between Muslim Arabs in the North and Christians in South Sudan,” explains Del, who now serves as interim pastor at St. Christopher Lutheran Church in Lykens, PA. “There were many life-threatening challenges on the way to Ethiopia, but I made it safely even though some relatives and friends died in the desert.”
Listening to his story, and all that he’s gone through, you might be surprised to know that one seemingly small act of kindness still stands out in his mind to this day – while in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, Del Akech Del received the gift of a quilt.
When Del arrived in Ethiopia in 1987, he says and the other Lost Boys lacked many of the most basic necessities of life. “I spent about six months with other Lost Boys of Sudan without food or clothes,” he says. “But most importantly, there were no blankets to keep me warm when it was cool at night.”
A few months later, Del recalls, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees delivered supplies. And with those supplies came very special gifts. “You may be surprised when I tell you this, but the quilts you spend hours putting together saved millions of lives in refugee camps around the globe.”
Pastor Del saw those quilts used in a variety of ways. “Women used them as skirts because there were no sewing machines at that time,” he says. Some people used them as blankets for their beds and even, Del says, as protection against malaria-bearing mosquitoes. “That didn’t work well, though, because it was hard to breathe under the quilt.”
We already know that a well-padded quilt is useful to refugees who very often face harsh weather conditions. Pastor Del also recalls that the thickness of the quilt determined how it was used. “If a quilt was double, two people would share it. If it was triple, three would share it,” says Del, meaning that if a quilt had double or triple batting, it was shared between more than one person.
In 2001, Del came to the United States as a refugee, but long before that he began worshipping God and sharing the story of Jesus with others. Once in the United States, he led worship for fellow Sudanese refugees and eventually connected with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) through which he became an ordained pastor, completed seminary and eventually got his Master of Divinity degree. He now serves several communities, including the Sudanese refugee community of the Lancaster area.
Pastor Del uses his life story as a testimony to God’s grace, and fondly recalls that quilt, given to him so long ago, as one of many blessings he’s received along the way. “God is always present in our lives regardless of life struggles and setbacks. I always share my story and remind my church members about my hard-earned life experiences. I believe God knows everything we lack and in God’s time His response to our prayers is always right.”