Knitting for Mission benefits both Hondurans and knitters
By Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Members of the group Knitting for Mission at Sewickley Presbyterian Church outside Pittsburgh meet Thursday afternoons to transform leftover yarn into personal medicine bags and dolls, which a member personally delivers each summer to a medical mission in Honduras.
During a summertime medical mission, a group member and her daughter delivered about 400 hand-knit bags and more than 100 knitted dolls to Hondurans receiving medical and dental care.
“When I started four years ago, I didn’t know how to knit. I had to learn on YouTube,” said Stephanie O’Kane, who together with her daughter Jocelyn delivers the group’s medicine bags and dolls each summer through a medical mission to Honduras by the group Action for Education. “The small group is a lovely part of the church experience.”
Anywhere from 4-10 knitters show up on any given Thursday to knit, learn and commiserate.
“The women weren’t good friends before we began knitting together,” said Nancy Merrill, who helped found the group and says Thursday afternoon is her favorite time of the week. “Now we refer to ourselves as a close-knit group. After a devotion from a book written by a knitter, we knit and chat for two hours. We’re not a big group, but we enjoy our time together.”
O’Kane said she awards dolls to children who are brave at the prospect of having one or more their teeth pulled.
“Those dolls (created by group member Velma Saire) were a big hit,” O’Kane said. “I’ve been known to tell (Honduran dental patients), ‘Go ahead, and I’ll have a prize for you after it’s done.’”
During the most recent two-week medical mission, doctors, dentists and the O’Kanes saw more than 2,600 patients and distributed nearly 5,900 bottles of medicine – some tucked into the knitters’ draw-string bags.
“Every morning we’d pack up a pickup and drive about two hours across rivers to get to the people, most of them coffee farmers,” O’Kane said. “I have always been someone who has a heart for this. When you realize how others live, it makes you more grateful for what you have.”
O’Kane said Knitting for Mission members take pride in delivering their products themselves, rather than boxing them up and shipping them where they’re needed. In addition to Honduras — knitters are selling items at the church during the coming weeks to purchase medications for next year’s mission — the knitted items are donated to a nearby men’s shelter and to the victims of domestic abuse.
“A huge deal this time of year is hats and scarves, because that helps people get back on their feet,” O’Kane said. “We usually contribute to missions the church has already looked at, because they’re places already doing good work, but occasionally one of our members will say, ‘Hey, I heard about this place.’ We look into it, and then we jump on the bandwagon.”
Merrill said community support is helping Knitting for Mission to broaden its reach.
“We just heard the local YMCA is going to be accepting gifts of yarn for us to use,” she said. “This whole idea came out of growing our service out of our common interest. We floated the idea of starting a knitting group, and we have been knitting ever since.”
The Rev. Sarah Bird, the church’s associate pastor, called it a joy to “see how the Holy Spirit brought these ladies together around such a simple, ordinary, lovely hobby to create community, generosity and hospitality that demonstrates God’s love” for people.
The knitters also routinely send deacons out with a prayer shawl while they serve home communion to members and friends who are ill or shut-in. Often, Bird said, deacons “report back about how meaningful it is for folks to receive a tangible token of love and concern for their church family. So it definitely meets a more immediate mission need as we minister to those in our church community who feel isolated.”
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