The bright pink of little Nairouz’s knit cap bounces with her—an unexpected flash of color against icy puddles as she skips between the drab tents of a refugee camp in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley. Many things are not ideal in her life, but life is better when a little girl's head is warm.
Nairouz’s small blessing began months before and nearly 11,000 kilometers (approx. 6,800 miles) away, where Bette Stanzel and her friend Vickie Kansanback had turned a ball of donated yarn into the little pink cap. Bette and Vickie will never meet little Nairouz. There is not much chance Nairouz will ever visit the United States, where Bette lives at the Village Concepts assisted living center in Auburn, Washington. Nevertheless, their bond is real and personal.
The connection between the two took place through Pastor Rick McEdward, Bette’s son, who serves as president of the Middle East and North Africa Union (MENA) of Seventh-day Adventists. One day, he walked into the union office in Beirut, Lebanon, with two bulging plastic bags.
“I was shocked when he dumped out 100 knitted caps and a dozen or so scarves onto the conference table,” recalls Melanie Wixwat, assistant secretary of MENA. “They were quite a sight—a pile of colors and textures. He announced that his mom and her friends had hand-knitted every one of them and that he thought families in Lebanon needed them.” Pastor McEdward serves in a region of the world where the warmth, even from a small knit cap, is appreciated.
With the devastating economic environment of Lebanon, where three-quarters of the population live under the poverty level, thousands of refugees add to the need, and recent conflict has caused internal displacement, colorful winter caps and scarves are not a fashion statement; they are a necessity that Bette’s pastime is meeting.
Bette, Pastor McEdward’s 85-year-old mother, has always had abundant energy for volunteering. She has rocked babies in the local hospital nursery, helped in a hospital gift shop, been a library volunteer, driven seniors to medical appointments, and provided scores of caps for infants at the Pediatric Intensive Care Center in her community, all with the joy of being able to help others. However, the international reach of knit caps for Lebanon launched her on a project that has taken her service to the other side of the world.
Melanie, who distributed many of Pastor McEdward's first delivery personally, shares, “We can always find families who will appreciate Bette’s caps; there are too many who need everything, and a little warmth and color is like delivering flowers to them.” In addition to her care group’s family list, scores of caps and scarves have been delivered to a village in the poorest mountainous region of Lebanon, a refugee camp in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, and families in the community around the MENA office. Some even made their way to the Syrian camps affected by the February 6, 2023, earthquake, and this winter, some will even reach displaced families coming from the villages on Lebanon’s southern border.
The knitting operation that is blessing so many is based in the sunny commons room of the residential center in Auburn, where a handful of cheerful senior citizens chat and knit. Bette and her friends haven’t always known from where the yarn will come, but their project has benefitted from discarded skeins, close-out sales, and donations. They’ve knitted whatever God has provided.
Bette is convinced the blessing is not just for Nairouz and her world, though. “Knitting keeps our hands busy. It provides something really useful for us to do. I feel lots of joy knowing we are making a difference to people who need so much.” Their mission has also been their blessing.
Of course, a knit cap doesn’t fill all of Nairouz’s needs, but the knitting group at Village Concepts trusts they are sending care messages that mean even more than do the knit caps they are making. The distance between a senior in Washington and a little girl in Lebanon is not too great for God’s love to span to give hope to a young person facing a harsh, cold world.
* Looming is a process where loops of yarn are slipped one at a time on spokes of a frame, producing a knitted cap or scarf.