A knitting project in Auburn serves families meeting Lebanon’s winter
The bright pink of little Nairouz’ knit cap bounces with her, an unexpected flash of color against icy puddles as she darts between the tents of a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Many things are not ideal in her life, but life is better when her head is warm!
Her small blessing began nearly 11,000 kilometers away where Bette Stanzel and her friend, Vickie Kansanback, turned skeins of pink yarn into the small, knitted cap. Bette and Vickie will never meet little Nairouz. There is little chance Nairouz will ever visit America, much less the assisted living center, Village Concepts of Auburn, in Washington State where Bette lives. But their bond is real.
The connection between the two took place through Pastor Rick, Bette’s son. One morning he walked into the Middle East and North Africa Union (MENAU) office in Beirut, Lebanon, where he serves as president of the Union, and unceremoniously emptied two bulging plastic bags onto a conference room table. “I was shocked when piles of knitted caps and a dozen or so scarves tumbled out,” recalls Melanie Wixwat, an office assistant at MENAU. “They were a sight–every color, texture, and size! He announced that his mom had made them and he thought we could give some out to families in Lebanon.” Pastor McEdward serves in a region where the need for warmth even from a knit cap is real and appreciated.
With the devastating economic environment of Lebanon, where three-quarters of the population live under the poverty level, where thousands of refugees add to the need, and where war continues to create increasing need, colorful winter caps and scarves are not a fashion statement. They are a necessity that Bette’s pastime meets.
Bette, Pastor McEdward’s 85-year-old mother, has always had abundant energy for volunteering. She’s rocked babies in the local hospital nursery, volunteered in a 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. But 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.
That’s why Rick brought the first of hundreds of caps and scarves to the office in the fall of 2022–where he knew a need existed, and where the warm, colorful knit caps could provide a touch of comfort as well.
Melanie, who has distributed many of them 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.” The caps and scarves have been delivered to a village in the poorest, mountainous region of Lebanon, to a refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and to families in the community around the MENAU office. Some have even made their way to the Syrian camps affected by the February 6, 2023, earthquake, and more recently to the displaced families coming from the villages on Lebanon’s southern border.
The knitting operation that has blessed so many takes place in the sunny commons room of the living center in Auburn, Washington, USA, where a handful of cheerful, senior citizens chat and knit. Bette and her friends haven’t always known where the yarn will come from, but their project has benefitted from discarded skeins, close-out sales, donations. They knit whatever God has provided.
Bette admits to the personal benefit as well: “Knitting keeps our hands busy, provides something really useful for us to do. It brings us lots of joy knowing we are making a difference to those who need so much.”
Of course a knit cap doesn’t fill all of Nairouz’s needs. But the knitting group at the living center understands they are sending care messages that are bigger than the caps they are making. The distance between Auburn Washington and a little girl in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon is not too great for God’s love to span and to give hope to a young person facing a harsh and cold world.