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Sharing God's Love -- One Hat at a Time

These senior citizens don't let their ages stop them from bringing warmth and love to hundreds of lives each year.

Jay (Oklahoma) First Assembly of God has a variety of ways it ministers to the community, but recently a small group of its senior citizens has caught the attention of local media. The group is called the Kniffty Knitters, and over the past 6 years, they’ve knitted between 3,000 to 4,000 hats for the homeless and other people in need.

The Kniffty Knitters began by accident, when Joy Lingle, 90, a widow with no family, started knitting dozens of scarves for the women in the church. “I needed something to keep me busy,” she explains.

Lingle’s handiwork caught the attention of Connie Rice, who wanted to learn how to knit the scarves . . . and then Treava Martin, and then Mary Martin, and then Diana Lokey, Joyce Williams, Susan Nelson, and Debbie Orr, until within a year, a group of eight women were meeting to knit scarves and now, mostly hats.

“We use looms to make the hats,” says Lokey, who, with her husband, Robert, are the senior adult pastors at Jay First AG. “They’re beautiful — very nice and very warm.”

The Lokeys retired to Jay after serving more than 28 years at Skiatook (Oklahoma) First AG. That retirement only spanned about six months before they became senior adults ministers at Jay First AG almost six years ago, with Diana joining the knitters soon afterward.

A majority of the hats are donated to the John 3:16 Mission in Tulsa, which saw 2,300 individuals commit their lives to Christ last year alone. “This is one of the things I look forward to receiving every year,” says Steve Whitaker, senior pastor and CEO of John 3:16 Mission. “I personally go out of my way to make sure those hats get into the hands of somebody who can use them. They are the only donation of its kind that come in every year — they are very special to me.”

The hats, made on different sized looms for adults or children, have also found their ways into the church congregation, as well as local classrooms for students and teachers, the COMPACT ministry in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and to just about anyone the group becomes aware of who needs a warm hat — even including one for a baby kangaroo!

The women gather weekly at Lingle’s home on Thursdays from 1-4 p.m. to knit. Lingle, who has chosen to no longer drive and struggles with asthma, is not physically able to attend church any longer, but enjoys the weekly gathering of deeply devoted Christian women in her home.

The Kniffty Knitters are all senior citizens, ages 65-90, with five having surviving spouses. Lokey, 74, is the only woman who is not retired.

Chad Allred, senior pastor at Jay First AG, says that the group started about two years before his arrival at the church and he expects that it will continue for many more years after he’s gone. “The thing that stands out to me the most about this group is that it demonstrates that age is not a restriction to helping those around them.”

Lokey and Lingle agree that the weekly gathering is something all the women look forward to, as laughter and snacks — in addition to making hats — are always on the menu. However, as the group has focused outward in their service to others, God has also made the group a blessing to each of them as well.

“We sit around the dining room table, knit and talk and pray and joke — we just have a grand time,” Lingle says. “But we’re also very open with one another about things that happen in our lives, good and bad. That helps — the fellowship is so important . . . to have somebody to talk to, tell your troubles to.”

Lokey recalls how Connie Rice became ill during a gathering. The other knitters paused to pray for her. Shortly later, Rice began to feel better and by the time they departed later that afternoon, she was feeling “back to normal.”

According to Whitaker, who says many of the workers at the mission are affiliated with the AG, the prayers the ladies pray over the hats as they make them, make a difference. “When people come in struggling with hypothermia or exposure to the elements, we want to give them our best — when those hats come in, we’re able to give our very best,” he says. “We know those hats are made out of love and with prayer — that makes such a difference.”

Whitaker then shares something that even the Kniffty Knitters may not have known about their hats’ destinations. He says every year he holds some of the hats back for a special outreach into homeless encampments.

“Virtually every community has someone living in third-world circumstances — no running water, scraps pulled together to form some kind of shelter,” he says. “In cold weather, those hats lend a personal touch that can’t be duplicated.”

Hopefully, Whitaker and his staff at John 3:16 Mission can look forward to many more years of distributing the “loving warmth” coming from the Kniffty Knitters.

“We depend on God to provide the yarn,” Lingle says, “with eight people knitting, that’s a lot of yarn, but so far we’ve never run out. When the yarn runs out, we’ll know that God wants us to stop.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.