Threads that link local Presbyterian Church to medical mission in Malawi

Evelyn Love, Yvonne Millar and Kathleen McComb hard at work at Ballycarry.
Evelyn Love, Yvonne Millar and Kathleen McComb hard at work at Ballycarry.

A CUP and a crochet at Ballycarry is all part of a wider creative chain that is helping spread a little cheer in Africa.

A hard-working group of local ladies attached to Ballycarry Presbyterian Church have been producing colourful blankets, children’s clothing and other items for around a decade and are currently preparing items for another shipment to Malawi.

Ethel McKibbin and Daphne Bashford with some of the items which have been completed for the shipment to Africa

Ethel McKibbin and Daphne Bashford with some of the items which have been completed for the shipment to Africa

The Threads group was set up by church Clerk of Session Daphne Bashford after her retirement, and has been growing in strength ever since.

The group meets on the first and third Tuesdays each month from 10.30am until noon in the church hall, and knit or crochet together while enjoying a conversation and a coffee. All ladies interested in joining the group are welcome along.

This unusual production line has plenty of items to show for the effort, with baby bootees, children’s hats and cardigans, blankets, mitts and other items currently being boxed for despatch.

Four shipments of clothes are sent each year, beginning a journey at the Hillhead Church Hall, where they are boxed and then taken to Belfast, where a container is prepared by a local shipping company.

Wilma McRoberts (left) and Janette Bremner are members of the Threads group

Wilma McRoberts (left) and Janette Bremner are members of the Threads group

“The clothing is packed by us in the hall, then the boxes are taken to the docks to a container that is held there. Once the container is filled, then it begins its journey,” said Daphne.

The voyage ends in South Africa, and the container then begins the long journey overland to Malawi, where Livingstonia is their final destination.

It can take three to five months for the knitted and crocheted items to arrive at the David Gordon Memorial Hospital there, and Presbyterian missionaries ensure that the clothing goes to new born babies and their families.

The items are donated by like-minded supporters from different parts of Ireland and locals can follow the missionary blog online and keep up to date with developments in Malawi.

“In addition to the ladies who come to the church hall two Tuesdays a month, we also have outworkers who knit and crochet in Ballycarry, Magheramorne, Carrickfergus, one lady in Belfast and another group in Donaghadee, which was started by one of our members when she moved there,” Daphne said.

“The Threads group come along and have a cup of tea or coffee and a chat while they knit or crochet, so it also has a social side to it as well as helping others,” she added.

Over the ten years or so since it started, literally thousands of items have been produced and countless boxes sent to Malawi, but also to the premature babies unit in Northern Ireland, some to Romania and also some hats to the Seaman’s Mission in Belfast.

The ladies also help with a fundraising project for Age NI.

Daphne said that there had always been an interest at the local church in missionary work in the past, and Malawi had been a particular focus for many years.

On occasions some of the missionaries are able to visit the Ballycarry church to talk of their work, when they are on home leave, as has been the case with current missionaries Johnny and Lyn Dowds.

Working in the Presbyterian medical mission in Livingstonia, they allocate the clothing when it arrives and Daphne says that it is of benefit to not only new-borns but often their brothers and sisters who come to the mission. The couple also undertake medical mission outreach to surrounding villages, which also benefit from the support of those such as the Threads group.

The 100-bed David Gordon Memorial Hospital at Livingstonia was founded by Scottish Presbyterian missionaries in 1910 and it is centre of a wider mission including several schools. The hospital and its medical clinics in surrounding villages serve a population of around 45,000.