Chapter 9 of the Book of Acts tells us of a widow lady from Joppa named Tabitha, who in verse 36 was described as, “…a believer who was always doing kind things for others, especially for the poor.” Tabitha was very handy with the knitting needle, and created garments and other items for the widowed and the poor, making her famous for her kindness and charitably. Although the story is two millennia in age, an anonymous, 92 year old modern day Tabitha has changed the life of a local man, who in turn is determined to carry forward her desire to make a difference in the lives of those who are the most in need.
Meet Bob Dewille, a former resident of Medina. A series of misfortunes, including a divorce, brought him westward to West Unity, where he now resides. Bob is more than open to professing his Christian faith, and it is his driving force in life. “All my life I’ve wanted two things,” Bob said. “One, is to not be alone, and two, is for my life to make a difference. I’m a Christian. Because of God, I wanted to do something that would be totally unique.” Bob’s faith reflected back to the words of Christ, who said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
The modern day Tabitha, who went by the nom de plume of Missy, was the answer to Bob’s prayer to provide something unique, and at the same time provide a benefit to his fellow man, AND help the environment…all at the same time. All it took was time, patience, some of those landfill choking polyethylene shopping bags…a LOT of bags, and the tutelage of Missy.
“She had been a friend of the family for years, and she knew what I wanted,” Bob said of his mentor. “One day she called me up on the phone and said, ‘I want to talk to you. Can you come down here and see me?’ I went to see her, and she said, ‘I’m not long for this world. I’m getting older, and I can’t do what I want to do. You’ve always talked about making a difference. How serious are you?’ I said I was really serious. She said, ‘Okay, I’m going to show you something. If you want to learn it, I’ll teach you how to do it. What I’ve done for the past 20 years since my husband died is made these mats. They’re sleeping mats, and I give them to homeless people. I’ve sent them everywhere. It takes me awhile to make them. They are made out of plastic bags. You make them, and you recycle them.’ I told her that I didn’t understand, and she said that she would show me how to make plastic yarn. She showed me how to make the plastic yarn, and said from that point forward it was a matter of crocheting the mat. She said I should make the mat three and a half feet wide and six feet long because most people are about six feet. If you get a taller person that needs something bigger on a special request, then go ahead and make the longer mat. She said that when they sleep on this, it keeps them off the ground.’” The recycled bag mats do more than just keep a body off the ground…much more, in fact.
As opposed to a cardboard box or a mat made of fabric or woven plant or grass fibers, the plastic mats are vastly superior. They are water resistant, and easy to wash out. They are resistant to insect infestations. They provide a better insulation to the cold, and they are much more portable. It keeps the bags out of the landfills, and no electrical power is consumed in the recycling and repurposing process. Missy also used to make slippers in the same manner as the mats, using the same materials, and carrying the same benefits.
Looking back to Missy’s instruction, Bob said, “She said that the hardest thing for me would be the part about learning to crochet. She said that she would teach me, and that I needed to learn how to use a Q-sized needle. I had no idea what that was, so she gave me one. She taught me everything. She taught me how to make a chain. She taught me how to double up. After that, it was all a matter of practice. The first mat that I did was okay, but the last two have been great. They’re stretchable. They come with a chain. I sew chain to them. You can roll them up, wrap the chain around them and carry them. They are much lighter then the fabric mats.” Bob has been on a roll ever since.
The 92-year old Missy asked Bob to carry on her ministry, saying that she just could not make any more. Once she had his assurance that Bob would carry forth with her work, and she saw that he had fully learned and grasped the manufacturing concept. Missy handed her ministry torch to Bob, and in November of 2016, she passed away.
Now on his own, Bob is learning the ins and outs of the ministry that he inherited from Missy. One of those was the consumption rate of his raw materials…the bags. “I was doing these mats over the Christmas holidays,” he said, “…but I kept running out of bags. I decided to take my need for bags to Facebook, and from there it’s spread out from churches to individuals. The worst thing is not having enough bags. It’s always better to have more than enough.” Just prior to the time of this interview, Bob received a huge shipment of bags that were delivered by Pastor David Mathis of the Living Hope Free Methodist Church in West Unity.
Bob says that it takes 45 hours to crochet one mat. “I do it in my spare time and I don’t pressure myself, because if I can make a difference in just one person’s life, then my life has counted for something. One in four homeless people is an American military veteran. I especially want to do something for them. In with the mat, I put a copy of the One Minute Bible. It gets them interested in God. Sometimes I can get restaurant coupon books, and I will put in a coupon for a cup of coffee so they can read the Bible and have a cup of coffee.”
Bob wanted to be unique, and God gave him the outlet. With his drive and zeal, you would think that he would be happy with his unique status, but now he is willing to trade that title in for something that he feels is even better. As Missy once did for him, he wants to teach individuals and groups how to do what he is doing. Everything and everyone from high school art and Vo-Ag classes, to organizations like knitting circles, churches, 4-H and FFA chapters, right on down to individuals, Bob wants to show them all how to save our landfills, save our planet, and provide a comfort for those who are in great need.
“Anyone who is willing to do this,” Bob said, “I am willing to teach them. Just call me at 419-737-6888. It can be tedious, but if you can get yourself through that, the rewards are very great. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life. You will have the satisfaction of doing something for someone other than yourself. You are making a difference. You are speaking of God. God did not call the righteous to repent; He called on sinners.”
Bob is holding fast to his promise to Missy before she passed away, and he is eager to expand the family of plastic weavers in the area. “All that you need to have is a little patience, and a desire to make a difference in someone’s life,” he said. “That’s all that you need, and if no one else wants to learn this, then I’ll just keep on making these things until the day I draw my last breath. You don’t have to change a million people’s lives. You only have to change one…one life at a time. You help one person at a time. You give that person hope. If I do one, and you do one, and everyone else each does one, we could change the whole world. That’s all that I want to do.”
The Bible is loaded from stem to stern with famous ‘hand-offs’. Moses handed over the Exodus of Israel to Joshua. Elijah handed over his responsibilities to Elisha. David handed his crown over to Solomon. Millennia later, a widow named Missy handed over her ministry to Bob. Her cause for the Kingdom is in very good hands.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org