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Blankets impact Bethel students from around the world—in school and beyond.

Blankets impact Bethel students from around the world—in school and beyond.

Bethel students and international exchange students from Daystar University pose during the 2016 Mu Kappa fall orientation with their quilts gifted by Central Baptist Church’s Dorcas circle.

When Jean (Hayne) McNutt ’60 joined the Central Baptist Church (CBC) Dorcas circle—a Central Woman’s Fellowship group that’s been around as long as one 93-year-old member can remember—she sought ways to expand the quilting ministry. Shortly after, she placed a call to her alma mater and discovered a new avenue for the ministry to make a difference. Now for nearly a decade, Dorcas has joined the longstanding tradition of giving blankets to Bethel students from around the globe.

Quilting ministries grew in popularity during the world wars. Afterward, when the demand to send quilts to troops declined, these groups still desired to aid people who were far from home—whether for spiritual, military, or personal reasons. As a result, since the early 1970s, Bethel has received blankets annually for incoming students who grew up outside of the United States.

Bethel calls these students “Mu Kappa”—though the origin of Mu Kappa as a designation for students whose parents are missionaries has broadened to include students from a range of backgrounds. Within Bethel’s Mu Kappa group are traditional Mu Kappa or “Missionary Kid,” students, other third-culture students—meaning U.S. citizens who grew up in a different country—and international students studying abroad at Bethel.

All receive quilts from the Dorcas circle when they arrive on campus as first-year students. “We felt like this was a way to give back and to let these kids know that they’re far away from home, but people are thinking about them,” McNutt says. The term “Dorcas” comes from Acts 9. It’s the Greek name for Tabitha, a woman who helped the needy especially by making clothes.

The group’s impact extends far beyond giving students a warm welcome. Mu Kappa alumni—many of whom are again living overseas—have shared how meaningful the blankets were and are to them. Chinret Best ’11, who came to Bethel after growing up in Nigeria, recalls how her blanket helped her endure her first Minnesota winter. “I arrived in Minnesota in January,” Best writes. “I did not have very much to start up with. I treasured that blanket so much. It was warm…and it brightened up my space. I am grateful to all those who were thoughtful enough to take the time and effort to make those beautiful blankets for not just me, but many others.”  

Joshua Nyamung, a Kenyan Daystar University student who participated in a fall 2016 exchange semester at Bethel, echoes Best’s appreciation. “Blankets are very significant in African traditions, especially when given as gifts. It was very meaningful,” he writes. The Dorcas circle doesn’t only provide quilts for undergraduate students. International professionals studying at Bethel in the graduate school and seminary are also gifted this “little bit of homemade Minnesota.”

McNutt says each of the blankets are unique—only sharing similarities in the way they are made. One group member sews squares of donated fabric together to create bold and colorful quilt covers. Then, every Thursday, the group gets together and ties the front cover to a sheet with yarn. Finally, they stuff the blankets with batting to add warmth. “None of them are plain,” McNutt says. “They’re all patterned, and they’re twin-sized—which is great for college students!”

Hannah Johnson ’20, the event coordinator for Mu Kappa, says she’d learned of the blankets before even attending Bethel. “My sister had gone through Mu Kappa, so I’d heard that it was a big deal, and that you get to pick which quilt you want and take silly pictures with them (as a group),” she says. These sort of traditions help foster community for students who have few others with whom to commiserate about confusing American traditions (American football remains a somewhat mind-boggling cultural obsession) and the struggles of having to explain their culture and history.

“Most people in the U.S. are pretty monocultural,” says Mu Kappa President Karl Geary ’19, who grew up in Indonesia. “So having people who have extensive experience in other cultures gives you a lot of commonality and similarities.”  

Since coming to Bethel over 20 years ago, Associate Dean for International Student Programs and Services Carol Chang has worked to unite students in Mu Kappa and strengthen support within the community. One of her most successful initiatives has been the implementation of a mentor program. “Every freshman is paired with an upperclassman and meets with him or her to process culture shock, [etc.],” Geary explains. “It’s nice knowing that there are other students who are in a specific role meant to support you.”

Through their ministry, Dorcas has become another sort of support unit. “It shows we’re thought of and acknowledged outside of Bethel,” Johnson says.

This year, for the first time, McNutt had the opportunity to meet some of the students who benefit from her ministry. “It was the most exciting thing for me to be there and see those students and learn of the countries they were from,” McNutt says. “It was just awe-inspiring. It’s such a great group.” Bethel welcomed 15 new students into Mu Kappa fall 2017—making 42 undergraduate students total. Despite the long history of local churches—primarily ones connected to Bethel through the school’s history with Converge—giving quilts to students, Dorcas is the only group carrying on the tradition today. But its volunteers are happy to continue on. “I’m glad our quilts mean something,” McNutt says.

Learn more about international student services at Bethel, or visit the Office of International Studies to plan your own study-abroad experience. 

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