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Sock monkeys for Jesus

Bethel Baptist women honor friend’s memory, minister to children

Photo by Jim Massara
The women of the sock-monkey ministry. Seated on floor, Carolyn Burns (left), Shirley Vasser and Emily Braswell. Seated on couch: Mary Lockridge (left), Sarah Forte and Dot Blakey.

Photo by Jim Massara The women of the sock-monkey ministry. Seated on floor, Carolyn Burns (left), Shirley Vasser and Emily Braswell. Seated on couch: Mary Lockridge (left), Sarah Forte and Dot Blakey.

When Carolyn Dukes, a long-time member of Bethel Baptist Church in Jonesboro, passed away unexpectedly in March, nobody would have predicted that her memory would live on with a sock monkey ministry — but it has.

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Photo by Jim Massara Emily Braswell holds a basket with three sock monkeys that will illustrate Sunday’s sermon: See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

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Photo by Jim Massara Brightly colored sock monkeys fill Emily Braswell’s dining room in Riverdale, home of Bethel Baptist’s sock-monkey ministry.

Since then, women from Bethel Baptist have collected about 120 of the little dolls — monkeys fashioned from socks — to give to children and let them know that Jesus loves them.

Last Sunday’s service celebrated those monkeys, with a presentation to representatives from Clayton County’s police and fire departments and a sermon about see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

In addition, the women made their entrance to the theme from the TV show “The Monkees” — having vowed that except “where they say ‘we’re too busy singing,’ we’re going to say ‘we’re too busy sewing,’ ” says Shirley Vasser, one of the women.

It was all tongue in cheek, of course, but done seriously to honor the memory of Dukes, 73. She apparently had a thing for those sock monkeys.

“I didn’t realize (Dukes) liked them until she called me one day and asked to bring my grandson a sock monkey,” says Emily Braswell, who organized the ministry and hosts it at her Riverdale home. After Dukes died from a rare fungal infection, Braswell’s daughter suggested the ministry, and it just “took off.”

Braswell’s dining room is now festooned with the brightly colored dolls, about a third of which were hand-made by the women. The rest were purchased from places like Walmart, Toys R Us, and local hospital gift shops, at a cost of about $10 each, borne by the women and contributions from members of Bethel Baptist.

Some monkeys were given to Clayton County’s police and fire departments for distribution to needy children, in part to honor the memory of Dukes’ father, H.C. Mayo, who was chief of Jonesboro’s police decades ago. Others will go the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home in Palmetto. And the rest will go to children at Sunday’s service and members of the church group for special-needs adults that Dukes founded and Vasser now runs.

But it won’t end there, because the fellowship, as Braswell puts it, is just so enjoyable.

“We’re an old folks’ church, but we have a lot of fun,” she says.

“It’s just not as physical as it used to be,” Vasser adds with a laugh.