First UMC Bryan: Anniversary Marks 20 Years of Mobility-Centered Mission
Vital congregations often find a ‘signature ministry’ that exhibits their passion for others in a unique way. First UMC, Bryan recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of their P.E.T. ministry.
In Ogbomosho, Nigeria, Seun Oke contracted polio as a child and was forced to quit school. When she received a Personal Energy Transportation (P.E.T.) cart, it changed her life. This three-wheeled, hand cranked cart made especially for mobility-impaired people in developing countries, enabled Seun to finish regular schooling and complete vocational school.
Last month, Seun was the special guest of First UMC, Bryan at the celebration luncheon for the 20th anniversary of this longstanding mission project: the Brazos Valley P.E.T. project. Brazos Valley P.E.T. is one of 22 P.E.T. shops in the United States and one in Zambia. Before Seun shared her transformative story, West District Superintendent Rev. Wanda Bess, led over 130 guests in the invocation. Rev. Rick Sitton of FUMC Bryan says, “This ministry receives support from the entire church and puts dozens of men and women to work with their hands so that others may know the hand of God touching their lives.”
In the Beginning
The P.E.T. project began 20 years ago when Rev. Larry Hills, a Congo missionary, told the Rev. Mel West of the need for a three-wheeled hand-cranked wheelchair for victims of birth defects, polio and land mines. Earl Miner, a product designer, designed and built the first prototypes that could stand up to the difficult terrain often found in developing countries. Since that time over 48,000 P.E.T.s have been built and delivered to people in need. According to volunteer Margot Newcomb, the Brazos Valley shop, which moved to Bryan five years ago, has built over 1,600 P.E.T.s. Adds Margot, “The Bryan shop is currently building 175 P.E.T.s to be sent to Vietnam and 50 to be sent to Honduras.”
FUMC Bryan provides the Brazos Valley shop with funding and many volunteers. However, with the encouragement of the church, the Brazos Valley P.E.T. shop has volunteers from many different Methodist churches in Bryan/College Station, the West District and from other denominations. FUMC La Grange provides both financial and volunteer support along with Methodist churches in Brenham, Alvin and Beaumont.
The West District Missions Committee, at the encouragement of D.S. Wanda Bess, has also provided funding. FUMC Bryan leads an ecumenical effort to provide mobility to people in need. D.S. Bess, who has worked in the shop herself, says, “FUMC Bryan is leading the community in the effort to provide mobility throughout the world.”
The Need is Great
The United Nations estimates that over 7 million people with mobility disabilities do not have the use of a wheelchair. These people are forced to crawl on the ground or must rely on relatives to carry them. They often face a stigma and prejudice because of their disability.
Once a person receives a P.E.T., they can go to school, to work, care for their families and overcome the stigma of prejudice. “We need more P.E.T. carts for them so that their lives will be changed as my own life has been changed,” says Seun. FUMC Bryan is helping to change lives through the gift of mobility. For more information on the Brazos Valley P.E.T. project visit their website at: http://petbrazosvalley.org/