Look Me in the Eye: Mobility Worldwide
By: Sherri Gragg
Crawling to Help
In 1994, missionary to the Congo, Larry Hills, stood outside his mission gazing across a plain of high grass. As he watched, he saw the grass begin to part. A moment later, a Congolese woman crawled out into the open, a baby strapped to her back and her children walking beside her. Unable to walk, the woman was forced to crawl everywhere she went. She had come to the mission desperate for help.
Hills called Mel West, a friend and partner in missions who was also an industrial engineer. Together, the two men created the first Personal Energy Transporter, a hand driven cart designed to provide dignity and quality of life for disabled individuals in undeveloped countries.
A Nationwide Ministry
Today, that ministry has grown to become Mobility Worldwide with 22 affiliates across the United States and one international affiliate in Zambia, all of which are overwhelmingly supported by United Methodist Churches. Close to home, several churches within the Texas Annual Conference support the Brazos Valley Affiliate which was founded by the United Methodist Men of FUMC Bryan. Mobility Worldwide Brazos Valley is also strongly supported by: Christ UMC College Station, St. Luke’s UMC Bryan, and Trinity UMC Beaumont.
It is perhaps difficult for those of us who have been reared in a relatively affluent culture to imagine that all over the world men and women are crawling or struggling along on crutches everywhere they go. Many others are dependent on family members to carry them. “The United Nations estimates that worldwide, there are 70 million disabled people living without wheel chairs,” said Margot Newcomb, St. Luke’s UMC member and Brazos Valley Mobility Worldwide board member and shop manager.
In survivalist cultures stricken by devastating poverty, disabled men, women and children are considered a grave burden on their families. Not only are they unable to help support their families through work or helping with chores, their very existence brings shame on those they love. In some cultures, a disability is considered a consequence of sin. As a result, the disabled are ostracized and isolated, many of them hidden away by their families.
Mobility Worldwide changes everything for them. Children are able to finally attend school. Adults are free to not only self-transport but undertake employment. Most of all, they are afforded the simple and profound dignity of lifting their faces from the dust to look their families, friends, and neighbors in the eye.
Brazos Valley and the Texas Conference
Colin Wilkinson, member of St. Luke’s and Chairman of the Brazos Valley Mobility Worldwide Board, is one of many UMC retirees across the United States changing lives through Mobility Worldwide. As he reflects on his work with the organization, his most powerful memory is of the day he stood assembling a new cart outside of a medical clinic Kenya. As he worked, a young woman came by on crutches, dragging her legs along behind her. She was a victim of polio. Her name was Zipporah.
“Would you like to try this cart?” he asked her.
A moment later she was driving circles around in front of the clinic. Zipporah pulled the cart to a stop in front of Wilkinson, her face beaming. He gave her the cart, and it was a gift that changed her life. As the employee of the hospital disability center, she was able to go home for lunch like the other employees, do her own shopping, and independently go further than she had ever dreamed.
Six months later, Wilkinson received an e-mail from Zipporah that took his breath away. “Today there was an old man who came into the center,” she wrote. “He had no legs, and had to scoot into the center on his bottom. I gave him my cart.”
Wilkinson knew then that the carts were doing more than changing lives, they were changing hearts. Mobility Worldwide made sure Zipporah received another cart, and her example of sacrificial, Christ-like love ensured Wilkinson and the other dedicated volunteers renewed their commitment to sharing God’s love through Mobility Worldwide.
One cart at a time.