For many years, Standing With Hope has partnered with a local correctional facility in Tennessee in a one of a kind program where inmates volunteer to help us recycle used prosthetic limbs. Each visit, I’m struck by the humility of the inmates and eagerness to work in this unique outreach launched by my wife Gracie following the amputation of her legs.
The workshop actually houses two disability ministries. Wheels for the World is the “parent” ministry and they graciously allowed us to work through their program. Wheels for the World refurbishes wheelchairs and distributes them world-wide as an evangelical outreach of Joni and Friends.
Launched by author/speaker Joni Eareckson-Tada, Wheels for the World recently gave away their one hundred thousandth chair! Joni, who has lived with quadriplegia since 1967, continues to be one of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever known, and her husband of thirty-four years, Ken, wrote the foreword to my book, HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER.
HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER is Mother’s Day sale. KINDLE version $3.03
Now that we’ve covered the history lesson, during a recent visit to the prison, I experienced something new: a startling line of demarcation. Walking down the corridor to the workshop, I passed the chapel. Faiths and services of all kinds conduct meetings and services in this utilitarian room, and at that particular moment, a service from a religion different than mine was being held.
This particular group that met contained several dozen glaring men who looked at me with unfriendly eyes and expressions. Walking an additional twenty-five feet, I met the men in the workshop. Since the incarceration time is only a few years at this particular facility, the turnover is rapid, so each time I get to meet new faces. The men welcomed me, shook my hand, and chatted with me for a while about the programs, life, their stories, and several of them asked about Gracie.
With organized workspaces and racks of wheelchairs waiting to be refurbished and prosthetic limbs waiting to be disassembled for usable parts, the workshop also contained pictures of wheelchair recipients around the world, and patients standing on new prosthetics in West Africa where Standing With Hope works. A large map is marked with all the places impacted by this shop, and it was clear that the men did the work with pride and sincerity.
As I prepared to leave, the men stuck out their hands again, and several asked me to express to Gracie that they were praying for her.
Walking out of the workshop, I took just a handful of steps and once again passed the chapel where the same unfriendly expressions glared at me.
Never before I had witnessed such a line of demarcation of lost versus saved. Of humility versus bitterness. Speaking with the workshop manager and correctional officer, he communicated to me that this group was a handful to deal with, and they were filled with hate and resentment of authority. Twenty-five feet was all that separated the two groups of men physically—but far more separated their hearts.
Two women with severe disabilities chose to trust God with their suffering, loss, and heartache. I can’t help be struck by the ongoing impact that such a decision continues to have on this world. I watched Gracie face her amputations and have served as her caregiver for thirty years. I’ve known Joni for many years. These two women did not start on their journeys of faith setting out to be inspirational or heroes. They simple placed their scared hands into His scarred hands and continue to trust God with brutal realities.
The men wearing prisoner uniforms in that workshop …are blessed because they did.
So am I.