Remember the story of the starfish? The person walking along the beach, picking up each starfish and tossing it back into the sea? It may be true that we cannot do everything, but we have an ability to make a difference, one by one. As I wrote in an earlier post Wheels for the World, Lambert’s rehab specialist, Rusty Beal, traveled to Guatemala to help with Wheels for the World by Joni & Friends. Nearly 40 of us gathered yesterday evening in West Knoxville to hear Rusty recount this life-changing experience along with some of his traveling companions (Laura, Rhoni, & Grant from the Knoxville chapter of Joni & Friends) as well as Chris Yerger from Knoxville.
Rusty agreed to share his story with Homecare Advocate readers. He writes:
Once I decided to go to Guatemala on the Wheels for the World mission trip, I was blessed with support and encouragement from my family (especially my wife), my friends, church family and co-workers. As I prepared for the unknown ahead of me, I feel that prayer was the single most helpful thing for me. I had many worries and concerns that I wasn’t sure if I could have overcome them and be able to be “worry free” while I was working in Guatemala. I prayed myself, of course, but many co-workers and friends were right there by my side praying as well as my entire church family.
I went as a wheelchair mechanic on the trip because of my ATP (Assistive Technology Professional) certification. To receive this certification, I went through in depth study course on-line (approx. 40 hours), sat for an exam that took almost two hours and each year, I must maintain the certification by continuing my education in wheelchair technology. Everyone in our group brought different skills to the mix. We had two physical therapists, an engineer, a special education teacher, a translator and several more people on the trip.
Our group consisted of 10 people and we met with a group from Bethel Ministries. The group from Bethel Ministries live in Guatemala and they take care of getting the distributions set up there as well as work towards providing chairs for people in need at other times as well.
All of the people in Guatemala that I interacted with were very grateful and happy to have us there. They received us with smiles and left us in tears, many times because they were so happy to finally have the mobility that they have never had.
The largest barriers we faced, in my opinion, was the fact that we had lots of travel time and simply being out of our normal comfort zones. Our travel time was approximately 2 1/2 hours for 3 days and 4 1/2 hours the other two days. During our time there, we traveled a lot so that we could get to the villages where the distribution would take place. Our day started around 6:30 a.m. and ended around 3:00 p.m. or until the last person was fitted with a wheelchair and had someone to pray with them.
Trying to tell what was my favorite thing from the trip is difficult. There are so many things that I enjoyed and was blessed by. However, the one that stands out the most to me is the expression on a young boy’s face after he received his wheelchair.
This young man had Spina Bifida and has little to no use of his legs. In order to go anywhere, he had to drag himself with his arms or have his mother carry him. As I spent two hours working on the wheelchair that we were going to give him, he watched me closely to see what I was doing. Once he received it, the expression on his face was priceless and I had a mother, with tears in her eyes, as she watched her child become more independent. I knew that I had done something for this young man that would benefit him in so many ways and that would change his life. He now has a sporty wheelchair that he can use all over town and no longer has to rely on someone to help him get from place to place.
My experience in Guatemala was wonderful and I am so thankful that I was given this opportunity and for all of the support that I received.
–Rusty Beal, ATP at Lambert’s Health Care
Wow, what an incredible experience. Last night he described the high occurrence of Cerebral Palsy in many Guatemalans and how the biggest cause of physical and developmental disabilities for many is a lack of an education. In America, he explains, our problems occur with obstacles like the umbilical cord wrapping around the baby’s neck. There, there are preventable educational barriers that pose risk to the children. One long-practiced custom they believe is that when a baby gets a temperature, one can burn the sickness out of them. To do so, the parent(s) wrap their baby tightly in layers of clothing and rags and put their baby out in the extreme heat of the Central American sun. This exposure to long periods of severe heat cause brain damage, resulting in many children having lifelong physical and developmental disabilities. Their group worked through Bethel Ministries International where missionaries teach Guatemalans about these types of issues and minister to them spiritually.
In seeing the photos and hearing Rusty speak about this trip, it becomes painfully obvious how much we have in America and how grateful we should truly be. Rusty described the beautiful ways that families care for one another in Guatemala, parents carrying their children everywhere because they don’t have a wheelchair, people dragging their loved ones to the wheelchair distribution site on cardboard, in old wheelbarrows, and any way one could imagine to get the medical equipment that was so desperately needed. I am reminded of our own caregivers in the United States and the selfless hours spent caring for a parent, partner, or friend. What an example they set for us all.
453 wheelchairs were given to Guatemalans during Rusty’s 6-day trip. That is 453 lives, 453 families forever changed because of this worthy organization and its mission to spread God’s message as they care for people’s physical and spiritual needs. You can help change a life through donations of your wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Other medical items, like prescription glasses and readers, are also distributed through Joni & Friends, giving the gift of sight.
Lambert’s co-owner, Elizabeth, purchased 100 readers and handmade 100 lovely felt cases that were given out on Rusty’s trip. These glasses provide Guatemalans the opportunity to read the Spanish Bibles they are given by Joni & Friends. What a gift.
Laura Payne, who works in the Knoxville Joni & Friends office and accompanied Rusty on this trip, was thrilled to see the work God did through Rusty in Guatemala. “We are so thankful for Rusty’s ministry to children and adults with disabilities as he customized wheelchairs specifically for them,” she said. “He used his big heart and his amazing abilities to make a difference in people’s lives. The support of the Wolfes and the Lambert’s Health Care family, which made it possible for him to be part of the Wheels for the World outreach team in Guatemala, was a gift to all whom Rusty served and the ministry team!”
We each have the potential for greatness. We each have the ability to reach out and touch someone’s heart, to change someone’s life, to make this world a better place. To learn more about how you can make a positive impact, visit your local Joni & Friends chapter organization or call 1.818.707.5664. We can always use another Rusty, transforming lives one by one.