Joni and Friends International Disability Center, founded by quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, seeks to provide not only the gift of mobility but also spiritual support to affected families. Its programme, Joni and Friends Wheels for the World, helps communities around the world understand God’s heart for people with disabilities while providing physical relief through the wheelchair.
“In the developing world, a disability is often a death sentence,” said Tada in a statement. “At the least, if someone can’t walk, they are confined at home, can’t go to school and can’t work. A wheelchair costs more than a year’s wages, so the disabled person and his or her family have no hope for a better life.”
In some communities, disabled infants and children are abandoned or even killed because of the financial drain on the family or because of the cultural belief that a disability is a curse.
To address the problem, Joni and Friends volunteers counsel families that receive a wheelchair with the word of God. They also educate the family on care and maintenance of the wheelchair, instruct them in making future adjustments on the chair as necessary, and advise them on preventive medicine.
Wheelchairs provided to those in need are usually ones that are outgrown, or have missing or broken parts and are discarded by American families. Inmates in several prisons are trained to refurbish the wheelchair and help the disabled.
“While those who are incarcerated are glad to have a way that they can make amends for their misdeeds by helping others, more than that, it is an education for them about the worth of their soul and the lives of others, as many of the inmates’ lives are also transformed as much as the eventual wheelchair recipient’s,” Tada remarked.
The ministry is also working to train church members to coordinate wheelchair deliveries.
“That’s a key priority for us here at Joni and Friends – equipping the Church to minister to those affected by disability – and it is exciting to see that happening through our Wheels for the World programme,” said Dan’l Markham, managing director of Joni and Friends Field Ministries, which oversees the Wheels for the World program.
The Wheels for the World programme began in 1994 with only a few hundred wheelchairs delivered over the course of a handful of trips. Today, the program has grown to deliver tens of thousands of wheelchairs. For 2011, the ministry is planning to for 25 trips to help the disabled.