Prison Wheels

  • Oct. 17, 2013
  • #8209

Listen to this encouraging story of how prisoners are restoring wheelchairs to help people with disabilities in need. 

Prison Wheels

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada to tell you that, yep, I have been in prison.

Welcome to "Joni and Friends" and don’t let me throw you off with that statement. I’ve been in several prisons actually, but not for the reasons people really go to prison, okay? And my story starts with Wheels for the Worldyou know, that’s where we collect used wheelchairs, refurbish them, and then our Christian physical therapists take them around the world to hand-fit them to disabled children who literally have nothing. And you're also familiar with the many stories of disabled people who receive Bibles. I’m talking about it all the time: people who open their hearts to Jesus on every outreach trip.

Okay, so you know all about that; but you may not know how we restore the used wheelchairs that we collect. And this, perhaps, may be the most unique aspect of our wheelchair ministry, because we are partnering with 16 prisons across the United States where we train inmates who volunteer their time to fix those used wheelchairs 'just like new.' And I saw it happen just recently when I was in one of those prisons.

I was up on the edge of the Mojave Desert here in California where Taft Prison is located. It was incredible. As soon as Ken and I entered the Wheels for the World restoration shop inside that correctional facility, I was struck with how quiet and orderly it was—yet I tell you what that place was hummin'! There were inmates fixing wheels, polishing chrome, and repairing leather backings. There were men on leather sewing machines that were making chest harnesses for our kids-sized wheelchairs. There were men in the machine shop who were bending and twisting footrests. I looked up and there, on the wall, were huge colorful murals (several prisoners with artistic talent had hand-painted scenes of disabled kids from different countries). And I recognized them; the prisoners had copied photos from our ministry newsletters. It was so cool.

I asked one inmate what he liked most about his job. He put down his wrench and WD-40 and said:

"You know when I see the photographs of the disabled kids who receive my wheelchairs"—it's funny he called them his chairs. Anyway, he said that when he sees the photos of the disabled children who receive these chairs, “it makes me feel like I’ve got a chance to pay back, to do something good, to really help somebody out there, somebody,” as he put it, “who has a lot less than me."

Wow! To me this prisoner was such a great illustration of Ephesians chapter 4 where it says:

"He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." (Ephesians 4:28)

And you know, for me, the best part was when the inmates were moved into a large assembly hall and I had a chance to give my testimony, to share the Gospel of Jesus—in a prison! I told these inmates, I said:

"You know gentlemen, I'm confined in a different way than you are. This wheelchair here is my own set of bolts and bars. And although my disability is a life sentence, I am here to tell you that Jesus Christ has given me liberty. And He can set you men free, too." 

So would you please be praying for the prisoners—there are hundreds of them—who help us with our Wheels for the World outreach? And be praying as we give the Gospel andthose wheelchairs the prisoners restored to hundreds of disabled children to the nation of Jordan this week, and also in India. Later this month, we’ll be in Peru, Thailand and El Salvador. Pray for the disabled people to come into the kingdom of Christ through every wheelchair and every Bible we give! Those men up at Taft prison would really appreciate it.

© Joni and Friends 



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