Today Tom and I had the unique privilege to spend the day working in the Bethel Ministries International wheelchair shop. What a Blessing! We set up stations with the seasoned wheelchair technicians. Tom with Marcos and me with Ruby. Now Tom and I have had our hands on a lot of wheelchairs in recent years as we collect for Mission: Mobility, but we “send em as we find em”. We welcome the chairs that are “seasoned” or even broken. Many of the chairs we find are in great shape, ready for someone to use with out any work needed…….or so we thought.
Today we learned that the chairs are all thoroughly inspected and refurbished! Just because they look good, they may have underlying problems. (Kinda like many people’s lives) We were taught the process by these amazing men. The main shop room is staffed by 5 people. Ruby, Marcos, Chito and Juanito, who refurbish the manual chairs and Sheny who fabricates custom cushions for the chairs. An important point to note. All of these folks are in wheelchairs themselves. 3 had polio that confined them to their chairs. The other two were in accidents. But in this shop Tom and I were the ones who had the handicap! One of the true blessings of working with this crew was that we would literally look past their mobility issues……because it didn’t handicap them at all! They all were masters at their craft and worked joyfully and steadily. They often would chuckle as we fumbled along learning their trade. (Especially after Tom informed them of my Guatemalan nickname Pollo Loco meaning crazy chicken)
Although we who collect know that these chairs will benefit someone in need……these guys REALLY know that the BLESSING of a wheelchair can allow them to continue a productive life along God’s Path! We could work along side them knowing that the chairs we were fixing were going to TRANSFORM lives…..the chairs providing physical mobility while also providing Bethel the opportunity to share the Gospel and the recipients clearly know hat their new blessing came from God, not man. It is not just about the wheels folks!
The process was to first put the Chair on the workbench. We then would remove the wheels and castor wheels. The frame is then inspected and cleaned. Shined up, looking good as new! The seat and seat back were also inspected, and replaced if necessary. Next the COJINETES….(ko-hin-etes). Bearings. Fun fact. Most wheelchairs have 12 bearings! 2 in each of the 4 wheels and two in each of the castle wheel spindles.
Each bearing was removed, and soaked in diesel fluid to clean them. We then took each individual bearing, partially dismantled them to remove any hair or dirt on the ball bearings. Then packed them with grease, reassembled it and moved on to the next one! If beyond repair the bearing was scrapped and replaced with a new one. For a Farm boy who has wrenched on tractors and implements for the past 30 years…..this was a unique opportunity! These bearings were so much smaller than any wheel bearing I had ever worked on!
Once the bearings were refreshed, we would install them and reassemble the wheels, mount the footrests, then move on to the next one.
One of the chairs I worked on had seen some action. It had some surface rust on the chrome frame that a little elbow grease and cleaning fluid and a touch with sandpaper, it was shining again. The one spindle had two bearings that I thought needed replaced. So I set them aside, and grabbed replacements from the shelf. I then struggled to reseat the two bearings into the spindle, to no avail. Ultimately, Ruby and I realized the outside diameter of the new bearings were a fraction of an inch bigger and wouldn’t fit. No matter how hard we worked, it wouldn’t work. And without these bearings the chair would never roll straight and true. So we took the original bearings and completely cleaned them and restored them to working condition!
God showed me a small lesson in this.
Webster’s defines Cojinete….Bearing with several meanings.
1. In our primary context today it is defined as “a machine part in which another part (such as a journal or pin) turns or slides”.
But BEARING also means
2. The manner in which one behaves
3. The act or power of bringing forth fruit
4. The direction in which one is heading.
WOW! (Several lessons in that one word!)
That original bearing had been neglected and wasn’t working well. It had rust and dirt and didn’t allow the wheelchair to roll in the intended direction as well. We tried to replace it with something different and it simply wouldn’t work. Our lives are like that. If we have the Lord in our lives, he can keep that bearing….guiding us in the right direction…..and on that on HIS path fruit is produced! However if, like that bearing, some junk gets in the center and impedes how you are operating, we sometimes try to replace it. It still doesn’t work. But is we return to God and clean the sin out of our lives (like the rust and gunk in that bearing)and cleaning up and getting refreshed in HIM….we can get back on track.
Proverbs 3: 5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Sometime when we have sent broken wheelchairs, I felt bad. But after spending the day working along side the folks in the shop, it is great knowing they are up to the challenge of restoring the broken chairs. They even restore the good ones! We can all take great comfort that in our collecting equipment we are providing good meaningful employment to an amazing group of people. And I only mentioned the 5 wheelchair bound technicians. There are many others who work in the wheelchair shop. The Bethel headquarters is there also, There are many administrative people, social workers and other amazing people who make this ministry operate. Although this is my 8th trip to serve with Bethel, it was my first opportunity to experience the day to day operations of the headquarters. What a Blessing!
We also had a fun opportunity today to bless the whole Bethel crew. We sponsored a meal for them! We catered in a meal. Rice, picante, guacamole, frijoles (the good Guatemalan kind, not the runny pinto bean ones we get back home), a mountain of fresh tortillas, a carne asada (grilled beef). The fun part is that Tom and I love to grill. So we grilled the meat to BLESS everyone. We even grilled a bunch of the tortillas! YUM!
What an awesome day! Saturday the rest of the team arrives. We will join them in Tecpan to begin the “regular” mission trip. I am so thankful that I have been blessed with such amazing opportunities and to recognize the great power of God’s hand in it all!