Celebrating mobility: Wheelchair program is focus of rally at local church

WORTHINGTON -- When Marlowe Van Ginkel looks at a wheelchair, he doesn't just see an apparatus made out of metal and rubber. "Every wheelchair has a story," he emphasized. Each story begins with a legion of volunteers who collect wheelchairs, sto...

WORTHINGTON -- When Marlowe Van Ginkel looks at a wheelchair, he doesn't just see an apparatus made out of metal and rubber.

"Every wheelchair has a story," he emphasized.

Each story begins with a legion of volunteers who collect wheelchairs, store wheelchairs, pick up wheelchairs, deliver wheelchairs and refurbish wheelchairs. It reaches its climax when a wheelchair is delivered to a person in need in a foreign country, often providing that person with mobility for the first time and changing his or her life forever.

That's the mission of Hope Haven International Ministries, which was developed in the early 1990s. According to Van Ginkel, the director of church and public relations for Hope Haven, based in Rock Valley, Iowa, Hope Haven was founded about 40 years ago to service people with disabilities in the region.

The international component came about as a challenge from a board member.


"A board member from Ocheyedan, Iowa, was spending the winter months in the Dominican Republic, helping with a mission project, and he came across a 16-year-old girl crawling in the dirt. He came back to the U.S. and challenged our directors, 'What are you going to do about that?' Because of that, in 1994, we began the international ministry program."

That worldwide ministry will be the focus of a special event, "A Celebration of Mobility," beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the American Reformed Church, 1720 N. Burlington Ave., Worthington. During the rally, which is sponsored by the church's Men's Brotherhood, several volunteers will offer testimony on their experiences working with Hope Haven International Ministries, a short video about the wheelchair distribution will be shown, and there will be a time of music and worship led by a praise team. Fellowship and refreshments will follow.

If Van Ginkel has done the math correctly, the evening will also be the celebration of a milestone -- 60,000 chairs shipped to 99 countries around the world.

"I've been playing around with the word mobility and have come up with this acronym: Men/women of brotherhood inciting love in transforming young lives," Van Ginkel said. "I think the purpose of this event is developing awareness and developing an interest in volunteering. We want to get people to come together and celebrate that."

Volunteerism is at the heart of Hope Haven International Ministries, Van Ginkel emphasized.

"This entire program is volunteer-driven, gift-driven," he said. "The number of wheelchairs we can distribute is dependant on the volunteers and the gifts we received."

Volunteers across the country collect and store used wheelchairs, while others drive trucks to pick up the chairs and deliver them to the workshops where they are refurbished. These shops are located in Rock Valley, George, Orange City, Ireton, Fort Dodge and Sanborn, Iowa; Volga and Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Edgerton. There are also two shops located within the South Dakota prison system, where inmates volunteer their time.

"They take great pride in what they're doing," said Van Ginkel about the prisoners. "We have approximately 40 volunteers a day working inside the prison walls."


Besides refurbishing chairs, Hope Haven volunteers have also begun making select wheelchairs from scratch, fulfilling a need that can't always be met through used chairs, especially for children. The wheelchair was designed as a special project by engineering students at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

"We're making a special pediatric chair for under a cost of $150," he explained. "The prisoners make some of the components, and volunteers in Ireton put the chairs together. We find that this chair holds up well, that it's even more solid than a manufactured chair."

With the exception of about 600 chairs that were distributed in the southern coastal areas following Hurricane Katrina last year, all the wheelchairs are shipped to destinations outside the United States. Some countries only receive a few wheelchairs, while other countries have been the destination for thousands of chairs. Some of the countries with the greatest need for wheelchairs include Guatemala, where about 4,000 chairs have been shipped; and Vietnam -- 10,599 chairs so far.

"Vietnam is a hotbed," Van Ginkel said. "We have more than 6,000 applications right now from Vietnam alone for people who are waiting for chairs.

"Another aspect of the volunteers is those who go with us on distribution trips," he continued. "We encourage our men and women who are rebuilding the chairs in the trenches to see the final reward, how a wheelchair has revamped these people's lives. ... Every wheelchair has a story. Every wheelchair provides that freedom, that mobility, that dignity, for a child or an adult."

Van Ginkel has been on four such trips, and he'd someday like to visit Vietnam and witness the impact there.

"It's unbelievable that poverty is at those extreme levels," he related. "You go into these shacks with dirt floors and see these people lying in beds, immobile, their life stuck to that bed. Then you see the joy when people receive a wheelchair. It just sends a shiver up your spine. You can show pictures and talk about it, but until you hear, smell that poverty, it's hard to explain. I gave a wheelchair to a little girl and her first words were, 'Now I can go to school with my friends.'"

Although Van Ginkel has witnessed the growth of the international program firsthand, he continues to be astounded by its far-reaching effects. Along with a wheelchair, recipients are also often given a Bible in their own language, which stresses the heart of the mission.


"The Lord just drives the program," Van Ginkel said. "He uses hundreds and hundreds of people to complete His grace, and it's just been phenomenal."

What To Read Next
Get Local