Wheels Up

Tomorrow will be a special day. I'll apply my sunscreen, pack a few snacks, put on my sandals and adjust my cap. Tomorrow is beach day, but not just any beach day. 

The special needs ministry at Calvary Community Church with Gina Spivey (you've heard me mention it before) is Luke 14 in the flesh. From weekly ministries, monthly buddy breaks for parents, to high school proms and retreats, to yes, beach days.

Uganda Letta.jpg

But, let me back up; yesterday afternoon to be exact. Loretta was going through her checklist. Toothbrush? Check. Extra socks? Check. Passport? Check. Tool belt? Cheee...what? That's right. Tool belt. Indeed, deep breath, Letta was packed and ready for Africa. On mission, as her leadership says, she's off to build wheelchairs to give "the gift of mobility and hope of the gospel to those affected by disability worldwide. In certain parts of the country, disabled people are the marginalized, overlooked and forgotten. People with limited mobility are tragically often excluded from life in their communities because they have no way of moving around. Receiving a wheelchair allows them to attend school and church, therefore becoming part of their communities and villages, changing their lives forever."

Which reminds me, tomorrow at beach day, wheelchairs will travel across the sand from the street to the shoreline. Volunteers will lay planks of plywood down and push each chair along, picking up the wood and running it to the front of the line; think of applying asphalt down as the car approaches and then running ahead of the car to repeat the process. Well, people of all ages- some at the beach for the first time and some at the beach in a long time - will be making sandcastles, riding boogie boards, running away from the waves up the sand, breathing in ocean air. Can you hear a seagull as you read this sentence?

A few miles from my home in L.A. lies the longest indoor wheelchair ramp in the world; a ramp that supports the wheelchair of the second longest surviving quadriplegic ever. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. She eventually founded Joni and Friends in 1979 to provide Christ-centered programs to special-needs families and churches.

Guess what? Sunday night, I'll be watching and listening to her speak LIVE at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village as she hosts the re-release of the movie "Joni." Some of you may remember her life's story when Billy Graham put it on his shoulders for the world to see. If you're in the area, come join me. In fact, Joni is celebrating her 50th year in her chair. And yes, she's celebrating. Not since Charles Spurgeon have I ever read or heard any words on the purpose and meaning of suffering like the ones penned and spoken by her. 

So, looking at my watch, and based on the time she took off, you're likely reading this as Letta is landing. Reminds me, before she left she was busy ironing her t-shirts and pants. I told her that her clothes are going to wrinkle in flight, so don't worry about that. She stopped, set the iron down and said, "According to our mission directors, to these people, getting a wheelchair is the biggest day of their lives and many of them will wear their best clothes for the occasion. I want to respect that as best I can." She continued to iron in tears; much like the ones that stream down my face as I type this sentence.

And now here we are at the end of a week where many of us - including the pride-soaked author of this blog - gave little thought to how easy it is to get around, get to the gym, walk to the store, grab a coffee. We need grace to remind us to thank God for the gift of mobility. Hopefully you will do so right now.

Oh, by the way, Loretta is heading to Africa on behalf of...you guessed it...Joni. Joni has delivered over 100,000 wheelchairs and Bibles to needy, disabled persons in developing nations through volunteers. All Letta wants to do is please the Lord, help build wheelchairs and honor Joni. (You're doing it, babe.)

Ya'll pray for my wife, for those dear people who will receive wheelchairs in Africa and for the special needs families on the beach this weekend. Wheels up.

- Jimmy Peña