Assistive Technology Catalyst wheelchairs
by Frank Dabbs
There is a New Testament story in Luke chapter five about a group of friends who wanted Jesus to minister to a paralyzed man. They carried the invalid on his bed to the home where Jesus was staying. When they arrived, they could not push through the people who had gathered at the door. So they climbed the stairs outside the house to the roof, cut a hole in it and lowered the bed down to Jesus, who pardoned the man’s sins and healed him.
We don’t know who organized the scheme to bypass the crowd. Who provided the tools to cut open the roof or the ropes to lower the bed into the house? Where did they learn that love is action? Who were these catalysts who put the invalid face-to-face with Jesus?
On a lovely equatorial day in April, on the western Kenyan savannah, Karen and Phil Rispin were driving to two rural villages near Tenwek Mission Hospital in Bomet County, some 225 km west of Nairobi. They travelled with a therapist and wheelchair technician from BethanyKids, an organization that has a focus on appropriate wheelchair provision.
Karen is a missionary kid, born and raised in Kenya, educated in the United States and she has a vision for a unique mission in the country of her birth.
She has begun to mentor a wheelchair program at Tenwek. They picked up wheelchairs for three children in two rural villages near Tenwek.
Family and friends gathered when the wheelchair arrived at the second village. They gathered around to sing and to hear local teachers tell the New Testament story of the wedding banquet about how Jesus welcomed those with disabilities.
Therapists and technicians assembled the wheelchair and fit it carefully to the child. Adjustments were made so that the child will not suffer from pressure ulcers or infections from sitting in the chair that is liberating him. The family was taught how to operate the chair safely.
Karen and Phil were the catalysts for this life-changing day in the lives of these children. They don’t make the chairs or directly help the families that need them.
They are the founders of Assistive Technology Catalyst, a mission that links African faith-based hospitals and the disabled children in their communities with wheelchairs and the companies that make them.
They work in partnership with BethanyKids, which describes itself as “a compassionate Christian mission transforming the lives of African children with surgical conditions and disabilities through pediatric surgery, rehabilitation, public education, spiritual ministry, and training health professionals.” For training, and links to wheelchair sources, the Assistive Technology Catalyst project is Bethany’s go-to resource.
Karen says she has not counted the number of wheelchairs she has linked up to disabled young Africans and their families. She saw a need for an initiative that could catalyze links between wheelchair manufacturers and appropriate guidelines and training for wheelchair provision and the faith-based health providers serving children with disabilities in Africa.
“These children are often thought to be cursed,” she says. “When they grow and become too heavy to carry, they are left in a corner of the house.” She says, “faith-based health providers deliver up to 70 percent of the medical care in many African countries, yet often are not connected to resources that would allow them to share hope with families of the disabled. Karen says, “Our heart is to link assistive technology resources to the hospitals who can most effectively bring hope. If you want to preach a sermon, first preach it with your life.”