Jennifer Conway recalled the bright smile of little Esmerelda as the girl got comfortable sitting in her very first wheelchair. The mother cried tears of joy. Conway was with them on behalf of a disability ministry, Joni and Friends Arizona.
She was in Mexico to capture video and photos of the experience on behalf of Highlands Church in Scottsdale, which partnered with Joni and Friends to send a team to Rocky Point, Mexico, to deliver 50 manual wheelchairs in June. In four days, they fitted 25 wheelchairs for 25 people. “There’s a lot more stigma about people with disabilities in other countries, so we wanted to make sure they knew they’re loved,” Conway said.
Joni and Friends Arizona is celebrating its 25th anniversary of service throughout the state by expanding their reach past Arizona’s borders. The "wheels beyond border" initiative was started by Joni Eareckson Tada, who said that the initiative was meant to “bring the gift of mobility and the gospel message to people with disabilities worldwide,” according to the team's website.
“On our last couple of mission trips to Mexico, we were doing vision care, but we noticed the needs of the people with disabilities and wanted to meet them,” said Missy Farrington, the director for people with special needs at Highlands Church.
The Joni and Friend Arizona team consist of physical therapists, occupational therapists, and mechanics. “It’s important to have the therapists and mechanics on your team so that you can be sure each person who receives a chair is comfortable and seated properly,” continued Farrington. Each person receiving a wheelchair was called back to the therapy room to be fitted individually.
In Mexico, Farrington got Israel, the pastor’s son, into his first wheelchair after spending years being carried around over his father’s shoulder.
“He could finally see what was going on around him, greet people, and become part of the community,” she said. “It was a blessing to see."