Volunteer builders ramp up efforts to assist the disabled

Posted: 12/29/06

Volunteer builders ramp up
efforts to assist the disabled

By George Henson

Staff Writer

PARIS—Mike Bradley and his band of volunteers enjoy building wheelchair ramps to help homebound people escape houses in which they feel imprisoned due to disability. And the builders hope the ramps become highways to heaven for some people.

Immanuel Baptist Church’s ramp-building ministry first came to mind through a study of the New Testament story of a man lowered through the roof by his friends so he might meet Jesus, Bradley noted.

Volunteers from Immanuel Baptist Church in Paris seek to offer homebound local residents freedom by building wheelchair ramps for their houses.

“What if they had said: ‘Anyone who wants to see Jesus, come on up. We’ve made a path for you.’ What would have happened? Nothing. Well, a lot of our churches are doing the same thing,” he said.

“Churches prepare themselves to be accessible to people in wheelchairs, but if they can’t get out of their houses, what good is it?”

The catalogue of people the Paris ministry has helped keeps the group energized, he said.

“One thing I want to do before I die is to one more time go back to God’s house,” an 82-year-old woman told Bradley.

“She loved the Lord, but she was a prisoner in her own house. After we got her ramp built, she started coming (to Immanuel) and was a blessing to the whole church,” he said.

Bradley also recalled a single mother with an 8-year-old son with cerebral palsy who sat in the doorway and talked and joked with the builders throughout the day.

“When she brought him down that ramp the first time, every one of us had a tear in our eye, because you would have thought he had been given the most wonderful present ever,” he said.

James Wood, a volunteer from Immanuel Baptist Church in Paris, digs a posthole to anchor a wheelchair ramp he and other volunteers from the congregation built.

The first ramp benefited a 14-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. His mother had been trying to get a ramp built for the house for two years. She wasn’t able to carry her son’s electric wheelchair up the steps, so it stayed at school. At home, he had a standard wheelchair to sit in, but he wasn’t able to move it himself.

“Seeing that boy come down that ramp went straight to our hearts,” Bradley said. “We had prayer then, and when we looked up, it came to all of us at the same time that we were standing two doors down from a church. It made us ask how many others needed this.”

Bradley and his crew receive far more requests than they have been able to meet.

“The hardest part of this ministry is praying to see who God wants us to help next,” he said.

Every ramp is different because of the different configurations of the houses involved, and each takes four to six hours to assemble, he said. Bradley and Thomas Jordan expedite the process by taking measurements and precutting boards to build sections of the ramp in advance.

The cost of materials runs between $400 and $800 for each ramp, he said.

“The Lord has been in this from the beginning. When we built the first ramp, I just put everything on my charge card, and when we got done, I took my receipts up to the church and told the secretary, ‘I don’t know if you’ll ever get any money for this sort of thing, but if you do, I’d like to be reimbursed. She just smiled and said, ‘I have your money right here.’ People had already started giving. We had never asked, but people had already started giving,” Bradley said. “We’ve found we can’t outspend God.”

When a job is ready to be done, an announcement is made and the congregation at Immanuel always responds with labor and the money to pay for the job. Family members and neighbors also have contributed to the ministry.

The ramp-building ministry is necessary because a wheelchair ramp is too small a job for most contractors.

“These are such a small job, they can’t make any money off of them. So, they quote an exorbitant amount. And most of the people in need of these ramps aren’t in any position to pay it,” Bradley explained.

The ministry opens itself to involvement from the entire church, he noted, adding that some build, some give and others pray. Members of Immanuel’s Woman’s Missionary Union also attend many building projects so they can talk and minister to the many who stop by to see what is going on.

Sometimes it is people driving by who stop; other times its family members and neighbors who come for a look. Almost always, children want a closer view.

“And our WMU ladies are able to meet them and minister to them while we build,” Bradley explained.

The ministry has elevated the church’s profile in the community, he noted.

“People who know these folks are sooner or later going to know that people from Immanuel Baptist Church built the ramp. And they are going to ask them, ‘What did it cost you?’ And when they find out nothing, they are going to ask, ‘Then why did they do it?’ and these people can tell them it’s because we love Jesus and want to share that love with others.”

The ramp-building ministry also has opened doors for the church’s outreach efforts.

“Our FAITH (outreach) teams have gone to people’s doors and told them they were from Immanuel, and people have said, ‘You’re the church that builds those ramps, come on in,’” Bradley said.

“This is a way to demonstrate to people that we’re not just a church building on the corner but a group of people who are involved in the community and involved in the lives of people because we love the Lord.”

The ministry also is a good avenue for people to become acquainted with missions, he added.

“A lot of the people involved with this can’t afford to take off and go on mission trips, and this teaches our younger men about missions and gives them a taste for it,” Bradley explained.

This kind of ministry is needed everywhere, Bradley said.

“The message we want to get out is that this fits in with any church,” he said. “The big city church or the small country church, regardless, the need is there wherever you are.”

Expert carpenters are not required, he added.

“None of us are carpenters, be we figure if God can teach Noah how to build an ark, he can teach us how to build a wheelchair ramp,” Bradley said.

Thomas Jordan said watching the face of a boy who has been trapped in his house as he comes down a ramp will excite anyone about the ministry.

He recalled seeing the eyes of men well up as a boy beamed at being able to come out in the sunshine.

“I thank the Lord I could have a part in bringing a little joy into his life,” Jordan said.

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