by Joni Earekson Tada
Bureaucracies aren’t programmed to be compassionate. It’s not in the nature of the thing. Take my friend, David Bowie, in his big, bulky wheelchair. After he became a quadriplegic in a car accident and his wife left him, he moved into a cramped one-room apartment and learned to rely on three or four part-time attendants to get him up and put him to bed. Life’s not easy.
David has been coming to our church for several years now, but not without great effort. He can cope with In-Home Support Services and Medicare, but when it involves getting to and from church, Paratransit is a challenge – the government-subsidized transportation service couldn’t care less about picking David up on time, and there are constant regulations along with new drivers with which he must contend. Sundays after worship service often mean sitting with David in an empty parking lot, waiting an hour or more for his ride. It seems my quadriplegic friend is constantly jumping through bureaucratic hoops just to survive.
Our PCA congregation, Church in the Canyon, consists of 75 or 80 people, and there’s not one of us who hasn’t tapped his foot, looked at his watch, and felt badly for our friend. Dave Guth, one of our church elders, signed, “Sometimes Paratransit doesn’t even show up at David’s apartment. Last month, he and his attendant had to take two buses then ‘wheel’ the last mile to church.”
But Dave Guth felt more than just badly. He felt ashamed. After all, our church recently acquired an unusual gift: a van with a lift. This church elder know that the real solution to the problem was simply finding available Christians who would be willing to drive our friend to and from church. He started calling the men in our small congregation. He found twelve who were willing to be part of what he called “Team Transport.”
Dave Guth designed an Excel sheet and assigned each man to a six-week rotation, one volunteer to pick David up early on Sunday morning, the other to take him to lunch after church and then home. There’s even a maintenance volunteer who, during the week, tops off the gas and oil, allowing the other men to stay focused on driving. If someone can’t make it, Dave asks them to find a replacement from the roster and let him know of the change. He told me: “I encourage the pick-up men to call David Bowie on Saturday evening to confirm everything, and I’ve asked the take-home men not to whisk David away after church – he needs time to fellowship with folks.” It may sound awfully well-ordered, but it’s far from bureaucratic. Why? Because it’s all about compassion.
As a wheelchair user I’m pretty impressed with Dave Guth’s love for my fellow quad, David Bowie. I’ve been just as impressed with the twelve men of Church in the Canyon – virtually fifteen percent of our church membership is now involved in disability ministry! The result is that our congregation is building itself up as the stronger members care for the weaker (1 Cor. 12:22). After all, believers are never told to become one; we already are one and are expected to act like it. Ephesians 4:16 puts it this way: “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” At Church in the Canyon, we affect one another spiritually by what we are and do individually. Therefore, if we care anything about Christ, who is the head of the body, and other Christians – the rest of the body – we simply must move beyond our comfort zones to compassionately meet needs.
Last Sunday, I turned around and spotted Dave Guth sitting next to David Bowie and holding his hymnal. I breathed a sigh of relief for my quadriplegic friend. I know firsthand what a blessing it is to have Christian brothers and sisters who serve as the hands of Jesus Christ, carrying the burden and lifting the load. It especially warmed my heart afterward when I saw several families crowd around David. One of the children reached up on tiptoe and stretched his little arms around him to give him a hug. It was the perfect picture of Luke 14:13-14: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
There’s no way David Bowie could possibly repay the twelve men at Church in the Canyon who are setting aside chunks of their Sundays to spend time helping him. Knowing Dave Guth and the Team Transport men, they wouldn’t want to be repaid. They are the ones receiving the biggest blessing. I got proof of that when David Guth, with a big smile and wet eyes, told me yesterday: “James Chung just asked if he could pick up David next week for our men’s breakfast on Saturday morning. And there are plans to bring David to our men’s retreat up in the mountains. This ministry is growing; oh, how the Lord must be pleased!”
Yes, the Lord must be pleased. I even pictured the Savior adding a few more names to the Excel sheet. Team Transport is growing. And so is the heart of Church in the Canyon.
Joni Earekson Tada is founder and chief executive officer of Joni and Friends, which reaches families affected by disability with the gospel of Christ. She is author of When God Weeps.