Valley Center group to bring equipment and encouragement to the disabled in Zambia
Mark Anderson (white hat) and Brad Parks (red hat) share a prayer with a group of Zambians working to better the lives of the disabled in Africa.
August 01, 2013Mark Anderson and the Zambian woman he was speaking with were both confused.
Anderson, a longtime Valley Center resident, was visiting Zambia two years ago with his friend, Brad Parks, who has been in a wheelchair since he was in a skiing accident at the age of 18.
During a visit to a small Zambian village, Anderson was able to have conversations with some of the people through a translator. It was during one of these conversations that a Zambian woman's genuine confusion led Anderson down a path he never thought he'd walk.
"She was confused about why I was still friends with Brad," Anderson says. "She knew we were friends, she knew that he had had an accident, and she asked specifically why I remained friends with him after he became disabled. It blew me away."
Anderson's heart for the disabled in Africa, and specifically in Zambia, was born out of that conversation and seeing firsthand the overwhelming struggles of the disabled in the third world.
Mark Anderson's life has gone in a totally different direction since this Zambian woman asked him how he could remain friends with a handicapped person.
"Brad and I went to just see what it was like, and it's incredible what they go through," he says. "They're ostracized. They still have witch doctors that teach that the disabled are cursed by an evil spirit. And on a practical level, the disabled aren't able to help feed the family, so they're basically told to just go away. Imagine being told that you're worthless and/or cursed. Their only family is other disabled people who become their support system."
Anderson and Parks spent a lot of their time on that trip reassuring the disabled Zambians they met that they can still lead full, happy lives. Parks in particular provided a powerful example through his own life story, as he spoke about pioneering the sport of wheelchair tennis and showed photos of himself living an active lifestyle that included water skiing, swimming and playing many other sports.
"They have the obvious physical needs, but they also have deep emotional and spiritual needs as well," Anderson says. "We believe that they're created in the image of God, and that it's not who they are on the outside that matters. We want to bring them the truth about who they are in the eyes of their Creator.
"And they also have equipment needs," he adds. "They can't get crutches, or cushions, or parts for their wheelchairs. We want to assess how these needs can be met and see if local materials can be used and if local people can be trained to help properly maintain the equipment. We want to be a resource to help Zambians build the infrastructure they need to help the disabled on an ongoing basis. We want to use local people, local resources and materials, and have a Zambian staff to create a sustainable ministry model."
Anderson and his group of supporters hope to change the culture of neglect and hostility toward the disabled in Africa.
To help meet these physical, emotional and spiritual needs, Anderson and Parks are going back to Zambia for ten days in August, this time bringing a group of volunteers with them, to bring hope, encouragement and equipment to the disabled in Zambia.
Kelly DeFalco, a 2003 graduate of Valley Center High School, is one of the local volunteers who will be joining the group on the trip.
"It's heartbreaking to know that they think they're not even able to be loved," she says. "I've worked with adults who have special needs, and we have so many things in this country already in place to make sure those with special needs keep their status as human beings. We want that for the Zambians. We want them to feel normal and cared about. I'm so excited to be able to see what God is doing through this ministry."
The group is partnering with Operation Mobilization (OM), an organization that works around the world with 6,100 missionaries from more than 100 nations working in more than 110 countries and onboard an ocean-going missions ship. OM's mission statement says that the organization seeks to demonstrate and proclaim the love of God through evangelism, church planting, discipleship, and literature distribution and also by providing relief and development in many areas of the world.
OM does not have any special educational or training requirements and provides on-the-job training to many teams. Additionally, costs are kept as low as possible. OM offers many custom opportunities such as internships; custom mission trips for individuals, groups or families; and works on helping participants use their skills in missions. The group also works to connect donors with projects that fit with the interests God has put on their hearts.
"We're hoping to create a model for helping the disabled that can be used around the world," Anderson says. "The program incorporates inspirational speakers, equipment needs, events designed to bring disabled and able-bodied people together, and overall, to build relationships. To Africans, relationships mean everything. They don't just want our money, they want to make connections and build relationships."
The ministry is called Freedom Wheels because Anderson says, "We want to set people free; physically, emotionally and spiritually. We want to show them that they can live a full life. And we want them to know that they are loved."
To find out more about Operation Mobilization, visit the Web site at www.omusa.org/
To support the Freedom Wheels ministry, visit https://my.omusa.org/page.aspx?pid=328 and be sure to designate your donation for Freedom Wheels in the space provided.