The series, “For Me, Christmas Came in April This Year,” was first published in The McPherson Sentinel, McPherson, Kansas, during the 2009 Christmas Season.
Day 1 of the series “For me, Christmas Came in April This Year”
by Jeanne Jacoby Smith, McPherson, KS
For the next several days, McPherson resident Jeanne Smith will share her experience with PET-Kansas to deliver Personal Energy Transportation wheelchairs (PETs) to Honduras in April 2009. Kirby and Christine Goering from Moundridge, Kansas, operate the nonprofit charity.
The journal entries in this series will give readers a glimpse of why Christmas, for me, came in April this year. While I continue to thank God for Bethlehem’s Child in December when life is bleak, in Honduras life is bleak for those who cannot walk nearly every day of the year.
For me, Christmas came early, in April, this year.
After indulging in visits to a number of countries over the last two decades, it seemed time to give something of myself back to the world in a way that honored “the least of these.” Thus it was that I found myself delivering Personal Energy Transportation wheelchairs (PETs) in Honduras with PET-Kansas in April of 2009. December will always hold a special place in my heart, but for me, Christmas happened in April this year.
I saw the Christ Child in Honduras – everywhere that I went. He loitered in the shadows beckoning me to see. He was in the face of the crying grandmother who pulled me to her side to share her sorrow in a dialect I couldn’t understand. He was in the eyes of the frightened child in his crippled mother’s arms – and, yes, her name was Maria. Maria dragged her paralyzed torso backwards across the sidewalk to find us … because she could not walk. The Christ was everywhere – in the father confined to a battered wheelchair with three young boys at his side, in the innocent laughter of children who received PETs because they sat alone on the sidelines.
Honduras was not on my top 10 list of places to visit before I died, but when the occasion arose to deliver Personal Energy Transportation wheelchairs (PETs) with Kirby and Christine Goering from Moundridge, I looked opportunity in the eye and said, “Yes!”
PET-Kansas is a faith-based, non-profit started by Kirby and Christine Goering of Moundridge in 2005. Since its inception, PET-Kansas has built approximately 600 Personal Energy Transportation wheelchairs, with the majority distributed in Honduras thus far. PET-Kansas has a reciprocal relationship with PET-International in Columbia, Missouri, and 17 other PET shops around the United States. Upon occasion, other affiliates receive PETs from PET-Kansas to fill their requests in other countries, just as the Goerings receive PETs from them when they need additional supplies.
This trip was the Goerings’ fourth distribution to Honduras. Our mission with the people there was tightly defined. We worked with a fragment of the population, with those who needed mobility, the ability to walk.
Honduras – a people with a legacy from the ancient Mayans, rich in history but long held captive by poverty and the lack of basic necessities. Before we left, I immersed myself in US State Department reports to learn more about the country. Honduras’ population of nearly eight million claims half a million disabled, a high percentage, no matter how one calculates it. The poorest of the poor are cloistered inside their homes simply because they cannot walk.
Many Hondurans’ ambulatory problems stem from birth defects, accidents on steep mountain roads, and diseases such as polio and MS. Spouses, parents and siblings brave burdens daily by hoisting them onto their backs to carry them where they need to go. Others create makeshift wheelchairs from broken bicycle parts. Still others languish inside in the shadows, too maimed or embarrassed to expose themselves to the public eye. While PETs are given free of charge to anyone in need, PET-Kansas’ objective is to help the poor who have little or no access to medical help or ambulatory devices.
In Honduras every aberration of the human body paraded before our eyes for seven long days in a row. Recipients were identified by local churches before we arrived. They appeared at our distribution centers with makeshift wheelchairs, homemade crutches, and amputated limbs wrapped in rags. We saw fathers and mothers clinging tenaciously to their pride in front of their children. All of these, and more.
In the week that follows in this report, what I experienced changed my outlook on life. It also explains why Christmas this year came in April for me.
Early on the morning of April 8th, 2009, our PET-Kansas contingency lifted off the runway at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport. Kirby and Chris Goering and fellow traveler, Sherlyn Goering, left several days early to visit family and friends before we arrived. A Moundridge neighbor, Ashley Williams, instrumental in organizing the trip, met six of us at the gate – Sam and Rosie Orpin, Matt Goering, Theo Rempel, Jessica Schmucker, and myself. This was Ashley and the Goerings’ fourth expedition delivering PETs in Honduras.
Back in 2005, Williams discovered the Goerings while delivering containers of aid to Hondurans in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. A volunteer stint with his church in Honduras had sensitized him to the people’s plight. A Class 5 hurricane, Mitch wreaked more havoc on the country than any other hurricane in modern history. PETs seemed a fitting response to provide sturdy rugged wheelchairs to navigate rough terrain for the disabled in a country like Honduras.
In the world as we know it in the United States, the government meets the needs of disabled persons with handicapped accessibility to public facilities, special education, and high-tech wheelchairs designed for their needs. In Honduras, for many there is no recourse, no one to fall back on, no one to hear their cries. They and their families live life in the raw.
Four hours into our flight, we bumped across the tarmac in Tegucigalpa. Within minutes Kirby and Chris flew in from Quito to join us. Geovanny and Oscar, Baxter College seminary students from the Church of Christ, met us at the gate. Over the next seven days they served as our hosts and navigators through the country’s serpentine mountains. We would use their churches as distribution points in communities where we made deliveries.
After dinner and a salutary meeting with the head of the Honduran church, we indulged our students in the first half of our promise – visits to the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. On the crook of Central America, Honduras is bordered by both. Piling boxes of PETs on our vehicles, we headed for the Pacific, bumping over numerous “sleeping policemen,” the locals’ word for speed bumps.
By the time we arrived at the sea called “Peace,” sunset had morphed into darkness. The warm, rippling waters hummed an evening lullaby in its shallow waters. We “saw” the Pacific with our feet that night. It was simply too dark to see with our eyes. Little did we know that eight days later when we reached the Caribbean, our eyes would be opened to another reality where the waves heaved high in a constant battle to devour the Earth.
On the way to Choluteca where we stayed that night, I dozed off to sleep. An hour or so later, the van came to a halt.
Kirby’s strong voice punctuated the darkness. “Wake up, everybody! We’re going to learn how to assemble a PET!”