This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.
We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next few weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website. Volumes I and II are already available.
Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!
When my wife Mae and I lived in Argentina, we felt as did nearly all Latin Americans, that the Contra War against the new Nicaraguan government was unjust and unwise. Then when we moved in 1992 to Central America and began to teach in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, we saw first-hand the suffering and tragedy that war left behind. The Contras left innumerable land mines scattered in rural mountainous area in Northern Nicaragua. Pastors and seminary students in my classes told me of children and adults in their families, churches and communities, who already had or were losing their limbs due to those land mines.
In 2001, Mae and I moved to Penney Farms, Florida. There we became members of the Penney Retirement Community. Would you believe it, just then a retired missionary from the Congo, who had with another guru designed a hand-operated three-wheeled vehicle with wheelbarrow type of wheels, was just beginning production. The wheels are wide and made of solid rubber, and can be used in soft terrain where ordinary wheelchairs do not function. The vehicles have a box on the back for transport, a hand brake, and reflectors for safety road use. These “wheel-chairs” are built for land mine and polio victims in the Third World. But other victims, such as those of wars, accidents, birth defects or other diseases also benefit.
Larry Hills was a berry and fruit farmer in Michigan when he felt the Lord was calling him to move to Africa with his wife and five daughters to help farmers. “The Lord”, he says, “had more for me and my family to do than just to get richer”. He was a graduate of Michigan State in agriculture, and in Zaire for twenty-three years invested his farm knowledge and inventive capacity in self-sustaining projects for the people there. But, it was during his 10 years in Congo guiding farmers, building clinics and schools, and raft-travelling up little-transited rivers, that he began to be deeply concerned about many who could not walk, many who were victims of the civil wars there and polio.
When he was speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, Earl Minor, an aeronautical design engineer, who had taken a group from the Methodist church in Colombia, Missouri, to northern Nicaragua to rebuild schools and clinics after the Contra War, came to hear him. While there the group had seen the victims of land mines and were conscience stricken by the experience. Earl Minor was accompanied by his pastor, Mel West, who promised Larry and Earl to produce with wood and iron workers from his church what they designed. Larry took prototypes back to Congo and so began what they named PET for Personal Energy Transportation.
Larry tells the story of a woman who came one day out of the weeds by the wayside at high noon while he was examining the soils in a rural area in Congo. She was dragging herself with her arms, a baby fastened to her back, and two small children at her side. She had come two miles from her village home. “Where are you going?” Larry asked. “To that village ahead”, she replied, “I hear that I can get something to ride there”. Larry took her in his vehicle to the next village, outfitted her with a PET, and she rode back home. Imagine for a moment, the drama. She had left early in the morning with her little family on the ground as best she could. She returned riding and self-propelling herself on the cart, baby in front, two little tots in the back, going where she wanted. Imagine her family, her neighbors, the whole village, seeing this marvel. Indeed, “I was cripple, but now I can go where I choose”, she might have said.
Her story is multiplied over and over in a hundred countries around the world where PETs have arrived. Now over 20 places produce PETs in the USA, nearly fifty thousand have been sent out, and the movement is growing. The purpose is to provide mobility to those who need it in the Third World and to provide volunteer constructive work for retirees and others who care to help. Materials and transport to the port of shipping costs about $250 for each vehicle. Agencies already working in foreign lands agree to pay for shipping, to reassemble, and to distribute the PETs to those who need mobility. They are given to those in rural areas without cost and according to need and not creed. In Muslim countries, for example, more Muslims may receive PETs than do Christians. Our motive is shared: “Love your neighbor as yourself!”
Well, to finish the story, or to begin another chapter, when we came to Penney Farms, PET production became my first and prime volunteer effort. We have nearly 100 workers here. During these fourteen years, we have seen production grow here from a few to our eight hundred goal for this year. Not so many it is true, when there are over twenty million land mine victims in the world already, according to United Nations estimates, and more than two hundred million explosives waiting for some child to pick up or farmer to hit. And add to that the others, polio victims and all. So much good still to do, just to help one person, one family, one village at a time, but each, an image of our Lord who finds new meaning and purpose in life. And not only they, but we who are privileged to contribute and work in the Lord’s name for others.
Sid Rooy first served for eight years as Minister of Evangelism of the Christian Reformed Church in New Jersey. After he did further graduate study in the Netherlands, he and his wife Mae served as a missionaries for 36 years in Latin America. He taught Church and Mission history in several ecumenical and denominational seminaries and universities. In retirement Mae and Sid live in Penney Retirement Community at Penney Farms, Florida.