As the phone rang that night in Jacksonville, Florida, I remember thinking, “Well Lord, someone out there has a need.” However, what I didn’t expect as I picked up the phone and said, “Hello, 700 Club, thank you for calling,” was to hear someone sobbing uncontrollably on the other end, saying, “Nobody loves me, nobody loves me!” Although I tried to calm this lady by assuring her that Jesus loved her, the crying seemed to intensify. She cried out all the harder, “Nobody loves me, nobody loves me!”
I said gently and lovingly, “Excuse me, ma’am, can we just talk for a minute?”
She paused briefly, gasped a few times to stop crying, then stated, “I have called twenty seven churches to see if they will come and get me to bring me to church, but nobody will do it.” As she resumed crying, I said, “Ma’am, what is your name?” A pause ensued, then she answered, “My name is Betty, Betty Brown, and I live in a nursing home so nobody will bring me to church.”
As I felt the love of the Lord stretching my heart, I said, “Betty, can I come and visit you?”
After a long pause, she said “Yes but, but….”
“But what, Betty,” I asked.
She responded by saying ,“I’m ugly,” and started crying hard again.
I said, “Betty, you are not ugly. God made you for His purposes and the Bible says we are made in His image and likeness, so if it is ok with you, I will call your nursing home for permission to come visit you.”
She replied saying, “OK, but there is something you need to know.”
I said, "What’s that, Betty?”
She replied saying, “I have suffered from a rare disease since I was a child and am confined to a wheelchair. I am in my fifties, I am overweight, over 250 pounds, my face is partially paralyzed, I drool uncontrollably and have slurred speech.”
I responded by saying,” That’s ok, Betty. If they let me, I will come and visit you this week.”
The wonderful smile on that partially paralyzed face when I walked through the door of her room reflected her deep love of Christ. I kept our visit brief, but I knew I now had a new assignment from the Lord. I thought, “How can we get this dear lady two blocks down the street to our church service?” We had a weekly van ministry, which always picked up a few people. There was a space in the back where a wheelchair would fit, but Lord, how could we do it?” On the way out the door that day I stopped and asked the front desk what steps I would need to take to obtain permission to take her to church. Armed with that information, my next visit was to our senior pastor. “Well Nolan,” he said in response to my plan, “you have my complete blessing as long as the nursing home OK's it and you can find some help from the van driver so the two of you can load her in.” As I was going out his office door, I said to myself, “Yes!” and felt a leap of joy in my heart.
It took a couple of weeks to clear all of the paperwork and calm the concerns of the nursing home administration. Betty had no living relatives to sign off for her, so she was the responsibility of the State of Florida. However, with a lot of prayer and determination, and a senior saint behind the wheel of our church van, Betty rolled in one Sunday morning to her first church service in years with a wonderful grin on her partially drooling face.
Betty soon became many people’s blessing. I chose to sit next to her each week in church. She often requested trips to the altar. I remember that our church acquired bumper stickers that said, “NOBODY UNDERSTANDS LIKE JESUS.” Betty soon asked if she could have some and had three of them put on her wheel chair. Just as her smile was so obvious each Sunday when we picked her up, I could often see a tear as we dropped her off back to her room on Sunday afternoon. Betty loved Jesus, and she loved her church.
The Lord eventually called me to move back North, using a scripture, “I’m going to return you to the land of your fathers.” The van ministry had grown by that time. The van driver had special aluminum ramps made and another volunteer joined the team to be sure Betty and another physically challenged person named Maryanne could now come to church.
Four years later when I had the opportunity to go back for a visit, the church had built a whole new building. Among other things, the wheelchair ministry had touched a lot of hearts and the church had experienced a few years of considerable growth. I was welcomed back with open arms and asked to open the service in prayer. Then it hit me! “Where are the wheelchairs?” After service I made a beeline to an elder that I was close to while a member there. I asked him, “Rock, what happened to the wheelchairs?”
He hung his head for a minute, and sadly replied, “Nolan, when you left that other brother continued for a while, but eventually left, and we were not able to find anyone else to do it.”
Betty’s path took a different direction until the Lord chose to take her home. I was able to keep in touch with the other lady Maryanne by phone for a few years, but to my knowledge, no other wheelchair ministry ever started up again at that church. For some things, when no one will do it, it just sadly won’t get done! Perhaps God NEEDS you to do it? Using your free will as an excuse never guarantees that God will find your replacement! Seek Him, and then obey!
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.