Rolling toward hope: Wheelchair ministry in Tonga changes lives

Carol Anne Eby
Thursday, November 3, 2016
One-hundred and 15 wheelchairs recently rolled off a ship at the Island of Tonga, changing lives for disabled people across the island, thanks to a partnership between numerous groups initiated by a Nazarene mission leader in Alabama, U.S.
Fred Faith, former president of Nazarene Missions International (NMI) for the Alabama North District, visited Tonga to help layman Donald Hunter in building a missionary house there. During the trip he met with Nazarene missionaries In-kwon Kim and his wife Jeong-Seok Kim, directors of The Mango Tree Centre, which provides rehabilitative therapy, vocational and social training, and spiritual formation to help not only the disabled but their families in Tonga.
In many South Pacific Island cultures, disabilities are traditionally viewed as punishment from God. Additionally because of rampant diabetes, many have lost their legs.
Founded in 2005 after more than 11 years of service to the disabled of Tonga by retired Nazarene missionaries Duncan “Doc” and Charmayne Old, today The Mango Tree Centre brings together physical therapists, doctors and other workers to serve the precious people who have been pushed to the fringes of society and burdened with undeserved shame. The Kims became directors in 2007.
“The ministry touched me [deeply] and the Kims’ dedication to serve these people challenged me to do more,” Faith said.
Rev. Kim told Faith about the need for more wheelchairs for disabled people on the island, and Fred returned home to share the need with current district NMI president Casey Faulkner and her leadership team. They began praying.
Faith and Rev. Kim started communicating with Joni and Friends, the Christian ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic who is an international advocate for people with disabilities. Once the organization received the application and saw the need, they were happy to partner with the Church of the Nazarene Mango Tree Center. The chairs were used but refurbished like new through an educational program at the Stafford Correction Center in Aberdeen, Washington.
“The inmates were very helpful and thankful to be a part of helping others,” said Faith.
The chairs were each packaged with a Bible. So raising the funds required to ship them became a top priority. The district wanted to raise funds to keep Hunter in Tonga to complete the construction of the missionary home, as well as raise funds to ship the chairs. God provided in various ways. While Hunter was building in Tonga, volunteers were also remodeling a home for a disabled child locally. The Alabama North District Assembly received offerings, and a corporate friend of Fred’s matched the offering received. There was enough to complete both projects and some to add to the shipping fund.
Alabama children also contributed by selling candy and holding other fundraisers to ship the chairs. The port for shipping the chairs was only 20 miles from the Stafford Correctional facility. Additionally, when the shipping company learned what the shipment was for and who it would help, they sent Faith a check for $250 to help.
When the shipment of 115 chairs arrived in Tonga, the Kims donated 50 of them for adult patients at the Vaiola Hospital, relieving a shortage there. They will continue distributing the wheelchairs to those in need throughout the year, with a portion given to people during the Special Wheelchair week in 2017.
“I believe that whenever wheelchairs are given to the disabled, the love of Jesus is shown and the Good News is spread,” Rev. Kim said.
Maneo and Misa are living testimonies of this. Maneo lost both his legs a tragic factory accident. He did not lose hope though, and from his wheelchair he began taking computer classes at the Centre. He is now employed at one of the leading network providers in Tonga and is a man of faith.
Misa, a pastor, came to the Centre only a few days ago and requested a chair for an elderly man she was caring for who was homeless and couldn’t walk.  She submitted a photo, and by measuring the man’s body size through the photo, they were able to send him a chair. Misa cried tears of joy. Pastor Kim said this was made possible thanks to the donations from Wheels for the World, the fundraising from children in Alabama and the Church of the Nazarene in America. All of this was possible because Jesus tells us to love one another.
So many pieces came together for God’s plan of hope to go rolling on. SangAmDong Church in Korea sent a team to build a wheelchair workshop building. An anonymous Nazarene from the region donated funds to purchase a wheelchair van.
Specialists  have come from New Zealand and Australia to help fit people to their chairs. The Korean government provided support to construct a building for teaching Braille classes. The Japanese government also made it possible to construct a therapy building.
Ongoing needs include additional physical therapists to join the staff, and sufficient, ongoing financial support. And, of course, prayer that God will enable Mango Tree Centre to continue to serve those who are living in darkness and bring them to the light of hope.