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Hope on three wheels

Child receives gifts of mobility and hope

Mobility Worldwide has affiliates in Michigan in Holland, Saline, and Goodrich. This ministry takes hope around the world in the form of hand-cranked and hand-pulled carts once known as PETs.

GLENN WAGNER
Michigan Conference Communications

Seventy years ago a farming couple from western Michigan, responded to God’s call to agricultural work in Africa. Mobility Worldwide was inspired and launched during their missionary service. This organization has given dignity and hope to more than 100,000 persons, with continuing help from three affiliate chapters in Michigan.

The late Larry Hills and his wife Laura first met while harvesting blueberries together on a Michigan farm. Laura was a member of First United Methodist Church in Jackson, MI. Larry was raised on a farm in Van Buren County and attended Lacota UMC with his family. Larry Hills received further agricultural training at Michigan State University. Laura knew she always wanted to marry a farmer, and their first date was a ride together on a tractor.  

They were wed in 1952 and started farming. The newlyweds became active at Casco UMC. After receiving the upsetting news that their crop of delicious black raspberries had been sold to the military to make indelible ink for military publications, God called in the barn while Larry was milking the cows. God nudged, “Larry, go overseas to people who need you to teach them how to grow food, AND TAKE ME WITH YOU!”

A 33-year career in agricultural missions took the Hills to serve God in Zambia and Zaire (now DR Congo) and to the surprise launch of a non-agricultural ministry now called Mobility Worldwide.

Mobility Worldwide was first called PET (Personal Energy Transport). The Florida affiliate at Penney Farms, a retirement community where the Hills lived after missionary service, had a sign near the road advertising PET Shop. Leaders realized the need for renaming when a stranger stopped into their Florida workshop to purchase a puppy for his children! When the visitor learned that this PET shop didn’t sell puppies but was instead building mobility carts to be given to the disabled in the developing countries, he gave a $10,000 donation to the ministry.

Founders of a ministry based on hope.
Larry Hills (l) and Mel West (r) launched Mobility Worldwide in 1994 with the help of engineer Earl Miner. Larry and Laura Hills served as United Methodist missionaries in the Congo. After retirement, the Hills operated PET Florida from their home at Penney Farms. Laura Hills is shown riding a cart in the 2021 Christmas parade at Penney Farms. ~ photos courtesy Laura Hills and Mobility Worldwide

Meeting a need

In 1994 the Hills left Zaire on furlough in the U.S. to speak with supportive United Methodist churches. Larrytold his Missouri friend, the Rev. Mel West, there was need in Africa for durable hand-cranked transportation so that victims of polio and landmines could be given the gift of mobility. West had driven from Missouri to a church in Des Moines, IA to hear Hills speak about mission in Africa. He heard Hills share that donated wheelchairs, which work well on paved surfaces for those in developed nations, do not work on the uneven ground in the African settings where the Hills served. Larry said disabled persons often had to be carried on backs or on outstretched blankets by a team of people on foot for miles just to receive medical assistance. He explained that durable carts, designed to carry a person and haul several hundred pounds of personal goods, would be most helpful.

West received design help from a friend, Earl Miner, an aeronautical engineer. When he returned to Africa, Hills continued to offer suggestions for design improvements after field-testing the initial prototypes. The first carts were called PET (Personal Energy Transport).

It was Larry Hills’ compassion that gave birth to the design and production of hand-cranked and/or hand-pulled mobility carts, inspiring the global ministry now known as Mobility Worldwide. Today, 23 Mobility Worldwide affiliate chapters utilize volunteers to construct and ship mobility carts to Africa, Asia, India, and Central and South America.

Mobility Worldwide – West Michigan, Holland

Three affiliate chapters of Mobility Worldwide are in Michigan:  Mobility Worldwide West Michigan (Holland),  Mobility Worldwide East Michigan, and Mobility Worldwide Saline. These affiliates are Christian in vision and ecumenical in practice. They also have strong United Methodist support and United Methodist roots. 

According to Conrad Mutschler, president of Mobility Worldwide West Michigan, the Holland-based affiliate began in 2009 and today utilizes 75 volunteers committed to working at least one shift (4 to 8 hours) per three-day workweek at the Holland shop. Here, thanks to many donors and participating businesses, an average of 750 mobility carts for children are produced and shipped annually around the world. The current annual operating budget for the West Michigan shop is $166,000. Mutschler said that all donations go to producing, shipping, and gifting mobility carts to people who need them.

Mutschler explained the design includes solid tires and steel frames, with treated lumber for the seat and built to better handle the rough terrain of less-developed countries. He is pleased with the contributions of area schools that have sponsored the construction of carts which currently cost about $320 each plus another $25 to ship from Holland to the nearest US port for departure. Cart sponsors are allowed to paint the carts if they wish. Mutschler is delighted at partnering with schools that turn cart decoration into classroom art projects. 

Hope for disabled in India
Mobility Carts for disabled children are made in Holland, MI. This fleet blesses recipients in India. Dale Dykema, a West Michigan volunteer assisted with the distribution. ~ photo courtesy Mobility Worldwide-West Michigan and Dale Dykema

He notes that even though Mobility Worldwide is a Christian ministry dedicated to sharing God’s love in a tangible way with “the least of these,” the carts intentionally avoid being decorated with Christian symbols since many carts are delivered to vulnerable recipients in places where Christians sometimes suffer persecution for their faith. The carts are given on the basis of need and serve as a witness to God’s love for all recipients. Organizations overseas receiving and distributing the carts in developing countries pay the costs of shipping from the US port and delivery in the receiving country. On March 9, 2022, the Mobility Worldwide – West Michigan affiliate shipped 275 carts to Partners for Care for distribution in Kenya. Mutschler is convinced an urgent need for this ministry will continue as there are an estimated 70 million persons with disabilities who could use these carts around the globe.

Mutschler explained that the ministry has been blessed by the generosity of churches, conference, individual, and corporate donations and is facing new challenges such as higher operating costs for parts and rent, a need to move to another facility, and a continued need for additional volunteers. Mutschler also gives credit for the success of the Holland affiliate to the late Al Kindig who was founder, promoter, recruiter, and engineer who designed and built nearly all of the jigs and fixtures used in the Holland shop. Mutschler offered praise to the late Rev. Keith Laidler for his inspirational leadership, and also to dedicated volunteers like Doug Dinkins. Dinkins, an active member of  First UMC of Holland helps to procure supplies and serves as a shop supervisor to keep production running smoothly.

Mobility Worldwide – East Michigan, Goodrich

Mobility Worldwide – East Michigan also reflects the love of God by bringing the gift of mobility and dignity to the disabled in developing countries. According to Dave Kauffman, treasurer for the East Michigan affiliate, volunteers meet regularly to manufacture and ship mobility carts. Kauffman notes, “At our East Michigan location we make only ‘pull’ carts, which are intended for people who are not only leg disabled, but also upper body disabled, such that they would not be able to operate a hand-cranked cart.” Mel West, who helped Larry Hills begin this global ministry, once estimated that the need for pull carts outnumber the need for crank carts about 5 to 1, but the demand for crank carts is greater because persons able to crank a cart by hand for their own mobility have more potential for earning money to supplement the family finances.  

These pull carts, like those produced at other Mobility Worldwide affiliates, are also donated to developing nations where they enable people to be transported, in dignity, to school, church, doctor, market, or just outdoors to get fresh air and sunlight. Kaufman notes, “This is absolutely transformational to people who formerly crawled on the ground, were carted around in wheelbarrows, were dragged through the mud, were carried on the backs of their loved ones, or never moved from where they lie.” Mobility Worldwide East Michigan, since its inception in 2008, has sent over 1,000 carts to more than 20 countries

Hope for a family in Vietnam
A pull cart made by the East Michigan chapter of Mobility Worldwide helps to offer freedom of movement to a man in Vietnam. This gift is transformational for entire families, as seen in the joy on these faces. ~ photo courtesy of Mobility Worldwide East Michigan

Ric Noll, president of Mobility Worldwide – East Michigan, is grateful for the broad geographical and personal support evidenced in the teamwork that produces the hand-pulled carts.  Noll’s father Edward helped to start the East Michigan affiliate with his good friend Duane Relitz. Before his death in 2020 Relitz’s generous financial support and donated workspace in his Ypsilanti business campus were critical supports for the East Michigan affiliate. Ed Noll also provided workshop space in his own pole building in Hadley, MI. The Price Airport in Linden, MI is the main facility for Mobility Worldwide East Michigan, including the woodshop, storage, space for boxing, and shipping. 

Celebrate the power of connection. Al Young, from the Commerce UMC cuts steel, bends handles, and prepares the seat cushions in Ypsilanti, MI. Ric Noll does the welding for the carts with volunteer assistance at his home workshop in Grand Blanc. The carts are then assembled with the help of volunteers at the Marshall UMC. Noll is grateful to charitable businesses for helping the group with donated or discounted materials to help make the carts. Noll also gives thanks for continuing financial and volunteer help from United Methodist churches such as Clarkston, Goodrich, Fenton, Flushing, Commerce, and Marshall. 

Noll remains passionate about this work because he values the fellowship of the volunteers who meet to build the carts, the teamwork involved to carry out this ministry, and especially because he knows that lives are being sustained and changed for good in the name of God’s love in parts of the world where no other public safety net exists to offer this life-transforming assistance.

Mobility Worldwide Saline

Phil Macy, the president of Mobility Worldwide Saline, first was introduced to this ministry by his late brother Clarke. Macy is an automotive engineer who moved from Clarkston back to the Ann Arbor area with his wife, Madeleine, at retirement because both are University of Michigan graduates who wanted to reconnect with an area they had grown to love.  The Macys got involved with the work of Mobility Worldwide Saline at Clarke’s invitation and quickly grew to value the community of like-minded friends who come together for weekly sessions to construct adult hand-cranked mobility carts in a small rented manufacturing space near Milan, MI southeast of Saline. 

When Clarke Macy died of cancer in 2020 and another leader moved away, the group chose Phil to become the affiliate’s next leader. His engineering background has been helpful in improving the cart production process. In 2021, the Saline chapter, even with the challenges posed by the global pandemic, was able to build 68 carts. Recent shipments have gone to a physical rehabilitation center in Ethiopia and a ministry called Little Dresses for Africa that works with needy citizens in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa. The Saline chapter trucked its carts to charitable organizations in Michigan to be included in containers with other goods bound for the same destinations. 

Macy is profoundly grateful for the faithful support and dedication of First United Methodist Church of Saline as well as the connectional support of other United Methodists and congregations in Michigan. Looking forward, Macy is enthusiastic about meeting the challenges of adding new volunteers, developing group skill sets in the use of social media to share news about their efforts, and meeting the challenges of rising costs. He believes in the work because he is experiencing lives changed for the good and for God at both ends of the cart building and delivery.

Gordy Peters, the vice-chairman of Mobility Worldwide Saline, is a 37 year resident of Saline and had been an active member of First United Methodist Church of Saline for six years. Peters was attracted to building mobility carts because of a life-long desire to share his talents to help others in gratitude for God’s love for us. This ministry gives him the opportunity to use skills honed in his career as a heavy equipment mechanic for the University of Michigan. Peters enjoys the weekly fellowship on Mondays and Fridays when the Saline team gathers to build the carts. 

Peters notes the Saline team is blessed by the contributions of a local farmer who uses his own barn and donates his time and talent to do the welding in the cart construction. Peters is grateful that people’s lives overseas are being lifted from places of desperation by efforts in Saline.

How to support this ministry

Mobility Worldwide is an EngageMI Ministry Partner. Persons wishing to learn more, volunteer, donate, arrange for a speaker at a local church, or to visit the Michigan affiliates for Mobility Worldwide are invited to contact:

Mobility Worldwide – West Michigan
3365 John F Donnelly Dr, Holland, MI 49424
616-396-2031
info@MobilityWorldwideWM.org

Mobility Worldwide – East Michigan
8071 South State Road, Goodrich, MI 48438
Ric Noll, 810-516-9828  Dave Kauffman 248-425-3132
info@mobilitymieastmi.org

Mobility Worldwide Saline, Michigan
Mobility MI-Saline % Phil Macy
7055 Stony Creek Rd, Ypsilanti, MI 48197
248-568-1624
Macy1624@gmail.com

Note: Laura Hills hopes to soon publish the book written by Larry Hills before his death in June of 2020. The title of the book is, “The Life Journey of a Michigan Farm Boy: from Farm Boy in Michigan to Missionary in Africa and Beyond.” Laura intends to have the book, which also tells the story of Mobility Worldwide, available on Amazon.

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