Profile Story

Profile Story

By Aubrey Smith Feb. 16, 2012

Bikes of every size, shape and color sit inside a tiny warehouse in Glen Ellyn, Ill. They wait to be sold, shipped and used as transportation. Some will travel as far as North Africa. Others will fund national and global projects. But neither would be possible without the faith and determination of one woman: Alice Teisan.

Teisan is the founder of His Wheels International, a faith-based, not-for-profit organization that provides bicycles and tricycles to individuals affiliated across the globe with the aim of helping to spread the Gospel. The bikes are even used by some Christian missionaries to travel between in remote villages.
The organization was birthed out of her passion for cycling and will to help others.

Since its inception in May 2005, His Wheels International has provided bicycles and tricycles to individuals affiliated with over 85 countries, Teisan said, adding that its purpose is to mobilize God’s work worldwide. But as one donor puts it, His Wheels is equally a spiritual journey for Teisan.

“His Wheels isn’t about bikes or trikes or even necessarily about the people in need of bikes and trikes. I believe it’s about one woman’s journey with God and to God, and about all the people who are drawn into that same journey through her leadership,” said Jason Floyd, a patron from Houston, Texas who heard Teisan’s personal story over the radio and became involved.

Her peers have only kind things to say about her.

“Alice is friendly and down to earth. She’s a role model for living day by day,” said Tony Smith, 48, a volunteer at His Wheels.

Teisan’s passion for bicycling began when she was a child growing up in Detroit.

“By the age of 30, I had biked on four continents and through 30 states across the United States twice in high school,“ says Teisan, 49, who now lives in Wheaton, Ill.

In July 1992, Teisan says she came down suddenly with what would later be diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome just 4 days short of beginning a cross-country bike trip.

“All of my self made pillars crumbled. I could no longer work. I could no longer do anything sport wise,” Teisan said.

Her life after diagnosis wasn’t exactly a coast downhill. In fact, Teisan was forced to stop practicing her diploma in nursing, bachelor’s degree in physical education and she quit working at Rush Hospital in Chicago.

“So for 11 years, from 1992-2003, my life was just basically trying to exist. I missed full seasons because of my health, because I couldn’t get outside,” said Teisan.

Eleven years after her diagnosis, in what she refers to as one of the lowest points in her life, Teisan was investigated by a disability insurance company who deemed her unqualified for coverage, forcing her to live off of $450 a month. Weeks later, in what she now sees as a twist of fate, Teisan met John and Carolyn Lutembeka, a couple who served as Tanzanian missionaries and who ultimately would help change her life.

“I felt the Lord say, ‘Have them over.’ and I thought, ‘God, I don’t have anything to offer this couple, I mean why would you ask me in the height of this mess, in the height of a nightmare,’” said Teisan.

As the weeks passed, Teisan said her urge to call the Tanzanian missionaries grew until she finally asked them over for dinner, just days before they were set to leave the United States.

According to Teisan, the couple told her of a need for transportation among missionaries in Africa, since distances between each village require a six-hour walk. She said God challenged her to give three times more than what she was making to them, reassuring her that He would provide for her.

HWI has since pedaled along at a steady pace, in sync with Teisan’s health. She has learned to accept everyday hurdles and is happy with the life she says God has given her.

“No doubt the happiest I seem to see Alice is when she sees a video of someone on the other side of the world who’s life has been changed by the ability to get up off the ground out of the dirt, and get around on a bike,” said Kevin Nikolich, HWI trike “designer” and engineer.

Teisan says God has blessed her with the ability to combine her passion with goodwill every day.

“The one thing chronic fatigue could never steal from me is my dreams,” she said. “My goal was to give away 100 bikes in my lifetime.”

And she has exceeded, leaving that goal behind in a trail of dust.

Biography on Author: Aubrey Smith, a journalism student at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL, did this profile story as part of a class assignment.

How a Single Gift Launched a Global Ministry

 

How a Single Gift Launched a Global Ministry from Crown Financial Ministry Money Matters Newsletter. Published in December 2006.

single-gift

The Best Cause for Two Wheels

Recylced Bicycles for a Good Cause
Woman helps get donated bikes to hurricane victims

The following was used with permission from the Daily Herald. The article was written by Laura Zahn Pohl and was first published in the Daily Herald on August 15, 2006.

When Jan Lutkevich of Naperville Presbyterian Church visited the Gulf Coast as part of a Hurricane Katrina work trip earlier this year, she noticed residents who had experienced severe flooding had a dire need for working bicycles.

“I realized that anyone who had a bike that had been underwater wouldn’t be able to use it again,” she said. “Once water gets into the bearings and the cables, everything’s frozen.”

Upon returning to Illinois, Lutkevich didn’t forget the images of rusted, unusable bikes.

It took several months of work and a partnership with His Wheels International of Wheaton, but by the end of July, Lutkevich had sent off a trailer containing 44 bikes to New Orleans.

A resident of St. Charles, Lutkevich works part-time at the Bike Rack and has long been interested in bikes and bike repairs. It was at the Bike Rack that she happened to meet Alice Teisan, executive director of His Wheels International, a year-old organization that collects and repairs bikes.

The mission of His Wheels is to use bicycles to mobilize pastors and educators in Africa and to provide transportation for refugees, immigrants, missionaries, the homeless and disabled in the local area.

“I ran it past Alice when I met her,” said Lutkevich. “My church had sent a couple of bikes down earlier just to help volunteers get around, but I knew the need was so much greater.”

Lutkevich started collecting used bikes from church members and gained donations of several bikes from the Bike Rack.

Half of the 44 were donated by His Wheels. Some had to be rejected simply due to the conditions in New Orleans. For example, 10-speed models with narrow tires are not suitable for the poor road conditions there.

In June, Lutkevich organized a full day for performing bike repairs.

“Nearly every bike that was donated needed repairs,” she said. “I have a safety check system for every bike so it operates safely and is suited for the use.”

Lutkevich was also fortunate to obtain donated storage space for the temporary collection and the donation of a trailer and transportation through Naperville Presbyterian. Once in New Orleans, the bikes were distributed by Trinity Christian Community, a Christian-based community center in a needy neighborhood of New Orleans.

“Our contact there, Kevin Brown, is from Naperville, and we know they’ll be placed in good hands and go to people who need them,” she said.

“Many will go to children who don’t have bikes anymore and it’s a big deal for them. It’s a way to show our love for them.”

Another collection is already under way for a second shipment in September, Lutkevich said.

“It’s been an all-consuming project — I haven’t gotten much else done,” she said.

Assisting with the collection for Katrina victims was just one project of many that His Wheels International has been involved in during its first year of operation, said Teisan.

“Our motto is ‘Mobilizing God’s Work Worldwide,’ which encompasses many projects overseas and locally,” she said.

The tax-exempt organization has focused on the needs of several African countries, where bikes can transport pastors and educators but are also used for pregnant women traveling to the hospital.

Locally, bikes are distributed to arriving refugees through World Relief in Wheaton and to homeless people, missionary families on furlough, international students and other people with transportation needs. His Wheels has distributed 243 bicycles since its inception, relying on donations of used bikes, labor for repairs and tax-deductible contributions.

“In Africa, the bikes we provide allow pastors to reach areas that are not accessible by roads,” she said. “But they can also be ambulances, taxis and a way to carry goods.”

The latest project in the works involves providing a design and materials for a three-wheel bike that could be built in Africa for hand-pedaling by people with disabilities or permanent leg injuries.

Teisan said that His Wheels is always in need of used bikes, additional storage and volunteer labor to perform bike repairs usually on Fridays.

“We have jobs for all ages and kids can learn repair skills that they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere,” she said. “Children have as much to offer as the next person.”

The organization has benefited in the past from Boy Scout troops and church youth groups. Teisan hopes to travel to Kenya next summer to distribute and possibly purchase bikes, a need that continues unabated in Third World countries.

“Our ministry is a way of showing people that we love them,” she said, “and God loves them, too.”

Wheels of Fortune

Wheels of Fortune

Project Brings GE Scouts, Nonprofits Together

The following was used with permission from the Glen Ellyn News/Wheaton Leader. The article was written by Wilson Brown and was first published in the Glen Ellyn News/Wheaton Leader on April 27, 2006.

Greg Forkins of Glen Ellyn was never really gung-ho about bicycles, but what began as an Eagle Scout project has become much more than that.

“A lot of people, when they hear about my project, they get excited and want to help out,” said Greg, a 17-year-old who will graduate from Glenbard West High School next month.

Greg, his fellow Boy Scouts in Troop 46 at First Presbyterian Church and many volunteers spent April 15 cleaning and repairing dozens of used bicycles, tightening their bolts and brakes as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Those bikes will soon go to recent refugees to the United States who need transportation for work and school.

“I have seen firsthand how a bike can help some people,” Greg said after school April 20, talking about one fellow student who arrived in the U.S. as a refugee and uses his bicycle to get to and from school.

“Most of the families have literally lost everything,” said Susan Sperry, relations director for World Relief of Wheaton, which will give the repaired bicycles to refugees, who come from places such as Russia, Sudan, Iran, Ethiopia and Somalia.

After brainstorming Eagle Scout projects, Greg approached World Relief in early January to see if the nonprofit agency would accept bicycles.

Sperry said the bicycles are seen as an intermediary until the transplants can obtain driver’s licenses and cars.

“Greg from the Eagle Scouts had approached us initially,” Sperry said. “And the timing had just coincided.”

That’s when His Wheels International, a religious nonprofit stepped in, said Alice Teisan, executive director of the Wheaton-based organization that fixes old bicycles to be sent to Africa and to Katrina victims.

“We can let him forge the project forward for us,” Teisan said. “I said, ‘Greg, why don’t you put a bigger purpose toward this?'”

His Wheels’ volunteer mechanic also showed Greg and the rest of the Troop 46 how to repair a bicycle, Teisan said.

“Almost all the bikes need new tires, and tightening their brakes just so the bikes are rideable and safe.”

The majority of the bikes are going to refugee families living in Wheaton, Glen Ellyn and Aurora who escaped persecution in Africa and Russia, she said.

“Most refugees if you ask them,” Sperry said, “the need is there. A bike is a good intermediary.”

Greg said friends and families donated all the bicycles that the Boy Scouts repaired. About 40 were collected in all.

“It’s not as easy as just gathering bikes,” Teisan said.

The work is keeping Greg extra busy as he awaits his college acceptance letters.

“This is definitely the busiest I’ve been,” he said. He plans to deliver the bikes in coming weeks.

Teisan said this could be just the beginning for His Wheels and local Boy Scouts.

“We’re hoping to have an ongoing relationship with the Boy Scouts,” she said.