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