Ministry Uses Technology to Help Disabled Conquer Israel's Toughest Locations
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JERUSALEM, Israel – For too many years, popular tourist sites in Israel have been accessible to hardy travelers of all ages. Yet for others with limited mobility, that hasn’t been the case.
The good news is that situation is now changing. Israel is many things to many people, but for people with disabilities it hasn’t been that accessible, what with the rough ground, the slippery rocks, and the big, steep slopes everywhere.
Now there’s a group working to make sure the disabled can go anywhere in the land of Israel that anyone else can.
Dr. John Delancey leads tours combining Israel’s archaeology, history and the Bible, yet he couldn’t include those with physical disabilities. He explained, “We offer multiple trips a year, but no accessibility for people who can’t walk.”
It's a thin, one-wheel wheelchair with a long, attached pole running along each side of it. Those poles let a person in front and a person behind move the Joelette. They can either roll it or hoist it.
Luke 5 Adventures Founder, Pastor Kevin Schwieger, told us, “We just completed our 800th hike in the last three years.”
CBN News hit the trail with the group in Ohio in 2021, and more recently in Israel, as they partnered with Delancey’s Biblical Israel Ministries & Tours.
Delancey said, “I thought right away this was an answer to prayer. God orchestrated this." He added, “This opens the whole new door for really going anywhere.”
Delancey and Luke 5 Adventures tested that idea in Israel in January 2023 with pioneering tourist Victoria Odom. Over many years, she fought her way back from traumatic brain injury and total paralysis. “I re-learned, step by step,” she said. But that wasn’t enough to tackle some types of terrain. She explained, “I can never walk on slippery rocks or climb up trails.”
Standing on one hill in Jerusalem and looking across a rough and rugged valley to another hill, Schwieger pointed out, “For people like Victoria, it’s not even a dream to go from here over to there, because it’s not possible. But what we’re doing makes the impossible possible.”
Whitney Blackston came along to help Victoria, since Blackston had witnessed how Luke 5 Adventures helped transform the life of her daughter, Emerson. "She’s completely blind and hearing-impaired,” Blackston said of her daughter.
On hikes in the Joelette, Emerson came to know God’s wonders in nature. “We could tell her what a tree is. But she’s blind. She doesn’t really have a concept of what that is,” Blackston explained. “But now she can get out there and feel the tree, and actually feel the leaves and the wind in her face.”
Or, for the first time, touch water in the wild at a place Emerson revisited in the fall of 2022. “And as I was just telling her that Jesus is her Rock, she said, ‘Jesus I want.’ And so, we baptized her that day,” Blackston recalled.
Beginning their Israel tour, Blackston and the others aiding Victoria came upon an immediate challenge. Pastor Schwieger described the scene among the excavated remains of the ancient Judean city of Tel Gezer, where an almost vertical shaft leads to a cistern far below ground level.
“The first day, we stepped off and there’s this steep, deep cavern where you couldn’t even see the bottom. And we debated amongst ourselves, ‘Is this even possible and/or prudent?’” Schweiger added, “Victoria wanted to go, so we tackled it.”
Delancey exclaimed, “Just to see that, I said, ‘This is amazing – a God thing! And Victoria, wow! She’s experiencing exactly what we are.'"
Then Blackston recalled another of Israel's toughest places to get to, telling CBN News, “Masada was really a nice challenge as well."
Masada is the steep mountain near the Dead Sea where Jewish rebels made their stand against Roman legions almost 2,000 years ago, a place most Israelis visit at least once, and thousands of tourists come to explore each year.
The Luke 5 Adventure team scaled Masada using the steep path known as the Roman Ramp, foregoing the cable car ride to the top. “It was relentlessly uphill for a long, long, long time,” Schwieger remembered.
Delancey added, “It’s probably 500 or 600 feet in elevation and they conquered it just amazingly.” Odom said of her experience, “It was incredible, and will go down as one of the most amazing memories."
“Talk about the uniqueness of this ministry,” Delancey added, “I don’t think of any other type of wheelchair apparatus ever made it up the Roman Ramp there at Masada.”
Other days, the group raced Odom like she was in a chariot – in a place in ancient Caesarea where real chariots once raced; and they took her on a pre-dawn hike with headlamps above the Sea of Galilee, and Odom’s excitement about it all showed.
“It just opened everything,” she said. "I was like, 'I can do this. Everyone can do this.'”
Blackston, who has seen the world open up for her daughter, urged, “Don’t dismiss your dreams.”
Now, Delancey is ready to make dreams come true for others, “To offer trips to Israel on a regular basis with this amazing one-wheel wheelchair.”
His ministry hopes to buy at least one Joelette and keep it in Israel for his tours and others'; and he’s already planning another trip with the help of Luke 5 Adventures for 2024.
Its founder points out that 99.99 percent of God’s extraordinary creation is outside of where most severely disabled people can reach it.
Schwieger said, “They’re limited to .0001 percent, with no opportunity to go see the 99 – and that’s just...that’s not acceptable.”
Odom agreed, saying, “Everyone should be able to do this.” Now they can get their chance.
The bottom line lesson of Victoria Odom's adventure in the Holy Land is, never tell yourself – no matter what shape you’re in – that something is impossible.
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