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Hope on Wheels

An article written for in Worldwide Challenge.

Carrielynn finds joy in bringing the good news of Jesus to those often overlooked.

Not many people are willing to snub a 59-year-old woman in a wheelchair— something to Carrielynn’s advantage.

She pulls to the curb in front of a clinic that serves the citizens of Edmonton, Alberta, including homeless people. She transfers herself from the driver’s seat to her wheelchair in the back, and rolls inside, alone. Carrie delivers a bag of new underwear to the front desk. She only brings new, or hardly used, clothing.

“When I lived on the streets, it almost confirmed my worthlessness to have someone’s old, cast-off clothes,” Carrie says. At 14, Carrie ditched her foster family for the streets after the father sexually assaulted her.

Women eye Carrie skeptically as she wheels up and introduces herself. But when she asks, “Do you like lipstick?” and lets them peek inside her bag, smiles turn at the corners of mouths. Carrie lets each woman pick a nail polish or lipstick before handing them booklets called The Father’s Love Letter.

“Here, read this as if God’s talking to you. This is what He thinks about you,” Carrie says, opening the booklets.

These are people in need—many are victims of abuse and sad circumstances, addicted to drugs and alcohol. A group of Aboriginals, or Native Canadians, crowd around Carrie and begin speaking Cree, an Aboriginal language. One man makes fun of Carrie in words he thinks she doesn’t understand.

“You’re a bit of a jokester, eh?” Carrie responds in Cree, catching him off-guard. Carrie’s Aboriginal too, a member of the Metis people.

“Busted,” he says, laughing sheepishly.

It starts raining softly. Carrie gives her black umbrella away. It’s common for her to come with something and leave without it.

Carrie often comes downtown, delivering clothes and toiletries, talking about Jesus and listening. “People on the streets aren’t able to consider that they’re worthy,” Carrie says. “They want Jesus’ love and peace so badly, but their self-esteem is in the basement.”

If anyone can relate to their despair, it’s Carrie. Born in prison. In and out of 13 foster homes. Abused—physically and emotionally.

Carrie often comes downtown, delivering clothes and toiletries, talking about Jesus and listening. “People on the streets aren’t able to consider that they’re worthy,” Carrie says. “They want Jesus’ love and peace so badly, but their self-esteem is in the basement.”

If anyone can relate to their despair, it’s Carrie. Born in prison. In and out of 13 foster homes. Abused—physically and emotionally.

In 1990, she and her children were in a car accident with a drunk driver. Carrie’s back was broken in three places and her 7-year-old daughter was killed. “I said, Lord, You promised if I said to that mountain ‘Move,’and I believed it would, it’d move,” Carrie says. “I held my daughter and prayed for her to come back to life.”

Carrie’s piano, long used to worship God, sat silent for weeks. Late one night after the accident, Carrie made a choice that would mark all others: “I made a conscious decision that I didn’t have to understand everything, that I’d trust God, come what may,” Carrie says.

Carrie and Mill Woods residents entertain each other with funny stories while making sticky buns.

Carrie and Mill Woods residents entertain each other with funny stories while making sticky buns.

She recovered from her injury, only to later fall and re-break her back, resulting in the wheelchair she sits in today. Her first husband left her, unwilling to be married to a cripple.

Every pain, every death, every diagnosis tested Carrie’s decision to trust.

“I’ve almost died four times in the past five years,” Carrie says. “But each time, trusting Him has become easier. I now know I have nothing that doesn’t belong to God. Either I trust Him completely, or I lay it all down. And I’ve come way too far not to trust Him completely.”

Carrie’s story has led her on a search for unseen people. In March 2013, she joined Connecting Streams, a branch of Cru’s ministry in Canada that connects the body of Christ with the broken, marginalized, and forgotten—people like the homeless and people like the residents of the Good Samaritan Mill Woods Care Centre.

This is one of the long-term care centers where Carrie’s new husband, Orlow, serves as chaplain: 60 beds belonging to people whose disabilities make independent living difficult. They resemble Carrie in many ways. Most rely on wheelchairs. Most residents are in their 50s, the youngest only 25.

Like the homeless, many of them feel invisible. Not to Carrie.

She rolls her wheelchair through the automatic doors and into the recreation room, where she unloads flour, sugar Carrie and Mill Woods residents entertain each other with funny stories while making sticky buns. and spices. Stretching over the stove, she starts the oven with a rolling pin.

One by one, people trickle in and cluster around Carrie. Typically, their food is prepared for them, but not today. One woman with oxygen tubes, Doreen, drizzles icing onto sticky buns. Shirley carefully counts each cup of flour Carrie pours into the bowl.

“I’m just here waiting to die,” Shirley, 54, told Carrie five months ago, depressed and in chronic pain.

If she was looking for pity, she’d come to the wrong person.

Carrie reminded Shirley, also Aboriginal, that as an elder she should be transcribing family history and cultural stories for younger generations.

“But I can’t write,” Shirley, whose fingers are gnarled from rheumatoid arthritis, protested.

“Well, you can talk, can’t you?” Carrie challenged.

Shirley acquired a computer with a recording program, on which she began documenting stories passed down from her father. She hopes to turn her family stories into a memoir. Shirley attends the weekly Bible studies and church services Carrie and Orlow started at Mill Woods. Orlow preaches; Carrie plays the piano.

Carrie often wheels between dining room tables at Mill Woods, spooning food into mouths—strawberry-rhubarb pie, warm sticky buns fresh from the oven—talking about Jesus and listening.

“How are you feeling?”

“Are you getting out into the sunshine?”

“Can I pray for you?”

Orlow and Carrie make dinner. They've been married for seven years.

Orlow and Carrie make dinner. They’ve been married for seven years.

Carrie taps prayer requests into her iPad so she won’t forget them.

“Lots of people are OK standing behind a table and dishing out food,” Carrie says. “It’s the hand-holding hugging, and sharing that brings us up close and personal, and that’s what most are uninterested in or afraid to do.”

Residents call Carrie their “rock,” grateful for her strength and positivity. What no one at Mill Woods or on the streets understands, Carrie says, is that she’s here for herself too.

Every life rekindled, every purpose renewed, every smile upturned, reminds Carrie why she’s choosing to trust God with her pain. Carrie challenges residents at Mill Woods to do the same.

Seven years ago, Sue Benson had a brain aneurysm that left her right side paralyzed. Every night, she rolls to each resident’s room, reminding them that they’re loved. In one of the last rooms she’ll visit tonight, Sue asks a man, “Do you know how much I love you?”

He smiles widely.

“This much!” Sue whips out her left arm, stretching as far as she can. “And do you know how much God loves you? Even more.”

At Carrie’s suggestion, Sue added the part about God’s love to her nightly routine. Carrie also challenged Sue to begin carrying gospel tracts and asking, “Do you know what His love did for you?”

“When people are being tossed around—experiencing death, divorce, disappointment—if you can have them focus on someone other than themselves, it’s incredibly healing,” Carrie says. “The return is peace in the eye of the storm and joy unspeakable.”

Carrie’s homeless friends drift from place to place, while her long-term care companions live for a time in a structured facility. Different, but the same.

“They want to know someone cares about them,” says Gordon Chinn, a Mill Woods resident who was homeless for 30 years and addicted to drugs for 20.

Gordon, 54, met Carrie and Orlow four years ago. Arriving at Mill Woods in 2010, Gordon weighed 90 pounds., had emphysema and needed a double lung transplant. He carries around a picture of himself from that day—eyes wide, cheekbones gaunt.

In the past two years, Gordon has matured spiritually. In February, the month he received his transplant, Gordon was baptized. Gordon now talks about his faith with other Mill Woods residents. Once he recovers from surgery, he wants to return to the streets as a missionary. Each week, Carrie teaches Gordon how to talk about his faith with others in a blue-walled common room at Mill Woods.

“You and I both know that love in our lives meant manipulation, abuse, something corrupted,” Carrie says to Gordon. “So when you go to the inner city and show them through your actions and words the Father’s love that’s transformed you, that’s going to be more powerful than anything else.”

Carrie wants to help God redeem what society has told Gordon about who he is, what it has told others about who they are. As she does, God is redeeming what Carrie has been told about herself.

“Imagine you wanted to cross a desert, because on the other side were green trees, cool streams and beautiful flowers,” she says. “You had a choice of being led by someone who’d never been there, or by someone who’d been there and come back to show others how to make it to the other side. That’s why I’m here. Christ led me through the desert and brought me into the Promised Land. And now I’ve come back.”  

2018-11-07T15:17:43+00:00 January 6th, 2015|Our Blog, Resources|0 Comments

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