(Photo: Peter Rosenberger)
A unique Christian ministry that provides prosthetic legs to amputees left the United States for Ghana on Thursday to offer not only supplies and American expertise, but also hope found in Jesus Christ.
Also, as part of their trip, Standing with Hope founders Peter and Gracie Rosenberger, joined by their 15-year-old son Grayson, will introduce Grayson’s $11 Bubble Wrap cosmetic covering for prosthetic legs that won him first place in a national Bubble Wrap contest sponsored by Sealed Air Corporation.
Before their departure, Peter Rosenberger spoke to The Christian Post about his wife’s tragic car accident, which left her a bi-amputee, and the strength and hope their family has found in Christ to overcome their difficult situation and share their hope and the Gospel with other amputees in Ghana.
CP: I want to backtrack to the start of Standing With Hope’s outreach in Africa. What is special about Ghana that made you and Gracie want to start an evangelistic prosthetic limb ministry there?
Rosenberger: We were actually looking at Eastern Europe where there are victims of landmines. But Joni Eareckson Tada (founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center) said if you can make it work in Africa then you can do it anywhere.
Africa was not on my radar and it certainly was not on Gracie’s radar. She says it’s hot and there are a lot of bugs over there (laughs). But they have a pretty amazing operation going on in Ghana and we had some connections in Ghana. We had some people in Nashville that were very much involved there and it was one of those things that was very clear from the Lord that this is where we are suppose to be. So we went.
CP: Does the clinic continue to run throughout the year even when you are not there?
Rosenberger: Yes. This is Ghana’s Ministry of Health. This is why this partnership is a little bit different then a lot of others. We are not doing our own thing over there but we are coming alongside their infrastructure and partnering with them. When we got there, it was rudimentary. They had some rudimentary skills but what we try to do is help them create high-tech legs in a low-tech environment and it’s working.
CP: When you come twice a year what do you do that they don’t do normally?
Rosenberger: Now we are just continuing on their training. The first time we showed up we began a training process. First off we gave them a lot of supplies – better supplies than what they had and more consistent supplies. Then we teach them how to do this in their environment so they can build high quality limbs.
I can say when we got there it took two and a half weeks for them to carve a wooden leg. Now they are making an endoskeleton system, acrylic resin socket with carbon fiber in it and so forth in about six hours. I mean these are great legs; Gracie wears these kinds of legs. They are doing it on their own which is incredibly rewarding.
CP: How many prosthetic legs has your ministry help make?
Rosenberger: I think they’ve done 50-75, which doesn’t sound like a lot but you take this patient for life. So you are treating them and replacing, adjusting, building new parts and so forth.
CP: Is there anything different about this trip compared to others in the past besides the introduction of Grayson’s bubble wrap invention?
Rosenberger: Yes. We have been doing below-the-knee [prosthetics] in our training efforts. Now we are going to be expanding to above the knee, which is a huge difference. We are also going to train them on building arms. We don’t want to spend a lot of time on arms because it is very, very expensive to do arms. For one arm I can usually have - with the same amount of time and money - four or five people walking on below the knee. Also, below-the-knee amputations are the most common. But we are going to get into above-the-knee and we are going to start training on that. It is a big step. It is a very big step.
CP: How do you use prosthetic legs to evangelize people?
Well, we say to them ‘silver and gold have I none, such as I have I give and in the name of Jesus Christ rise and walk’ and they do. Prosthetics is a very personal business because you are holding someone’s leg, you are fitting that leg and it is custom made to that person.
We send all the parts over there but we make it on hand, in that place, with that person. We spend time with the person and build a relationship. Also you are going to spend time with them for the rest of their lives. You are setting up an infrastructure that cares for them.
We just did a leg for a nine-year-old girl that was snake bitten. I just got an email back that said they put a leg on her but she will need a new leg within six months. So you are building a relationship with them and you just simply talk to them and tell them why you came, why you’re here and what this leg represents.
It is our way of communicating to them that they are important as an individual; that God knows their name. Again, it is a very personal one-on-one relationship with them and their families and their caregivers.
We put a leg on one man that is a pastor and he preaches to a thousand people three days a week. He is reaching more people with the Gospel than I ever could. All we did was equip him to do it and that is just our mission – to equip others to stand with hope in Jesus Christ.
CP: Do you work alongside local churches or somehow follow up with Bible studies?
Rosenberger: Yes. We just now got a guy who will be on staff with us over in Ghana who is going to do evangelism follow-up and counseling ministry follow-up as well as prosthetics. You see every time we come, we treat our prior patients too.
We try to go there twice a year so we are not just throwing them out into the streets and say ‘Hey go have a nice life with your leg.’ We are going to be seeing them on a regular basis following up with them and praying for them. Each patient gets a Bible and we have pastors on hand who will spend time with them and follow-up with them as well.
CP: Do you always bring your children with you when you go to Ghana?
Rosenberger: No, but we took our oldest son with us last year who was 18 at the time and we sent him to North Africa to scope out some things there in the spring. This time we are taking Grayson with us for two reasons. One is because we want our children to be exposed to mission opportunities and what we are doing overseas. The other thing is what he has done with his bubble wrap invention, which has basically gotten him worldwide attention.
CP: What did you emphasize to your children while raising them with their mother always in the hospital and undergoing surgeries?
Rosenberger: Well, we pointed them back to the Lord and I remembered Parker, our oldest son, asking me one time, ’Why should I believe that God cares about me when I see what He allows mom to go through?’ Well, that is a pretty tough question to hear from a nine-year-old. You are like ‘oh my goodness how am I going to answer this?’ But the Lord had worked in my life enough that I was able to communicate to him that ‘look, I don’t know how all this works out with your mom but I know that God loves us enough to send His son to die for us on the cross because we cannot go to heaven on our own. If He loves us that much then I’m going to trust Him in this area and that He is faithful.’
We also taught them that people are more than their disabilities; the limitations are in the heart and everything else is adaptive equipment.
CP: Why do you think people find your message so inspiring?
Rosenberger: Sometimes individuals go through such levels of trauma in their life that it immediately gives them credibility in other’s eyes. In Gracie’s case, people respect the level of trauma that she experienced in her life – 70 surgeries, both legs amputated – these are high level trauma events. And yet she is able to press on and not just survive but to thrive and be effective.
So if people who are Christians look at that, it challenges their faith. ‘Wow, what does this say about my faith in God?’ We have a lot of Christians who don’t understand; ‘if God is so great, why didn’t He heal her?’ And those are the kind of questions that it raises, and it challenges Christians.
Non-Christians they look at her and they say what does she know that keeps her alive in this situation? Inspiring? I think what is eye-catching is people see here’s a situation that is so traumatic and yet obviously something is so incredible is happening through this and it has to be real. If it is real to her, it has to be.
I think people are looking for a credible hope to their own situation.
CP: If another Christian is going through difficult times right now, what piece of advice would you give them?
Rosenberger: First off, we are always going to go through difficult times and we were promised that in Scripture which says until we take our last breath on this earth we are going to be face with challenges.
I would suggest we quit trying to run from those challenges and just stand still. How many times has Scripture told us to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord? How many times? It is just over and over again. There is an instinct in us to bolt, to run trying to outrun the trouble or somehow try to fix it. And that is not really biblical because ‘it is not by might, not by power but by spirit,’ says the Lord.
I would encourage them to stand still and to trust God and to present yourself to God and say, ‘Look, this is beyond me. I can’t do this and I’m going to trust you through this.’
Dig into Scripture. Don’t just kind of flip through it, but dig into it. Go back and look how all these men and women of God journeyed through this and dealt with troubles. Go back and look how David wrestled with this, how Jesus wrestled with this, and see the outcome.
Also be willing to step out in faith and believe that God’s hand is in this and not all the things that we call troubles are truly troubles.
CP: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Rosenberger: For us, it is a real privilege to be able to serve and communicate the same hope that sustains us. We feel that our ministry is geared towards people who had been through the ringer. We want to let them know that God is faithful and we are about communicating that hope literally one leg at a time.
A lot of people will hold off on going to the mission field because they don’t feel that they are a preacher. I would suggest to you that that is the wrong attitude to take.
Ghana, for example, needs people to go over there and tell them how to do all kinds of things. If you are a brick mason, that’s your pulpit. If you are a computer technician, that’s your pulpit. If you know how to put on roof or lay tiles, that is your pulpit. If you can do what you do well you can teach someone else to do it and that in turn gives you a pulpit far greater than trying to go over there and plant a church or try to be a preacher.
We go over there to teach these people how to build better legs and in the process we have the opportunity to communicate on their national television and we had doors open to us that were unbelievable. We get invitations now to go literally around the world. And all this thing with our son doing this and the Today Show coming to my house was all because we decided that we are going to go where we are, and do what we can, with what we have and bring our five loaves and two fishes to Jesus. And let Him multiply the increase – that is beyond my abilities. We are just going to be obedient to give what we have. So I want to encourage your readers to look for ways they can participate. There is no greater calling than to share the Gospel of Christ with another human being. No greater calling.
One last thing I would like to also say is there is no excuse to not get involved and make a difference in the life of another person. Gracie has clearly demonstrated that. She is going over there and she was just in intensive care a month and a half ago. Her last surgery was just last year. She lives with some real difficult challenges and yet she knows that this is not the end of the story. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says ‘I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest upon me.’ It is just not about us. We get to be a part of something that is just amazing.
Have you ever gone white water rafting or canoeing?
When you leave the shoreline and the river is going and you just sort of step out, you push off from land and you may think you are controlling the water but you’re not. You are along for the ride because this is a much bigger deal than you are. I think that is the way Gracie and I feel about this. This is not about us. This is our small part to play in the kingdom of God. It is about communicating a hope that transcends legs and surgeries and relationships and heartaches and all these things and ultimately points to the cross and say ‘you know it’s about Him.’
This is what we get to do. We literally get to help people walk. The lame are walking and rejoicing and leaping and praising God. It’s an amazing journey.