Two years ago, U.S. missionary associate Matthew Espina, 44, bought a serious road bike for a church-planting ride fundraiser. Now he's organizing a cross-country journey from Dade City, Florida, to the Waupaca, Wisconsin, headquarters of Special Touch, an Assemblies of God ministry to the disabled.
The Aug. 20-Sept. 3 ride is designed to raise funds and awareness for the ministry founded in 1982 to provide support to the disabled and their families through local chapters as well as five-day Get Away camps for those with special needs. Espina welcomes experienced cyclists to join him for all or part of the 1,200-mile ride.
“It’s a unique culture, a people group in the United States with a certain mindset,” Huffman says. “It takes individuals called by God with specialized training to be able to enter that world and share the gospel in a way that is culturally relevant and understandable by them.”
Huffman notes that the disabled are marginalized.
“This is a new way to get funding and bring awareness to the fact that the disabled in the United States have the right to hear the gospel,” Huffman says.
Espina’s own journey to minister to the disabled began a decade ago when he served as a caregiver at the Florida Get Away camp, which he likens to “a baptism into servanthood,” Caregiving entailed being among the first up in the morning and the last to go to bed. He showered, bathed, fed, and brushed the teeth of grown men.
“Being a caregiver, especially for those with physical disabilities, requires a setting aside of oneself and one’s personal needs,” Espina says. “I felt the Lord speak to me at the altar saying this is where He wanted me.”
Espina’s home church, Harvest Assembly of God in Lakeland, Florida, started a service for children with disabilities, of which he is pastor. This year, he began pastoring a service for adults with intellectual disabilities who are unable to comprehend the main service.
“Adults with intellectual disabilities and a childlike mentality also need special teaching and discipleship,” he says.
In addition, Espina trains adults to help disabled children and conducts seminars for churches to launch ministries to those with special needs. Now he's raising support to pastor the disabled full time, which will include visiting more churches, evangelizing group homes, and starting support groups for caregiver parents of disabled children who feel isolated at church.
A support mini-bus providing food and supplies will accompany the cyclists each leg of the journey. To keep the ride to two weeks, Espina and the group will bike 115-120 miles per day, around six hours daily, stopping at prearranged spots so people can join along the way. Every night of the ride will feature a group devotional and prayer time.
Participants will raise funds for their lodging in hotels along the route. The group can travel on the bus on bad weather days as well as on challenging mountain segments. The cyclists will arrive in Wisconsin on Sept. 1 for a charity fun ride with people with disabilities. Each participant will have a sponsorship page to allow donors to give online.
Espina envisions the ride as more than a physical action to support ministries to the disabled. Ultimately, he hopes that God will reveal to ride participants something about themselves.
“If people can have the determination to get through something this physical, then it can strengthen them to get through the things they're struggling with spiritually,” he says.