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N.C. Bike Ministry Reaches Around the World

Bikes, many with big, mismatched training wheels, were bound to Cambodia recently from an abandoned chicken house in Corapeake.

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LINDA McNATT (The Virginian-Pilot)
CORAPEAKE, N.C. — Bikes, many with big, mismatched training wheels, were bound to Cambodia recently from an abandoned chicken house in Corapeake.

Some of the recipients will be children or adults who have lost limbs or who have mangled arms and legs from land-mine explosions.

The gifts come from Jackie Phillips' Bike Ministry, a local effort that started almost 10 years ago and has since reached beyond Gates County to distant parts of the world.

In November, Phillips supervised and counted 238 bicycles, newly restored and painted, as they were loaded onto a container. The bikes are going to the war-torn country that has seen unrest for more than three decades.

Her Bike Ministry started in 1997, when she and her husband, both in their 70s, started collecting abandoned or unused bicycles, fixing them up and distributing them to underprivileged children at Christmas.

It spread to southeast Virginia. It spread again when World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to children, their families and their communities, contacted Phillips at her home in Gates. She has sent containers with rehabilitated bikes to Zambia and Nicaragua.

Phillips' theory is that children never forget their first bike. It's a gift that provides fresh air, fun and exercise.

The container for Cambodia was loaded by inmates from the Gates Correctional Center. Phillips drafted prison inmates several years ago to help when she needed muscle.

Phillips repairs and paints the bikes with help from her husband and a retired Navy man who works for her part time. But now she's worried she won't have enough bikes to go around locally for the holidays.

"I got a call the other day from a woman with four children," she said. "She told me she'd like to have bikes for them for Christmas. Now, who is more important, the children overseas or the children around here?"

Typical of her giving spirit, Phillips swears she plans to provide both.

Some of the bikes going to Cambodia were a little different, about a third of them equipped with training wheels.

Many of those who will receive the bikes are older, said Steve Scranton, World Vision spokesman. The bikes help them with their strength and balance after amputations.

The bikes with bigger, mismatched training wheels are potentially for older riders. Phillips' husband, Phil, who's a retired trucker, and Rick Shaffer, the retired Navy airplane mechanic who helps Phillips, fashioned the brackets that attach the training wheels from angle iron. The wheels were taken from smaller bikes.

Phillips says God sent Shaffer to her. She pays him from her Social Security check.

"She's a unique woman, in many ways," Scranton said. "She has a vision, I believe. We're just glad our work catches the interest of people like her."

The truck slated to take the North Carolina bikes to Asia was about four hours late in arriving. At the abandoned chicken house near Corapeake where Phillips stores some of her bicycles, she worried and fretted, waiting for the truck.

Still, as she passed out soft drinks and pizza she had brought for the inmates helping her, her conversation was sprinkled with "honey," "darling" and "sweetheart," the likes of which the prisoners probably hadn't heard in months.

With each "thank you" for the snack, Phillips responded with an endearing term and her thanks for their help.

She talks auto repair shops out of paint. Several Wal-Marts donate broken or scratched bikes from the floor. A member of her church donates the storage facility.

"All of the members of my church are very liberal with their prayers," she said, smiling.

Phillips said she's unsure how long she can maintain the pace. She has another bike container promised for Africa early next year. She picks up the donated bikes, runs for parts and paint and coordinates the overall effort.

"I'll do it as long as I have Rick to help me and as long as the good Lord gives me a mouth," she said. "Right now, I've got to worry about bikes for Christmas."


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