By Daniel J. Vance
Not many white men would move from a suburban ranch situated on thirteen acres to a rat-infested row home in a cramped, all-black neighborhood known for violent crime and unchecked drug use. And fewer yet would take along a wife and young children.
But Allan Tibbels of Baltimore, Maryland, did it. He's also a quadriplegic, which means he is paralyzed in both arms and both legs. In 1981, while playing basketball he lost his balance after a lay-up and torpedoed headfirst into a concrete wall.
So why move his entire family to inner-city Baltimore—as a quadriplegic?
"I had a biblical conviction, and a calling," he said of a religious passion that existed long before his injury and 1987 move. "I believe Christians should live their lives on behalf of their neighbors, which means they should be in the most 'hurting' of places."
For helping establish Habitat for Humanity, a private school and a church in the Sandtown section of Baltimore, in 2001 U.S. News and World Report honored Allan Tibbels as a "hero."
At 47, he is co-executive director of Sandtown Habitat for Humanity and executive director of New Song Urban Ministries, which includes the 100-student K-8 New Song Academy and New Song Community Church, which has a job and health center. Sandtown Habitat for Humanity has helped nearly 200 disadvantaged families own their first home. It's a remarkable success story.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a Habitat for Humanity supporter, visited Sandtown in 1992 to help a family re-hab an older home. Tibbels respects Carter's Habitat work and believes the ex-President is genuine.
While inner-city work has overwhelmed many "abled" persons, Tibbels seems to thrive on the challenge. "The most difficult aspect has been the frustrations," he said. "The need here in Sandtown is overwhelming. I can't meet it all. 'Need' is all around me."
He believes his disability has helped him succeed. "It has definitely served as an entrée," he said. "I live in a neighborhood where the people are treated [by outsiders] as less than equals. My disability allows me to share my vulnerabilities with them—and to understand their feelings of being marginalized by society."
He added, "[As for me] I'd rather be in a wheelchair glorifying God than on my feet and not. I'm very accepting of my disability."
For more information visit www.sandtownhabitat.org.
[Contact Mr. Vance at www.danieljvance.com. Copyright 2003 by Daniel J. Vance.]