The dream of a Personal Energy Transportation (PET) cart began in 1995 with Larry Hills, a missionary in Zaire, Africa. It’s said that Larry knew of 5,000 people in his region who could not walk. Each one weighed on his heart. Yet the person who spurred Larry to action was a mother he encountered just off a beaten foot path. The women was pulling herself along on her belly with a baby strapped securely to her back. This sight broke Larry’s heart and the next time the missionary returned home, he shared with the Church the sobering scene he had witnessed. After hearing the need, a minister contacted a friend gifted in engineering and asked if he might be able to help. Together, the three men designed the first PET cart and launched what would become known as Mobility Worldwide. “That’s how it got started. A missionary asking, a minister responding, and an engineer helping. From there, affiliates were added one by one,” Peter Verhey of the IA-Leighton affiliate says.
Mr. Verhey began his own journey with Mobility Worldwide in 2011 by helping out the nearest affiliate located in Columbus, MO. At the time, Pete was looking forward to retirement and keeping busy by cutting the boards used on the cart frame and sending them to Columbus. When a friend heard of Mobility Worldwide and approached Pete about registering a full-fledged affiliate near their hometown, Pete wasn’t excited about the idea. He thought, “No, I don’t wanna do that. I’ll give God some of my time but I’m not going to give Him that much.” Yet by the end of the day, both men felt that God was leading them to start an affiliate of the organization in Leighton, Iowa.
The 100th PET cart made in Leighton, IA
Though Carol Verhey, Pete’s wife, knew that a lot of the physical work of this project would fall on her husband’s shoulders, she was happy to work alongside him. Looking back, Pete says with a laugh, “We didn’t know what we were doing but that’s probably for the best. We may not have started it otherwise.”
In 1991, the Verhey’s bought an old schoolhouse built in the 1960’s with dreams of what the site might one day become. Time passed and the couple laid those dreams to rest in deciding to sell the schoolhouse. Much to their chagrin, a property sale never finalized but the building fell into disrepair – a reminder of wasted time and resources. Two decades after the original purchase, the schoolhouse was redeemed to accommodate a PET cart assembly line and the needs of a growing organization.
Volunteers from the community stirred themselves to support the “PET Cart Project” both physically and financially. Mrs. Verhey fondly shares, “Pete was known in the community so people trusted his judgment about things. [People of the community] trusted Pete with their money so they were willing to trust him with this project.”
(“L”) Elriner St. Louis, PET Cart Technician
(“A”) Ewand Jasmin, PET Cart Technician
Today in 2019, Mobility Worldwide’s Leighton affiliate has produced 4200 PET carts in just over eight years with up to twenty-five percent of their yearly production going to Pignon, Haiti. As a whole, Mobility Worldwide sends carts to over one hundred different countries. They encourage each affiliate to choose an area where they can intentionally serve and build lasting relationships. “For us, that turned out to be Haiti,” Pete explains, “I would never have ‘L’ and ‘A’ as my buddies if I made one trip and never saw them again.”
As a three-wheeled hand-cranked wheelchair, the unadorned design of the PET boasts functionality as its greatest strength. It is powered manually by the recipient with easy-to-use hand-cranks, breaking systems, and unpoppable tires. The PET cart, called a “little machine” in Haitian Creole, is bringing mobility and dignity to the disabled and often forgotten members of society. Carol closes with this, “What I see PET carts doing for Haiti, aside from giving people mobility, hope, and confidence, is giving us the opportunity to share Jesus with them. It’s not about mobility – it’s about eternity.”
A PET cart recipient was given her own copy of the Bible which she called, “the best gift ever”
A moment of victory as a young girl proves to everyone that she is able to maneuver a PET cart despite several physical handicaps