When it comes to executing on your God-given calling, you might say that Lonny Davis is a “wheeler and dealer” in the very best sense of the phrase.
That’s because the longtime Modesto Chapter Partner’s passion is serving the disabled poor in the developing world by providing what he calls “dignity through mobility” in the form of reconditioned wheelchairs.
And we’re not talking in the dozens or even hundreds of wheelchairs; over the years Lonny has taken thousands of them to “the ends of the earth” – this year alone his heart for helping the disabled poor will have carried him to Mexico, Vietnam, Peru and Ecuador.
For Lonny, his Hope Haven West non-profit wheelchair ministry is only one way he reaches out to those in need. He also owns and operates Davis Guest Home, a facility that serves chronically mentally ill people from throughout Northern California. And he is the man behind UncleLonny Presents, a tax-exempt organization that creates and promotes entertainment events that benefit local charities.
But when it comes to a passion, nothing touches Lonny’s heart like the disabled poor.
“About 15 years ago, a friend invited me to join him for a project in Central Mexico providing mobility to the disabled poor,” Lonny says, recalling his first encounter with wheelchair ministries. “Witnessing the impact of mobility made in the lives of struggling families caring for disabled kids and adults who were literally crawling for survival made a huge impact on me.”
So great was the impact, in fact, that Lonny came home determined to get involved in collecting used and discarded wheelchairs to be refurnished and distributed to disabled people in poor countries.
He worked with Hope Haven International, but eventually spun off from the Midwest-based ministry to create and incorporate his own 501(c)(3) organization. And what happens at Hope Haven West’s headquarters is where Lonny’s “wheeling and dealing” comes in.
Getting and preparing the “wheels” for distribution is a multi-step process that Lonny has down to a science. Volunteers find wheelchairs – some are new but most are well worn and many of those to the point that they’re destined for the landfill. The used ones are reconditioned, some by workers in Hope Haven West’s 18,000-square-foot warehouse, but others by inmates working in more than a dozen federal prisons. Once they are fixed, the wheelchairs are then selected and adapted to the individuals and environments in which they will soon be used.
But getting the “wheels” to where they need to be isn’t always easy, especially when the destination is a city or village in a not-so-stable or downright unsafe region in Latin or South America. And that is where Lonny moves from “wheeler” to “dealer,” identifying and negotiating the best way to safely and successfully transport the cargo of 100 or more wheelchairs to the people whose lives will soon be changed by the compassionate gift of mobility.
And so far, thanks to the support of many and the protection and power of the Holy Spirit,Lonny’s efforts have been successful.
As he says, “Fifteen years and 10,000 wheelchairs later, we are still ‘in the game’ – and there’s no end in sight.”
The 64-year old Lonny Davis of today is a far cry from the teenager he says was “the proverbial black sheep” whose “end in sight” was not a good one.
“I was a petty thief, drug addict and miserable derelict by the ripe old age of 19,” he confesses. “I hated church people, scoffed at and mocked believers, and hated God.”
But then, on the eve of his 20th birthday, everything changed.
“I had a spiritual collision that changed my life,” he explains. “To borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, I was ‘drug kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God.’” As a result, he says with a bit of the humor that he is known for, “I went from Al Capone to Mother Theresa within a 24-hour period.”
That personal transformation lit a fire in Lonny, who got involved in Agape Force and then a number churches and mission organizations before returning to Modesto in 1982 to take over the family business, Davis Guest Homes, which he and wife Lisa continue to operate as “a refuge for the chronically mentally ill.”
It was in Modesto that Lonny would fully engage and execute on his calling to provide “dignity through mobility” by creating Hope Haven West.
And, not coincidentally, it was in Modesto that he also would be invited to join Pinnacle Forum. And he’s glad he did.
“Not much of a joiner, I hesitantly put my toe in the water,” he explains, “My subsequent experience has been a positive one. Pinnacle Forum has become a cohesive source of connection and engagement with fellow believers and ‘tribal leaders’ in my community. I am sure that without it, many relationships that have enriched my Christian experience would not have been realized.”
One thing that Lonny found especially valuable was what Modesto called “low-cost probes” – a strategy to help people engage and execute on their calling by connecting them with opportunities to “test drive” activities and ministries tied to their passions, gifts and strengths.
Lonny ended up offering his ministry for such “low-cost probes,” resulting in a number of Pinnacle Forum peers supporting Hope Haven West with their time, talents and or treasures. As a result, his is a “100 percent model ministry” with 100 percent of administrative costs covered by benefactors and 100 percent of donations going directly to helping the disabled poor.
As often happens in Pinnacle Forum, while Lonny has benefited from his peers, so too have they been benefited from Lonny’s inspiring Four “E” example – not just encouraging and equipping, but actually engaging and executing on his passion.
To Lonny Davis, discovering, engaging and executing on his God-given calling fits perfectly not just with Pinnacle Forum’s goals of individual and cultural transformation but with the scriptural mandate found in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
For more information, visit his website at www.hopehavenwest.com.