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Let Them Stand On Their Own
by Marcia Goodrich
Acts 14:8-10—In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
Larry Golin is at Michigan Tech for his fiftieth class reunion, and he confesses that he hasn't seen many familiar faces on campus. This is probably because most members of the Class of '58 aren't from Bangladesh, or Bengal, or Brazil, and most of them have two reasonably good legs.
Golin is walking a different road, one that began at Tech in 1956 with an overwhelming conversion experience. "I went to sleep, and when I woke up in the morning, my whole life had changed," he says. "From then on, it's been a blessing, and a blessing, and a blessing."
He found himself called, both to spread the Christian gospel and to help the helpless, regardless of their faith.
However, it wasn't immediately obvious that he should establish a mission to provide the poor of Bangladesh with artificial legs. After earning a BS in Forestry, Golin got a regular job as a state forester, but it didn't take him long to find out he was in the wrong profession.
"I thought, ‘What in the world am I doing here in Hawaii, measuring these puny ohia trees?' "
Thus began his life's work, caring for the handicapped and poor in East Pakistan, later to become Bangladesh. For the last forty-one years, Golin has provided physical therapy services there and throughout the world through his Ministries to the Disabled, with the support of his family, which he considers his greatest blessing: wife Jane, four sons, and two Bangladeshi daughters whom the Golins adopted after they were orphaned.
Thousands had lost their legs during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, Golin recalls. "There were so many amputees from the war, we needed to build a shop," he recalls. "But we had a terrible time getting people to accept artificial limbs. I convinced one person to come in to be measured for a limb free of cost, but he never came back."
The awkward wood-and-leather prosthesis was heavy, ugly, and didn't hold up in the monsoon climate. "We realized it wasn't good enough."
Then he learned of a revolutionary new artificial limb developed in India, the Jaipur foot, and quickly adopted it. "People run with it, climb trees with it, pull their rickshaws with it, and it looks like a real foot," Golin says. "The materials cost about forty dollars, and we can make one in forty-five minutes from local materials."
In 1992, Golin and a group of dedicated Bangladeshi trainees opened their first artificial limb camp. A year earlier, a cyclone had swept through the disaster-prone country, killing 300,000 and injuring countless more. Many had lost their limbs to tin roofs slicing though the air.
"We had thirty-two amputees that came," he remembers. "We fitted them with legs free of charge. They crawled in, and they walked out."
The clinic provided services to everyone, regardless of faith, and gave Golin a chance to do what he'd wanted to do since he was a forester in Hawaii.
"It opened the door to talking to people about Jesus," Golin says. "People told us, ‘We thought Christians were our enemies.' We said, ‘The greatest humanitarian that ever lived was Jesus.' Even the Muslins agreed that he's a great prophet."
Since then, his Ministries to the Disabled has established fourteen artificial-limb camps in Bangladesh and physical therapy clinics in nine other countries, where teams of medical professionals work together to help people with various disabilities.
They have also added an artificial knee joint developed at Letourneu University in Texas for amputees in the Third World. "Now, everyone can do everything they did before they lost their legs," Golin says.
"It should be everywhere," he adds fervently. "Wherever there's an amputee, there should be a limb they can walk with. And they should be able to hear the gospel, that God loves them so."
Golin now spends more time managing and fund-raising for the Ministries to the Disabled than he does fitting amputees with artificial legs. And while it may seem that his BS in Forestry has sat on the shelf, it turns out that nothing you learn is ever wasted.
"With the help of the Bangladesh forestry department, we planted pinus caribea [Carribean pine] and pinus oocarpa [Mexican yellow pine or hazelnut pine] on about a quarter acre in 1982," says Golin. "They grew thirteen-inches breast diameter and three logs high in only twenty-five years. We proved that pinus could be a commercial tree for fiber and lumber."
Sometimes people ask him how a forestry graduate could end up ministering to amputees in the poorest corners of the world.
He smiles and says, "The Lord took me from one limb to the other."