What could an Old Testament prophet and Wal-Mart, Aldi’s or McDonalds have in common? Here, at Missouri Valley College campus, quite a lot actually.
Missouri Valley College enrolls students from more than 30 countries, as well as more than 40 states. Having that in mind, it is quite obvious that getting around, in a town devoid of public transportation, can be quite a predicament for so many of them. Now, thanks to a concerned college community and a few members of the student body, going for a quick bite off campus doesn’t seem like an insurmountable obstacle any longer.
“Ezekiel’s Wheels,” a project sponsored and carried out by the Chaplin’s Office and campus ministry, provides the students in need with bicycles, as a form of alternative transportation.
The first question that springs to mind concerning the project is, of course, the name itself.
“The name is biblical, an Old Testament reference,” said the Rev. Pam Sebastian, assistant professor of Religion and campus chaplain, who was behind the whole idea. She said that the name, apart from obvious practical use, also has another purpose – it makes people look up something in the Bible.
The need for transportation for students who, in some cases, traveled more than 4,000 or 5,000 miles to get to school in a small town in mid-Missouri, was rather apparent. Since so many international students have an ingrained habit of riding bicycles on a regular basis in their own home, putting two-and-two together wasn’t that hard.
At first, the idea was to merely borrow the bicycles, but that concept was soon abandoned. Now, students get the bike and are free to dispose of it however they want to, but it is expected that, when their need for the bicycle ceases, the bike gets passed along to someone else. The goal is to not have a single bike returned, Sebastian said.
The underlying idea is to alleviate transition that many students, particularly international students, have to go through by embarking on a journey that is college. And though it may seem like nothing much, that bicycle can be a life-saver.
“I simply love my new bike. I mean, I had bikes before, but this is the first time I depend upon one to this extent,” said student Lucas Vurraro from Brazil.
And he is just one of many international students who savor their newly acquired autonomy.
Interestingly enough, not all went smooth from day one. Last year, only two bikes were given away. Was it because not as many students heard of the Ezekiel’s Wheels project at that point, need for bikes wasn’t as accentuated, or no one dared to be guinea pig and make the first step? It’s hard to tell. Needless to say, people behind the project weren’t discouraged, and the results shortly ensued.
This year, nine bicycles were handed out, with seven more students currently on hold. Bikes come from many different sources, ranging from bicycle societies and church organizations to individual donors. They come in excellent shape, along with a mandatory helmet, and thus far students are exuberant when presented with their new ride.
To get a bicycle, all the student has to do is concisely describe why he needs a bike and how he plans to use it, and then shortly thereafter, he will get a new set of wheels and his days of arduous roaming around town of Marshall will be over.
The credit also goes to Jeff Kimmons, assistant professor of Biology, and his bicycle club of Sedalia, called the Pearl River Bicycle Club, which has been a big part of this arrangement.
Kimmons said the club is dedicated to promoting bicycles and their everyday use. The club often acts as mediators, gathering bikes, and handing them out to those who want or need them. It was only natural for Kimmons, a bicycle enthusiast, to be inextricable part of Ezekiel’s Wheels project.
“Thus far, through the project of Ezekiel’s Wheels, we gave away around five or six bicycles,” Kimmons said. No doubt the proliferation of these two-wheelers brings a smile to his face.
The way the project is evolving and the way the student body at Missouri Valley College keeps diversifying, further proliferation of the bicycles on campus is not only to be expected, but likely inevitable. So, there is more freedom and definitely more fun for the students.