Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Paying it Forward - "Flight to Hartford"

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One of the most important spiritual principles involve the cycle of giving and receiving, which represents the true nature of the universe. So my question for you today is: "How are you 'paying it forward' this week?"

A little over a year ago, I relocated to a small sleepy town of Akron, Ohio to undergo special flight training which eventually resulted in aviation history. In Feb 06, I defied the nay-sayers who said it couldn't be done and became the world's first deaf instrument rated pilot. You can read more about this by visiting the aviation biography section at: http://www.sjhopson.com/bio-flying.htm

When I first arrived to town, I looked everywhere for a spiritual place to worship where I could get away from the enormous pressures of making aviation history. My desire was a non-denominational church where no one was judged - another very important spiritual principle. I wanted a place where all people were welcome regardless of their race, gender, faith, nationality, creed, disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation, occupation, education and so forth. I've always believed that God loves each and everyone of us. Many of the world's religions would have you believe that God is like the discriminating bouncer at a popular nightclub; accepting only the beautiful and powerful while rejecting everyone else. That never made sense to me!

One day I stumbled onto their website by accident and learned that approximately five years ago, Pastor Bob Dreese of First Grace United Church of Christ blew away traditional norms by declaring the church to be open to all, just as how I believe God intended. At that moment, I knew I had found my spiritual home away from home.

But I soon learned how this very bold statement came at a terrible price. More than half of the congregation fled in fear because their way of thinking was still deeply rooted into the "discriminating bouncer" concept.

Since then, First Grace has been busy rebuilding its congregation. True to their word, NO ONE has been turned away. NO ONE. Because of this, I want to "pay it forward" in a very special way by helping First Grace refill the pews and make someone else's dream of flight come true by using my God-given aviation talents.

That "someone" is Ryan Mathews who is also a member of First Grace UCC. He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. Like me, he has never let his disability stop him from achieving his dreams. He recently graduated with top honors from the University of Akron with a degree in music education. Ryan now lives out his life's purpose as a talented musician and educator, touching countless of lives. And would you know that one of his dreams is to actually go for a flight in a small plane?

We are renting a small plane in June 07 and flying ourselves to Hartford, CT to help United Church of Christ celebrate 50 years in existence. Also aboard will be Ron Hoff, a talented videographer who will tape the flight for a documentary to be made at a later time.

Imagine this...a deaf pilot at the controls with a disabled man in the right seat acting as a "co-pilot"! What a better way of paying it forward and showing the world that people with disabilities can achieve their dreams?!?!

We have dubbed this project "Flight to Hartford." If you wish to help, please visit First Grace's website for more information - there is a link on the site where you can download a donation card to send your contribution by mail if you are inspired to do so:

http://www.firstgraceucc.org/yourti110445.html

Side note: UCC has many prominent members across the United States including Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, Howard Dean (former Presidential candidate and Natl Democratic Chair), Marilynne Robinson (Pulitzer Prize winner) and Reverend Andrew Young (US Statesman) plus many others.
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