This morning, you rolled out of bed and walked to the sink.
You squeezed paste on your toothbrush and brushed your teeth. Then, you walked into the kitchen and poured yourself a cup of coffee. Perhaps added a dash of French vanilla creamer.
Some 45 minutes later, you drove yourself to work. Another day in another week.
This morning, Lisa Olson rolled out of bed and did everything you did. She chose a pink top and beige trousers for work and at 8:30, took the elevator to the third floor of Robertson Hall, Regent University, where she is the career services and quality manager.
It’s the university where she earned her master’s degree in journalism in 1999. Three years before that, she graduated from Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn, with a bachelor’s degree in communication.
One of the invitations to her graduation ceremony was emailed to Dr. Kuruvilla George.
It was Lisa’s way of saying thank you— to the man who stopped her being euthanized as a baby in 1974. Lisa Olson was abandoned as a baby in a medical college in India because she was born without limbs.
Yes, today she did everything you did, just without arms or legs.
“I had two strokes against me when I was born. I was female and handicapped. But someone loved me enough to leave me at the hospital instead of killing me,” says Olson.
She was abandoned in the dead of night at the maternity ward of Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, India, and discovered by the nurses when they opened the ward in the morning. It is believed that Olson was born in one of the villages near the hospital.
The head of pediatrics at the hospital decided to euthanize the baby. He asked the nurses to give her half-feedings. “It was hoped that I would die of a hospital infection,” says Olson, rather matter-of-factly.
But one doctor stood up against the decision. A Christian. Dr. Kuruvilla George.
If he wanted her alive, he was told, he’d have to find a home for her. That’s when Dr. George and a friend made the 37-hour journey, changing two busses and trains, to the Ramabai Mukti Mission for destitute women and children in Pune.
“He carried me in a basket and just had cloth diapers and powdered milk, which the nurses had given him. So when I cried, he’d try to distract me by dangling a fresh diaper in front me. Of course, as a bachelor, he didn’t know how to clean a baby. He just changed my diapers. So, I was presented as a soiled baby to the Mukti Mission,” says Olson with a laugh.
It was here that she was given the name “Manyata”, which means ”acceptance.”
Fast-forward five years. Shift focus to Carmel, NY. A letter from Mukti Mission found its way to 51-year-old Marie Olson, the administrator of Hope Town Christian School for the disabled, asking if she would adopt Manyata.
All medical visas had expired and the only way the child could come to the school was if someone adopted her. What no one at the mission knew was that Marie Olson knew about Manyata and had spent the previous six months praying about adopting her.
To her, the letter was a confirmation. Three months later, in February 1980, Manyata traveled to the United States with her foster mother and began life as Lisa Manyata Olson.
In the 35 years since, Lisa Olson hasn’t let a single opportunity to live life pass her by. She was the first poster child of Variety the Children’s Charity of New York in 1985 and ’86.
They funded what was called the “Lisa mobile”, a special wheelchair, the seat of which could be lowered to the floor.
While at Lee University, Olson studied for a semester at Cambridge, England, and then proceeded to backpack across Europe with her friend. Yes, backpack.
“We covered 12 cities in 12 days,” she says. “My friend carried a backpack and I had a tote bag on my lap.” The most memorable experience was at Venice.
“We went on a gondola ride. And while the gondolier sang romantic songs, my friend and I looked at each other and said—you’re not my ideal soulmate,” says Olson with a smile.
“Did I tell you I drove?” she then asks. “It was my dream to drive a van and I finally did so in 2002, a year after passing my driver’s test.”
However, when Olson’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the medical bills sky rocketed, she had to sell her modified van to pay the bills.
“Today is Mom’s third death anniversary,” she says. Despite losing her pillar of strength, Olson soldiers on. She leans even more on God.
In 2013, she started Manyata Ministries, with one purpose— to spread hope, especially in the disabled community, among the youth and wounded soldiers. Through this ministry, Olson undertakes motivational speaking assignments.
In 2014, she undertook 20 speaking engagements in seven days in Bogata, Columbia. This included speaking at a women’s prison and the Wounded Soldiers’ Battalion.
And she made an impact. “An American missionary I met there wrote to me later. I had told her that my mom had stepped out in faith at the age of 51 to adopt me. The lady, who was the same age at the time, said the Lord had hit her between the eyes and said she also could step out in faith at her age.”
Olson has also spoken at the enVision conference in San Antonio and Christ Central Ministries in Lake City, Florida.
She has even appeared on television shows like the CBN 700 Club, I Got This, and the Hampton Roads Show, and been written about in The Virginian Pilot.
However, behind that smile is a struggle. Olson depends on caregivers for activities of daily living that most people take for granted. And there have recently been a number of changes on that front.
In fact, there are time slots in Olson’s week when she doesn’t have any caregiver. Lisa Olson needs funds to be able to pay for this assistance.
The hero needs help.
She also desperately needs a modified van. At present, she is driven to work by her caregivers in an old minivan that has no heat or air-conditioning and one broken window glued in place. Her wheelchair has also outlived its normal lifespan.
When Olson smiles at you and recounts humorous anecdotes, you wouldn’t guess the odds she beats to do so.
However, this courageous lady needs financial help. She also needs volunteers to assist with her Manyata Ministries website and social media efforts.
This lamp of hope was lit in 1974 by a doctor who refused to let a baby be euthanized. Today, the lady is struggling. It’s time to stand beside her. It’s time to fan her flame of hope.
Make tax-deductible donations for Olson’s ministry at http://www.manyataministries.org/6.html. You can also mail donations to: Manyata Ministries, P.O. Box 64246, Virginia Beach VA 23464.
Want to volunteer? Email Olson at lisamanyata@.
Shreya Shukla is a Contributor to the Daily Runner.