Clinton, KY -- When Frank Riddick was growing up on a farm in western Tennessee, having a bicycle seemed as remote a possibility as owning a new car. One of six children, he always had plenty to eat and wear, but there wasn't much left for luxuries.
Remembering those childhood longings, two years ago he decided to provide bicycles to youngsters whose families couldn't afford to buy them one for Christmas.
To initiate the effort, he turned to the county mission house. Supported by various churches, the Clinton-based ministry provides food and clothing to low-income residents of the area.
In October, he posted a sign there reading, "If your child doesn't have a bike and wants one, see me or Lula Bell (Puckett, the director)."
"I gave a few bikes away and told children if it broke down or they had a flat to call me," said Riddick, who retired from farming in 1995. "I didn't dream anything like this would happen."
What happened is a Christmas tale to touch the hardest of Scrooges. After buying 40 new bicycles and placing a classified ad seeking used ones, word quickly circulated. Donations of bikes started pouring in to his farm three miles north of town.
To date he has given away nearly 200 and has 100 more in his workshop. Each carries a license plate reading, "Jesus Loves You."
But he didn't stop with free bikes. Riddick gave the children his heart.
Although he had built a 1.5-acre playground on his farm for his grandchildren, three of the five now live out of state. After getting acquainted with youngsters in the community, he invited them out to the homemade attraction.
It includes a cable ride the length of a football field, with capacity for four riders; a 50-foot-high tree swing and a 61-foot slide. The latter is more than four times the length of conventional slides.
Among other features is a merry-go-round-like device that holds three small children. A group of high school seniors took pictures of the cable ride for their photo albums and some children have said they enjoy it as much as the old Opryland amusement park.
"It's a joy to know the Lord had in mind for these needy kids to come out," he said. "A lot of these children I'm dealing with are below poverty level. They live in bad environments, some are mistreated and, without the mission house, most would be without clothes.
"I'm sure every community has children like this, but I didn't know how bad it was until I started doing this," he noted.
Riddick's involvement also led him to buy a 15-passenger van. Though he uses it to shuttle children to Team Kid, he primarily got it to bring them to the playground.
Looking back, the member of First Baptist Church of Clinton appreciates how God spared his life three times. In the past decade he survived a bout with kidney cancer, getting electrocuted by a 7,200-volt power line, and a brain tumor that doctors thought was cancerous but turned out to be stress-related.
Still, he doesn't want any acclaim for what he does, saying the glory belongs to God.
"I cannot say I had a vision to do this," he said. "I had a longing in my heart. I constantly feel a need to help the needy in our community. I can look back and see how everything happening was directed by God. I just didn't have enough spiritual knowledge to know it."
~The Western Recorder