Catching up with Joel Montgomery (WC ’14)
(Editor’s Note: Recently long-time staff member and Alumni News contributing writer caught up with Joel Montgomery (WC ’14) and learned about his work with Joni and Friends. Here’s what Joel shared with Liz.)
For almost a year, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work for the Joni and Friends International Disability Center. Joni and Friends is a non-profit organization that seeks to “communicate the Gospel and equip Christ-honoring churches worldwide to evangelize and disciple people affected by disabilities.” The organization of Joni and Friends was founded by Joni Eareckson Tada, whose story of a diving accident leaving her a quadriplegic now brings hope to people affected by disabilities worldwide. Joni and Friends have local offices throughout the country, one of which is in Columbus, Ohio, where I work as the Program Manager. My role has various responsibilities, but I have four main duties in my job:
- First, I am the director of two domestic Family Retreats in Southern Ohio. Family Retreats are a “taste of heaven” where 80 families and 300 volunteers each year experience a week-long adapted vacation together. Family Retreats exist to provide respite to families affected by disability while sharing the Gospel through worship, fellowship, and many adapted activities. Some of the activities include handicap accessible hot-air balloon rides, a carnival night, a talent show night, and more.
- Second, I lead two Wheels for the World trips to El Salvador (the most densely populated country in Central America – six million people) each year to distribute wheelchairs, canes, crutches, and walkers to the people of that country. Each trip is composed of therapists, mechanics, and support people that seek to share the Gospel with each person that receives a specially-fitted mobility device. Last year, between the two trips, over 800 mobility devices were distributed in El Salvador, and nearly 300 people surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ! The power of a mobility device to bring people affected by disability out of the dirt is indescribable, but the power of Christ’s grace to lift people affected by disability out of the grave is eternal!
- Third, I lead an additional trip to El Salvador each year. This trip’s purpose is taking a team of volunteers to the International Family Retreat in El Salvador. The model of International Family Retreats is like domestic Family Retreats, but the goal remains the same in sharing the Gospel with families affected by disability through worship, fellowship, and adapted activities.
- Lastly, I engage local churches through conversation and training on why and how to start disability ministries in their churches. Ultimately, this responsibility is the most important one, as it is through local churches around the world that will have the greatest impact on families affected by disability.
I cannot describe how thankful I am for my job as Christ continues to mold me to be more like Him. I love my job with all my heart, and I feel closest to my Savior when serving alongside those affected by disabilities. May He receive all the glory, honor, and praise!
About Joni and Friends
A generation ago, the name Joni Eareckson was at the forefront of the news. Her story was especially meaningful to those in the Christian community. As a seventeen-year-old high school graduate, Joni was still searching for plans for her future. On the fateful afternoon of July 30, 1967, in the summer after graduation, Joni and her sister went swimming in the Chesapeake Bay which was near their home in Maryland. They swam to a stationary raft offshore. Without stopping to gauge the depth of the water, Joni dove head first into the bay. Her head crunched against the bottom. She didn’t know at that moment that she had severed her spinal cord. There she was, face down in the water, unable to move her arms and legs to surface. It was a moment before her sister noticed her floating immobile, jumped in and turned her over to be able to breathe. She spent the years that followed in a series of rehabilitation facilities. The bottom line was that she was paralyzed from her shoulders down, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on others to help her.
She initially suffered depression and anger. As a Christian, she had no idea why this had happened to her. As time went on, Christ spoke to Joni, encouraging her that she could make a difference for Him. This led to a radio ministry, authoring numerous books, a movie about her life, and even painting using a brush between her teeth. Speaking engagements followed. The most meaningful thing that I remember is when Joni was the opening speaker for a Billy Graham Crusade. She closed her comments with, “I would rather be in this chair with Christ than on my feet without Him.” Since that time, Joni married Ken Tada who helps with all her ministries to the disabled. 150,000 wheelchairs have been distributed internationally, and 63,000 people have participated in Family Retreats. In recent years, Joni has undergone treatment for breast cancer in addition to her disability. She would appreciate our prayers.