The Story of Jerry, Joan and Joni Part 2

This is the conclusion of my previous post; to read part 1 click here.

At the end of that busy summer of camping ministries (which we both did) he called me at home. He didn’t declare any intentions that night – but still I knew something had changed in our conference friendship.

From August through December 1994 he would call me periodically at home. Because we had a six year friendship already under our belt these conversations quickly took our friendship deeper.

January and February our conversations grew rapidly from once a week to several times a week to daily to several times daily (remember these were before the days of one price calling plans – and we had a three hour time difference!). We also began to email each other (again, these were the days of paying per byte of email sent and received!).

J & J First Date
What kids! This picture was taken the weekend of our first face to face date weekend in Clarksville, IN

In March 1995 we decided it was time for a face to face visit and to meet family and friends. I flew to see Jerry in Indiana, meet his friends, and see his ministry. In April he flew out to CA to meet my friends and see my life. We got engaged that weekend. In May I met him in northwestern Ohio where he grew up. This gave me the opportunity to meet his family, friends and help with a weekend of camp Power Ministries hosted. In June he came back to northern CA and worked a week of Family Retreat I was running “on loan” to Joni and Friends from the ministry I worked with, Oaks of Hebron.

Late August Jerry’s friends and family packed his van and a trailer, which a friend of his drove to Cotati, CA to the (accessible) condo I had purchased a few years earlier. A few days later Jerry flew out. He lived in my condo and I housed with friends until we were married November 11, 1995 in Sebastopol, CA.

We lived in Cotati, CA for three years while I continued to work for Oaks of Hebron and Jerry worked for Congregational Awareness, Sonoma County Pro Life and the Redwood Gospel Mission.

In 1998 we knew we needed to move east to be closer to our parents as they aged and to make travel to our families more affordable. Through a long job search we ended up taking jobs in Fort Washington, PA. Jerry’s brother and sister flew out from Ohio and helped us make the drive across the country. My uncle and aunt came over from New Jersey to help us unpack and move into an apartment.

The jobs we came east for turned out to not be a good fit for us. But we were here, and enjoying reconnecting with extended family in the area. We worked a variety of temporary jobs, did a great deal of foster/respite care and bought a house in Souderton, PA.

At several times in both of our lives we had worked on loan or in partnership with Joni and Friends. We had both been recruited by them in the past for staff positions, but the timing was not right. We reached out again now in 2000 to Joni and Friends asking if they had any positions available for us or wanted to start a Philadelphia office. We were told that in the recent days Joni had mentioned that they needed to reconnect with the Bortons.

At that time Joni and Friends was not hiring, but was instituting a new program called “Ministry Associates.” We pioneered as their first Ministry Associates, while still working some temporary jobs and raising funds to support the ministry. We began to help Joni and Friends with their summer Family Retreats at Spruce Lake and worked to help churches understand people with disabilities and offer support to families. As the years went on we were both able to leave our temporary jobs and work full time with Disability Ministry Associates, though 90% of our work was on behalf of Joni and Friends.

We are honored to call Ken and Joni Tada our friends, and to work as ministry partners with them.
We are honored to call Ken and Joni Tada our friends, and to work as ministry partners with them.

God blessed and multiplied our work. December 31, 2006 we closed the office of Disability Ministry Associates (which was located in our home) and reopened that same office January 1, 2007 as full time employees with Joni and Friends. Jerry became the Director and I the Program Manager of Joni and Friends Greater Philadelphia (

In 2008 we moved the office out of our home to 121 E Chestnut St in Souderton PA. Later that spring we hired our first staff person, Becca, to be our administrative assistant.

Since then God has seen fit, through the generosity of many supporters, the wisdom of many advisors and the pounding on Heaven’s door of many prayer partners to grow us to a team of five full time staff, a dozen volunteers who serve on a weekly basis and hundreds more who serve throughout the year to reach into the lives of more than 400 families affected by disability and over 200 churches who serve them.

The Story of Jerry, Joan and Joni Part 1

Three of the questions I am most frequently asked:

  • How did you meet Jerry?
  • Have you ever met Joni?
  • When did you start working for Joni and Friends?

Questions 1 and 2 are relatively easy to answer (in the opposite order), and number three takes a little more explanation. So perhaps it is time to put the story of Jerry, Joan and Joni in writing. Though really it is the story of “J to the fourth power” – Jesus, Joni, Jerry & Joan.

In fact, that is the order in which I met them.  Clearly Jesus is the common thread between each of the other relationships.

It was in the late 80’s when I was working in northern CA (Sonoma County) in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities that I was invited to a meeting in Wisconsin. Joni Eareckson Tada was the driving force of this gathering of about 40 people who worked in disability ministries around the country. The goal was to develop a consortium of ministries to support each other and expand disability ministry.

Joni and jOan singing
Joni and I both enjoy praising God in song. It is a joy and pleasure when she invites me to harmonize with her as we did at this conference.

The first evening we had a meet and greet prior to dinner. That was the first time I met Joni face to face. I happened to be standing next to her when for reasons I cannot remember, the person facilitating the evening announced that the first ones to identify all 5 points of Calvinism would lead the way through the dinner line. Joni and I pulled our church history and theology knowledge together and lead the way to dinner! Periodically when we are together we giggle at the memory.

Jerry was at the same conference. Both our names are on the attendee list. I recall him as someone who was funny and wore polyester (he’ll say because it made his transfers easier!). I even played piano for some of the group sessions, yet he does not remember me at all.

The following year this consortium joined Joni and Friends in an International Congress on the Church and Disability, drawing about 900 people from around the world to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Late each evening about 10 of us would gather and play UNO as we debriefed our days. Jerry and I were each a part of that little gathering. Again, I recall how funny he was; and somehow I made enough of an impression on him that he could now recall me

For the next six or eight years Jerry and I continued to attend the same conference, he coming from Indiana and me from California. As conference buddies we spent some time chatting together each gathering. Throughout the years we had some occasional ministry related communication.

It was the spring of 1994 when Joni and Friends invited both of us to a weeklong Institute they were hosting in Knoxville, Tennessee. If memory serves me correctly, about 30 of us attended that training. At the end of the week, everyone went home – except Jerry and me. Neither of us knew the other planned to stay over. Jerry stayed because he had some work to do with a college in town. I stayed as my parents came over from North Carolina to visit with me before I headed home to the west coast.

Jerry joined my parents and I for a meal or two that weekend. I remember him calling our hotel room early Saturday morning saying his attendant called out sick, did I think my Dad would go help him get up that morning. Of course, my Dad went and helped. The only thing I remember my dad saying when he came back was, “that boy needs new socks – his have holes!” (What dad didn’t understand was that those holes came from Jerry’s dressing stick that he used to pull his socks up independently).

As far as I knew, we parted at the conclusion of that weekend as we had after any other conference – conference buddies who would see each other the next year. Only later did I learn that Jerry left saying, “God, I wish there was someone like Joan in Indiana.”

Check back here on Sunday for part 2!