By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
Eight and a half years ago Katherine Wolf was a healthy 26 year old, pregnant with her first child, pursuing her career dreams in California with a bright future ahead.
And then she had a stroke that nearly killed her and changed everything.
“I wanted to tell a story of miraculous healing, of how things are coming up roses — but that’s not my story,” she said. “I’m still in the wheelchair. But I love testifying to the goodness of God in the midst of that.”
And she and her husband, Jay, both Samford University graduates, say they love giving a voice to the voiceless — the 1 billion people living with disabilities worldwide.
Jay Wolf — whose father, also named Jay, is pastor of First Baptist Church, Montgomery — said, “It’s the worst of the worst experiences in humanity, to live in a world that’s not made for you. You feel so isolated and alone.”
But God has given the couple so much grace, hope and community to bolster them up that they just want to give that back, he said. “We want people to know it’s not the end of their story.”
That’s why they are launching Hope Heals Camp in June in Alabama — to “hope it forward,” as they call it.
“We chose Alabama because my hometown is here and our college network is here but we also chose it because there is a huge need here,” Jay Wolf said.
While 25 percent of the U.S. population has some sort of disability, Alabama came in higher at 32 percent, putting it in the top five states per capita, he said.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that those with disabilities have sort of an invisible quality,” he said. “You’re in the highest likelihood for unemployment, suicide, homelessness and abuse if you’re in that segment of the population. We wanted to offer something unique for them.”
Katherine Wolf agreed. “We want people to feel less alone and more loved by the Father. God is not giving up on them. He’s with them in their nightmare.”
At Hope Heals Camp people living with disabilities and their family members will be paired with companion families who can walk alongside them in their struggles, she said.
‘Holding the hurts’
“We want them to have the deep privilege of being known and cared for, to have community surrounding them, lifting them up, encouraging them, holding the hurts that they feel,” she said. “It’s a deep communal feeling of, ‘We’re with you, we get it, it’s isolating.’”
The idea for the camp grew out of the stories from the people Katherine Wolf met as she has been in and out of hospitals and the way others have connected with her own story, she said.
“My eyes were opened to the reality of what severe disability on the outside of the body looks like and it’s horrible,” she said.
In her low moments she wondered if God had made a mistake keeping her alive.
“I wondered if things would be better if Jay could remarry or James could have a new mommy and things eventually wouldn’t be so sad all the time and they would move on,” she said. “But God spoke into that mess and God really told me through the power of His Word that He doesn’t make mistakes ever.”
And now the Wolfs are using their story to help others find comfort and purpose in their suffering. It has grown into a ministry and a book called “Hope Heals” that has sold more than 40,000 copies, and now it is expanding into Hope Heals Camp, which will be offered in two sessions.
The opportunity for community is offered for both those with disabilities and those without, Jay Wolf explained. Just as they invite people with disabilities and their families to come and be encouraged, they also need companion families to come to the camp as an opportunity to serve those who are suffering.
‘A profound experience’
“For those with disabilities, there’s the offer of companionship. For those who don’t have a disability, there’s the chance to learn from someone who has been through intense suffering and draw closer to Christ in a powerful way,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity to volunteer and come alongside another family. It will be a profound experience.”
The Wolfs also are seeking people willing to scholarship camp participants for the sessions, he said.
Volunteers from Samford’s Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing in Birmingham also will be on hand for both camp sessions to speak to the medical concerns of campers.
It’s a much-needed ministry, Jay Wolf’s father said.
“Ministry to disabled people is one of the most overlooked areas in the Church today,” Pastor Jay Wolf said.
“The reality is, disability ministry probably wouldn’t be on Jay and Katherine’s radar if she had never suffered this stroke and become a recipient of disability ministry.”
The Gospels show “stunning example after example” of Jesus engaging people who are lost, hurt and forgotten, he said.
“Jay and Katherine now belong to that unseen population and have decided to follow Jesus’ example in helping the hopeless. We pray that this camp is a conduit of Christ-created community, hope, peace and healing that lives far beyond the five days of the event.”
For more information about the camp, visit hopehealscamp.org.
For more information about the Wolfs’ story and ministry, visit hopeheals.com.
Nearly 32 percent of Alabama’s population is living with some sort of disability. That’s why there’s Hope Heals Camp.
How can you get involved?
• While the two June camps are full, there is still a need for companions to serve the families who will be participating.
Camp ASCCA (near Montgomery)
With musical guest Sara Groves
Camp McDowell (near Birmingham)
With musical guest Sandra McCracken
• Other opportunities inlude serving as a companion family or providing a scholarship for someone to participate in a future camp.
(Compiled by Grace Thornton)