Joe Himes was given no hope when he was born, but when he got older, he gave hope to others. The doctor who delivered
him told his mother the baby was suffering from muscular dystrophy and a brain hemorrhage.
"He's not going to live and if he does live, he's going to be brain dead, " Himes said his mother was told.
Joe Himes, associate pastor at West Loop Missionary Church, Hollidaysburg, and his wife, Candy, have ministered throughout central Pennsylvania where he has delivered messages and played his guitar.
That was 52 years ago.
Today, he is married and a minister licensed to preach the gospel.
Himes of Hollidaysburg has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common type of the disease. Most sufferers do not survive beyond early adulthood because as the disease progresses, their muscles become weaker and weaker. Even the muscles that control breathing get weak, requiring the use of a ventilatory assist machine to breathe.
In his teen years, Himes was discouraged from pursuing a career, because he was not expected to live. He wanted to become a mathematics teacher. He was told he shouldn't waste his time going to college because no one would hire him for fear he would be unable to keep the students safe in an emergency.
He eventually did attend Penn State Altoona to pursue an associate's degree in English, but breathing problems forced him to drop out.
The disappointments did not discourage him.
"God lets things slip through your fingers so he has a place to put other things," Himes said.
One of those other things is offering spiritual guidance through his work as a minister with the Missionary Church USA.
He is an associate pastor at West Loop Missionary Church, Hollidaysburg, where he compiles the weekly bulletins, prepares PowerPoint presentations for the senior minister and counsels people over the phone.
David L. Foor, senior pastor at West Loop, said Himes is an intelligent man with a great deal of fortitude.
"He is a mighty man trapped in a body that doesn't let him rise to his whole potential. He recognizes his limitations but he has not given up on life," Foor said.
"A lot of people with his physical handicaps would be ready to give up, but he is not easily discouraged."
Himes said many times he is able to help people with health issues, especially seniors who look to him for empathy.
"When things are falling apart physically, they feel free to tell me about it. They feel that I care," he said.
Himes also conducts an adult Sunday school class at Fields of Harvest Fellowship, where he did part of his internship while pursuing his ministry license from the Pastoral Leadership Institute, affiliated with Missionary Church USA.
Himes said Fields of Harvest wanted to start a class for people who use wheelchairs.
During the weekly sessions, he also conducts a conference call with several truck drivers who listen and contribute to the lesson through a speaker phone. Hines connected to the truck drivers after meeting one at the Lighthouse Fellowship in Altoona.
Before his breathing problems prevented him from traveling, Himes and his wife, Candy, would visit churches within a 100-mile radius of Altoona, where he preached and played the guitar.
When he visited a church, he said people were not sure how to relate to him, so he would make light comments to help them relax. Himes would have Candy plug in his amp, his guitar and then what he called his "faith" or breathing machine.
Himes often uses humor to cope with his limitations. Because his family was unable to care for him, he grew up in institutions in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with limited visits back home to Altoona. From ages 10 to 17, he lived at the Good Shepherd Home in Allentown.
Even then, his ability to make light of a situation helped him get through difficult times.
He remembers being accidentally dragged about half a block by a van at age 12 while living in Allentown. The van's door had unexpectantly opened.
"My leg got caught in the chair, and the chair got caught in the door," he said. Despite a fractured skull and broken leg, he told a female pedestrian that ran to his rescue, "I didn't trust the van driver's driving, so I was keeping my eye on the road."
It was while he was at Good Shepherd Home that he said he gained spiritual insight. One of the workers befriended him and took him to church.
"When I went to church, I found I was loved by God. God was there all the time. I found out I was never really alone. I received Christ there."
When he was 17, Himes returned to Altoona to live with his mother and two younger brothers who were old enough to help with his care.
When his dream to become a math teacher did not work out, he took a master's course in TV service and built a colored television. The project made him realize that the appliances would be too cumbersome for him to handle so he opted out of being a TV repairman.
Instead, he went to art school and painted portraits for a while and was a producer and late night disc jockey at WALY 103.9 in the early 1990s. He still keeps his hand in radio by helping with the Share-a-Thons held at WJSM Radio in Martinsburg.
He also has taken computer training courses and is responsible for the websites for West Loop Missionary Church and WJSM.
In addition to exploring careers, Himes also took time to pursue Candy, the love of his life. He met her through her sister, who provided Himes with a ride to see friends in Allentown about 17 years ago.
"Candy's the most generous person I ever met in my life," he said.
He recalls being in the hospital with a breathing issue two years before they married in 1996 and telling her he would understand if she did not want to continue the relationship.
"She replied, 'I'll have you as long as I can, Joe,'" he said.
He said after they were married a few years, he realized that his life with her fulfilled a childhood dream.
He said he remembers hearing the song, "Our House" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young when he was living at Good Shepherd Home and thought it would be neat to have a home and family someday. He dismissed the thought because of the muscular dystrophy.
He realized a few years ago that the dream came true. He has an adult stepson, Robert, and an adult stepdaughter, Melissa. They also have two cats, a dog and a parrot.
In addition to family, Himes like to surround himself with music.
"He's an accomplished guitarist," Foor said.
When he used to visit people in nursing homes or the hospital, he would take his guitar with him. He would give people a sense of comfort through the music, Foor said.
Himes' interest in the guitar took him to a clinic in 1999 at the Ramada Inn Altoona taught by country acoustic guitarist Doyle Dykes, a decision that Himes said transformed his playing.
After the clinic, Himes introduced himself to Dykes to ask if he knew of a stand to hold his guitar because his physical limitations were making it difficult to play.
Dykes had him try his Baby Taylor guitar.
"The size fit my small frame," Himes said. "He autographed it and gave it to me."
Himes said the gift changed his music.
"My guitar playing increased," Himes said. "Everything I did flowed. It was an anointing."
Later, Dykes sent Himes another Baby Taylor guitar with a specific pickup system to help Himes in his finger style that involves playing the melody and the rhythm at the same time.
"It was a God thing. I was overwhelmed when Doyle sent me that guitar," he said.
Himes also was given the opportunity to record two CDs with Mel McDonald of Alabama, whom he met at a church in Hollidaysburg.
McDonald and his wife had temporarily moved to the area to care for his elderly mother-in-law. McDonald had written many Christian songs that can be heard on "All is Well with Joe and Mel" and "Secret Place."
Himes' music also led to a friendship with Steve Cox in Alaska. Cox and Himes are both fans of Dykes.
Cox said, "I was checking the forums at Doyle's website and found a post by Joe. His signature caught my eye."
It read: "I may be a Christian who is crippled but thank God I am not a crippled Christian."
"I found the note interesting," Cox said, "in part because I've had some physical issues, so I dropped Joe a note asking about it. He replied and showed himself to have a good sense of humor and could joke about his physical issues. That was the beginning of a great friendship that has blessed me in multiple ways," he said.
Cox noted that Himes is a man in a rough spot.
"He is not physically able to support his family like he would like to. However, he is always joyful. Always one to lift up another when they are down. He is someone that I am honored to call a friend and a brother," Cox said.
Himes communicates with Cox and others through e-mail or Facebook and finds himself spending more time in front of his computer.
He never got to teach math or English, but through the Internet, he is teaching seminary students enrolled in the Pastoral Leadership Institute how to use a a Logos program to research topics and Scripture for sermons.
He also responds to theological thoughts and statements on religion that he sees posted on Yahoo and other sites.
He sees social networking and the web as a way to enhance his ministry.
"My health is deteriorating but I am still here to do what I can do," Himes said.