Change Makers

Joey’s story: Defying a disability to bring hope to other children

Runner pushes across the finish line 11-year-old athlete in wheelchair.

Nine-year-old Joey Johnson remembers the first time he opened the World Vision Gift Catalog two years ago. It was a cozy scene inside their Indianapolis home: Joey and his 5-year-old sister, Annie, were snuggled in the arms of their mother, Kelly Johnson. As they flipped through the pages, Joey’s curiosity quickly turned to concern. “I was troubled,” he says.

His mother also recalls the moment. “We were reading about children in very difficult situations — about child abuse, their need for safe homes, education, and medicine,” Kelly says. “He listened as I told him about how women are treated poorly in various parts of the world and how kids don’t have access to nutritional food or healthcare. He listened seriously to how gifts in the catalog were helping children, and then I asked my son what he was thinking.”

Joey answered quickly, saying, “I want to help.”

Joey was born with a rare, genetic disorder called mitochondrial disease, which produces a wide range of symptoms and severities and has no cure. He spends much of his time limited to a wheelchair. “I know how it feels to be helpless, powerless,” he says.

I want other kids to be able to achieve their goals and dreams because we are all in this together.—Joey Johnson, 9

Joey believes that gifts given through the World Vision Gift Catalog help provide better lives for children.

“I want other kids to be able to achieve their goals and dreams because we are all in this together.”

When it came to selecting gifts from the Gift Catalog, Kelly took down Joey’s order: “I want to help a mom get a good home for her family. God is helping us build a home where I can get around better. … I want to help children who don’t have moms or dads and are beaten up and hurt. I want others to feel like I do — protected. I want to send a bicycle to a girl.” He also selected a wheelchair and says, “I want another kid to feel the freedom I do.”

His family has given nearly $1,000 by purchasing medicine, food, education, animals, a bicycle, and a wheel-chair through the catalog. They also sponsor two girls through World Vision.

“My dream is to make it so that every kid who needs that one little thing will be able to get that — to help them in their life,” Joey says. “I want other kids to be able to achieve their goals and dreams because we are all in this together.”

Kelly is amazed at her son’s care for others. “My kid explodes with gratitude,” she says.

Joey Johnson with his family, including mother, Kelly, father, Noah, and sister, Annie.
Joey in a family selfie with his mother, Kelly, father, Noah, and sister, Annie. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson)

Joey embodies the Christian faith his parents have worked to instill in him. Kelly, 34, is a concierge with the Indianapolis Zoo. Joey’s father Noah, 38, is a heavy equipment operations technician with Amazon. Their daughter, Annie, has the same disorder Joey has, so the couple works opposite shifts so their children can be with at least one parent. The family attends Indian Creek Christian Church, which has a special needs program for the children.

“We’ve wanted our children to know that God defines who you are instead of this world,” said Kelly. “This is what we have spoken to Joey again and again throughout his life. And the extraordinary thing is how God can use anyone for extraordinary things when they truly believe his promises and who he says we are.”

Joey is living that out. Finishing a triathlon as a wheelchair competitor last summer defied Joey’s disabilities and strengthened his resolve to usher in hope for other children by continuing to give generously.

“My dream was to run a race one day, and even though I would never have the strength to, an athlete would make it possible by pushing me to the end,” Joey says. “In my life, God has helped me in a lot of ways, and if I can help other children who feel the same way, then I’ve made a difference in another kid’s life.”

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