Unconditionally True

by | Aug 21, 2012 | Charisma Archive

Known as “Papa Joe” to the hundreds of inner-city families he helps, Joe Bradford has a powerful testimony that reads like a movie. This month his story comes to the big screen via Unconditional—a film as inspiring as Papa Joe’s ministry.

Act I: The Setup
Joe Bradford was seething, despite being surrounded by 60 giggling, playful children enjoying their lunches. He sat alone at a table, mentally rehashing the heated exchange he had just had with a drug-addicted mother whose abusiveness had caused her young daughter’s eyes to be swollen shut. As he pondered the heinous events—and the equally horrific stories behind most of the neighborhood children around him—the girl’s older sister approached him. No older than 7 or 8, her eyes held a distinct sincerity about them when she asked a question that took Bradford off-guard: “Will you be my daddy?”

Seconds later, another little girl asked the same thing, followed by a young boy. Before Bradford knew it, almost 30 children had descended on him with this unusual request.

“I’m thinking, ‘Are they joking with me? Did they plan this?’ They were actually looking at me seriously, wondering. They didn’t even ask me what my qualifications were,” he says jokingly. Overwhelmed by the circumstances, Bradford did the only thing he could at the moment: He embraced the children and told them he loved them.

Becoming a father was a misnomer to Bradford, who was raised by a single mother and felt abandoned most of his adolescence.

“My father left my mother when I was in the womb,” he explains. “I grew up feeling abandoned by my father. I never thought I could be an example of a papa to anybody.”

The idea of becoming a father to thousands, then, was asking the impossible of Bradford. But that night, in biblical fashion, his life and name was forever changed.

“I felt like the Lord told me in my spirit that He was changing my name from just Joe Bradford to Papa Joe,” he explains. Though he felt unprepared to be a dad given his past, Bradford took the Lord’s words as a divine commissioning.

That was in 2005. Today the 51-year-old is affectionately known as “Papa Joe” by the young lives he’s changed in the projects of Nashville, Tenn., in a state where 40 percent of children live in fatherless homes according to tndads.org He and his wife, Denise, are surrogate parents to some of the city’s most underprivileged children, while their ministry, Elijah’s Heart, works with hundreds of at-risk kids and their parents, providing food, clothing, laptops, uniforms and tutoring programs. Most importantly to Papa Joe, they serve as positive role models while giving these kids the one thing most of their fathers don’t: time.

Act II: The Turning Point
Papa Joe certainly never dreamed of becoming a father figure. Yet even more, he and Denise never imagined they would be forced to live in the Preston Taylor projects in downtown Nashville. The middle-class couple had done well until Bradford discovered he had kidney disease in 1997. His condition deteriorated rapidly, forcing him to be on a dialysis machine eight hours a day. After three years, his battle against the disease culminated with a life-saving kidney transplant.

Unfortunately the effort to save Bradford’s life also cost his family everything they owned. Booted from their home and completely broke from the insurmountable medical bills, the Bradfords had little choice but to find housing in the projects. They dreaded moving their three elementary-aged children to a crime-ridden area, but a series of events soon proved they were divinely sent.

The first day after they moved into Preston Taylor, a deaf and mute girl stood on their front porch and just stared at Joe. Not knowing how to respond, he called Denise, who brought her a Starburst candy. The little girl took it and scurried off, only to return with her brothers. By the end of the week, 50 of the neighborhood children had flocked to the couple’s door in search of candy. The Bradfords soon realized they needed to offer more than just sweets.

“I was the type of person who, when going through those neighborhoods, I would lock the doors,” Denise admits. “I’m the last person who would ever choose to move there. But when we got there and started to see what was going on, I found that our hearts were arrested.”

God obviously had a plan for them in Nashville, but the exact strategy wasn’t clear yet. They knew the kids not only needed resources, they also needed to be influenced by adults who cared for them. Having directed choirs for 20 years—Joe plays the saxophone and Denise the piano—it was natural for the couple to use music to spend time with the children.

“We figure we can use what we have—our gifts, our talents—to shine the light of Jesus in these neighborhoods and bring out something that is in them that they don’t know,” Denise explains. “Everybody doesn’t think they sing, but everybody can sing. So whatever your gift is, use it.” 

They started Unity Choir, which has attracted hundreds of kids and has been featured at the Tennessee National Day of Prayer ceremony for four consecutive years. They also began A.C.T.I.O.N. (Anointed Christian Theater Inspiring Our Nations), a series of dramatic plays performed at theaters throughout Tennessee. Through the choir and plays, the group highlights the needs of impoverished children living throughout America and raises money to help inner-city families. 

Elijah’s Heart also spearheads an online education program that offers basic resources and private tutoring to help kids become academically successful.

CHARISMA NEWSLETTERS

Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


MORE FROM CHARISMA

Have We Departed From the  Simplicity of Christ?

Have We Departed From the Simplicity of Christ?

Recently I heard a pastor say the following: "When I was pastoring and saw little fruit, I began to call those with potential to reach others for Christ to our home and to mentor them one on one. That's where massive growth happened in the people." Local pastors and...

Take the Fight to the Enemy, Before He Strikes at You

Take the Fight to the Enemy, Before He Strikes at You

Read Time: 3 Minutes 7 Seconds “When the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek out David; and when David heard of it, he went down to the stronghold,” (2 Sam. 5:17). When David heard that he was under...

Joyce Meyer: Becoming a Prisoner of Hope

Joyce Meyer: Becoming a Prisoner of Hope

Read Time: 3 Minutes 56 Seconds God is good. And He has a good plan for each of our lives. No matter what may be going on right now, God’s plan is unfolding. In the meantime, Romans 12:12 tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,”...

Victimized By Gaslighting? 5 Steps to Finding Freedom

Victimized By Gaslighting? 5 Steps to Finding Freedom

Read Time: 2 minutes 26 seconds The term "gaslighting" has gone viral across social media this year and Merriam-Webster chose it as their word-of-the-year, saying searches for the word spiked 1,740% in 2022 alone. We're breaking down what the Bible has to say about...

WATCH: Vlad Savchuck: Life, Health and the Bible

WATCH: Vlad Savchuck: Life, Health and the Bible

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZdzLoS3wCM During a recent visit to @HungryGeneration, Pastor Vlad Savchuk asked Bill Wiese to comment on his personal experience applying the Word of God to his own life and health. These same principals hold true for all who read and...

RECENT ARTICLES

Miraculous Divine Intervention Birthed by Thanksgiving and Praise

Read Time: 4 Minutes 2 Seconds When I first became a believer in 1970, my mother was one of my first “converts," giving her heart to Jesus as soon as I shared with her the beauty, the power and the...
I’m Going Defcon G on the Enemy

I’m Going Defcon G on the Enemy

Read Time: 1 Minute 32 Seconds The last six years have been the best of times and the worst of times. I’ve seen more death, destruction, disease and devastation than I care to remember. I’ve also seen the hand of God move in extraordinary ways. Indeed, sometimes I...

Prophetic Vision: ‘Now is the Time of Your Healing’

Prophetic Vision: ‘Now is the Time of Your Healing’

Read Time: 3 Minutes 41 Seconds I was remembering a time when my husband and I were praying over friends who had been in a situation for many years that had caused deep trauma to their souls. As we were praying for them, I became aware of an angel standing over them...

5 Ways to Improve Your Emotional and Spiritual Health

5 Ways to Improve Your Emotional and Spiritual Health

Read Time: 4 Minutes 50 Seconds Do you believe the Lord is concerned about your emotional and spiritual health? He is. He wants you to know how to improve your emotional and spiritual health to be resilient in turbulent times. One of the most powerful things you can...

Pin It on Pinterest