Thank you so much for your generosity to Accelerate, our one-fund generosity initiative! Because of God’s goodness and His people’s generosity, we are able to share stories of how He is at work at Immanuel, in our community and around the world.”
by Laura Forman
Many of us take for granted our child can play the sport of his or her choice. The decision is a simple one — baseball or soccer, volleyball or track — not whether participation is even possible. One child playing in Immanuel’s Upward Basketball this winter has risen above the odds, a possibility only God could facilitate.
Hope is a fitting name for this inspiring girl, born severely premature at 25 weeks and given a 50 percent chance of survival. Now at age 11, Hope is not only walking, which doctors thought impossible, she is competing in a sport she always dreamed of playing.
The teams were full and practice had begun when Ruth Karner, Immanuel’s Children’s Ministry Director, got the request from Hope’s mother, Angela. This, combined with the physical challenges Ruth predicted, was enough to turn her away. However, being turned away wasn’t in God’s plan.
Ruth emailed Angela to let her know the answer:next year was a smarter choice as they could be better prepared to accommodate Hope; though she really wanted her to join, they just weren’t ready. Angela replied there was a misunderstanding; she had already told Hope she could play.
After much prayer and further discussion with Upward commissioner Jurrell Belonga, Ruth decided to place Hope on a team.
“We talked to coach Katcie, and she was thrilled to do it; then she talked to her assistant coach,” Ruth said. “This is where God came into the whole thing. Not only was Katcie thrilled about it, her assistant was a special needs teacher. They were both like, ‘Absolutely, let’s do this.’”
“It ended up being a beautiful experience for everybody,” Ruth explained. “What was humbling for me was even when I was hesitant to step out and do something because I didn’t see all the ducks in a row like I usually do before we kick something off, God put all those ducks in a row first, behind the scenes, before I could get to it.”
Hope has progressed from taking her first steps at age 3, to becoming a “professional faller” (her mom’s description), falling more than 100 times a day through age 6, to an active pre-teen playing an organized sport with her peers.
Ruth believes the experience benefits the children without physical challenges in Upward even more than Hope.
“It teaches them so much more. It gives them the opportunity to be Jesus and to experience what this child has to offer that they normally wouldn’t necessarily know,” Ruth elaborated.
“She is an inspiration to many, especially her family,” Angela shared. “It has been a long uphill road all the way … but I would do it ALL again. God has a special plan for Hope; that is why she survived and continues to thrive.”
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
How does Hope feel about playing basketball?
Angela said, “She was given a first-hand dose of the reality that being in a mainstream sport without an aide is more challenging, but as she states, she is ‘free’”.
To learn more about Upward Sports and Immanuel’s Special Needs Inclusion ministry please visit: http://immanuelhome.org/kids.php
Laura Forman is married to David and they live in Gurnee with their five children. She is a personal trainer, freelance writer and can be found at church or www.lauralisaforman.com.