Each month Father Joe Girzone writes a news and prayer letter for friends and people who support his mission on Joshua Mountain. During my three days with Joe I saw him take phone calls from people as far away as Japan and as close as near-by Albany. He referred to his large “parish” several times. I soon became aware that he was not exaggerating at all. I was amazed at how he listened and interacted with everyone, many of them people he had not met in the flesh at all. At times he was extremely funny and at others most serious and helpful. He was always joyful and always quick with his wit. Joe just lights up around people and brings joy to them with great blessing. The presence of Jesus is quite real in his simple, unpretentious, very human presence.
I can tell you that Fr. Joe’s parish is genuinely represented by people from all over the world. He responded to emails late into the evening and talked with workers around his home during the day. He met new people in Albany, and the nearby village of Altamont, and engaged with everyone in a deeply personal way. He called on the grieving and comforted them during the time I was with him. He shows respect and dignity to everyone, just like the One he so deeply loves, Joshua.
In June Joe wrote in his “News from Joshua Mountain” the following:
Frequently throughout each month I come across more and more hurting people. I either meet them when outside and end up talking to them or they come to visit or call to talk to me. The pain and heartaches in their lives overwhelms me sometimes. I am becoming more and more convinced that most people have been damaged in some way, either by others' abuse or neglect, or rejection, meanness, contempt, abandonment, hatred, or by being treated as if they don't exist by those who should love them. Some people's personalities have been severely crippled by genetic damage which often conditions them in a way difficult to control towards behavior which is unacceptable by society. They end up in prison, where they are punished severely. A truly Christian society following the mind and heart of Jesus, who said, "It is not the death of a sinner that I desire, but that he be converted and live," should be more concerned about healing damaged and broken people than treating them like animals in cages. Our highly enlightened society has more people in prison than any other country in the world, with almost four times as many in prison than the country with the next highest number which is Australia. And I know cynics will ridicule this out of ignorance and contempt for Jesus' mentality. But, if people who come to me broken, came to them on a regular basis, even their eyes would be opened and they would soon see what many of us see in the lives of damaged people. And I am perhaps more sincerely concerned than cynics about the victims of crimes also. It is easy for a cynic to say something smart but I rarely see them doing anything helpful in real life. There brilliance is limited to rocking chair commenting.
I am coming to see more and more why Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. Only he sees the almost universal extent of human suffering and to give us hope in our pain and hopelessness, tells us, "Do not be afraid. I am the Good Shepherd. I know your pain, and I wander day and night through the world trying to find you and heal you, so you may be able continue your pilgrimage through this world and reach out to others you meet and help them too. Always know that I love you and I will always be there for you, all of you, who are hurting and have been hurt by others.
I read this news before I met Joe and spent three days with him on Joshua Mountain. I’ve been reading his news for about a year now. I can tell you this is genuinely representative of the real man who writes these readable and simple best-sellers. He cares about people because he loves Jesus so very deeply.
After I visited Joshua Mountain Fr. Joe wrote his July “News from Joshua Mountain.” This reveals the very things I write above and is the truth about the friend I made in June.
This past month has been a busy month in a number of ways. My parish has grown significantly. I know I don't have a canonical parish, but as providence would have it, a parish spontaneously developed, making my priesthood an enjoyable, though at times, a stressful ministry. Whenever I notice this, my memory drifts back to a congratulations card I got when I retired in 1980. A Protestant lady sent me a beautiful card congratulating me on my new parish. I was stunned because, I was told by my doctor that I might have only six months to live. He insisted that I retire from my unusually stressful parish work.
It was only a short time after I retired that I received the card from that lady. I called to thank her and told her that my dangerous health condition necessitated my retirement. She said immediately, "You're not retiring, Father, you are going to have a parish that will be worldwide.” I just smiled and thanked her for her kind wishes. That was 31 years ago.
For almost three years after that I was unable to work or move around for more than two or three hours when I had to lie down and rest. That was four or five times a day. I followed strictly my doctor's orders and stuck to my diet. For the first two years one of my sisters let me stay with her even though I was not the best house guest, then an undertaker friend let me live in an unrented bungalow she owned and I lived there for four years while I wrote JOSHUA. Shortly after that my strength began to come back and I was able to work five or six hours without resting. In time JOSHUA spread throughout the whole world and was put in Buddhist monastery libraries in India. Priests in mission countries translated it into their languages and used the translation in their parishes in Pakistan, and Nepal and in other places. In time, demands came for speaking engagements which brought me, and later on Sister Dorothy with me, to China, Australia, Scotland, Belgium, Germany, Canada, and most of the states in our own country. People from all these places still keep in touch and share the happy and sad times in their lives.
Now, though I am 81 and am not able to go far from my house for long periods of time, I am still able to continue my work as a priest. What a wonderful invention computers are! My computer was set up with very high speed capability, and I can now have teleconferencing sessions with my friends around the world and through Skype can give live video talks to groups here and in other countries. I videoed my dear friend, Koji Yamazaki, last night. He had done a very professional Japanese translation of JOSHUA six years ago and it has spread all over Japan. And this morning I had a delightful session with another friend in The Netherlands, Jan van der Boom. When he called I was sitting in front of the computer shaving, and when my teleconferencing kicked in immediately, I could see myself on the screen sitting there in my tee shirt and shaving. He got a big laugh out of that because he could see me, too.
So, I am finally realizing that I still have a parish, and my parishioners are the most wonderful people in the whole world. But now to get back down to earth! In the beginning of June I was asked by my new publisher, Orbis Press, to go to Chicago for a Publishers Convention. Orbis, introduced our new book, THE HOMELESS BISHOP, to the booksellers market and it received a very good reception. I am so happy with my new publishers. They are such gracious people to work with, and have already initiated a wide publicity program throughout the country and are very enthusiastic about the book's potential. That will be such a big help.
To my surprise my friend then wrote about our visit in June by adding:
I also had a most pleasant visit from another dear friend, John Armstrong from Chicago. John is a Dutch Reformed theologian and our theological beliefs are very much in harmony. We had long and very frank discussions about so many topics, and we both needed a mental rest when the visit ended.
Joe ended his July “News from Joshua Mountain” by adding:
If any of you would like to make a small donation to help our ministry, it would be a big help. I have tried to do it myself for the past 29 years, but I don't have the resources anymore.
I am committed to helping Joe in whatever small ways that I can. I have already sent a generous gift. You can send a tax-deductible gift to:
Joshua Mountain Ministries
1071 Joshua Lane
Altamont, NY 12009
I encourage you to get to know him, receive his monthly news, and read the books I mentioned two days ago. If you live near Albany or can get there be sure to plan on one of Joe’s Tuesday evening talks. You can also subscribe to his monthly news, as I do, by writing him directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You should also visit the Joshua Mountain web site.