From Addict to Advocate: Philadelphia Man Helps People with Disabilities

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In an inner-city neighborhood of Philadelphia, Joe Sandberlin can often be found fixing a neighbor’s roof free of charge or sharing the gospel at the local medical clinic.

Sandberlin is a deacon, a volunteer chaplain, and a disability advocate—a man who pours out his life for others.

It wasn’t always this way. Sandberlin spent about 40 years as an alcoholic. During that dark period, he also became a heroin addict. In 2007, Sandberlin was hospitalized—unable to walk and severely depressed. “I didn’t care whether I lived or died,” he said. His brother took him in with the conditions that he stay sober and attend church with him.

At Spirit and Truth Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, Sandberlin said, “I wasn’t left alone. I was passed around.” He stopped needing the methadone clinic after a year, and he received medical care, including replacement knees and a hip, enabling him to walk again. “I was very appreciative of what God had done for me.”

Soon leaders of Spirit and Truth Fellowship decided it was time for another church plant—and Joe Sandberlin was sent out as one of the new church’s key leaders in 2009.

“When I first met Joe, I never would have believed that he would be as valuable in ministry or as close a friend as he has become,” said Matt Lin, pastor of the church plant, One Hope Ministries. “Man looks at the outside of things, but God looks at the heart.” One Hope Ministries is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church.

“It seemed like everywhere I went [in church activities], they made me a leader somehow,” Sandberlin remarked. “Since it’s a small church, everyone fills their plate up. I say yes to everything and God works it out.” So far, about nine families regularly attend the church, and its calendar is full of outreach activities.

Recently, Sandberlin added “Disability Concerns church advocate” to his job titles. He has made sure that the church’s seniors know he is there for him, as he has been, offering rides and whatever other assistance he can.
About his depression, he said, “Every day I wake up with the old feelings, but I get up and help people, and that is my encouragement to keep going day by day.”

“I no longer work for a living,” he added. “I do work for the Lord.”

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer.

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