Joe Williams, 57, hadn’t visited the woods in years. For the lifelong fisherman and hunter, being disabled and unable to navigate rugged terrain on foot has been frustrating – even depressing.
Williams, who lives in Sophia, N.C., was diagnosed with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy as a young boy. But the debilitating symptoms didn’t begin until around 2005. The former mechanic now relies heavily on his wheelchair and walker to get around, and he spends most winter days inside.
“The cold makes me shake so bad that I can’t stand up,” said Williams, a member of Glenola Baptist Church in Archdale. “I can’t walk very far … about 50 yards is as far as I could walk.”
But Williams returned to the woods this past December.
On Dec.15, his church partnered with local businesses, the church’s women’s ministry and local hunters to provide an outreach to disabled hunters.
Willie Duvall, a fellow church member, and Tim Steen, pastor of Glenola, both were inspired by Williams’ condition and desired to hold an event that would help get him back in a deer stand.
Glenola Baptist Church in Archdale organized a special hunt for a group of disabled hunters.
The event is part of a ministry called Sportsmen for Christ. The church started it a few months ago for those interested in hunting and fishing.
Williams was among nine other disabled hunters – nearly all of them in wheelchairs– who participated in the hunt. About 95 percent of the day’s expenses – which included breakfast provided by a local Bojangles’ restaurant – were donated by the community, Duvall said.
“[The church] ended up with only $300 or $400 invested in the whole hunt,” he said.
Hydraulic lifts and a group of hunting guides helped Williams and other hunters get into deer stands about 20 feet off the ground. With a .270-caliber rifle that was provided, Williams ended the day with two deer. The entire group finished the hunt with six deer. It’s an experience Williams said he won’t forget anytime soon.
“The guys that went with me … were super,” he said. “They … did whatever they had to to get me out there. They helped me get the rifle up, so I could shoot it and held it for me.”
“Oh heavens, it was like going for the first time again,” he added. “After seven years of not being able to go, it was just like the first time all over again.”
“Until you see one of these people who are not able to hunt, and they kill their first deer,” Duvall later added. “Just seeing the look on their face. [It] not only changes their life but it will change your life.”
Most of the hunters left with deer meat from the day’s hunt. Leftover meat was given to the church’s food pantry for those in need. Every hunter received a gift bag that included a Bible.
Duvall shared about one hunter who began reading the Bible while someone drove him home that evening. The hunter asked if he could have a ride to church the next morning.
“Whether we killed any deer or not, that made the whole day worth it,” Duvall said.
Duvall hopes the church’s Sportsmen for Christ ministry will impact others in the days to come. The group meets twice a month at the church and invites guest speakers to share tips and information about hunting, fishing and related topics. Duvall said they plan to make the handicap hunt an annual event, and host other outdoor activities throughout the year. This month the group plans to host a squirrel hunt, which will focus more on younger hunters. They also plan to hold a fishing event.
“On my way to church on Sundays when I cross the lake, I always see 10 or 15 boats out there fishing on Sunday morning,” Duvall said. “Those are the people we are trying to reach. Even if we just touch one person … it’s worth it.”
It’s about reaching people where they are at, Steen said. “We’ve got a bunch of rednecks around here,” the pastor added. “I don’t mean that in a negative way, [but] you’ve got to do something that they’re interested in. You’ve just got to adapt to them. It’s not going to reach everybody, but this is one group of people that we can reach by doing this.”
“Whether it’s hunting deer, squirrel or turkey or fishing, whatever … I believe God would be into that.”