The people of Louisiana are known for enjoying “the good life." Doing so consists of spending time with loved ones centered around plates of delicious food. Think gumbo, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, red beans and rice, New Orleans po-boys – endless, mouth-watering options.
Joel Sanders is from the Cajun State capital of Baton Rouge, and he’s not only accustomed to enjoying all of those local favorites, he’s used to making them, too – until throat cancer destroyed his ability to eat.
“July of 2013 was the last real food I ever tasted,” the husband, father and grandfather of nine said.
With radiation therapy destroying his swallowing mechanism and ability to create saliva, Sanders is now set to remain on a liquid diet for the rest of his life. That could have been the end of enjoying “the good life” for Sanders, had it not been for a redemptive song on K-LOVE.
“I went through a year of not feeling good,” Sanders said. “Close to nine months of nausea. It took a lot of steroids to get that fixed and my body went through so much trauma that PTSD kicked in, and that opened the door for a compromised immune system. I got diseases I didn't know existed.”
If losing the ability to eat normally wasn’t enough, Sanders also lost 57 pounds and most of his strength. But, by 2015, he had turned a corner.
“I started feeling a bit better and was able to do a few things around the house,” Sanders said.
Nearly another two years had to pass before Joel was working full time again as a forester, managing hundreds of acres of timber plots.
“I was going to check a log job north of Baton Rouge up in Mississippi,” Sanders recalled. “I didn’t listen to K-LOVE often, but it was on my radio, and I caught the end of the song. It made me think, ‘What is he saying? Am I hearing this right?’ I described it to my wife, Karen, and immediately she said, ‘That’s ‘Do Something,’ by Matthew West.’”
“His mistake, he should have asked me right off the bat,” Karen laughed.
The lyrics that captured Joel’s attention would arrest anyone.
“Well, I just couldn't bear the thought of people living in poverty, children sold into slavery. The thought disgusted me, so, I shook my fist at Heaven and said, ‘God, why don't You do something?’ He said, ‘I did, yeah, I created you.’"
“What did that song say? He created me?” Something clicked in Joel’s heart.
“Hearing that song on K-LOVE, I felt God saying, ‘Joel, for 35 years I showed you how to make a living, how to make things happen and how to work with people. Take what you learned and start a ministry.’” Joel said. “So, we did.”
Listening to K-LOVE turned Joel’s heart from what he had lost to what he could still do for the Lord. The cancer diagnosis could no longer define Joel. The couple knew they were called to go and do, or, as they named their nonprofit ministry, stylized in Cajun French, “Geaux and Deaux.”
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The Sanders sold a piece of land to fund the ministry in 2018 and they’ve never looked back. Their outreach started small with Blessing Boxes – packages full of toiletries, snacks, some cash and clean clothes – for families at the local children’s hospital. Today, Karen launders piles of clothes at the local shelter. The pair have led coat drives during hard freezes, organized food for disaster relief and secured car seats for families in need.
Joel’s favorite part of his ministry is cooking and serving up steaming plates of gumbo, jambalaya and red rice for the homeless – even though he will never taste it.
“I wasted so much of my young life,” Joel said. “This is what we are meant to do now. If Jesus was standing right there, saying, ‘I can fix it to where you can eat right again,’ I would just say ‘Whatever is better for you, Lord.’”
Joel and Karen spend their time pursing the good life of Jesus, pouring into the community and building a vast network of friends who give to and volunteer. God used a simple song on K-LOVE to inspire them to “do something.”