Martha & Greg Singleton

Martha & Greg Singleton


Strength to Overcome


Yesterday afternoon, I watched Joe Kovacs of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, heave a sixteen-pound shot put almost seventy-two feet. With that throw, he won the gold medal at this year’s Track & Field World Championships in Beijing. As incredible as that feat was, it really doesn’t even come close to the challenges that Joe has overcome to get there.

We met Joe’s mom, Joanna, when she contacted us about getting copies of our book, Let It Shine: Partnering with God to Raise World-Changers, for her mission trip to Uganda. She presented the books to Bishop Sabino of the Arua Diocese, who then distributed them to his staff and to the workers at the orphanages in the area. Uganda has been the site of a genocidal massacre that left thousands of orphaned children. The United Nations Under Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflicts said, “Uganda is the worst place on earth to be a child today.” Bishop Sabino is trying to change that.

We learned from mutual friends that Joanna was always a very joyful person who had a profound effect on everyone around her. That’s exactly the type of person who inspires us, someone we enjoy being around. What we didn’t know about Joanna was that her infectious joy filled her heart in spite of some difficult circumstances that she faced.

Joanna married Joseph Kovacs, Sr. in 1985. Four years later, Joe, Jr. was born, and they were a very close, happy family. Then, in 1996, Joe Sr. was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. He was given six months to live, and the Kovacs spent their entire savings to move to Germany for an alternative treatment. Joseph died July 14, 1997.

Joanna’s grief was overwhelming, and, she also had to answer a lot of questions for a seven-year-old boy who suddenly had no dad. She chose to deal with her own sorrow in order to focus on giving her son as full a life as possible. That meant that in addition to her work as a high school teacher, Joanna had to make sure that little Joe not only took care of his schoolwork, but also got to participate in all the sports that he loved so well. That wasn’t as much of a stretch for her as it would be for most moms. Joanna had been a great athlete in high school, throwing the discus and shot put. She also made sure that Joe was surrounded by as many male role models as possible, including relatives and coaches.

Joe responded by becoming a model student, and starring on the football field and in track. His passion was for the shot put. The small private high school he was attending didn’t have a coach for shot put and discus, and didn’t even have anywhere on the campus for him to practice. So, Joanna found the best coach available – herself. She took on the responsibility of refining Joe’s skills, while every day finding a place for him to toss an iron ball and an aerodynamic disc. Often, Joanna painted a circle in an empty parking lot to give Joe a place to throw. Just like he was in his work at school, Joe was an eager learner, and soon it became apparent that this guy was something special in the shot put circle. Joe told NBC Sports, “She [Joanna] had the mentality that if you’re going to do this, you’re going to do this right. You’re not going to just have a good time. You’re going to look to win.”

And win he did. After a successful collegiate career at Penn State, he became a standout in professional track and field. He is now among the favorites to win in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Parenting is never easy, but when you’re faced with the circumstances that Joanna Kovacs was, it can look insurmountable. You might be at the end of your rope right now, and you can’t see any way that you’ll be able to take care of all the demands of being a mom or a dad. Don’t give up. In the middle of all the turmoil, God sees your faithfulness. He promises us that He hears us and will give us strength to persevere.

"And he said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."  

II Corinthians 12:9-10 (The Message)

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