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The story seeker

BACKSTORY | Honoring the life and work of Joel Belz


Joel Belz Photo by Jeff Wales

The story seeker
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KIM HENDERSON HAS TACKLED some tough assignments for WORLD. But nothing compared to being asked to write an obituary for Joel Belz, the company’s founder. She spent many hours interviewing family, friends, and ministry partners with the goal of balancing accolades with honesty, an approach WORLD has always used in its reporting. You can read her story, “His father’s world,” in this issue. I asked her to share a bit more about what she learned through the process.

You didn’t devote many words to Joel’s work at WORLD because we covered that in our Daniel of the Year story in 2021. Instead, you give readers insight into areas of Joel’s life that most never knew. What was the hardest part of your assignment? Joel lived a full life, and his family and friends were eager to share their “Joel” stories. He watched Tom Brokaw every night, but he wasn’t a C.S. Lewis fan. He and Carol Esther visited a house church in China where worshippers stood shoulder to shoulder. He was the first to spend the night—alone—at Covenant College’s new campus on Lookout Mountain. He helped his daughters set up a shoe shining business at Grove Park Inn in Asheville. All these little details. I guess my biggest challenge was deciding which ones to include.

WORLD’s entire editorial staff gathered in Asheville last October, and Joel joined us for many of our group events. What struck you as you observed his interactions with your colleagues? He was an approachable man. Despite his many accomplishments, there was something about Joel that made even the newest employees comfortable introducing themselves and shaking his hand. That may have been due to his regular attendance at our Wednesday morning staff devotions online. He’d Zoom right along with the rest of us, even in the final stages of his illness.

The features team visited with Joel and his wife Carol Esther at their home in April. He asked all of us what story we would pursue if resources were not an obstacle. What did that reveal to you about his focus and vision? I can’t even remember how I answered him that day, but I do remember thinking, “Way to make profitable use of our time, Joel.” He got us thinking and imagining. That’s what good leaders do. He had a journalist’s DNA. He was a story seeker, and he wanted to spur us on in our work. He knew that’s the hardest part, finding worthy leads to pursue. Oh, the stories he could tell us now.


Leigh Jones

Leigh is features editor for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD News Group. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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