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Marveling at what God built

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WORLD Radio - Marveling at what God built

Remembering the life and legacy of WORLD founder Joel Belz (1941–2024)


Joel Belz Photo by Jeff Wales

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, February 5th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next: Remembering Joel Belz.

On Sunday morning, WORLD News Group Founder Joel Belz died at the age of 82. He’d battled Parkinson’s disease for several years.

EICHER: God blessed Joel with many gifts, and he used those gifts well at WORLD, but he was much more than just a newsman. Senior Writer Kim Henderson brings us this reflection.

KIM HENDERSON: Joel Belz will be remembered for a lot of things. But mostly, for building things.

CAROL ESTHER BELZ: We built our own house on Lookout Mountain. He was already in the process when we got married. And actually, when my mom came for the wedding, she said, “You got to do something about those hands.” Because we had been staining wood cabinets that he built.

That’s Carol Belz, Joel’s wife of 49 years. She says she admired his creative side. But it’s not what brought them together.

CAROL ESTHER: I was drawn to his Christian commitment more than anything.

It was a potent combination. Joel’s Christian commitment and entrepreneurial abilities.

In God’s providence, it led to WORLD News Group. In this 2011 interview, Joel explains what brought him into Christian journalism.

JOEL BELZ: There was a TIME Magazine, there was a Newsweek, there was a US News and World Report. But the big gap, the huge gap was that none of them took seriously this idea that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.” Everything that’s in the world belongs to that vision. And that’s the gap that we decided we needed to fill with WORLD Magazine.

For more than 40 years, Joel used his journalistic gifts to bless WORLD’s readers and listeners.

AUDIO: [BUILDING TOUR]

Part of his role as founder was giving tours of WORLD’s headquarters in Asheville, like this one from more than a decade ago.

But Joel had some other building interests, too. Particularly within his denomination.

CAROL ESTHER: He loved the church. And he started going to General Assembly before it was the PCA. It was the RPCES with his dad, because his dad was a pastor. And then the highest honor, he would say the highest honor of his life was to be named the moderator of the General Assembly one year.

In 1980, Joel helped build a new church in Asheville. Rather, he helped found one. Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church. Oldest daughter Jen Gienapp remembers the work of setting up for services in rented space.

JEN GIENAPP: That meant every Sunday morning, we had to break down the chairs or the cafeteria area and set it up for worship. And then Sunday night, all the members, you know, bring it all back down and set it back up for the week. We did that until I graduated from high school.

Jen also watched her dad do the little things that count so much toward building a solid marriage.

GIENAPP: Every time he came home from work, he found Mom and gave her a kiss. It didn't matter where he was, where she was, um, and that just sticks in my head.

AUDIO: [STUDENTS WALKING TO CLASS INDOORS]

Jen and her four sisters went to school at Asheville Christian Academy. It’s much bigger today—some 800 students are walking its halls—halls Joel Belz was instrumental in building. He spent decades serving on the school’s board.

Head of School Bill George has felt Joel’s absence.

BILL GEORGE: We are standing on layers of work that people like Joel Belz have done. And they rolled up their sleeves. And they gave much more deeply of themselves than any of us are used to giving. There was a certain sort of farmer-worker, you know, sweat-and-toil philosophy that Joel brought to the table. And we need to be reminded of that when we start whining about how hard ministry is.

Joel also gave his energies to his alma mater, Covenant College—years upon years as a member of the Board of Trustees.

Niel Nielson, a former Covenant president, worked closely with Joel.

NIEL NIELSON: All the way through, Joel was a gospel man, whether it was staying strong in doctrine, whether it was making sure that even as we had to discipline students, we were recognizing the opportunity for reconciliation and restoration. And making sure that even as we engage the culture, it was gospel centered.

Joel’s influence continues, even back in his small hometown—Walker, Iowa.

Joel’s parents ran a boarding school there called Cono Christian School, but it closed some time ago. One day, Joel and Carol got an idea. Joel called his friend, Wallace Anderson, who ran Ridge Haven, a Presbyterian camp in North Carolina.

WALLACE ANDERSON: And he said, “My wife has just come up with the perfect plan, what to do with Cono.” And I said, “Oh, what?” And he said for Ridge Haven to take it over. And I just laughed. I mean, I thought it was you know, and he said, “We're serious.”

In 2018, Cono reopened as a Presbyterian summer camp and conference center.

With Wallace Anderson at the helm.

That’s a testament to Joel’s recruiting skills. He didn’t hesitate to wield them, even when it came to making preparations for his death. He asked his woodworking son-in-law, Andy Gienapp, to build his casket. The building of the casket was intentional and symbolic. Joel’s daughter, Jen, explains.

GIENAPP: Andy sourced wood from Covenant’s campus on Lookout Mountain, and wood from our own property here. And then a little bit of wood from Cono’s campus.

They lined it with Covenant’s official tartan.

AUDIO: [SCRIPTURE READING] 

WORLD staff came together for a special worship service last October. Kevin Martin read Scripture. We sang. Joel and Carol were there.

MUSIC: “THIS IS MY FATHER’S WORLD”

He could have been a man who took pride in what he’d built. Instead, Joel Belz was the kind of man who marveled at what God had built.

JOEL: I have to ask myself, “Joel, are you just trying to build your own reputation? Or is it the Lord's reputation you’re trying to build there?” Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. And we get to do both. We get to do our work in a way that we hope brings glory to God. And it does bring joy, because He's structured things that way.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Asheville, North Carolina.

MUSIC: “THIS IS MY FATHER’S WORLD”

The WORLD News Group family gathered with Joel and Carol Esther Belz (far right) during a staff retreat in Asheville, N.C., in October 2023.

The WORLD News Group family gathered with Joel and Carol Esther Belz (far right) during a staff retreat in Asheville, N.C., in October 2023. Photo by Alissa Minnick


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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