Author, A Walk of Love (2012)
Co-producer of Unconditional (2012)
Inspirational speaker, teacher, writer, drama producer, musician, and mentor
Joe and Denise:
Co-founders and directors of Elijah’s Heart Incorporated, a nonprofit organization that serves hundreds of inner-city children and parents; parents to seven children.
New Film Unconditional: Living Beyond Yourself
The 700 Club
FROM SMALL TOWN TO BIG SCREEN
Joe Bradford grew up in poverty in a small country town west of Nashville. He lived with his grandmother, mother and sister, and he rarely heard from his father. As the years passed, Joe’s life became increasingly turbulent – he experienced the entrapment of poverty, nearly died from a snake bite and faced time in prison for computer hacking. Joe says he was one of the first computer hackers in the ’80s. When he got out of prison, he met Denise, whom he would marry, and turned his life back to Christ. “I was like the prodigal son,” he says of his testimony. In addition to other struggles he had to overcome, Joe also had to fight a deadly kidney disease. During one 15-month period, he spent nine hours per day on a dialysis machine. Though he received a kidney transplant 14 years ago and is now in good health, it was from these very struggles that he grew a heart for the poor and oppressed.
During his fight with kidney disease, Joe and his wife Denise experienced financial challenges and were forced to move into one of Nashville’s project communities. One morning, they found their neighbor, a little deaf girl, staring through the window of their front door. Denise gave her candy and the girl left, only to return with her brothers and sisters. Denise gave them all candy as well. In a week’s time about 50 children came to Joe and Denise’s door. But it wasn’t just candy that the children wanted; they needed help in many ways. With whatever Joe and Denise could obtain, they began to help these children with basic necessities, their school work and their emotional needs. “I was shocked that hunger was a real problem, and children were raising themselves,” says Denise.
With a background in musical performance and orchestration, Joe and Denise began directing a choir of inner-city children – children like those in their own neighborhood. It was at one of these choir rehearsals, they came to understand their life’s purpose. While the other children were eating the donated pre-rehearsal meal, a young girl with a swollen eye approached Joe. She had been hit by her angry, drug-addicted mother and was frightened and in pain. Joe comforted her and prayed for her, and then the little girl’s sister saw this and came up to Joe and said, “Will you be my daddy?” Before he could answer, another little girl walked up and asked the same question, “Will you be my daddy?”This continued as child after child surrounded Joe asking sincerely, “Will you be my daddy?” Joe was deeply moved and embraced them all. That day he became “Papa Joe,” and he and Denise dedicated their lives to help children in need.
In 2005, Papa Joe and Denise founded Elijah’s Heart and, today, are actively uniting with others throughout the country to show love to children and families in desperate need. Elijah’s Heart is currently composed of four primary ministry programs: 1) Walk of Love – outreach that brings food and supplies into project communities, 2) Unity Choir – children’s choir that performs at fundraising events for Elijah’s Heart, 60-70 current members, and growing, 3) ACTION – drama team that performs at fundraising events for Elijah’s Heart, 4) Education – A program that collects laptops for children to assist in their education. It was while working with the Bradford’s organization, when a movie producer caught wind of Papa Joe’s testimony and decided to turn it into a motion picture.
On September 21, 2012, Unconditional, a feature-length film, inspired true events in the life of Papa Joe and Denise, will be released in theaters around the nation. In the movie, Samantha Crawford is living a storybook life: she’s happily married, she lives on a ranch where she keeps her beloved horse, and the stories she’s told and illustrated since childhood have become published books. When her husband Billy is killed in a senseless act of violence, Sam loses her faith and her will to live. But a death-defying encounter with two children leads to a reunion with Joe, her oldest friend. Unconditional stars Michael Ealy (Think Like A Man) and Lynn Collins (John Carter). As Sam watches “Papa” Joe care for and love the kids in his under-resourced neighborhood, she begins to realize that no matter life’s circumstances, the love of God is always reaching out to us.
Papa Joe estimates that about 90% of the movie is based closely on real events from his life, noting that filmmakers used artistic license to translate his testimony to the big screen. For example, in real life, he and Denise were already married when they started their outreach, but for the sake of a romantic storyline, they are not married where the movie picks up. Whether based in fact or fiction, both Joe and Denise hope the movie encourages others to act in their own communities and help change the world for the better.
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