Donna Cronk / New Castle Courier-Times photo // Karen and Eric Haler are interviewed by CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland in their New Castle home Tuesday. The 700 Club is doing extensive interviews for an upcoming segment on the Halers' son, Joel, and what is credited as nothing less than a miracle that he is walking.
Note: I wrote the following article on deadline for the New Castle Courier-Times Tuesday. It appears in today's newspaper.
The C-T has previously written about Joel's sudden healing. This time, I was invited into the home of his parents, Eric and Karen Haler, to watch the taping by the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club program which airs internationally.
It was a treat to sit a few feet away from the taping and take notes on what unfolded in the interview. It's a much simpler process than one might imagine.
From CBN were the producer / interviewer Shannon Woodland and two technical professionals who handled lighting and sound. A few large lights were placed in the room as what you might find in a professional photography studio. Sound equipment was put in place, including small microphones on the Halers. The technical twosome stood in the back of the room with cameras.
Shannon, wearing casual jeans, boots and sweater, and holding a coffee cup throughout the segment, sat in front of the Halers, who were seated on chairs from their home in the middle of the living room.
The producer had no problem with me covering the session, I just couldn't take photos during the interview. I took them during equipment checks moments before the taping.
CBN had been in Indy Monday as the producer vetted the story, and had been to interview Joel, who now lives in California. Today Shannon is interviewing the young boy mentioned in the story.
Meanwhile, I had an email out to Joel with a list of questions for the story, and got some photos from his folks to use right before deadline. You never know when you put together a story if there will be space for one, two or several photos so you have to be ready, complete with captions.
The CBN staff and the Halers were all great to work with and I am grateful for the experience with "big-platform" faith-based media. Shannon wanted to read my story when it was printed and I had an email from her first thing this morning that she thought it was well done.
As a small-town reporter / editor, you never know what stories might fall into your lap. It's one reason I have always loved what I do.
Halers recall 'day of great joy'
By DONNA CRONK
As a college athlete, 2012 New Castle High School graduate Joel Haler was in great physical shape. Yet he suddenly found his legs totally paralyzed one October day in 2013.
Doctors and rounds of testing yielded no apparent medical reason for the paralysis. True, he has degenerative disc disease, diagnosed at age 14, and heard a pop in his back before the paralysis. But those things did not explain to medical professionals why he suddenly could not move or feel his legs.
Yet three months later, on Jan. 23, he woke up, felt excruciating pain run through his legs, and then, he could walk again.
Joel’s story has been told in The Courier-Times as well as in big-media platforms such as Inside Edition and Guideposts magazine. On Tuesday, the internationally-viewed Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) arrived in New Castle to unpack the story with Joel’s parents, Karen and Eric Haler, and his brother, Abraham. A sister, Rebekah, was unable to be there.
CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland interviewed Joel separately as he is pursuing a master’s degree in divinity at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California.
Joel offered an update on how he's doing. These days, he’s feeling “perfectly normal and thriving.” When asked how his sudden ability to walk again changed him, Joel said, “It has shaped my worldview into the reality that Jesus is the center of it all. He wants to heal people today and he’s looking for ordinary people to take a risk for him. It has catapulted me into full-time ministry to see his kingdom here.”
Tuesday morning, the CBN producer and two technical professionals set up a remote-location studio in the Halers’ New Castle living room and taped the family’s story. The Halers were asked to speak about Joel’s life before the ordeal. They detailed how their son was never “the best” basketball player, but he had a strong work ethic and drive to always get better. In fact, he holds the state’s third-place all-time record for best 3-point percentage.
At 14, he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and often had back pain but worked through it. A scholarship took him to Hope College in Michigan and things were going well until the family got a call that October day of his sophomore year.
Joel told his father that he had heard a loud pop while exercising . Then came tingling toes and leg pain. An MRI found nothing wrong. But the next morning, his legs were completely paralyzed.
A physical therapist friend expressed real concern for Joel. Eric decided to go get his boy. When Joel’s friends placed his wheelchair in the truck for the ride back to New Castle, Eric recalled with tears, “His legs were dangling. That’s when it hit hard for me.”
Joel spent 11 days in the hospital where doctors had no explanation for why he couldn’t walk. But Eric recalls his son’s faith that he would walk again. He left college and moved back in with his folks, dependent on a wheelchair. His mother could see he was not himself.
“I could just tell it was eating at him,” she said.
The producer said Joel told her in an interview, '“He just gave it to God. Jesus came in and really did a major work.”'
“His faith was going to a whole new level,” Eric added.
Karen said she always believed her son would walk again, but didn’t want his expectations to be shattered. “We’ve seen prayers answered the way we would not want them to be answered,” she said.
Then some mysterious things happened. Joel had a dream that involved a calendar with J23 on it. A little boy at New Covenant Church where Eric is pastor, told Joel on a Sunday morning he would walk on a Thursday. Eric dreamed that he was on the phone getting Joel admitted to a rehab center when in the dream, Joel walked out of his bedroom.
Then, in the early morning of Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, Joel woke up to severe pain in his legs. Moments later, he was able to walk. Just like that. He got up, made coffee and went to stand in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom. His mother thought it was his brother Abraham, but got a surprise when she heard, “It’s me, Joel.”
The family members burst out of their beds and started hugging, celebrating and crying in awe.
“That was a day of great joy,” Eric said.
Joel has walked ever since.
“There are many people that have reached out to me explaining to me that my story has brought them hope, filled them with joy and allowed them to be touched by the love of Jesus,” Joel said.
He was able to return to college and graduated in 2017 with a major in communications and minor in leadership.
Eric said the healing has demonstrated God’s goodness, adding, "God is still alive and he does great things.”
The 700 Club piece, which will air at an undetermined time within weeks, is the latest in the media attention and speaking opportunities Joel’s experience has generated. He said it has been thrilling to see God move through his story and see people healed, find hope, “and experience a joy that only comes from him.”