STOW: The young man in a wheelchair sat at the front of the church quietly, often with eyes closed.
As children around him practiced their parts for a Christmas play at Crestview Baptist Church, scurrying back and forth, laughing and joking with each other, Jordan Muwalla sat patiently waiting for the opportunity to speak his few lines.
When the ensemble sang, his voice rang out.
Behind him were Christmas flowers; beside him were an open Bible and communion plates.
Jordan was playing the role of an angel, and during a practice before Sunday’s performance, he looked the part.
“It makes me feel wonderful to be here,” said Jordan, a 20-year-old with spina bifida who has been paralyzed at mid chest since birth.
Jordan has never been able to walk. He is dependent on others for activities of daily living. He suffered a series of brain-bleed events for about a year from the summer of 2011 into this past summer.
Dr. Sarah Friebert, director of the Haslinger Pediatric Palliative Care Division at Akron Children’s Hospital, said those incidents have resulted in more physical challenges for Jordan. He has experienced more difficulties using his dominant right hand and arm and with speech and cognitive issues.
“This did not stand in the way of him being a productive member of society, including graduating from Stow-Monroe Falls High School” in 2012, Friebert said.
Jordan was king of the winter formal in January.
And through it all, everyone says, Jordan’s faith has never wavered.
For about two years, Jordan has attended midweek and two services on Sundays at Crestview Baptist Church, on Fishcreek Road. Along with those activities, he is a lifelong regular camper at Akron Rotary Camp in New Franklin, the Akron Area YMCA-run facility for children and adults with special needs.
In addition to summer camping, Jordan goes there one weekend a month for respite care, and in mid-December spent time with his friends at the camp.
“Jordan is such a great guy,” said Dan Reynolds, director of Endless Possibilities and executive director of the camp. “He always has a positive attitude and loves to joke around.”
Jordan has become a great friend “who has taught me so much about attitude — that anyone can do anything,” Reynolds said, and because of him, “I have a deeper appreciation for life.”
Camp program director and innovator Joshua Streleicki, 26, has known Jordan for years and said he is the kind of a young man who always compliments others, “possesses graciousness” and truly loves people.
Another counselor, Desmond Bates, 22, a Kent State University student, said he believes “God makes people for certain things,” and in Jordan’s case, he shows a great example of courage and motivates people by his composure.
In his own way, Jordan teaches people by how he handles himself, Bates said.
“It is a God gift,” he said, calling Jordan “very angelic.”
After breakfast at the camp on a Saturday morning, Jordan, wearing a Cleveland Browns stocking cap, saluted the flag outside as it was raised to half-staff in memory of those who died in the Dec. 14 shootings at a Connecticut school.
Pastor John McIntyre of Crestview Baptist said that in spite of his own struggles, “Jordan has kept his faith in the Lord. As hard as it is for him, he wants to be at the church every time it is open.”
Jordan “asks for prayer when he goes through struggles, and his faith is an example to others,” McIntyre said. “Others [who] have it much easier than he does can be inspired by his faith.”
Plans to give back
Jordan said someday he would love to work at Akron Children’s Hospital as a way to give back and encourage children.
Jordan’s mother said his faith has increased her own.
“That is what kept him alive for the last year,” Sally Hu said.
Friebert said Jordan’s spirituality is an important component of his entire life.
“We often find that children and families struggling on the journey of a chronic, complex and or life-threatening condition turn even more deeply into their faith and faith community as a way to maintain connection and make sense out of what’s happening.”
‘Source of strength’
His faith, she said, is a “source of strength. And through his faith and his attitude, he can show others that disability is really only a word. It is how you handle it that matters. Living under the shadow of something that will take your life earlier than planned is unbelievably hard, and Jordan is reaching out to make his mark on the world in a beautiful way.”
Friebert said the hand Jordan was dealt “is not what he would have chosen, and he is struggling to make sense of it and to function to the best of his ability despite it. In particular, Jordan is aware that his life will likely be shortened, but he is working hard not to let that get him down or stand in the way of achieving his goals.”
William Morgan, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Roswell Kent Middle School, plays “Hark,” the lead role in the church play. He said he understands that Jordan has many difficult issues but is doing a great job playing an angel.
Christmas, he said, “is all about Jesus’ birthday and how he died for our sins.”
Jordan said that while he doesn’t anticipate physical healing, he prays to Jesus for healing in terms of acceptance and for peace.
His own faith guides his life.
“I believe in God 100 percent,” he said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.