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Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Brenda Jank sorts “diamonds” with her son, Josh Jank, who gives them to people to remind them how powerful love is.

Sharing the power of love

Ailing 20-year-old focuses efforts on making difference

Josh, 20, who has hepatopulmonary syndrome, is trying to raise money so a child can get adopted.

Last August, Brenda Jank got the kind of phone call mothers dread. It came at 5 a.m. from a staff member at the hospice home her son Joshua had entered just the day before.

The voice was adamant.

“You need to get everybody here. You need to say your goodbyes,” she was told.

Jank, 47, barely holds back tears as she tells the story at the kitchen table in her family’s home on the grounds of Camp Lutherhaven outside Albion.

But, now, nearly six months later, Josh is in his nearby bedroom, watching “Mork & Mindy” reruns on TV. He emerges a few minutes later in pajamas, dangling a long plastic oxygen tube, to fix himself a cup of tea.

The 20-year-old young man, suffering from complications of the sickle-cell disease he has had since birth, survived the medical crisis his mother says could easily have claimed his life. But it is what happened after he was released that seems, if possible, even more remarkable.

His mother recalls that, while they were driving home from the hospice, Josh asked out of the blue, “Did Jing get a family?” Her son was referring to a 12-year-old Asian orphan boy with cerebral palsy for whom the family had been praying.

Jing had come to the United States last summer with a delegation of children seeking families. All went back to their home country knowing they were going to be adopted – except him.

“No, he didn’t,” Jank replied.

“Well,” Josh said, “I’m going to be dying real soon, and my bed will be empty. You have to adopt him.”

Brenda Jank and her camp director husband, Tim, 46, have five children – three of whom they adopted, including Josh, and four have special needs. She says it broke Josh’s heart that Jing, whom he had never met, didn’t have a family.

His comment, she says, nearly broke hers.

Making a difference

Months before, after the family was told Josh had about two years to live, he had made two lists.

He had been sick with what for months had been a mystery condition that doctors finally diagnosed as hepatopulmonary syndrome. The rare condition caused his liver to produce toxins that destroy his lungs. Even now, just to breathe, he needs 24-hour supplemental oxygen.

Josh called one of his lists his bucket list – things he wanted to do before he died. The other list was his “make a difference” list – things he would like to do for others.

By the end of September, he had already accomplished things on both lists. He had checked off a ride in a medical helicopter off his bucket list, and he had visited area farms to help with harvesting wheat, corn, soybeans and sugar beets – his career ambition, he says, would be to become a farmer.

“I respect them,” he says, sipping tea at the table.

“They feed the country. Without farmers, we wouldn’t have the tea here. We wouldn’t have cereal, or milk. We wouldn’t have basic food without them. They do a great job, and they sacrifice a lot, too.”

He had used his contact with farmers to check off an item on his “make a difference” list. He helped arrange freezers full of meat to feed 11 needy area families – farmers donated 11 pigs and $3,000 to accomplish his wish.

By Thanksgiving, through a website,, and personal visits to donation sites, he had encouraged people to make a difference by becoming blood donors. His mother says monthly blood transfusions since he was 5 – more than 400 units – have sustained his life by giving him healthy red blood cells to replace the sickle-cell-damaged ones.

But after his stint in hospice, Jing became the way Josh wanted to make his next difference.

His first response, his mother says, was that if she and her husband couldn’t adopt Jing, he would.

“I’m an adult now. I can do it,” he insisted.

It took a while, she says, to get her son, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning type of autism, to understand that it wasn’t that simple.

When he relented, he decided to raise money to help another family adopt Jing. The adoptive family, Jank says, would need to be “paper ready” – precleared for adoption by Jing’s home country – and able to take the boy by next January.

The requirements made it impossible for the Janks to adopt Jing. The adoptive family also would need about $35,000, she says.

Josh didn’t know how he would raise that much. But while he was in hospice he had started passing out tokens – first, red crystal hearts and then little red plastic gems that he called diamonds – to friends, visitors and family members.

“They’re red because of love. Love matters,” he would say. “They’re diamonds because God does amazing things under heat and pressure.”

Then he would tell the recipients to let their love make a difference – and about a little boy they could help get adopted.

Feeling better last month, but with the deadline looming, Josh took what is for him a big trip. Still fascinated by farming, he went to the annual Fort Wayne Farm Show at Memorial Coliseum – and found another way to try to help Jing.

A plan to help

Beck’s Hybrids, a large family-owned seed company, had a booth at the show promoting a contest called “Why I Farm,” which celebrated American farmers.

The contest offered a prize of up to $25,000 worth of free seed.

Josh went home and entered – with a short paragraph about how he had been in hospice and wanted to live to see another harvest and a picture of himself on a tractor, his oxygen tube attached.

He made an agreement with area farmers that if he wins, he can exchange the seed for money to pay for the adoption.

Because winners will be determined by votes from the public, he is now asking area people to vote for him at by midnight March 4.

Out of 129 entries, Josh was in seventh place Monday afternoon with more than 2,175 votes – although well behind leaders with more 178,000 votes.

But he hasn’t given up on the idea that the farm contest will make a difference for Jing.

If the boy’s adoption can’t be arranged, he says, he wants to give the money to Foundation for His Ministry, a nondenominational group that runs an orphanage in Vincente Guerrero in Baja, Mexico, where his mother had worked about 30 years ago.

Having kids get adopted is important to him.

“If I could send Navy Seals in and snatch him out of there, I would. That’s how much I want him to be adopted,” he says, quickly acknowledging he knows that is not possible.

“I want Jing to have a family. If that’s the only thing I can have, that’s the thing I want.”

Asked why, he wrinkles his forehead and asks a different question.

“Where would I be,” he says, “without my family?”