FOR 24: JOY MARINELLI

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“For 24,” is a year-long campaign telling the story of Freedom 4/24—from the survivors, world-changers, and volunteers to fundraisers, and behind-the-sceners. Our goal is to inform, inspire, and enrich your understanding of Freedom 4/24 and the work we do together.  

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#3: Meet Joy Marinelli

Family: Oldest of 8 children! Two sisters currently live with me in Lynchburg.

Occupation: National Run 4 Their Lives Race Director for Freedom 4/24

Hometown: Staunton, VA

We could not be more excited to introduce you to our newest team member—one who will have a direct impact on many of you through our nationwide Run 4 Their Lives race series. Meet Joy Marinelli, our National Race Director. She has a wealth of nonprofit knowledge and a heart for Jesus, and once you read our Q&A with her below, we believe you will understand why she is perfectly equipped to lead our Run 4 Their Lives races.

Welcome to the team, Joy! Tell us about who you are and what makes you tick.

I am the oldest of 8 children. I was born in Memphis but at three years old, my family moved to Vermont because my dad, a pastor, was hired by a church there. I was homeschooled until 9th grade and at that time, started attending a private, Christian school in Staunton, VA, where we moved when I was 12. After high school, I attended Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC, on a full academic scholarship, which was the most amazing blessing of my life!

I majored in photojournalism and had plans to go on the mission field as a photojournalist for some amazing magazine like National Geographic and I wanted to have a legitimate skill that would allow me into unreached countries. After spending a year post college as a newspaper photographer, I decided I might not work for National Geographic and went to Australia to do a Disciple Training School with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Once I completed my six-month YWAM stint, I moved back to Staunton for a few years to work at a psychiatric hospital for children. Through all of these transitions, I was seeking an overall direction for my life, asking God where he wanted me.

In 2006, he led me to Boone, NC, where I got a job at Samaritan’s Purse. I stayed there for five years, during which time I pursued my master’s degree in Public Health. I then moved to Lynchburg, where I have since worked for two different nonprofits, both related to health and wellness. I can confidently say that though there were times when I had absolutely no idea why I was doing what I was doing, God was building (and still is) a puzzle with my life. Each piece, even the extremely painful and confusing parts, provided something that has been necessary for growth toward knowing Him and being able to trust Him with my life and its direction. I’m so excited about this next piece at Freedom 4/24 and cannot wait to see how He uses me here!

Joy with nieces

Describe your faith.

I accepted Jesus into my life when I was five years old. My parents are believers and raised us in the knowledge of Christ so it was natural to accept Him into my life. What was not natural was the actual surrendering part. As I grew older, I started to understand that being a Christian isn’t just about not going to hell but more about getting to know who Jesus is and what his sacrifice actually means for me, and then feeling that complete unworthiness and overwhelming love all at the same time.

I also began to understand that my life wasn’t my own and that my plans for an acting career in Hollywood weren’t the same plans that God had for me. When I was 12, I went on my first international mission trip to Mexico and during my time there heard a speaker talk about how natives in Papua New Guinea were begging for people to come teach them about Jesus. I can’t really describe it in detail but I knew it was God. During that talk, He spoke into my spirit and said to go, to tell people about Him. So since I was planning to be an actress, I fought against this for a few years before surrendering to the idea.

After that, everything I did was in the light of how I could be most useful in sharing Jesus. I sometimes still struggle with those surrender issues but I feel that the times when I am most fulfilled have been those when I am secure in knowing I am where He wants me, when I am being obedient to him. All this to say, coming to know Jesus has been and still is a process. Throughout my life, I have learned more about who He is in light of who I am and after seeing His goodness and mercy to me when I did nothing to gain that, the fire burns in me to share that with others. 

How did you first come into contact with the work of Freedom 4/24?

I first became aware of Freedom 4/24 shortly after I moved [to Lynchburg, VA] in 2012. I had friends who had connections with the organization and I learned about it through them. Also, you see the stickers everywhere on vehicles here in Lynchburg!

Share some your background in nonprofit work.

I’ve been working in the nonprofit world since 2006. From my five years at Samaritan’s Purse in the Operation Christmas Child project as well as work at a homeless shelter, a small grassroots organization, and a community service board, I have had the opportunity to work both domestically and internationally, addressing issues ranging from evangelism and discipleship to mental and physical health and wellness. Though it can be difficult work, I completely love being part of a company or organization where the main purpose is to affect change, increase quality of life, share resources, and provide healing.

Me and coffee

How do you believe your previous work with nonprofits has prepared you for your new role as National Race Director for Freedom 4/24?

My previous nonprofit work, along with my educational background in public health, has provided me with an understanding of working with remote teams, project and partnership development, community interaction, resource acquisition, and team building. Working with varying types of nonprofits has also given me experience with processes that work well, areas that require caution, and a very real look at the struggles and challenges of developing and maintaining sustainable funding and overall project goals.

What are you most excited about coming into this role?

I am ecstatic about being involved with an organization that is focused on affecting real change, both physically and spiritually! I feel that there are a lot of really great organizations in the world that may address one or the other but as followers of Christ, I fully believe these two things—the  physical and spiritual—go hand-in-hand. If we want to share who He is and what He did for us, it is imperative that we show Him in real, practical ways by meeting physical needs.

At the same time, if we initiate relationships through the process of addressing physical and mental needs, we can also use those opportunities to point to Christ. Without Christ, physical relief is a band-aid fix but without meeting people where they are and addressing their real physical needs, we cannot claim that we are living the life of justice we have been called to as those who have experienced His mercy and grace through salvation.

What do you see as your greatest challenge, initially or long-term?

I foresee my greatest challenge initially being that of indoctrinating myself into the present work. It will definitely be a hit-the-ground-running scenario, so I am excited to reach the point where I feel competent and knowledgeable about the inner workings of the project. I cannot wait to begin creating and expanding the Freedom 4/24 influence around the country and eventually, the world!

Joy with sisters

You obviously have a heart for human trafficking victims. How did that come about?

This topic is definitely something I have spent hours reading about and researching and feel passionate about fighting. I think it may have begun as I started to see areas around the world where women were forgotten and I felt that, as a woman, who else but me should use my giftings and resources to reach out to other women in need?

I went to a conference once where the speaker was talking about how in Muslim cultures, Christian men would share Christ with Muslim men who would then accept Christ and then these Muslim converts would declare to their wives that they were now Christians. Muslim women, the protectors of the home and the family, were now forced into a life of what they perceived as treason and a violation of all they held dear. No one took the time to talk to them about Christ, to reach out to them.

After hearing about situations like this, I wanted to be that woman to them. I wanted to reach out to the forgotten women around the world. Thus began my journey in looking for the unseen. This led me to read up on human trafficking. I definitely recommend the book “A Crime So Monstrous” by E. Benjamin Skinner; it was one of the first and most eye-opening books I read around the issues of human trafficking.

You have traveled quite a bit. Tell of some experiences you've had that have prepared your heart and mind for the work ahead of you at Freedom 4/24.

I have had the opportunity through internships, work, and even some personal travel to visit more than 20 countries around the world. When you are able to expand your horizon beyond your own country and culture, it gives you both an appreciation for your home as well as an awareness that your way isn’t the only way.

Traveling has allowed me to learn from others around the world and understand different perspectives, different value systems, and different ways of thinking. These experiences will be so helpful both at the domestic and international level of Freedom 4/24 in working and communicating with people from all walks of life, denominations, and cultures.

Joy with bro and sis, in Haiti

As our new National Race Director, this is an important question: Are you a runner? 

Yes. My very first official run, The Bear, was in 2008 and was a five-mile jaunt with an elevation gain of more than 1,500 feet to the summit of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. I never want to do that again!

Since then, I have run many 5Ks, a mud run, a sprint triathlon, and a half marathon. The most I have run at one time has been around 18 miles when I was training so I haven’t yet conquered a full marathon. I’m still thinking about that.

Joy running

Lightning round! Favorite place: I love anything outdoors. I feel closest to God when I’m at the beach.

My family is … Huge and loud and Italian and crazy. I have 10 nieces and nephews with one more on the way.

Quirks or Vices: I’m obsessed with Mountain Dew (though for health purposes I don’t really drink it much anymore) and my favorite food is fried chicken. Seriously, on a bad day, forget the chocolate and bring on the chicken!

Joy with niece and nephew