Interview with John Wagner

  • April 26, 2016
  • #8867

John describes the challenges and joys of raising a son with Down syndrome.

Interview with John Wagner

Joni: I love the way a child with a disability can change a whole family!

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada and David Wagner is a 17-year-old with Down syndrome who has done just that. And here to tell us about it is his dad, John Wagner. John is senior vice president of Young Life and has been deeply touched by his ministry among high school kids. But nothing matches the impact of John’s son, David. Welcome, John, to the program.

John: Thank you so much, Joni. Thank you for having me.

Joni: First, you have to tell us a little about David; obviously, you and your wife weren’t prepared at first to raise up a special-needs child. Tell us about him.

John: I think every parent that has a special-needs child realizes that it is not the easiest thing in the world, that there are a lot of things that are difficult about raising a child with a disability, but God often uses those hard things to shape some of the most beautiful things in us. And I think that is what has been true about David.

Joni: Well you have to tell us a little bit about David’s journey of faith in Christ, because he has had such an impact spiritually on you has a dad, right?

John: Yes. It has taught me that I am loved and I watch him and how much he understands that he is loved and he kind of wallows in it.

Joni: You have to tell us a quick story about.

John: We tried to get David in to school here in New York a few times, and the last time we were getting him up close to the school and he plopped down right on the sidewalk,(which he often does) and you know people that work with kids with disabilities are creative and they are persistent, and one of the teachers ran outside with a chair on wheels and basically plopped David in it and we ran down the sidewalk and David is yelling and us yelling and there is that sense of joy that he lives life with that is just different than the rest of us. We wheeled him into the school and slapped the teacher a high-five and out we went. But that’s just kind of the way you live life when you live with a kid like David.

Joni: You kind of roll with the punches, don’t you?

John: You roll with the punches and you realize that you are kind of living out loud.

Joni: What do you mean by that: living out loud?

John: Well, I think there is a sense with David that he doesn’t have some of the same filters maybe that we do, or even social cues, and so he is living out of a real sense of spontaneity and how he feels. It is just full-on joy, I guess, most of the time. That’s what we get to experience.

Joni: I have to wonder as David enters his teenage years, how did he handle it?

John: The good thing is he’s in a great school with a bunch of friends that he loves and so he gets to do things like go to the prom and play on the basketball team and the softball team, and he does a lot of things that get a lot of energy out. He is also involved in “Capernaum” which is Young Life’s mission to special-needs kids and so he does that on Thursday night; he gets to go to Young Life’s camp in the summer. He does a lot of things that are teenage things to do that we get to be a part of. He is also very involved with our church in our church youth group which is also fun.

Joni: And I bet he is having a big impact among all the other young people.

John: A lot of our friends would say the same thing. Kids with disabilities have more impact on those around them than I think we do on them.

Joni: Well, there you go and it’s clear that David has had a big impact on you as your dad. You have written about it in a new book titled, “Perfect, The Sacred Stories from the Heart of a Dad” and I think it’s pretty cool, John, that you have designated the proceeds from this book to go to Young Life Capernaum’s outreach to kids with disabilities. Friend listening, if you would like more details about John’s book or if you would like to see a cool photo of David, just visit my radio page today at where we provide a link. John, thank you for joining us and give a big hug to David from us all, okay?

John: I sure will Joni. Thank you so much for having me.


 © Joni and Friends


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