How God Used a Missionary’s Debilitating Panic Attacks

Updates | Stories | Lives Changed

“I can’t.”

Josh Joiner’s heart beats out of his chest and his hands tremble. He sits in the passenger seat of his car with his wife, struggling to breathe. She drove him to the store in an attempt to leave the house. His constant panic attacks have left him bed-ridden for a month, unable to stand without getting dizzy. Even the idea of going into the store and having to see people seems terrifying.

He wasn’t always like this. All he wants to do is go back to normal.

Passion for Young People

Josh grew up in Mesa, Arizona. He was born into a Christian family and asked Jesus into his heart when he was four years old. He was always involved with church but couldn’t shake the feeling that he was only a Christian because his family was. Before he turned eighteen, he decided to make his faith his own. He surrendered his life to Christ and got baptized on his birthday. His spiritual mentors in middle and high school were incredibly influential. By the time he was in college, he knew he wanted to work with young people.

He began working in youth ministry in 1999, but by October 2014, Josh was appointed by Missions Door to work in the Bahamas under indigenous missionaries. For the next two years, he raised support money, but his visa never came. Then, Hurricane Matthew hit the Bahamas. Sadly, Josh could no longer go. Missions Door helped Josh become a missionary in the Dominican Republic instead, and he did college ministry there. But in 2017, his life changed.

Debilitating Anxiety

Josh was struggling with raising enough support for his work in the Dominican Republic. His fear grew and grew and for the first time in his life, he had a panic attack. A panic attack is an episode of extreme fear, along with physical reactions, despite there not being an apparent cause. They can happen at any time and make the person feel like there’s impending doom or danger, they’re losing control, or even having a heart attack and dying. While many people only have a few panic attacks in their life, some have panic disorder, meaning their panic attacks are reoccurring. Panic attacks are so scary that those with panic disorder often live in constant fear of their next panic attack and will avoid situations that may trigger their attacks.

Josh’s panic attacks wouldn’t stop, and he had no idea why. Doctors couldn’t give him answers – in their eyes, he was completely healthy. But it was clear Josh wasn’t. “I hated the notion of being weak,” he says. “But I kept hearing God saying, ‘My grace is sufficient.’” The Lord brought him through the storm as he received counseling in Guatemala. He still gets panic attacks occasionally, but he understands God’s hand in it. God has opened his eyes to an entire community of people with mental illness.

Working with Students

Josh continued to do college ministry in the Dominican Republic. When the Lord called him back to the United States in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic happened. He was able to get back to the Arizona, in the middle of the lockdown.

That fall, Josh got connected with Missions Door’s pastoral care missionary, Bob Lehman. Bob encouraged him to look into Campus Ambassadors. It ended up being the best decision he ever made. Today, Josh is a Campus Ambassador at Arizona State University’s polytechnic campus.

Josh loves being a CA. The polytechnic campus is one of ASU’s five campuses, focusing on technology, science, and engineering (among other studies). The campus attracts many international students and American students from diverse backgrounds, including East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. He adores the students and the diversity of the campus.

Caring for Smart Young Adults

The poly campus, as it’s lovingly referred to, is a campus of intellectuals and logical thinkers. But Josh looks past that. Rather than debating them, he asks students one simple question: “How are you doing?” This may not seem like an important question, but many of these students have intense majors and difficult classes. A lot of them are far from home, miles away from their family, friends, and culture. They don’t always have a community, or even a person who cares enough about them to ask about their well-being. “They need someone who can tell them, ‘I love you and I care,’” says Josh.

Regardless of major or background, all college students are in the same stage of life. They’re transitioning from childhood to adulthood and moving from the authority of their parents to slowly becoming subjects to themselves. As many begin to learn about who they are apart from their parents, they begin processing faith and God. Many Christians walk away from church during college, but college ministry can keep their faith intact. Josh loves discipling students and walking alongside them as they make major life decisions. He’s passionate about getting them to move from milk to solid food, as 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 says.

For lots of college students, college is where they’re introduced to Christianity. Josh often meets students from Mexico or India. He has lunches with Muslims and conversations with atheists and agnostics. He creates a safe community environment where non-Christians feel welcome and comfortable enough to ask questions. “It’s not all about an intellectual pursuit,” he explains. “It’s a close personal connection with the Creator. We were designed to be in community with each other and our Creator.” He works with a lot of graduate students, as well. He had a few students getting their masters that started bringing their friends to the college group, and a Chinese post-doctoral researcher who’s been doing the same thing.

Helping Young People with Anxiety

During the pandemic, the students were stuck in their dorms and were lonely. Today, things are much better. They meet once a week, do worship, and then have an interactive talk about biblical topics. Afterwards, they may go out to dinner and hang out until the late evening. There are bible studies happening throughout the week (currently three, but Josh is hoping to launch one more). They also have monthly activities, like hiking or frisbee, and retreats where they can dig deeper into discipleship and God’s word. “Every opportunity to have a conversation with them is a disciple-making moment,” says Josh.

He’s used his struggles with anxiety and panic attacks to give talks on mental health. He’s had students confide in him that they’re secretly dealing with the exact same thing. Because many of these students are intellectual, they can’t put their fingers on why they’re struggling. Josh never would’ve been able to understand them years ago.

Please pray for Josh and his ministry. Pray that he takes advantages of open doors with students and pray for the students that come to ASU from hundreds of different nations. If you’d like to support Josh, you can do so at his page here.

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