By Lindsey Bell
When my husband and I were approached about potentially adopting a baby due in less than three months, we didn’t know whom to turn to for advice. We were scared. Adoption wasn’t part of our original plan. Four miscarriages wasn’t part of our plan either. We sought advice from every adoptive family we knew.
Over and over again, people said the same thing. “Call Joe Hensley. He’s the go-to attorney for adoptions.”
It didn’t take long for me to realize they were right. When I called Joe, he told me from the start that, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to be our attorney if we decided to move forward with this adoption. (He didn’t specialize in the type of adoption we were seeking.) Nonetheless, that didn’t stop him from taking about 30-45 minutes to talk me through my concerns.
Joe didn’t have to do that. I wasn’t a client of his. He could have charged me for his time. But he didn’t. I’ve learned since then he’s just that kind of man. He cares about people, whether they are paying him for his time or not.
A couple years ago, when Joe decided to run for Associate Court Judge, I knew I would vote for him. One of the primary reasons was because he genuinely cares about people and does everything in his power to be honest and fair in his dealings.
A Job—A Calling
When Joe was elected judge, he felt he was fulfilling a calling God placed upon his life. “I love this job,” he told me. Though he enjoyed his work as an attorney, he thinks this is a better fit for him. As an attorney, he worked long hours. “I feel like I missed a lot,” he said. With young kids, Joe loves getting to go home at 5:00 every day now.
Joe judges a variety of cases in his county: from murder to child molestation to passing bad checks. “I see the worst of the human condition every single day,” he said. “This morning I had someone in front of me accused of murder and two people accused of child molestation. Reading the police reports can wear you down pretty quick. You need something to lean on.”
For him, that something is his faith. It gets him through the hard days.
Because of separation of church and state, Joe can’t allow his faith to impact his decisions as far as the law goes, but that doesn’t mean his faith doesn’t make a difference. There are two aspects to Joe’s job. The first aspect is applying the law to facts. “This is pretty black and white,” he told me.
The second aspect of his job, though, is listening to defendants and deciding, “Does this person need treatment? a second chance?” It’s in this aspect of his work that his faith plays a part. “None of us are perfect,” Joe said. “Judges understand that.”
Another way his faith has impacted his work is in the way he decorated the courtroom. He displays paintings by a local artist named Jack Dawson. Dawson is a believer too and incorporates his faith into his paintings in inconspicuous ways. A flag painting, for instance, might look like a cross to some people who look at it from a certain angle. The nice thing about art is it’s subjective. Its value and meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Because faith is part of who Joe is, it’s part of everything he does.
A Chance to Show Mercy
Once a month Joe has a DWI docket, where people who’ve had their licenses revoked try to get them back. These people often have two, sometimes three DWI charges, resulting in 5-10 years without a license. When that time is up, they come back to court to explain why they believe they should have a license again.
“It’s powerful to see some of their transformations,” Joe said. “To go from five years ago being an alcoholic to now being sober, sometimes with their families standing in court with them.”
Joe gets to offer mercy. People often ask him why he does that, especially after several charges. Joe’s response: “Forgiveness. Grace.” Then he tells the Old Testament account of Joseph and how Joseph, after being sold into slavery and basically having his life ruined at the hands of his brothers, chose to forgive them.
“If we’re following Jesus, we can’t just give lip service. We have to walk the walk.”
From what I can tell, Joe is doing just that.
Lindsey Bell is an author and speaker living in Southwest Missouri with her husband, Keith, and their two children (lindseymbell.com).