Camp Joy-El choir director has faith in the teens she leads

August 07, 1997

Living Miracles

By Teri Johnson

Staff Writer

Doris Ortman isn't a person who takes life sitting down.

She directs a teen choir known as Living Miracles, and she's an example of one herself.

Ortman, a missionary with CBM Ministries, has multiple sclerosis and leads the choir from her wheelchair.

The choir gives teens the opportunity to share their faith through singing and testimony. It is an outgrowth of the leadership training program at Camp Joy-El near Williamson, Pa., the center for the activities of CBM Ministries.

She's starting her fifth year of guiding the choir, whose schedule this year included 14 concerts and a five-day tour. The choir's next performance is Sunday, Aug. 10, at Chambersburg Memorial Park in Chambersburg, Pa.


Ortman is left-handed, and when she directs and plays the piano, she uses an IV pull with a suspension sling to rest her arm. She also wears a brace to support her left wrist.

Her husband, Terry Ortman, 54, also is a missionary with CBM Ministries and is director of public relations at Camp Joy-El. When one of the students performs a special number during concerts, he helps his wife onto a stool so she can rest.

The choir members help Doris Ortman, 51, when she needs a break.

"If I stop directing, they just keep going," she says.

Concerts last about an hour, and the group performs about 12 songs. She says the exertion saps her strength.

"The next day I basically don't get out of bed," she says.

Doris Ortman, a music teacher in the Penn Manor School District in Lancaster County, Pa., for 11 years, had to stop teaching because of her multiple sclerosis.

In 1977 she was diagnosed with the slowly progressive disease that affects the central nervous system, and she has used a wheelchair for about 19 years. She does breathing exercises and uses an inhaler.

She says their 12-year-old dog, Brahms, seems to sympathize. The Afghan hound/golden retriever mix suffers from neuropathy, a disease of the nervous system.

She recalls a time recently when she had just gotten out of the hospital, her husband had shingles and Brahms was ailing.

"All three of us were on prednisone," she says with a smile. "We wondered what was next."

Value of humor

The Ortmans, who celebrated 28 years of marriage in May, value their sense of humor and know how important it is to be there for each other.

"He has carried me in and out of many places," she says.

She recognizes the importance of having a positive attitude, although she says she's not always on top of the world.

"I can be a bitter person or I can accept it - my faith in the Lord is keeping me going," she says.

After people hear her testimony, they sometimes tell her they never will complain again.

"We all have problems, and a lot of people have worse ones than I do," she says.

She sometimes gets curious glances because of her appearance.

"Sometimes I wish I felt as healthy as I look," she says.

A second mother

Choir member Stephanie Pepple, 17, says Ortman always is smiling.

"I think of her as my second mother," says Pepple, a Chambersburg resident.

The choir members know they always are welcome at the Ortmans' Chambersburg home. The Ortmans, who have no children, often invite them over for social gatherings.

"They are very special to us," Doris Ortman says.

She also directs J.O.Y. Chorale, CBM Ministries' senior citizens choir.

She has been blind in her left eye for five years, a condition unrelated to the multiple sclerosis. The same thing is occurring in her right eye, and her vision is becoming distorted, but her doctors are hesitant to operate because of her health, she says.

She says the thought of being in a wheelchair and also being blind has been a big struggle, but she will keep going as long as she is able.

Her life is in the Lord's hands, she says.

"I know He's not going to drop me all of a sudden," she says.

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