Courage comes in many forms, but the most courageous people work through personal set-backs to assist and motivate others to succeed. On Sunday, May 6, 11 a.m.–3 p.m., the Philadelphia Institute of Neurodegenerative Disorders/ALS Hope Foundation will honor local gospel musician Benjamin “Ben” Toland, with its 2012 Courageous Heart and Horizon Award, at the Radnor Valley Country Club in Villanova, Pa.
Several years ago, Ben was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neuromuscular disease that causes destruction to the nerve cells controlling voluntary muscle movement. Before his debilitating condition, Ben was an active father, music ministry leader, and highly in-demand keyboard player for area churches and national gospel artists. ALS has taken a toll on Ben’s body, relegating him to a wheelchair and neck brace, but his faith in God continues to amaze and inspire all his family and friends and those that come to know his situation!
“(Ben’s) faith is so incredibly strong,” said John ‘Big John’ Bauer, 59, a member of Covenant Fellowship Church, in Glen Mills, Pa., where both Ben and John worship. Bauer met Ben during a small care-group gathering at their church. Ben was a former member of Sharon Baptist Church, where he’d been on staff as a choir director and professional musician.
Ben has very limited mobility; family, friends, medical staff and his church family have been very supportive, providing physical assistance, encouragement, therapy and much prayer to buttress him during his challenging life journey. But through the pain and major physical limitations, Ben has remained extremely faithful to God. His faith is inspiring; so many people who know him or know of his testimony. “I have never met a person (of faith) like this … he’s one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met,” shared Bauer.
Patric Paris, 56, a cyber school teacher and church care group leader at Covenant Fellowship, shared, “ALS is probably one of the most devastating things that anybody can go through — my buddy Ben is doing an amazing job of keeping an extremely positive perspective about (his condition). And, I think the secret to his ability to do that is his strong faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
In 2011, Ben’s wife Jennifer Toland, 37, organized a musical tribute to celebrate her husband’s life and indelible faith. Hundreds of family, friends, church members, gospel choirs and clergy packed Covenant Fellowship Church to celebrate a man who’s made enormous contributions in the lives of thousands, via the ministry of music, inspiring exuberant praise and worship of God in songs and faithful worship. National recording artist Gerald Veasely made a surprise appearance to perform a tribute to Ben. Veasley’s jazz rendition on some classic gospel hymns brought tears to many in attendance, including his friend and honored guest, Ben.
“(My husband) has really been blessed to be noted and recognized over and over — the Lord is really using his story and his testimony to spread Christ throughout the land,” shared Jennifer, eluding to Ben’s national coverage in a Muscular Dystrophy Association’s national newsletter scheduled for public release May 5, 2012, and his 2012 Courageous Heart and Horizon Award. Commenting about what she admires most about her husband, Jennifer said, “Ben’s spirit doesn’t give up.” She mentioned how amazed people are about Ben’s upbeat spirit going through his ordeal, and the trade-mark smile he displays in spite of his physical limitations.
The Tolands have four children, Ben Jr., Michael, David and Lailah. Michael, 15, really admires his dad: “I just love his heart.” Michael shared that his dad has a humorous personality; but he also acknowledges that Ben has a very serious personality that he admires, too.
“I became a musician at 4 years old — over (the years), I have ministered the Gospel through song for so long, that it’s almost automatic that I take a spiritual view of everything that I’m going through,” said Ben. To speak and be heard clearly, Ben has to remove his oxygen mask that he consistently wears; for him to simply breath on his own is a challenge.
Ben’s voice is very soft, fragile and slightly slurred; he wears a neck brace to compensate for the loss of some muscle control in his neck. When he speaks, he compels the listener to really hone in and concentrate on what he’s sharing. He said, “I think it would be a wasted lifetime to sing about the love of Christ, the forgiveness of the Father and the sustenance of the Holy Spirit, and not to be able to draw on (God’s strength) for myself. (My faith) was an obvious landing point for me, because I believe in everything that I’ve sang, played and taught.”
A bright and well-read man, Ben is a huge Eagles fan and a sports junkie! He admires how his favorite athletes display their courage in the arenas, on the field, battling against their competition. Commenting about the source of his own inspired courage, Ben offered, “The key behind my courage is that it doesn’t lie in myself, it lies in the power that’s given to me through the blood of Jesus. My physical body is just a shell, it’s not the source (of my strength) — no matter what happens to me, I know that my ultimate destination is to be with (Jesus).”