Joe Knopp didn’t grow up anywhere NEAR Hollywood, and yet his life story sounds like something out of a screenwriter’s wildest dreams. So it’s only fitting that after years of owning his own financial planning business in Ohio, Joe is now one of the producers of the I Can Only Imagine movie, made in Tinseltown.
The I Can Only Imagine movie, starring Dennis Quaid and J. Michael Finley, tells the story behind MercyMe’s record-setting hit song that was a favorite on Christian and secular charts alike. Finley plays songwriter Bart Millard, and Quaid plays Millard’s abusive dad. It’s a “behind the music”-style story that will leave viewers even more inspired by the song than they already are, but the message of redemption rings true for Joe Knopp in a different way.
For producer Joe Knopp, I Can Only Imagine reflects his own redemption story, too.
Knopp was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of three siblings (he has two older sisters). His parents’ marriage was violent and at age five, police came and took him, his sisters, and his mom to safety. Unlike Bart Millard and his dad in I Can Only Imagine, Knopp would never be able to reconcile with his father. After leaving the family home with his mom and sisters that night, he would never see his father again.
Although Joe and his older sisters went to live with his mom, she was unstable and never able to properly care for them; the three Knopp siblings were essentially on their own. When Joe was about seven, his sisters discovered a local church where they could get a free meal of donuts and orange juice on Sundays. Week after week they showed up, and eventually, they caught the eye of a church member who could tell something wasn’t right about the situation. He tracked down their mom and got permission to take the three kids to an orphanage that was run as a Christian mission. Most kids, Joe says, lived there for just a year or two while their parents got it together.
But the Knopps were not “most kids” and their mom never got it together. They all lived there until they graduated high school, much older than the rest of the kids on the grounds. Eventually, the orphanage made a little apartment for them on campus so the siblings could at least live with each other. Fortunately, regular church service was a part of life at the orphanage, and it was there as a child that Joe finally found a Father who would never abandon him. When he was 18, he was sent off into the world with good grades, a high school diploma, and a faith in Christ.
Like Bart Millard in the I Can Only Imagine movie, it seemed that the odds in life were stacked against Joe Knopp—but at 18, the redemption of his parentless childhood was just beginning. Though he got into college, Joe left campus when he realized that just buying his books and parking his car for a month would take literally every penny he had. God, he says, guided him to the local Air Force recruiting office, where he signed up, knowing that the military would give him a home as well as an education. Amazingly, the boy who grew up without a family was soon able to create a stable one of his own. Assigned to the same Air Force base in Ohio during his entire enlistment, he acquired both a wife, Angie and a degree—in finance. After leaving the military, Joe started a successful financial planning business of his own and he and Angie had three kids, who unlike Joe, would grow up with a loving and present father and mother and a stable, safe roof over their heads.