Preparing for this week’s edition of “Faithful Friday,” it occurred to me that my readers may be wondering how I plan on sustaining these unique themes throughout the rest of the summer and beyond. I’m not quite sure of this myself. After all, how many articles on wisdom can one write from a biblical perspective? On the other hand, there are thousands of uplifting songs to choose from; the same is true “celebrity” Christians-that is, those that are willing to live out their faith daily in the public eye no matter what the cost. One such example is Joni Eareckson Tada. Many of you have heard me mention her in previous posts because of her strong commitment to helping disabled communities, especially in underprivileged countries. That being said, I thought I’d share with you a paper I wrote on this exact topic. I wrote this paper as part of an assignment for my Biblical Studies class at Concordia University of Ann Arbor (CUAA). The title of my paper was: Modern Acts of Christianity In the Real World. In it, I wrote the following:
“Throughout history, many religious leaders have questioned the divine authority of God and the presence of suffering in life. This is especially true for it comes to answering the controversial issues involving faith and suffering. It is especially of interest to the disabled community because they question why a loving God would allow the pain of their disability. The Old Testament prophets believed that all physical and mental handicaps were a result of God’s judgment and wrath. Others simply reasoned it was an outward symbol of a power struggle between the mind and spirit. These conclusions all center on the mystery of God’s power, His love and suffering in the world.
When Jesus encountered a blind man, his disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus answered them by explaining that his blindness was not the result of sin but was a way that God would be glorified. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). To be quite honest, I don’t know completely why I was born with cerebral palsy. I guess I will never know until I am face to face with God in heaven, but I believe it was meant to be a way to witness the glory of God. God has granted me several positive examples of people with disabilities that I look up to as role models of Christianity. One is Joni Eareckson Tada.
On July 30th, 1967, Joni was severely injured in a diving accident. As a result, she was paralyzed from the neck down. After the accident, the foundations of her faith were being tested. She had people caring for her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The everyday freedoms that she took for granted had been taken away from her. Joni lost her ability to walk and also was unable to participate in activities that she had a passion for, like horseback riding and swimming. During the trying times, she found comfort in daily visits from Steve Estes. Steve was a family friend who was attending college to be a Youth Minister. He tried to encourage her by reading her Bible verses, such as James 4:7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” This refocused her into wanting to get back on track with God.
Joni now knew that everything had a purpose. She understood that everything was within God’s hands and that God was in control despite the way things looked. Romans 8:28 reassured Joni of this, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
In 1976 she wrote a book entitled “Joni.” that detailed her struggle as she returned to faith in God’s loving purpose after her accident. The book became so popular that it was made into a movie in 1979 and gained worldwide respect. Joni got married on July 3rd, 1982 to Ken Tada. Now, she is a role model of Christian faith and hope and provides inspiration to all those dealing with a disability. She has created a foundation called “Joni and Friends” which provides wheelchairs for disabled people all around the world. She has written a number books on faith, having a deeper relationship with God, and on heaven.
I think this situation is typical for modern Christianity because everyone goes through a phase where they doubt God in one form or another. In the end, this phase creates a stronger bond with our Lord and Savior and we know exactly where we stand with Him. He will never leave us nor forsake us; we are always in His care! It also illustrates to people how these everyday problems can create a strong Christian character and dependence on God.
I believe it’s people like Joni that show the world what true perseverance and dependence on God really means. It makes me want to strive for a deeper relationship with Him. Joni has even inspired me to become a Communications major. She has also inspired thousands of people around the world when she travels as a motivational speaker.
I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Joni in person at one of her concerts in January 1986 in Westminster, MD. I was impressed with her personal testimony about her struggle to overcome depression after her accident and her journey to dependence on God. Her determination to spread God’s message through song and art was truly inspirational. After the concert, I had the opportunity to speak with her personally. I was really young, but I know that she understands what it is like to have a physical disability and that is why I can relate to her.
Although there are still many doubts about God and His purpose for physical suffering in today’s world, I believe it is through this suffering that he is able to build true character, while showing His work in our lives. My encounter with Joni reinforced this for me. “
But what happened next with this paper is definitely a miracle-somewhere in between handing this paper to my teacher for a grade and posting something like this on the web for a class on a whim, one of Joni’s associates actually saw this and passed along the message to Joni herself… As a result, I received a package in my college PO Box a few months later from Joni herself; she had seen what I had written and taken the time to send me her latest devotional, “Diamonds In the Dust”; this was extremely special to me since she took the time to type down my address at school and mail the book to me. Not only that but I rarely got packages at school since I spent most weekends at home with family because I lived only 15 minutes away from campus.