Liberty University students were driven to humility during Wednesday’s convocation as Joni Eareckson Tada spoke about her experience as a disabled hero to God’s children around the world.
A popular Christian singer, artist, author and speaker, Tada, a quadriplegic, says she has been defined by the love of Jesus instead of her disability.
A diving accident in 1967 left Tada, then 17, in a wheelchair, unable to use her hands or legs. Initially she found herself in a hopeless depression, not wanting to leave her dark bedroom. Then she said God brought the verse 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to mind: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
“Like a suction cup I just pressed myself up against that verse,” Tada said.
After two long years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills, including an ability to paint beautiful creations by holding a brush between her teeth, and a love for writing and speaking that has lead her to change the world for those with similar struggles.
Tada first spoke at Liberty in the 1970s. She serves as founder and chief executive officer of Joni and Friends, an international organization that works to communicate the Gospel and equip Christ-honoring churches worldwide to evangelize and disciple people affected by disabilities. In 2005, she was appointed to the Disability Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department. Her high-detail fine art paintings and prints are sought-after and collected. She is the author of 40 books, including her best-selling autobiography “Joni.” She has also touched lives of people in more than 45 countries with her radio ministry.
As a college student, Tada said one of the last things she wanted to do was be in the presence of others with disabilities. She said she was in denial of her disability and didn’t want the reminders. But God pointed out through Scripture that even though she was disabled, she still had to put aside selfish ambitions and live for Christ, which meant modeling His love to others.
“Jesus Christ did not sacrifice His life for people in an emotional vacuum. He served with warmth, passion, zeal, a spirited affection, even pleasure,” she said. “And if you will only draw closer to Jesus, you, too, will possess His passion and His pleasure for people.”
Using her calling, she illustrated the need for “kingdom-minded followers” like LU students who can make serving people a top priority in their careers.
“Friends, this is why you’re here at Liberty University. God did not bring you here to prepare you merely for a job. God is preparing you to share His good news with people.”
Tada concluded her address with graceful words of wisdom.
“Friends, bask in the rays of the light of the world, let the sun burn away every bit of half-hearted, ho-hum, average, mediocre approach to God. Feed on Him, taste the bread of Heaven and see that He is good,” she said. “Die to self, and live to Jesus; keep dying until you are dying to know Him more.”