Farmville Enterprise January 17, 2018
Joni Eareckson was a sophomore at Woodlawn High School when she began to attend Young Life, a ministry intent on going where adolescents are, introducing them to Jesus Christ and helping them to grow in their faith. As a junior at one of their camps, Joni (pronounced “Johnny”) suddenly began to understand more clearly the gospel message she had heard with her family in church. She wanted to be a disciple of Christ and started to participate in a Bible Study called “Campaigners.” Very active at school, Joni was captain of the lacrosse team while also playing field hockey and tennis. She enjoyed swimming and horseback riding as well. A few weeks after high school graduation on a hot day in July 1967 Joni met some friends to swim in the Chesapeake Bay. She dove in where she did not realize the water was shallow. Immediately she could not move her arms or her legs. At that moment, Joni became a quadriplegic. Many years later she said, “I felt cheated. No one had told me it was going to be this hard. Stuck in the hospital for 24 months I felt utterly forsaken, abandoned by God.” Although she experienced depression and a desire to die during that time, Joni was surrounded by Christians who prayed for her and consistently exhibited their love, especially leaders and friends from Baltimore County Young Life. (The highlight of my college experience and the beginning of many years in youth ministry actually were connected to me being a Young Life leader at Woodlawn High School.) She began to reach out to God, reading the Bible and Christian materials, in a renewed and fervent way.
This summer Joni reflected on the 50th anniversary of her diving accident. “Back in the ’70s, my Bible study friend Steve Estes shared ten little words that set the course for my life: ‘God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.’ Steve explained it this way: ‘Joni, God allows all sorts of things he doesn’t approve of. God hated the torture, injustice, and treason that led to the crucifixion. Yet he permitted it so that the world’s worst murder could become the world’s only salvation. In the same way, God hates spinal cord injury, yet he permitted it for the sake of Christ in you—as well as in others. Like Joseph when he told his brothers, ‘God intended [my suffering] for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’ (Gen. 50:20).”
Joni has authored over 50 books. Her autobiography was made into a movie. In it one can see the remarkable results as Joni learned to paint by holding a brush in her mouth. In 1979 she moved to California to begin Joni and Friends Ministries which assists people with disabilities all over the world by offering family retreats, delivering wheelchairs and Bibles and producing radio and television programs. In 1982 she married Ken Tada. Together, despite many hardships, they have made a tremendous impact for the kingdom of God. If you have access to a computer please watch Joni singing “Alone Yet Not Alone” at the 2014 Movieguide Awards. One of her favorite passages of Scripture is Luke 14:12-14. “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”