Heroes of the Faith: Ken (1946-) and Joni Eareckson (1949-) Tada
“Thank you, God, for this wheelchair . . .”
Have you ever received a gift that you really did not appreciate? Were you desiring something “wanted,” yet were delivered something “needed”? The gift of grace in salvation is free (Ephesians 2.8), but it is not cheap! In fact, Paul writes, “. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12). There is a cost to discipleship. One extraordinary couple who epitomizes this “giftedness” is Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada.
History—The Tadas’ “Everyday” Life
Ken, the son of Japanese immigrants, is a homegrown Californian. He marveled in athletics, majored in education, and melded them as a high school history teacher and football coach. Joni, a native Marylander, possessed an adolescentesque love for the outdoors, horses, and athletics, particularly swimming. A diving accident into shallow waters at age 17 resulted in irreversible quadriplegia. Her journey through the early days of paralysis has been well documented. Although a Christian prior to the tragedy, she was by self-admission “an immature and headstrong teenager.” Her formulaic faith was fractured, and suicidal intentions restrained her recovery. With the help of wise counsel from a fellow teen, Steve Estes, she moved beyond self-pity and despair, toward a profound sagacity of God’s providential sovereignty, even in the midst of persistent suffering.
Heritage—The Tadas’ Earthly Labors
Joni’s orally-artistic accomplishments on canvas propelled her toward international renown. But her passion was/is pivoted around the powerless. With help, she began “Joni and Friends (JAF),“ a ministry designed for, “accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community,” and based her headquarters in southern California. Her ministry is focused on four fundamental functions. Two of the most recognized are “Wheels for the World,” an ongoing campaign to deliver wheelchairs to the needy across the globe, and “Wounded Warriors,” family camps for injured military and their families. Ken and Joni met while attending Grace Community Church, fell in love, and were married by their pastor, John MacArthur. Their marriage is certainly distinctive, but not one without its demands. Ken recently retired after a 32-year career, and joined JAF in a full-time capacity. Ironically, Joni’s recent diagnosis of breast cancer has magnified their marriage and ministry.
Horizons—The Tadas’ Enduring Legacy
Perhaps Joni’s most transforming ministries are her writings (over 45 books authored); but even more transmogrifying is the witness to her heart and her handicap. Joni has championed Biblical truth and challenged the pervasively-flawed misconception of adversity as an indicator of faithlessness. She can confidently and courageously contend, “I am thankful for my broken neck,” and not feel she is dumbing down God’s grace. That unwanted gift as a teenager--her paralysis--became a gift she has embraced now for over 40 years. Benefits from God may not have the earthly influence we would unreservedly accept, but His benefactions will have an eternal impact we will not fully apprehend, nor comprehend, this side of the silver cord (Ecclesiastes 12.6). Can we thank the Lord for the thorns in our life (2 Corinthians 12.9-10), and apply them to give glory to Christ and good to His Church?
Recommended Reading For Further Focus:
Tada, Joni Eareckson. The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus. Zondervan, 2003.
________. Joni Eareckson Tada: Her Story. Inspirational Press, 1994. (esp. A Step Further.)
________. A Place of Healing: Wrestling With the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty. David C.Cook, 2010.
________. When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty. Zondervan, 2000.