Joni Eareckson Tada, founder and chief executive officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, pulled the curtain back on her own heart, marriage, and life journey, speaking on ”Disability and the Gospel” to a packed-out chapel on March 8. This conference is part of Biblical’s Conversations on Christianity & Culture lecture series. Jerry Borton, director of Joni and Friends Philadelphia; Dr. Michael Beates, Biblical alum and author; and Dr. Diane Langberg, psychologist and Biblical clinical faculty, joined Joni and advocated on behalf of those with disabilities.
Joni, who became paralyzed from the shoulders down as a result of a diving accident at 17, has allowed God to use her suffering as a platform for evidencing His love, goodness, sovereignty, and glory. She spoke of the rich, intimate relationship she shares with her husband, but also of the long, painful journey they’ve travelled. She transparently spoke of how her disability, recent battle with breast cancer, and chronic pain are a ”bruising of a blessing” and have ”driven her into the arms of [her] Savior.” She referred to her wheelchair as an instrument of her own sanctification and exhorted those in attendance with the truth that God will remove anything that stands in the way of relationship with Him, and how on this side of heaven, that is true healing.
Joni, Jerry, Mike, and Diane imparted a deeper theology of suffering and confidence in God’s goodness in the midst of suffering while challenging those in attendance to consider how they might develop reciprocating relationships with brothers and sisters with disabilities. There were not many, if any, who walked away from the conference unchanged.
Above is the recording from the first plenary session.
Joni spoke on “Disability and the Gospel” against the backdrop of her own experience of seeing Christ’s power made perfect in her weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). She was joined by other passionate advocates for those with disabilities, including:
Joni Eareckson Tada
Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Joni and Friends
In 1979, Joni founded Joni and Friends International Disability Center. “Across the country and around the world, Joni and Friends is responding to the Luke 14 mandate to draw people affected by disability into His kingdom. Joni and Friends is all about advancing disability ministry… by serving individuals and families, and by equipping churches and communities as well,” according to Joni and Friends. Joni is also a best-selling and award-winning author of 17 books, a talented vocalist, a radio host, an advocate for disabled persons worldwide, an actress, and an artist—she paints by holding the brush between her teeth.
Director for Joni and Friends Greater Philadelphia
Jerry Borton serves as the Director for Joni and Friends Greater Philadelphia which covers the five county Philadelphia region as well as the Lehigh Valley and Central and Southern New Jersey. Jerry was born with cerebral palsy. He got his start at being a “bridge person” as a poster child for Easter Seals in Williams County, OH. Jerry along with his wife Joan has presented many seminars on disability ministry, organizational development and leadership at regional and national conferences. Jerry holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cincinnati Christian University and a Master’s of Science degree from Philadelphia Biblical University and is also an ordained minister.
Dr. Michael Beates
Dean of Students, Geneva School
Michael S. Beates (DMin, Reformed Theological Seminary) is the husband of Mary and father of seven children, one of whom lives with profound disabilities and two others who face significant challenges. Mike served on the International Board of Directors at Joni and Friends for 10 years and has been involved in Christian ministry for 30 years. He has written more than 50 articles for publications such as Tabletalk magazine and the Orlando Sentinel and has contributed chapters to several books focusing on disabilities and hope.
The Conversations on Christianity & Culture lecture series invites leading Christian thinkers in the fields of theology, culture, science, and the arts to address current cultural issues in a public gathering and participate in a Q & A.