On March 8, 2013, 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.