Life is about more than a healthy body, said Joni Eareckson Tada along with her husband, Ken, during two events at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Feb. 10-11. Tada, a quadriplegic, is a speaker and author who uses her testimony as a platform to highlight disability ministry.
“Go find someone hurting worse than you and help them,” said Tada in a talk given to 350 Southern Seminary students and their families for the Feb. 10 Student Life Conference. Tada told her personal story and focused on practical ministry to the disabled in local churches. Tada is the founder of Joni and Friends, a ministry seeking to show Jesus’ love to people with disabilities.
Tada spoke on a theology of suffering and exemplified joy in the midst of pain. While many consider “tastes of heaven” to be when everything goes right, Tada considers tastes of heaven as finding Jesus in the middle of a taste of hell.
“God has not redeemed us to make us happy and healthy; he redeemed us to make us like Jesus,” Tada said.
Tada said people with disabilities bless the church as a source of inspiration by enduring a pain-filled life and providing opportunities for believers to serve them.
After a short break, Tada and her husband, Ken, answered questions about their newest book, Joni and Ken, which describes lessons learned through their 35 years of marriage. Both emphasized the daily need to look at the big picture, the “35,000-foot view of life,” instead of becoming overwhelmed by the pain of the moment. The Tadas said this practice became especially relevant to in 2010 when Joni was diagnosed with cancer.
During the Equip event Feb. 11, Joni Eareckson Tada addressed SBTS women and encouraged them to have “a heart for those who suffer in ways foreign to you.” She shared again from her personal story to encourage ministry in the local church.
In the first session, Tada described the diving accident 50 years ago that broke her neck. She said after the accident she sank into depression, but gradually she learned how to respond in faith.
“The weaker I was, the harder I leaned on Jesus, and the harder I leaned on Jesus, the stronger I found him to be,” she said.
Tada said hurting people do not immediately need biblical answers to their question of why they suffer. The time for biblical answers is when people are asking why with a searching heart instead of with a raised fist.
“God is not quick to give answers,” she said. “But he is quick to give himself.”
Suffering people want compassion and the presence of a friend, Tada said. “The people who made God real to me” in her trials, Tada said were those like her high school friend who climbed into the hospital bed and quietly sang the hymn “Man of Sorrows.” She called for the women in attendance to embody the love of Christ to families and individuals suffering with disabilities.
Tada and her team also met with members of the Southern Seminary’s biblical counseling department to promote counseling material specifically designed for helping the disabled and to encourage disability ministry among Southern students.