(Photo: Joni and Friends/A. Larry Ross Communications)
The month of May marked the 30th anniversary of Joni Eareckson Tada's award-winning radio program, "Joni and Friends Radio," which has inspired listeners around the world and educated them about people with disabilities.
The five-minute long radio program has aired over 7,800 times during the last three decades, but at one time it didn't even seem like a possibility. Tada laughed when she was first approached by the Ambassador Advertising Agency about hosting the program in 1982, because at the time she was bedridden.
"My life was confined to those four walls in that bedroom. And here they were, telling me that what God had taught me in my wheelchair, and what I had been sharing in books and speaking from various platforms...would be very valuable to listeners across the country," Tada told The Christian Post on Thursday.
In 1967, at the age of 17, Tada became a quadriplegic after she was injured in a diving accident, but shortly after she made it her mission to help others who are affected by disabilities. Her radio program has addressed a wide-variety of topics from a biblical worldview over the years, though the topic of disability awareness is particularly close to her heart.
Tada says her radio program is like her daily journal, where she can share her personal insights and experiences with the rest of the world. Like a journal, the program is also honest and authentic, and she isn't afraid to confess her shortcomings on the air.
"I'm honest to share those things on the radio, and I think people resonate with that. They like someone to confess that they've got a long way to go, and I've got a long way to go," she said.
Although she has hosted thousands of broadcasts, Tada says there was one in particular that was very special to her. In the late 1980s she interviewed her own mother, who was generally shy in front of a microphone but who broke out in song during the interview and sang the hymn, "Some Day He'll Make It Plain." Tada says hearing her mother sing the song brought her to tears.
Earlier this year Tada was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame, an honor also given to well-respected Christian communicators like Billy Graham and Chuck Colson. She jokingly said the award makes her feel old, but says she is honored to be "put in their class."
In 1979, Tada founded the Joni and Friends International Disability Center in her home as a way to share her faith and help others who struggle with their own disabilities. Today, the California-based organization serves as the hub for a number of ministries that serve the disabled and their families and train others to do the same.
One such ministry, the Christian Institute on Disability, is currently working with Christian colleges and universities throughout world to help them develop disability ministry courses. A team from the institute is currently working with a small evangelical seminary in China, and Tada says she is excited to help the younger generations realize the need for ministries geared toward the disabled.
To illustrate why disability awareness is so important, Tada read an email she received from her friend, who is a missionary in Tanzania. The friend said in the email that "being born with a disability is a death sentence" in the African nation.
She then went on to explain how a disabled girl, Mary, was left by her parents on the side of the road, where she was sexually abused by a group of men. Fortunately some missionaries eventually rescued her, but Tada says Mary is just one out of millions of disabled people on the African continent who need help.
"When I wake up in the morning I think of stories like this, and I want to squeeze every ounce of effort out of my quadriplegic body that I possibly can on behalf of the millions of Mary's...I've been blessed so much, I want to help listeners see that there's a hurting world out there," she said.
Tada says American churches also have a lot to learn, but they can make strides toward helping the disabled by making their facilities more accessible, by receiving some training and by trying to actively minister to the disabled and their families.