It’s her silver anniversary and Joni Eareckson Tada can scarcely believe it. “Not my wedding anniversary,” she quickly explains with a laugh. “My husband Ken and I have been married 22 years. It is the 25th anniversary of Joni and Friends.”


Long before actor Christopher Reeve put a Hollywood face on spinal cord injuries, Tada spent years serving as an advocate for the disabled. In 1979, she founded a ministry called Joni and Friends to communicate the Gospel and equip Christ-honoring churches worldwide in evangelizing and discipling people affected by disability.


Her own story began on a hot July afternoon in 1967. Just 17, Tada dove into a shallow lake and suffered a spinal cord fracture that left her paralyzed from the neck down. From brushing her hair and eating, to bathing and even blowing her nose, Tada could do nothing on her own. During the grueling years of rehabilitation that followed, she learned to paint using a brush held between her teeth. More importantly, she found strength and courage to live as a quadriplegic in the unfailing love of Jesus Christ.


She shares those lessons with other disabled people each day. “I had no idea when we started that Joni and Friends would touch so many lives,” Tada reflects. “I guess back then, I thought it was an outreach to people with disabilities and their families. But about 10 years ago, it became clear that it’s not just about disability ministry, it’s about helping the church – whether in America or around the world – see that we’re all richer when we recognize our poverty. We are stronger when we recognize our weaknesses, and disabled people showcase that to us.”


Looking back on 25 years of ministry, Tada recalls a few cherished memories. During her first Wheels for the World trip to Ghana, she met the recipient of the first wheelchair ever delivered there. More significantly for Tada, this was the first woman to accept Christ as a direct result of the outreach. “I thought to myself, ‘What a wonderful start!’”


Another highlight occurred during her first Family Retreat in Pennsylvania. “There was a couple who were ready to divorce, but somebody encouraged them, ‘Look you guys, just wait. Why don’t you take Nicole – that’s their daughter in a wheelchair – to this family retreat? We’ll scholarship you; we’ll sponsor you. Just hold off on making that decision.’ Well, they came to the retreat and their marriage was mended. They realized that there were resources, there was counseling available, and there were answers from God’s Word for their despair and hopelessness.”

Tada attributes the longevity and success of Joni and Friends to simple obedience: “I think it’s because we’ve stayed on focus with our mission emphasis. We’ve followed the Lord’s mandate. We’re not doing this mainly because the needs are great, although they are. We’re doing it to follow in the footsteps of the Savior, who always was out there befriending the guy who was paralyzed, lying on a straw mat. He was always seeking out conversations with blind people. And you can’t go wrong if you stick very close to what Scripture asks you to do, what God asks you to do in his Word.”