An inspiring Christian leader and advocate for people with disabilities has been named the 2017 WORLD News Group Daniel of the Year.
Joni Eareckson Tada is the founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community since 1979.
Joni and Friends runs a multifaceted nonprofit covering a number of program outlets headquartered in Agoura Hills. The longest running program is Joni and Friends Radio, a five-minute radio program begun in 1982 that can be heard each weekday on more than 1,000 broadcast outlets. Tada also records a one-minute radio broadcast, Diamonds in the Dust, that airs daily. Joni and Friends Radio received the Radio Program of the Year award from National Religious Broadcasters in 2002, and Diamonds in the Dust won the same award in 2010 in the short-program category. Joni and Friends also produces a television program, hosts family retreats where individuals with disabilities and their families learn they are not alone, and distributes wheelchairs and Bibles for those in need around the world through its “Wheels for the World” outreach.
Each November, WORLD’s annual Daniel of the Year award is bestowed on a person or persons who exhibit courage in defense of God’s authority by helping those who are being persecuted. Tada is the 20th recipient of the award. Other winners include John Ashcroft, Franklin Graham, Wanda Kohn, and Stephen C. Meyer.
“For twenty years, WORLD Magazine has been telling the stories of Christians who are overcoming great odds to make the world a better and stronger place,” said Marvin Olasky, WORLD’s editor-in-chief. “We have shared many great stories in that time, but the Daniel winners are always a little different and are doing some amazing, amazing things. Joni Eareckson Tada is one of them. She is an inspiration.”
A Baltimore native, Tada was injured in a diving accident in 1967, at age seventeen, that left her a quadriplegic in a wheelchair without the use of her hands. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations.
During her rehabilitation, Tada spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high-detail painting and prints are much sought after and collected by fine art enthusiasts. Her best-selling autobiography, Joni, and the feature film of the same name have been translated into several languages, introducing her to millions of people around the world. Tada has also visited more than forty-seven countries to share her story.
In addition to her ministry efforts, Tada has served on the National Council on Disability and the Disability Advisory Committee to the US State Department; she has served as Senior Associate for Disability Concerns for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and serves in an advisory capacity to the American Leprosy Mission, the National Institute on Learning Disabilities, and Christian Blind Mission International, as well as on the Board of Reference for the Christian Medical and Dental Society. Tada currently serves on the Young Life Capernaum Board.
After being the first woman honored by the National Association of Evangelicals as its Layperson of the Year in 1986, Tada was named Churchwoman of the Year in 1993 by the Religious Heritage Foundation.
“We as Christians have to promote a culture of life and help parents of special-needs children ascribe positive meaning to their child’s pain,” Tada said. “The church can show the world that a child or an adult with a severe disabling condition is not ‘better off dead than disabled.’ Each individual, no matter how medically fragile, is a stunning image-bearer of God; that, if anything, gives him immense worth, dignity, and life worth living.”
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