Why I Started Joni and Friends

By |Published On: August 17, 2021|Categories: From Our Founder, Joni's Posts|

“God intended it [my suffering] for good, for the saving of many lives”

Genesis 50:20

I will never forget the day that the seed idea of Joni and Friends was planted in my heart.

It was a few years after my accident, when I was living on the family farm in Maryland with my sister Jay. Thanks to the continued prayers of caring Christians, I had begun taking a real interest in what God’s Word says about going through hard times.

The fog of my depression was dissipating as understanding of God’s goodness and sovereignty began to dawn in my heart.

It was during this season of beginning to trust God with my quadriplegia that I returned to the rehab center for a check-up. There, I encountered a paraplegic sitting by the elevator in his wheelchair; he was smoking a cigarette and looking dejected. I smiled and introduced myself, and when I asked, “What’s your name?” he shrugged his shoulders. His mumbled answer seemed to say, “What is it to you? What does it matter, my name?”

I had never seen such hopelessness and despair. It was like he was trying to disappear.

That man’s response stunned me to my core. I could recall how much I had been like him only a few years earlier. So many times, I would sit by that very elevator, watching everybody walk by. It was as if the sour expression on my face dared anyone to reach out and care. Yet now, I wasn’t that person anymore. This man was paraplegic and despairing. I, a quadriplegic, had found hope.

Right then and there, I saw the crystal-clear difference Jesus Christ could make in the life of someone with a disability.

And when I left that rehab center, I resolved to do everything I could to help people like that young man find Jesus Christ. 

Like Joseph sold into slavery, imprisoned, and betrayed, I began to see how “God intended it [my suffering] for good, for the saving of many lives.”

Genesis 50:20

Coming away from that awkward interaction, I yielded myself to the Lord in a fuller, more devoted way. I wanted to be used of Jesus to reach people with disabilities, many of them, not even aware they were stuck in a mire of hopelessness and despair. 

Shortly after that, in 1979 I started Joni and Friends, and the words of Jesus in Luke chapter 14 became our mission.

The Lord says, “Go out and find the disabled and bring them…so that my Father’s house might be full.”

I never could have imagined all the ways God would grow Joni and Friends into the international ministry it is today. Family Retreats and Getaways, Student Internships and Church Training, Wheelchairs and Bibles given to people in developing nations, offices across the United States and international partnerships for Joni’s Houses in places like El Salvador, Uganda and Ukraine… and yes, there’s still a team of us at Joni and Friends personally responding to people looking for prayer and encouragement just like we did in the beginning days of our ministry.

Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”

Oh friends, that is what I have done all these decades. I tell my story so others will, like this Psalm says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

Will you do that? If you’ve been helped by my story of God rescuing me from hopelessness, give thanks to the Lord! And then? Consider helping us go and find weary families struggling with disability so that our Father’s house will be full.

–Joni Eareckson Tada

Become a Luke 14 Friend

Disability transcends nationality, race, and class to affect 1 in 7 people globally.

Your commitment provides dignity, practical care, and the good news of Jesus’ love to those living with disability around the world. Join our monthly giving community so that God’s house will be full!

Recent Posts