The woman you see in the picture above is no stranger to suffering. She has been in a wheelchair for 45 years. In 1967, at the age of 17, she became a quadriplegic after she was injured in a diving accident. She has also battled cancer in recent years. Her name is Joni Eareckson-Tada.
Joni does not let her disability stop her from impacting the world. She writes, paints (with her mouth – see below!), sings, travels, lectures, has a radio program, and runs a large organization called “Joni and Friends” for the physically disabled all over the world (http://www.joniandfriends.org/).
Recently I had the privilege of being with one of Joni’s wheelchair distribution teams in Amman, Jordan for a day. These teams are incredible! This particular one came from all over the U.S. plus 2 guys from India and 1 guy from Lebanon. They gave new wheelchairs to about 25 disabled former soldiers in one day. They customized each chair for each man which took 1-3 hours per chair. Below is a picture of one of my favorite men that day. His name was Mohammed and he waited so patiently for his chair to be fitted. Three of his brothers brought him in and you can see that each of the men were all smiles after Mohammed received his customized chair and was on his way.
But this man – like all the men who came in – received a lot more than a new wheelchair. He received a lot of personal attention, kindness, and respect. He was truly loved.
Another man – let’s call him Ahmed (I did not hear his real name) – was asked by one of Joni’s team if he liked his new chair as he was leaving. Ahmed said he was very satisfied with the chair but he was more happy about something else. He said he was amazed the way the Joni and Friends team loved him. And this was the statement Ahmed made that touched me so much after I heard it:
“Today I felt like a person, like a real human being.”
All because a woman in a wheelchair for 45 years in America doesn’t let her disability stop her. Instead – with great faith in God, great determination, and great love for people – she started an organization to help the disabled all over the world.
All because a group of caring people came to Jordan to help the disabled. What did they do? They talked respectfully to each man and listened attentively to find out their particular needs. Then they carefully measured their bodies, selected appropriate new chairs, drilled holes, put in bolts and nuts, turned wrenches, cut plywood, cut foam, and made cushions. They did it all with an attitude of service and love. They made each man feel he had dignity.
Joni and Friends.
Wheelchairs for Jordan.
What a great day it was!
(Postscript: a retired Jordanian Air Force General ran this facility for disabled soldiers. He was a wonderful man – very friendly and hospitable to us and very caring about the men who came in for new wheelchairs. I gave him my business card about this blog. He examined it, then looked at the Lebanese guy in our all Christian team and exclaimed excitedly,
“He loves Muslims!”
The Lebanese Christian man put his hand on his chest and said to the General with a big smile, a loud voice, and strong feeling,
“Of course, we have you in our hearts!”
Indeed we do.)