The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

January 30, 2011

Disabled community at heart of course to be offered at OCC

JOPLIN, Mo. — Roughly 10 percent of the world’s population lives with disabilities in a world where suffering has become commonplace.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to people like Joni Eareckson Tada and the ministry that this California woman will be bringing to Joplin next month.

Tada, a Christian author and founder of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, will be speaking at two Joplin locations to kick off “A Theology of Suffering and Disability,” a course to be offered in the spring at Ozark Christian College.

In addition to speaking at an OCC chapel service in the multi-purpose building at 10 a.m. Friday, Tada will be the main speaker at 6:30 p.m. the following day at College Heights Christian Church, which will be holding its Disability Ministry Expo.

The course, which will be held in two sessions on March 11-12 and April 1-2 and taken for credit or non-credit, was developed by Tada’s Christian Institute on Disability and implemented at universities around the country. It is meant to examine suffering and disability through the lens of theology and will be taught by Joni and Friends Vice President Steve Bundy and CID Director of Academic Studies Kathy McReynolds.

The purpose of the course is enable students to reach out and minister to the disabled community, along with helping the church as a whole to grow in its understanding of the obligation that is required.

“With advanced medical technologies these days and good trauma care, many more people are surviving serious injuries and medical conditions,” said Tada, who is the honorary chairperson of the National Day of Prayer on May 5. “Disabilities are on the rise. This means we need to equip a new generation of young people on how to reach these people with God’s love, as well as help churches embrace these families. I’m so grateful that Ozark Christian College and our Christian Institute on Disability are partnering in an effort to train Christian leaders of the future!”

The course is currently being offered at 13 educational institutions around the country, as well as at the Joni and Friends International Disability Center in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Tada was left a quadriplegic at 17 during a 1967 diving accident and, following two years of rehabilitation, decided she wanted to help others in similar situations.

“With more than 650 million people worldwide living with disability, this is considered one of the world’s largest underrepresented and unchurched groups,” Bundy said. “It is vital that more students become trained in reaching out and ministering to the disabled community and that the church as a whole grow in its understandiing of our obligation to do so.”

Tada founded the disability center 11 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect and was among the team called upon by President George H.W. Bush to research and make recommendations regarding disabilities legislation.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act was a landmark law that safeguarded the rights of people with disabilities in the U.S.,” she said. “The law guarantees equal access to employment, as well as accessible ramps and Braille notices, but you cannot legislate people’s attitudes and how they feel toward people with disabilities. That’s the mission of the Gospel. And this is why our efforts through the Christian Institute on Disability are so key and critical in ensuring the long-term success of what the ADA originally launched 20 years ago.”

The course at OCC is meant to educate young adults and future ministry leaders regarding what can be learned from individuals with disabilities.

“Joni and Friends observed a real need for this kind of education, which contributed to a real lack of ministry and service to the disabled community,” McReynolds said. “We want to educate whole generations of young adults about the value to them of having people with disabilities in their lives. In addition, we need the church to take the lead in reaching out to the disabled community, and it can’t do so unless it knows how.”

There is another important aspect to the course.

“People often ask how a good and loving God can allow evil and suffering in the world,” Bundy said. “This course helps us understand that while suffering exists, God in His goodness brings hope in the midst of suffering. People affected by disability are often more attune with their own brokenness and need for God. In ministering to those with disabilities, the church not only blesses this population, but is blessed in return by the richness of relationships that are developed.”

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