THE WHEELHOUSE

“Yes, to walk is a wonderful thing. I haven’t done it in decades, but I recall very well the joy of running, skipping and jumping. But there are far more important things in life than standing up and walking.” - Joni Eareckson Tada

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The longest indoor wheelchair ramp on the planet supports the wheelchair of the second longest surviving quadriplegic in the world. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson Tada, then 17, a quadriplegic. She eventually founded Joni and Friends in 1979 to share the hope of the Gospel and give practical help to people impacted by disability worldwide. She and her friends have been changing the church and communities around the globe for the past 40 years.

The wheelchair ramp actually wraps around a tiny chapel within the heart of the International Disability Center or “IDC.” Equipped with a small pulpit facing a handful of tiny, wooden pews, the chapel is open to all employees at any given time of the day to simply sit, pray and worship. One of its newest staff members found himself needing to do just that. In a few days, their new regional director would be traveling to visit nearly a dozen area ministries.

In Missouri, he’ll meet Judy and Thelma. Judy and Thelma are tight; attached at the hip. If you see Thelma, Judy isn’t far behind. Their job is to engage churches and equip people with the resources necessary to start disability ministries within their community and congregation.

In New Mexico, he’ll strategize with Paul and his wife Deb; both 20-year Joni and Friends veterans, they now lead the charge for New Mexico full-time. Seventy-two volunteers recently gathered in their home to offer support.

In Minnesota, he’ll work with a team planning a retreat for parents in need of respite, and in Texas he’ll circle the wagons with a band of brothers and sisters about to send hundreds of wheelchairs and a dozen short-term missionaries to Cuba.

From Oregon to The Bay Area, from Central Cal to Sacramento and Phoenix, he’ll visit them all to shake hands, hug necks, and listen to hearts. His job is to help them do theirs. And theirs is no small endeavor. Over a billion people around the world are impacted by disability and 75 million people need wheelchairs. These area offices are doing what they can locally to help solve a global crisis. Mobility is a gift not everyone gets to open.

So with this trip heavy on his heart, he’s come to the chapel to pray. After all, what does he know about disability? He spent the majority of his career as a leader in the mainstream fitness industry. His first boss was best known for shaping and showing muscle. His new boss can’t move a one.

Max Lucado recently wrote, “Is what you’re hooked to stronger than what you’ll go through? Everyone is anchored to something. Salty sailors would urge you to hook on to something hidden and solid. Don’t trust the buoy on the water, don’t trust the sailors in the next boat, and don’t trust the other boat. In fact, don’t even trust your own. When the storm hits, trust God.”

In cases like Judy and Thelma, the storm is real. As I learned when I stepped off the plane in St. Louis, Judy is completely blind and Thelma is her sweet seeing-eye labrador. In the case of Paul and Deb, they got married 33 years ago when Paul was a physical therapist and Deb a tennis-playing paraplegic.

Judy has a vision to equip Christ-honoring churches.
Paul and Deb will visit the disabled in Peru together for the 10th time.

There are more important things in life than standing up and walking,” Joni says. Paralyzed from the neck down for over 50 years, only someone tethered to the Gospel can say that.

I tell ya, for nearly a decade you’ve heard me pray for (and cherish) two things: God’s will for my life and any health He gives me to fulfill it. Nothing much has changed.

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In my wheelhouse,
- Jimmy Peña

Pics left to right:

  • Me with Judy in her office (and Thelma with a little photobomb);

  • Team Missouri (Roby, Kathy, Judy) and I having coffee.

  • Team New Mexico - Paul and Deb - working at a conference today;

  • Me alongside Becky Ellis and Team Texas (#TexasForever)

  • Abby Beck and Team Arizona and I stand in front of a memorial wall in Phoenix.

  • I don’t anyone on earth who has honored God with her body more than Joni Eareckson Tada. Here she is stopping long enough for a pic with me and Letta.

    (Not shown: Teams Oregon, SF Bay, Central Cal, Sacramento and Minnesota)

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Prayer Request: Pretty humbling, guys. I am overwhelmed that Joni and Friends would look to me to serve alongside them. From an office at the International Disability Center in Los Angeles, I get to work with teams across the Western U.S., helping those with disabilities in their local community and around the world. I’m in my wheelhouse. I covet your prayers.

PrayFit 5K UPDATE: Team PrayFit is of course still working hard toward the PrayFit 5K & 1-Mile Walk-N-Roll on March 30 to benefit kids impacted by special needs. Please sign up. You can participate virtually, walk/run solo or form teams. Everyone across the country gets medals and t-shirts for signing up.