I recently had the wonderful opportunity to go up to Agoura Hills for the annual affiliate meeting of organizations who are affiliate of Joni and Friends. If you are not familiar with Joni Eareckson Tada, I invite you to read more about her and her ministry outreach to those with disabilities at www.joniandfriends.org
I remember as a young girl hearing about this teenage girl who dived off a dock and broke her back. A book, Joni, came out about her story and I read it more than once under my covers late at night with a flashlight (well past my bedtime.) To imagine a teenager not much older than myself who was experiencing so much pain, but also insight, was amazing.
Joni’s web site states her bio as the following:
"A diving accident in 1967 left Mrs. Tada a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, unable to use her hands. During two years of rehabilitation, she spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high detail fine art paintings and prints are sought after and collected.
Due to her best-selling books, beginning with her autobiography, Joni, as well as having visited 35 countries, Joni’s first name is recognized around the world. World Wide Pictures’ full-length feature film, JONI, in which Mrs. Tada recreated her own life, has been translated into 15 languages and shown in scores of countries around the world.
Mrs. Tada’s role as a disability advocate led to a presidential appointment to the National Council on Disability for three and a half years, during which time the Americans with Disabilities Act became law."
Truly… that barely covers it!
I’ve always been a great admirer of Joni’s but when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1993, her ministry took on new meaning for me in a personal way. Although… I still longed to fellowship with those who had illnesses and I didn’t feel like I fit in quite as much as I desired with the experiences and daily struggles as those with more severe disabilities. After talking to Joni at a book signing and asking, "Is there a ministry out there like yours for peopke with chronic illness?" she said no, and "go for it." Hence, Rest Ministries began.
I’ve had the chance to cross paths with her over the years a number of times and I have a very large print of her Heaven artwork (which she paints with her mouth) in my office. She’s been my beacon of light when I’ve felt overwhelmed with the daily-ness of living with illness and doing ministry as well as the lagrge goals to try to get the church to care and understand that they are to "go out" and bring in the disabled to church.
A few years ago I received a call from Steve, a wonderful man who is the communications director at JAF, and who also happens to live with a chronic illness. He became such a wonderful help in building bridges between Rest Ministries and Joni and Friends, most notibly when we were asked to be an affiliate of the organization a few years ago.
You’ll notice I speak of Joni often and highly; I have dreams for my ministry, but she is doing ministry right now in a large way, traveling all over the world to impacting political debates on stem cell research and more. The most exciting news about Joni and her organization is that they recently moved into a brand new building that they built themselves (all paid for!). It’s beautiful, but it’s not about the walls. It’s about the ability to reach more people with Good News that the building can bring. The grand opening was last spring, but just a few weeks ago all the affiliate organizations and the different branches of Joni and Friends around the country gathered together to have our own "grand opening."
It was an amazing time, full of joy, passion, reflection and hope. I took many photos to share with you so you could experience a bit of what I was blessed to share in.
The building! Completed Spring 2007
Front desk – behind it is a beautiful black "pool" of water – which for some reason I didn’t get a photo of. But it’s all very serene and peaceful.
When you walk in there are two wheelchair ramps that go up, one on each side. My son later tried them out with a few other children, to see how fast they could race up and down them. Befoe I lost all respect I told him to stop, but one of the staff members assured me it was fine and that they were actually called "Ryan’s Run" after another staff member’s son. I’ll need to get more info on the reason behind that name later. The chapel is in the middle and feels like it’s floating.
Inside the chapel. It has amazing acoustics, so even if you can’t hold a tune, you will sound pretty good in here. Just be careful. Your voice can be heard all over. It’s a place that people wander up to and start singing Amazing Grace.
A neat little sitting area, very classy, that has the history of Joni and her ministry etched on glass "banners."
1974: Joni was on The Today Show which gained her a large national kick off for her ministry.(I’ve been researching "how to get on The Today Show" so this confirms I’m not totally crazy.
Uh. . .Right?)
A gym… okay, a nice thought, but I would hate to have my cubicle beside the gym, wouldn’t you?. How can you walk by that every day sipping your latte and not feel guilty?
No this isn’t the library, but rather bookshelves of the books Joni has either written or has given an endorsement or foreward for. So if you are an author looking to get her endorsement, know that she is pretty busy. Be patient!
Joni’s office. We got to go through and snap photos while she wasn’t there. I think most of us felt a little silly, but we just made excuses about how we needed them for our blog. 🙂
Joni’s office. I had to snap this because this is the photo I have on my office wall of hers.
More of her amazing art. Not only is she a servant of God, an amazing business woman, but a very gifted artist.
Joni’s very clean desk (for photo opps, right?)
Joni’s working desk. We all admired her piles because this side of the office felt much more familiar to all of us who work with–not file folders–but stacks.
(Look, mom! It works for her,so it can work for me too, right?)
A very nice wall and office divider. Seriously though, the whole building is done in white and rose-colored walls. It’s peaceful and comforting. Compared to most office buildings with those big grey cubicles this was heavenly!
And "wouldn’t it be loverly" to work in a place where scripture is etched onto the walls??
This is called the "Friendship Room" near Joni’s office where meetings are held. It’s beautiful when the sun hits it just right, but the whole building is filled with Friendship Rooms.
Joni herself, welcoming us and singing a song she wrote lyrics to to tell us how much we meant to her. With the millions of things she has to do, she took time out to write a song that would make us both laugh and cry. What a woman!
I hope you’ve enjoyed your personal tour through the new building and that you will keep Joni and Frends ministry, as well as Rest Ministries, in your daily prayers. Walls are a wonderful thing to have when you ae trying to plan programs and write materials for churches. But without a strong foundation in God, and not the cement, it won’t go anywhere!