Voice to the World

He may be the most energetic person you’ll ever meet. But Nick Vujicic, 35, has faced physical challenges few people have even considered. Born without arms or legs, his journey of overcoming through faith and perseverance has inspired the world for decades.

Vujicic (pronounced “Voo-yi-chich”) has been featured in nearly every major media outlet, from People to ABC News to Oprah’s LifeClass. 

“I have a lack of limbs from birth that’s medically unexplainable,” he tells Citizen. “I discovered God could use even our broken pieces and do something beautiful with them. No one ever thought that I’d be as mobile as I am today.”

His true passion can be seen when Vujicic shares his Christian testimony, as he has in person to eight million people. On platforms hostile to faith, Vujicic increasingly touches on disability rights and religious freedom—though it’s not without risks, as he found in recent travels to eastern Europe and Russia.

He’s come a long way from his first moments in life.

Inner Tenacity, Physical Progress 

“When I was born, they couldn’t imagine I’d be able to have a strong enough core to even balance,” says Vujicic, who has the extremely rare genetic condition tetra-amelia syndrome—the absence of all four limbs. 

He credits his parents’ affirming outlook with the progress he has made. “They allowed me the freedom to fail,” he says. “They basically put the ball in my court.” Young Nick took to heart the encouragement they gave: Do what you can, and God will do the rest. You don’t know what you can achieve until you try. 

“Then the one out of 10 times something went right, it gave me courage and confidence to keep on trying again,” he says. 

As a child, Nick was the first special-needs student integrated into Australia’s mainstream educational system. He was named Junior Citizen of the Year for “courage beyond his years” at 9. Yet the trials of his pre-teen years hit him hard.

“I struggled with depression and even attempted suicide when I was younger,” he reveals. “I went through depression between ages 8 and 12, and attempted suicide when I was 10. I really doubted that God had a plan for me.”

During this formative time, he read about a teen girl who became paralyzed in a diving accident. Though confined to a wheelchair, she became an artist, author and world-renowned public speaker. 

The book was Joni, first published in 1976. “Kids with disabilities identify strongly with disabled people who ‘live beyond their limits,’ ” says the author, Joni Eareckson Tada, who is now 68 and a world-renowned Christian speaker and advocate for people with disabilities. “Perhaps Nick and his parents were attracted to that aspect of my story.”

At 15 years old, Vujicic prayed and began to walk out faith in Christ. A new drive to find his identity showed in physical progress that surprised doctors and therapists. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” he says. “So today I can do all the personal hygiene things—showering, brushing my teeth, washing my hair, dressing up and leaving the house.” 

Still, he notes that physical things are easier with help. Most days, two caregivers spend several hours with Vujicic. “Although we both have significant limitations, Nick and I do not see ourselves as defined by our disabilities,” says Tada. 

“We travel vigorously, keep a demanding schedule, enjoy our hobbies and love our roles in our families,” she continues. “We both like to focus on what we can do, not what we canʼt.” 

Speaking to the Soul of a Lost Generation

In Nick’s teen years, an encounter with the janitor in his public high school changed his life. “He looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to be a speaker,’” recounts Vujicic. “I told him, ‘You’re crazy!’ ” 

But when the man gathered six students in a Bible club, Nick shared his story with his peers for the first time. “They were touched,” he recalls. “Soon after, I got invited to about 12 other youth groups and churches.”

The crowds grew larger and Vujicic honed his message. Months later, an opportunity in which he says he “couldn’t use the ‘J word’ ” (read: Jesus) stretched him to emphasize inner beauty in new ways. 

A young girl approached him afterward. “No one has ever told me that they loved me,” she said. “No one has ever told me that I’m beautiful the way that I am.” Nick chokes up telling the story. “She hugged me and cried on my shoulder,” he says. “That’s when I knew I was born to be a speaker.” 

When Vujicic moved to America in 2006, the Joni and Friends International Disability Center in southern California provided office space as he launched Life Without Limbs. 

“People are fascinated by Nick,” says Tada, who has been an advisor to his ministry for more than a decade. “They are curious as to why this man with no arms or legs should have such hope. Everyone wants to understand what makes him tick and why he is so full of joy. He exudes grace, integrity and excellence in ministry.” 

One year after beginning to sell out venues across America, a young Japanese-Mexican woman named Kanae caught his eye at a Dallas-area event. The two spoke afterward and began to develop a friendship. They married in 2012.

In recent years, Vujicic has expanded his outreach to students by partnering with One Voice Student Missions. The evangelistic group has established Bible clubs in dozens of California high schools, with Vujicic coming to large-scale events. 

“The thing Millennials and post-Millennials admire most is authenticity,” says One Voice founder Brian Barcelona. “Nick embodies that more than anyone I know. Our generation isn’t looking for perfect—they’re looking for real.” 

A bilingual street preacher, Barcelona recalls one Friday night in downtown L.A. when 1,600 students and families showed up for an event. “Tons of families got saved,” says Barcelona. “Almost every person we ran into in east L.A. who spoke Spanish knew who Nick was! It spoke volumes to what he is carrying.”

Beyond the lost youth of America, Vujicic’s vision extends to a lost world.

From L.A. to Liberia

Despite the expense and challenges of global travel, Vujicic has now visited 68 countries and met with 18 heads of state—including President Donald Trump earlier this year. “Nick is not as well-known here in the U.S. as he is overseas,” says Tada. “In other parts of the world, he is considered a global phenomenon.” 

Ten years ago, Nobel Prize winner Madame Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia was the first president he met. Before an evangelistic meeting, Sirleaf received him in her nation’s Executive Mansion. Vujicic recalls the topic of abortion and infanticide came up during their conversation. “In a bigger percentage of the world than we all think, people are killing children with disabilities,” he says.

Some fear disability is contagious, notes Vujicic. “Tribal beliefs are such that babies born with defects are ‘cursed from the gods,’ ” he says. “They disown the mother and ostracize her, and kill the child.” 

Vujicic and Sirleaf spoke frankly, and later nearly ten thousand Liberian people heard him preach the Gospel. “We got reports that—in the main cities—the culture began to shift and disabled children were saved,” he says. 

Tada extols the impact her mentee is making. “Especially when Nick goes into less-developed nations, he breaks the stereotypes that most have about people with disabilities,” she says. “People do not expect him to be a leader, a husband or a father, and to be able to garner the respect he does around the world. This has given such hope to so many.” 

“I feel like Nick is our generation’s Billy Graham,” says Barcelona. “Think of the grace Graham had to touch not just youth on the streets of L.A., but even presidents. God has placed Nick as an influential voice to key leaders all over the world.” 

But influence is often accompanied by corresponding amounts of hostility.

Uproar in Russia

Russia lags behind the rest of the developed world in adopting international norms to assist people with disabilities, from transportation to accessibility in buildings. Nonprofit groups regularly raise concerns about Russia in this regard at the United Nations.

In April 2016, Vujicic was invited to give motivational speeches in several Russian cities (“no J word,” he says). “I’d been led to believe there might be an opportunity to meet in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin to discuss these issues,” he tells Citizen. “But the day I arrived, the editor of a popular Russian newspaper wrote an opinion piece about me.” 

The op-ed in Komsomolskaya Pravda by Yevgeniy Arsyukhin, who also had a platform at the paper’s sister radio station, discussed how people with disabilities shouldn’t have opportunities or be able to get married—and blamed the fact that they can squarely on Jesus Christ. 

“We should never let the disabled get to the top of the social pyramid,” he wrote. “Some three thousand years ago, a colossal overturn took place in the minds of men—they challenged natural selection, not wishing to live by its law. Jesus sealed this revolution. He put the poor above the successful once and for all.

“From now on, at least formally,” he lamented, “sympathy for (the disabled) is an integral part of civilization.”

Within days, more than 93,000 people expressed outrage over the discriminatory op-ed, and the Russian journalist lost his job.

Vujicic—who was not given a meeting with Putin, but says he hopes to pray with him someday for his country—isn’t fazed by the criticism. 

“To be frank,” he tells Citizen, “when you stand in front of the gates of Hell and redirect traffic, sometimes it gets a little bit hot.”

Growing Family, Multiplying Ministry

Over the past 15 years, Vujicic has traveled two and a half million miles around the world. 

“The story arc from me being a bachelor and going on a plane every third day for four years, to being married, to having one child, to having two children, to now four—these are big changes!” he says, sounding a bit overwhelmed.

Already parents of two boys entering their toddler years, last December the Vujicics welcomed twin girls into their family. Reinforcements soon arrived on the home front. “Our moms are chipping in, which is such a blessing,” he says. “Family is my first ministry, and it always will be.”

Now with a staff of 13, Life Without Limbs has outgrown its small space with the Joni and Friends team. Tada was excited that the group’s relocation led them only one exit down the freeway. 

“Nick has a boundless enthusiasm for serving the Lord here, there and everywhere,” says Tada, who continues to advise his ministry. “I do believe, however, that his international work may well slow a bit as he takes on new responsibilities to his four children. God has called him to do ministry—but also to be a good husband and father.”

Vujicic confirms his board has insisted on less travel. He ticks off statistics that reveal how much thought they’ve put into time management. “By the grace of God, we went from 105 days away from home last year—to now, this year, it’s going to be 84,” he says. “God willing, it will be down to 70 for a whole year.” 

Longtime friends of Vujicic are clear: There is no slowing down with this man. Barcelona hopes to pull Vujicic into more local events. “The old-school mindset of preaching is a man on a mic with a Bible in his hand,” says Barcelona. “In my opinion, your life is the greatest message you could speak. Nick embodies that as he lets his life speak for itself.” 

Life Without Limbs has launched a prison ministry and street evangelism program. Production is underway on a video library of 200 messages of inspiration and Christian teaching, to be translated into 30 different languages. Vujicic just released his sixth book, Be the Hands and Feet (Waterbrook, 2018). His ministry also has strategies in the works for live global simulcasts.

“Our board helps me think differently about how we can reach more people without sending me on a plane,” he says. “Now we’re preaching to millions of people every year, and I’ve never traveled as little as I am currently.

“The stewardship of everything we have is really taking flight.” 

 

For More Information: To learn more about Vujicic’s ministry, visit LifeWithoutLimbs.org. For more about Joni and Friends, log onto JoniAndFriends.org. Find out about One Voice Student Missions at OVSM.com. 

Originally published in the June/July 2018 issue of Citizen magazine.

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