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‘Take courage,’ Jennifer Rothschild tells ministers’ wives

Jennifer Rothschild told ministers' wives about the impact Joni Eareckson Tada’s book “Joni” had on her as a teenager. The book, which ended up being the last one Rothschild would read before going blind, chronicles Joni’s diving accident, which left her a quadriplegic at the age of 17. “It was as if God was tucking this hero into my heart,” Rothschild said. Photo by Karen McCutcheon

ANAHEIM (BP) – Blindness must be really hard, Jennifer Rothschild said, repeating her future daughter-in-law’s words to her. “It is very hard,” Rothschild responded, “but earth is short, and heaven is long.”

Rothschild, who spoke at the 2022 SBC Ministers’ Wives Luncheon at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel on June 14, lost her sight at the age of 15 due to a rare form of Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease.

“But in the loss, I’ve seen so much,” she said, encouraging the sold-out crowd of nearly 1,500 ministers’ wives to “take courage,” the luncheon’s theme based on Psalm 31:24.

Blindness did not define her, she said. It has refined her.

In so doing, she became the author of 18 books, including the newest video-based Bible study, “Take Courage: A Study of Haggai” and the best-selling, “Lessons I Learned in the Dark,” which chronicles her journey of blindness.

In her message, Rothschild showcased three personal books that have impacted her life and helped her to take courage.

The first was a red “leather” (or rather plastic) Bible that her grandmother gave her. As a little girl, she loved her red “not-leather” Bible, she said, remembering she read it, especially the Psalms, every night.

But those words became blurry to her. She used to sneak into her dad’s bedroom to get his magnifying glass so she could read.

“I had no idea that this Bible that I was holding in my hands would actually hold me together when my world started to fall apart,” she said, sharing that legal blindness came quickly, leading to total blindness.

She hadn’t realized then as she read those words that she soon wouldn’t be able to see them.

Rothschild read a couple of other inspiring books, including Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place,” to which she said she couldn’t really relate, and Joni Eareckson Tada’s “Joni,” to which she could. The book chronicles Joni’s diving accident, which left her a quadriplegic at the age of 17.

“I was mesmerized by this young woman that I could identify with – her frustration in her faith, her moments of despair and her incredible determination,” she said. “It was as if God was tucking this hero into my heart.” 

Holding up the paperback book, she said, “I had no idea that this would be the last book I would be able to read with my own eyes.”

Joni taught her to take courage, Rothschild said. The words she read in her Bible taught her to take courage.

“I have been in the seasons of life, and I have had to learn lessons in the classroom of blindness. … Even on my best days, blindness is the hardest thing I deal with,” she said, pointing to Psalm 119:92. If it had not been for God’s Word, she would have perished in her affliction, she said.

“It is the truths in this book that held me together. It is the way God has used women in my life, to give me heroes for my heart. It helped me to take courage.”

She picked up a third book, which belonged to her greatest hero, aside of Jesus, her dad.

She found out the day after his funeral that he chose to leave his first preaching Bible to her. In it was a note he had written to remind himself, “Preach the Word until the Lord calls you home.”

Of the three books, Rothschild said, “My [grandmother] was building more than she saw. Joni had no idea she was building something, too.”

And now, as the daughter of a pastor who has spoken to more people than he ever had, she said, “He was building more than he saw.”

The younger Israelites, too, when rebuilding a new temple, as related in the book of Haggai, had not seen Solomon’s temple. But the older Jews wept because they knew how it used to be. At the time, they had no idea they had built more than they saw. 

“You are looking at what you are building and weeping,” especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, said Rothschild. “But some of you don’t realize what you are building.”

She encouraged from Hebrews 6:10 ESV, “God is not unjust. He will not overlook your work and your labor for his name….”

“I see you,” she said, recognizing some were likely feeling they were not enough.

“Faithfulness is what makes you a hero for someone else,” she said. “Take courage from the Word of God and from people who inspire you.”

“You are building more than you see. That’s why you take courage.”

Rothschild, whose podcast and ministry information can be found at www.jenniferrothschild.com, dedicated her time at the luncheon in honor of her favorite pastor’s wife, her mother, who was in the hospital at the time.

“Who I am is because of who she is,” she said.

The 2022 luncheon president Ann Iorg, wife of Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary in Ontario, Calif., told attendees, “With all that we have been through in the past two and a half years, we need courage more than ever to rebuild and move forward.”

Attendance at this year’s luncheon was diverse and many leaders representing various ethnicities assisted Iorg in planning and organizing the event. And for the first time, interpreters provided simultaneous translations in three languages – Mandarin, Spanish and Korean.

Niki Boaman, the worship arts coordinator at Grove Community Church in Riverside, Calif., led worship. She is a graduate of California Baptist University and Gateway Seminary.

Ministers’ wives awarded Kem Jackson, the wife of Al Jackson, pastor emeritus of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., the 2022 Willie Dawson Turner award for making a distinct denomination contribution beyond the local church and for her Christian character and service to others.

Heather Payne, the current pastor’s wife of Lakeview, nominated Jackson, said Rhonda Kelley, wife of former New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Chuck Kelley, who presented the award.

Preceding the luncheon was a Women’s Expo, featuring exhibits from women’s ministries, SBC seminaries, and for this first time this year, live podcast recording sessions from Contagious Joy 4 Him (ContagiousJoy4him.com), a website ministry founded by Diane Nix to connect and support ministry wives across the globe.

Officers for the 2023 luncheon in New Orleans are Kathy Whitson of Indian Trail, N.C., president; Jen Gaddis of Ocala, Fla., vice president; Renee Lynn of Corpus Christi, Texas, corresponding secretary; and Jacque Zinn of Highland, Calif., recording secretary/treasurer.

Next year’s luncheon speaker will be Whitney Capps, national speaker for Proverbs 31 Ministries and a writer for the Bible app First 5, reaching more than 1 million people daily. The theme for the June 13 luncheon is “Jesus Over All.”

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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