Author and activist Joni Eareckson Tada was the recipient of the feature award and former Dallas Cowboy Chad Hennings was the keynote speaker at Criswell College’s third annual Legacy Awards Gala Monday night, Sept. 23.
Each year, the Legacy Award is presented to “an individual who conducts their personal and professional life with Christ-like character, is committed to the inerrancy of the Bible, unselfishly gives of their time and resources to promote the gospel, and models servant leadership.” Past recipients include Andy Horner of Premier Designs and world record-holder in running and former pilot Orville Rogers.
Tada, who was left a quadriplegic after a diving accident at the age of 17, recently endured a second bout with breast cancer, which she defeated this summer. Her health struggles prevented her from attending the gala but her taped comments were shown at the event.
“I am so blown away honored to receive the Criswell Legacy Award. I knew Dr. Criswell, I heard him preach,” Tada said. “That man stirred my heart when I was still very young, and he energized me to do the Bible verse in 2 Corinthians 4:5 that’s printed on the award, because it’s all about sharing the gospel of Jesus with those in need, and that’s exactly what this award represents.
“Dr. Criswell left quite a legacy, not only right there at Criswell College but in casting a vision at the college which has stuck these many years, because they hold fast to not only their articles of faith and their core values, but to biblical, orthodox Christianity,” she said. “As the years roll by there’s one thing that certainly doesn’t change about Criswell College, in that it adheres to those biblical tenets, that orthodox faith, the faith once delivered to the saints that Dr. Criswell so loved to preach and that the folks at Criswell College instill within the hearts of their students.”
Tada recalled visiting the campus of Criswell College in the summer of 2017 to record a radio show and at first wondering why the school was positioned in Old East Dallas.
“But I tell you what, as I spent time with some of the students, and as I talked with teachers and administrators, as I looked around the community, I got the picture. I understood the vision,” she said.
“It was so clear to me that the whole point behind Criswell is to reach out to the littlest, the last, the least, the lost. To actually put into practice what Jesus told us to do, to be mindful of the least of the brethren, the people disenfranchised, the people pushed to the margins of society, those with incredible special needs, the poor, those struggling to find a job, the homeless—so many needs in East Dallas. Praise God the college hasn’t pulled up its roots and moved to the suburbs.”
The gala is the college’s biggest event of the year, meant to introduce new friends to the work they do and raise funds for various projects, among them student scholarships and the new residence hall currently under construction. In addition to her remarks accepting the award, Tada also appealed to the audience for financial support.
“God loves cheerful givers, and I think that also must mean he loves cheerful askers!” she said in her appeal. “And I’m so happy to ask on behalf of Criswell because I’m convinced that what they’re doing is God honoring and Christ glorifying.”
Hennings, who received the Christianity and Culture Award in addition to giving the keynote, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and flew 45 successful combat missions before entering the NFL. He drew on his history in the military and in professional sports to challenge the audience to live a life of legacy and make an impact for the kingdom of God.
From lessons learned both on and off the field he touched on the themes of preparation, analysis, accountability and execution. Although his exhortation wasn’t unique to the men in the room, many of his remarks dovetailed with the focus of the ministry he leads, called Wingmen, which challenges and men to be disciple-makers in the home and workplace.
As he wrapped up his speech he mentioned that the Promise Keepers organization is being resurrected, with its first large gathering to be held at AT&T Stadium in the summer of 2020, and he also challenged the attendees to be generous in their financial giving to Criswell.
Criswell College is a cooperating institution with the SBTC. For more information on the college, visit criswell.edu.