For an hour, the young evangelist with the booming voice scarcely moved — only moving across the surface of the simple plastic folding table from one end to the other, playfully teetering on the edge at times.
He never waved arms, never lifted his Bible into the air, only occasionally finding passages in the gilded Bible on the table with his two toes.
“I stand before you today as a miracle of God,” said Nick Vujicic, a 24-year-old Australian who was born without arms or legs, just a vestigial left foot that allowed him to bounce, move freely and navigate his customized wheelchair.
For an hour, he had more than 700 people at Gateway Fellowship Church in Gilbert mesmerized by his unflappable belief that he was God’s creation with a clear purpose.
“By the end of this service, you are going to be jealous of my life,” he said wryly. Blending stories of freely traveling the world without limbs, he made himself an example that being human is a rich experience, even if he is mostly limited to a head and torso. “I am a motivational speaker, preacher-evangelist, real estate investor, stock market investor and writer of a book,” he explained. Vujicic has spoken live to about 1.7 million people in 12 countries in the past 2 1/2 years and tens of millions via TV.
“I can smile. You can’t undo my joy, you can’t undo my faith,” he said.
“I feel the joy, strength and victory in my life,” he proclaimed, as he repeatedly told his audience that “God is your friend,” worthy of being praised through the hardest times. Again and again, he told people to look past daily setbacks and complaints and recognize God’s constant love for them.
Vujicic, who recently moved to California from Brisbane, Australia, had spoken at three services Sunday in Fullerton, Calif., arriving just in time to preach that night in the first of three straight evenings of a Christian revival at the Gilbert church, “but I flew the plane as fast as I could to get here,” he joked.
Just once, he said, he wants to wear a pilot’s uniform, stand outside the cockpit as passengers board and welcome them with words that he is their pilot. Once, he quipped, his 75-pound body was popped into a plane’s overhead compartment, where he soon greeted a passenger with “Boo!” He has posted photos of that on his MySpace profile.
“When people see me for the first time, they sort of freak out, especially the children,” he said. “A little boy comes up to me one day and goes, ‘What happened?,’ so I said, ‘Cigarettes.’ ” Another time a 2 1/2-year-old girl was asked to give Vujicic a hug. She thought it through, then put her hands tightly behind her back “and she hugged me with her neck,” he said.
Vujicic, an avid swimmer, repeatedly joked about his foot, calling it “my chicken drumstick” and “my Beemer — my BMW,” then proceeded to bounce quickly from one end of the table to the other. He also showed how he can spin like a top and deftly toss a tennis ball with his foot. “I can write with my foot — I can type 23 words a minute on a normal computer,” he boasted. In the works is a book he plans to call “No Arms, No Legs, No Worries.” He has a Web site (www.lifewithoutlimbs.com) and a DVD of his story that, he boasted, is so popular in some parts of the world, it is illegally copied and sold on the black market. Still, the good that comes from it, he said, is “people get fed” with his Christian message.
“From life without limbs to life without limits!” is his mantra.
Vujicic, the first child born to a pastor and his midwife mother in December 1982 in Melbourne, commonly tells groups that being born without arms and legs gets him through doors he otherwise could never go in. Vujicic told the audience that, in Indonesia with an 80 percent Muslim population and with bans on Christian proselytizing, he was, nevertheless, invited to give his testimony in a major prison. “You are not allowed to preach in a prison — except me,” he said, attributing it to God’s will.
“I am not happy 24 hours a day seven days a week,” he admitted. “I have problems of my own” and many have nothing to do with his physical limitations, he said. Yet, he said his stresses and anxieties are eclipsed by other people’s challenges and despair. “Let me ask you: If God answered every one of your prayers right now, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, where would your joy be? … Is God not good now? Is God not worthy of your praise, now?”
Vujicic, who said no explanation has been found for his condition, spoke of his hope to find someone to fall in love with and marry. “I have said to God, ‘Even if I did marry, I can’t even hold my wife’s hands. I am not every going to be able to dance with my bride on our wedding night.’ ”
“When we have children, how am I going to put my arms around my kids when they are crying?” Vujicic wondered aloud. “All these things run through my mind.” He said every human who ever lived has wanted love.
People, he said, tell him that it doesn’t matter whether he will be able hold his wife’s hand someday: “You don’t need hands to hold her heart.”
“Aren’t you jealous of my life yet?” he asked the audience. “You are seeing that I am living a purpose. God has a purpose for you.” Shouting and leaning intently forward, Vujicic said, “God has a purpose for you to love. To love people. There are people in hospitals who want visits. There are hungry people waiting to be fed. Find a means for that to love them. Do you know how to do that? That is what the church is for.”
Vujicic was invited to the Gilbert church after 25 people from Gateway Fellowship went in July to a student leadership conference at Saddleback Community Church in California, and participants were overwhelmed by his message, said Jay Baysinger, Gateway’s student pastor. “He captured the hearts and the attitudes of all the students.”
When a speaker was needed for Gateway’s revival, they enlisted Vujicic, who is in high demand, Baysinger said.
“He is a inspiration,” said 11-year-old Amanda Colavido of Mesa. “I think a lot of people should be like him.” Added her sister, Ashley, 13, “He is really a true person who speaks the real true word about God.”
Judy Lemons of Mesa said her three grandchildren were “very curious” to see Vujicic.
“I think he will be a real witness to the children of this church,” she said. “He is using what the Lord has given him,” she said.
About 50 people went forward in an altar call at the end of the evening, and Vujicic called on them to transform themselves into lovers of the Lord and servants to all who cross their paths.