Arika Johnson believes that everything happens for a reason.
At 12 years old, she’s endured a number of personal challenges – all of which she claims have helped her to grow stronger – and shares her message of hope, perseverance and trust in God with her peers.
She recently spoke at an event hosted by Savannah Christian Church’s middle school ministry, Blitz. There, she addressed 500 students and their adult advisors.
“I wanted to tell people that, even through really hard times, you can still make it and it’s not for nothing,” said Arika. “I wanted to tell them that it was going to be OK, and I wanted to connect to them and say ‘you’re not the only one.’”
When she was just 13 months old, Arika had a large tumor in her right eye, surrounded by cancer cells. Her doctors and family opted to remove the eye rather than risk the cancer spreading to her brain.
“I think my family and I grew a little wiser when that happened,” said the sixth-grader. “Life seems pretty good, and then something huge hits either you or a family member, and you know that life is a little bit more fragile than you first interpreted it as.”
Arika, who now wears a prosthetic eye, gets annual checkups and has been cancer-free since the operation.
But other challenges followed. At age 7, Arika had a grand mal seizure lasting 45 minutes. According to Arika, most seizures last about five minutes, and she considers herself lucky to still have faull brain function. She saw her parents divorce, and made the cross-country move from Montana to Georgia with her family when her military stepdad was assigned here. She’s been through the middle school-gamut of teasing on account of her prosthetic eye, short hair, and bookishness.
“I finally reached my breaking point,” said Arika.
When she got home on a particularly tough day, however, she stumbled across a verse from the Bible, one of many penned on sticky notes on her bathroom mirror.
“It was Romans 5: 3-5, and that was ‘rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.’ And I realized, even though I’m suffering, I’ll be stronger because of it and I have God always with me,” she said.
Arika, who enjoys writing in her free time, has learned that, through sharing her experiences and difficulties, she may inspire and help others.
“You are never alone. There’s always someone there for you and there always will be. Be it in physical form or God, either one, they’re always there for you and they’re always going to pull you up from your knees when you’re at your weakest point.”
To see a video of Arika’s speech at “Blitz Got Talent” at Savannah Christian Church, visit http://vimeo.com/channels/blitztv/page:2.