"Don't give up – hope is everything," says limbless evangelist

By Johnny Dodd
Updated December 04, 2014 04:35 PM
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Credit: Nathan Milnik

Nick Vujicic may have been born without limbs, but in the wicked-sense-of-humor department, he’s blessed. “Kids are curious about me,” Vujicic tells PEOPLE with a laugh. “Whenever they come up and ask, ‘What happened?’ I tell them, ‘Cigarettes.'”

For the past 15 years, the Australian-born Vujicic, whose lack of arms and legs is the result of an extremely rare congenital condition called Tetra-amelia syndrome, has used his humor and faith to inspire millions of people. The 32-year-old motivational dynamo now jets around the globe, speaking to packed stadiums of 100,000, meeting with world leaders and writing bestselling books.

“My message,” says Vujicic, who contemplated suicide as a child, “has always been love yourself, dream big, don’t give up and hope is everything.”

An evangelical Christian who first started sharing his charismatic message with audiences when was 17, Vujicic grew up hoping he’d one day find love, but constantly wondered, “Who would want to marry me?” His latest memoir, Love Without Limits, answers that question, chronicling his relationship with Kanae Miyahara, 26, whom he married in 2012, and his journey to fatherhood.

“My wife is my miracle,” says Vujicic, who lives in Los Angeles. When he’s not touring the world he can often be found towing his 20-month-old son, Kiyoshi, (in a trailer) behind his motorized wheelchair – which he controls using a joystick he operates with the two toes on his lower torso.

Equally miraculous for Vujicic these days is the feeling he gets when his young son wraps his tiny arms around him and squeezes tight. “There’s nothing better than a hug,” he says. “For me, it’s a feeling of joy, completeness, a full circle for someone who once had no hope.”

Read more about Nick Vujicic’s inspiring life in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday