I spent the last week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon‘s Family Retreat.
I’ve been sitting here, trying to figure out the best way to explain what I saw, felt, and experienced, but everything that seems to come to mind seems a bit dull, flat, and not exactly right.
How do I explain the acceptance? The compassion? The love? The peace?
How do I explain the power of watching a young man who rarely if ever touches another human being, dancing and laughing? And watching his mother cry with joy at being able to see it?
How do I begin to explain Joni and Friends family retreat?
This camp in action is what the Church should always be.
Camp is where I had the awesome pleasure of watching 106 people pay a mini fortune to come and serve strangers. Young children, teens, twenty-somethings, and people upwards to seventy, gave their money and time to serve strangers. This was not a camp where people could come to do a couple of things and then have a free vacation. They came to work hard. And work hard they truly did. These people worked all day long with only one small break, being one hundred percent focused on the camper.
Not only were they focused on the camper who had a disability, but they were focused on the typical sibling. It was a time when every person in the family could be truly acknowledged for who they were.
Watching the interactions between these vastly different people was eye-opening. Going through school, I have heard more than once that certain disabilities were just too disruptive to have in the classrooms. Churches quietly shun them by offering tv rooms so that the disruptive noises are reduced and removed from ‘proper worship.’ But at camp? Campers who had Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Autism, different varieties of physical or Intellectual/Developmental disabilities to just name a few, celebrated life together in a way that was just truly Godly.
These campers were not loved because of what they could give to someone or do for the camp. They were loved solely for the reason that they were children of God.
Churches need to take a look at how they are run. Do they truly love those who come broken into their doorways simply because they see them as a child of God? Or are we looking for what we can gain by allowing them into circles?
I wish every person I know would serve in a Joni and Friends camp, because we will finally feel what true acceptance is like. What being loved without expectations can do to change our perceptions of the world. And crave the coming Kingdom of God even deeper.
What was camp like? A small taste of the coming wonder in heaven.