It’s been nearly a month already since the first day of camp. Time has been slipping through my hands as I had to quickly start packing up my apartment and making the move home. (This is a story for another time. God‘s doing something big, just don’t know what yet! 🙂 )
I promised at least one more post, if not more, on what I learned and experienced while serving at the Twin Rocks Joni and Friends Camp in August. I still seem to be struggling with the right words to use. I keep using “Beautiful”, “Amazing”, “Awe-inspiring.”
Weak words for the depth of life I felt there.
It is interesting trying to explain what I saw to people. There are two types of people I interact with, much like anyone who deals with disabilities. There are the people who have a ton of experience with disabilities because they live it, breathe it, speak it, and touch it everyday of their life. Then there are those who have little to no true interaction with any person who has a disability.
It is easier to talk to someone who has some experienced with the disabled culture, than one that has not. It’s because they themselves have interacted with the beauty of simple acceptance in the midst of worldly discomfort. The ‘Typicals’ (people who are not disabled) may not have ever been in a place to communicate with someone who they deem to be ‘different.’
At camp, it wasn’t about being different. It wasn’t about being normal, bizarre, ordinary, strange, regular, or extraordinarily. It was not about what you were like, how you acted, how you spoke, how you moved, how you dressed, or who you knew. This camp was not about what you could do for me, or what I could do for you.
This camp was extraordinary for the simple fact that it managed to strip away all the worldly distractions somehow and boil it down to the most simplistic view I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
You are human and you are loved by God.
That is what this camp was about. In the midst of taking care of the child who was disabled or giving the one on one personal interaction desperately needed by a typical sibling, there was this life affirming belief being shown. “I love you because God loves you.”
Many parents have had to struggle with ‘well-meaning’ people who see their child as being less than human. They almost have to fight for the right, so their children can be seen as a human being. At this camp, they didn’t have to fight to have their child noticed and accepted. They simply were, with open arms.
Each family as they entered the campground, was welcomed with shouts of joy and personalized banners. Their Short-Term Missionaries (STMs) were the first to meet them when the doors were opened. All this excitement for people who are for the most part quietly shunned by the outside world. Acceptance was given before they even got out of the car.
I had the chance to see a little bit of what the STMs did to get ready for their campers. Families had filled out a detailed questionnaire about what the camper’s special needs were (disability, allergies, medical, behavioral etc), what they like in ways of activities, interests, favorite colors, and any other piece of information (such as fears) that can help the STM get ready. They then had a small lecture that was an overview of typical aspects of that disability (Such as ‘most’ people with Down Syndrome, Autism, quadriplegia, Cerebral Palsy ect… might react like this:…) But, it is also driven home that every person we deal with is an individual. We cannot put them in a perfect box and expect them to act the same way as every other person with that disability. That is not how the world works. That is not how camp works.
A good portion of STMs meshed well with their campers, others had what might be called difficult campers who didn’t interact well. Mostly this was due to certain aspects of their disability. One story that was related said that a STM who had a particularly difficult camper, had a horrible week. But when he was asked if he would serve again, he said, “I would have the worst week of my life so they can have the best of theirs.” That is the type of attitude that most STMs had. I think that is what made the difference in how the camp felt.
Even I was embraced by the acceptance of the camp. As part of the leadership, I was entering into what I saw as a tricky position. I needn’t have worried. I came into the camp as at the request of the director of the Southern Oregon chapter of Joni and Friends. He had come to my seminary to talk about the ministry for the class I was leading last spring. We had continued to communicate and I eventually was prompted/persuaded to step way out of my comfort zone and serve at the camp.
Best decision of my life.
The director and his wife, along with the rest of the leadership were extremely helpful and so eager to put me at ease. These people have been working together for the last four years and here I come to participate as an administrative assistant with no clue about what I was doing. There could have been the usual cliquish attitude of them creating a united front against the newcomer, instead there were smiles and hugs.
This translated into the actual camp where veteran campers welcomed me equally as any new camper. They were excited to see a new face and eager to make me love it.
I can’t wait to get the chance to go back. I have no clue where I might be in a year or what I might be doing, but I have a strong feeling that God is going to clear the way to make sure I am back there come next August.
Joni and Friends camp, a place where everyone is loved.
Matthew 25:34-36: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Highly recommended links:
For families who are interested in learning more about the Family Retreats please go here —} http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-families/
For people interested in volunteering your time and money please go here—}