Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

Global Access–For All

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In a week’s time, I will have the privilege of attending the Joni and Friends’ Global Access Conference in California. It is the first of its kind and they are expecting a thousand attendees from 44 countries.
A thousand people who are in the midst of working to change the church in regards to disability ministries.
A thousand people who understand the importance of spreading the Gospel to all people, no matter their ‘ability.’
I look forward to the opportunity of talking to these men and women who have caught the vision already. Men and women I won’t have to try and convince of the importance of ministering to the disabled. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from these veterans.
I’ll get the chance to sit in workshops like, “Christ, Demons, Disability,” “Disability and Bioethics,” and “Using Every Spiritual Gift: People with Disabilities Ministering in the Church.” I get to hear Joni Eareckson Tada and Nick Vujicic, two influential people in my faith as well as my passion for this topic, not to mention being able to hear three authors whose books were literally Godsends when I was working on my thesis.
The beauty of being able to worship with men and women who the world decrees different, and being able to join with them to create a difference is staggering. I am so excited to be able to participate in this learning experience and be able to add my voice.
God has given me the amazing gift to be able to go to this conference. I can’t wait to see what comes from attending.
God has blessed me greatly.

Elizabeth-Elliot-quote

Joni and Friends Camp revisited

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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.
They succeeded.
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—}
http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/