The hall grew quietly thick with Short Term Missionaries on their way to the lounge area, where more unexpected surprises would happen. It had been a long day full of traveling, meeting each other, and listening under intense training sessions in preparation for when the real campers who were on their actual vacations would come. I dried my tears from the crying that I had done only minutes ago which a gracious fellow STM helped me to stop.
The schedule had said “Campfire”, but word got around that the STMs would not enjoy that outdoor treat this year. Instead an electronic campfire screen was rolled into the room to aid the cozy atmosphere, and that worked in its own way. I found a place to sit on the floor, between and almost obscurely behind two occupied chairs and with two very rich and crumbly cookies that I had selected within my reach.
A presentation began to play on the screen: a photographic documentary of someone’s life, starting from when she had been a baby. She had had an accident at a very young age and since then spent her life in the hospital and later in a wheelchair. But she had reasons nevertheless to laugh and love and did in fact get married further down the road. She was a quadriplegic much like Joni Eareckson Tada herself only a whole other person whose life God had simply chosen to change through a similar experience. She was in fact present in the room: the first camper to arrive, a quiet-voiced and smiling lady in a deep-seated chair on mechanical wheels.
Our trainers reminded us that, like her, many other campers were to likely come with traumatic histories that had shaped them physically and cognitively to what they would be when we would soon see them. Our trainers also reminded us that in spite of this, each disabled individual had a soul often independent from their circumstances that could be revealed in many different ways: in the first camper’s case, she could communicate on social media and reveal through the process someone whom no online stranger could even guess lived inside of a wheelchair.
Every person has either a fist gravitated up against God or a heart that is beating more and more in time with His own because He saved their souls and they now know and love Him. Every person here covers every member of the disabled community as well. Their seeming unresponsiveness to their situations at times or their struggles to understand the basic world around them or their intense levels of dependency at times can be a mask to the reality of the one thing that we all have in common with their side of the world, and that thing is the spirit of life that separates us from animals while bonding us each in one way or another forever to our Maker, God.
I would keep this truth in mind about people with disabilities, but only after spending two or three days with a whole campful of them as opposed to simply the imaginary one whom I’d been expecting would I truly begin to grasp it.
We had a volunteer pastor who would minister to us as well as to the campers’ families. I worried at first that his teaching would be too liberal for our benefit, but I was wrong. He led a devotional right after the presentation. It was about prayer. He encouraged us to grow connected to God by having special prayer times with Him, to talk to Him intimately, and to also read the Bible to receive His intimate answers. Strength to do our assignments–to be the hands and feet of Jesus–to love–could come from nowhere else but God Himself. He talked about different kinds of prayer such as praise, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession, and he had their names posted on large sheets of paper in different places about the neighboring room. He asked us to file into that room and take turns at the different sheets of paper praying to God in the manners as shown about what was on our minds.
I took the opportunity in full to put my mind at rest about the people standing all about me whom I was unused to, praising God for His goodness even if I couldn’t understand or see it in places where it existed, and confessing my poor attitude about my assignment. I asked once again for Him to love my charge and give me care for him or her and anybody else whom I would meet. I was especially grateful for the new friends I had started to make among my fellow STMs.
Afterwards, the curfew announced to take place in thirty minutes as well as my anxiety to get to know my roommate, get myself some sleep, and most importantly call Mom or Dad quickly summoned me out of the building and toward the hotel rooms. The others stood around and talked because my idea of the curfew, that all lights in our rooms had to then be off and everybody then was required to be in bed, was on the extreme side, and they all knew better than me. and I was furthermore still unwilling to be vulnerable to them all at once.
Fellow STMs, I never mean to do that again.