I said a long, long time ago on here that I would write down all of the adventures that I had as a first-time volunteer with Joni and Friends in a Family Retreat. That time was great and I learned a lot of things. But I can’t afford to tell the rest of the story in the style that I’ve thus far been using. Therefore I’m going to sum the rest up in one post.
On our second day, after a final “go ye” STM meeting before the campers would arrive (the theme of which was Psalm 23), we had a great big welcome party and an ice cream social afterwards. It was then that I met all of the campers at once.
All I could think was, “Whoa! We are going to have one challenging week!” At that moment, I could only see everyone there by how they looked on the outside. The families, having just arrived, were still getting situated; the dining hall was jammed with wheelchairs and hundreds of new people, a few young campers were overwhelmed and crying, many disabled conditions I found myself unable to identify, and I had no idea with whom I was supposed to sit.
But by the next day, I woke up each morning resolved and knowing that I simply would spend much of the day with tiny children and doing many things that were at their level. In spite of it not being as exciting, I grew content. This was my first childcare job outside of home; I decided to treat the kids like they were my siblings and roll with it and we would have fun.
My roommate got the best of both worlds. Her camper was a cheerful girl with spina bifida who was about nine years old and whom everyone loved to have around. I slowly began to realize that the Family Retreats were not just a ministry to the campers but to the STM’s as well. The campers were invited to open their hearts to Jesus. STMs who hadn’t done so already were invited to as well, and what could stir up compassion and action in us next more than getting to know the hearts of people who had suffered in far bigger ways than what we ourselves had ever known?
I watched over a nine-month old infant each morning. In the afternoons, when her mother (who was an STM leader) insisted that she would keep her instead, I sat with the other children and STMs in our group. An adventurous four-year-old boy named Noah played the most actively. Campbell, a little girl whom everyone was also fond of, played too, but her top priority was watching over her two older sisters who were seriously disabled and often overwhelmed by their circumstances. I admired Cam very much because it turned out to be the most difficult thing for me to sit with a child who couldn’t speak nor move easily nor indicate that she could hear what I was saying. But if I was given another chance, today I would treat Cam’s sisters and individuals similar to them just like how she treated them. I learned an important thing or two from that family about compassion.
The dignity of shyness was out of the question at Family Retreat. In the afternoons, STMs and campers alike were free to do scheduled activities together, and boy was it fun! We were all the same on the inside, being souls created in the image of God, and outside differences and limitations didn’t matter so much. In the evenings there were special activities too. I will never forget the dance in which everyone participated, the outrageously fun shaving cream fight, and the finale: the campers’ talent show. Nobody’s talent was analyzed exactly; what really mattered was the time that we spent laughing and being down to earth and kind to each other.
Sometimes there were tears. During mealtimes and leisurely hours, I made friends with others, among them being campers who were not in my group. One family explained to me their backstory. They were a mother and her two grown-up daughters, all alone and very dependent on God and each other. Our brief time together made it clear that I myself hadn’t known true hardship in my lifetime. But their lives were hard. Joni and Friends was no doubt an enormous blessing to them, and that was all that I could say. I also learned that two young boys from different families in the Red Group were suffering from terminal illnesses. All at once, I wanted to love them both dearly.
I have a million more memories, including the two-year-old camper with Downe’s Syndrome who applied joy to just about everything, the happiest tae-kwan-do student ever, fellow STMs who could keep company with a perpetually unhappy children for hours on end, the worshipful singing, the dancing like this was the best week in all of the world, and the realization that it wasn’t me in myself who could love, but Jesus Himself Who could love through me.
If we believe in Jesus biblically, we are free to let our hair down in spite of ourselves and be a part of whatever good thing has been meant for the people around us! That’s amazing!
On the last day, its greatest significance that I can remember was when I hugged each of my new friends goodbye. Looking back, all I can say is that would be a NEW best week in all of the world if I ever got to see them again.
I might recount other specific incidents from JaF adventures in later blog posts, but this is the end for now of a series of posts specifically about that event in the summer of 2017.
2 thoughts on “The Rest of a JaF Family Retreat from a First-Time Volunteer’s P.O.V.”
This is lovely and well written! Made me smile!
If only you had been able to see everything for yourself…