Serving at a Joni and Friends Family Camp

Hey all!  You may have noticed that last week there was no new blog post. Well, it was because I was up in Oregon serving at Joni and Friends family camp.  If you don’t know what Joni and Friends is, it’s an organization for families that are affected by disabilities.  Today I thought I’d share with you all a bit about this amazing ministry opportunity I had and share some pictures.
Way back at the beginning of summer God began to put on my heart the desire to serve Hin during the summer and go on some sort of mission trip.  But I had no idea where to start in terms of where to go and serve.  Literally, the next day after God put this desire in my heart God brought this camp to my attention.  A couple of girls from my church serve at this camp every year and I knew that this was the place God where asking me to serve.  It’s hard to believe that my week of serving at this camp is already come and gone.  I was praying for my time at this camp all summer and now it is over and in the past.
I can’t begin to even describe how much I was blessed by this amazing experience. I made many new and dear friends and was filled with God’s strength to serve all the families that came to the camp.  As I reflect on my time I want to share a few things that really stood out time as I served.

Bathed in prayer

The first thing I want to share is that I was overwhelmed with how much this camp was saturated in prayer.  Before the families come to camp the volunteers go through a day (and a half) of training to learn how to serve people with disabilities.  Working with disabilities was a new experience for me and I’m so thankful for the way this organization took time to educate us all on how to be God’s hands of service to all the families that would come.  Right before the families came to the camp all of the volunteers gathered for an extended time of prayer.  The leaders all stood in the back and one by one they laid hands on and prayed for each volunteer individually.  My heart was just so overwhelmed with how many prayers went into preparing for this camp.  I felt all my fears melt away as we prayed and I was filled with a calmness and readiness to serve. Each morning and evening as the camp was going we would gather in prayer.  It was truly beautiful to see how much this place and all the families were being bathed in prayer.

Christ-like service and humility

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
Another unique aspect about serving at this camp that stood out to me was the way in which we were serving.  Each volunteer was paired up with a person who had a disability or with a sibling of a person with a disability.  Our role was to be a buddy with that person each day and assist/join them in all the activities at camp.  This allowed the parents to have time to rest and relax.  As I served my camper (Mackenzie, a twenty-three-year-old girl affected by autism) it struck me that the way I was serving was unique to other ways I’ve served.  In order to serve, I had to lay aside any thoughts or plans I had for how I wanted my day to go.  Instead, it was simply my job to be with my camper and join her in whatever she desired to do.  And for my camper that meant sitting with her and listening to Micheal Jackson songs over and over again or listening to how she is obsessed with a certain cat that is famous on Facebook.
It took a lot of patience on my part, but I have never served in such a humble way and it made me think of Christ when he willingly laid down his life to save us.  This last week at camp I felt like I met God in a new way as I laid aside my desires in such a self-sacrificing way to serve.

A little slice of heaven

The last thing I want to share is how I was also blessed by serving all the families that were affected by disabilities.  Each time we worshiped the Lord together everyone was encouraged to worship God in whatever way they desired.  A bin of instruments and streamers was at the front for everyone to use.  It melted my heart to see all the children and even adults affected by disabilities up there praising God and worshiping in their unique way.  One young man who was affected by severe seizures would go up on stage to sing praises to Jesus with the worship band.  I even had to privilege to speak with his mother and she shared how when he was born the doctors said he would never speak.  But here he was standing on stage unable to stop singing praises to the Lord.
I was filled with awe to see how the disabilities these people struggled with, which are usually looked down upon in the world, was a beautiful addition to worshiping the Lord.  The way everyone worshiped was so raw and pure and I’m am quite certain that God was smiling down on all of his beautiful children praising Him.  During the training for this camp, the leaders talked about how this camp allows us to experience what is called “a little slice of heaven”.  Each day when we gathered together and worshiped God together was my “little slice of heaven”.  My heart has never been so full of love and joy for the Lord and his people as it was in those moments.  Serving the families affected by disabilities at this camp has been one of the most fulfilling and joy-filled weeks of my life.

If you have never heard of Joni and Freinds I would encourage you to visit their site and learn more about how you can help this organization (Joni and Freinds Website).  I was so blessed by my time as a volunteer and I pray that God will allow me to return again next year to serve in this way again.  Each family retreat is limited to how many families can come because they need to have enough volunteers for each camper.  The need for serving is great and I hope that if you read this blog post you might consider how you could help this ministry or even serve as a volunteer if the Lord moves you in that direction.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:4-8

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