I just got back from serving as an STM (short term missionary) for a week at Joni and Friends. For those of you who haven’t heard of this ministry, we are trained to be a buddy for a child with special needs for about four days. We participate with them in activities such as Bible study, arts and crafts, fishing, swimming, dancing, and a talent show. While we are watching the children, there are programs for the parents to go to and relax. I often heard that instead of going fishing or to the lake, the parents enjoyed just going back to their rooms and taking a nap because they didn’t get a chance to do that all year long.
I was paired up with a 9 year old boy who had aspergers and ADHD. The first couple days were smooth sailing but the last full day of camp came with some difficulties. My camper was non-compliant and physically aggressive and I wanted to give up. When my patience was wearing thing and I just wanted to walk away, I kept trying to remind myself of his mom. She’s raising him on her own–the father wasn’t in the picture, she works full-time, and is also busy at school furthering her degree. I don’t know how she does it all but I was determined that camp would be a blessing and a relaxing break for her.
The last morning came with a session where the parents could share how camp had impacted them. It was such an encouragement to see mothers and fathers getting up and sharing how many years they’d been bringing their families to camp and how they were looking forward to coming back next year. But the biggest blessing of all came when my camper himself stood up and raised his hand. When the microphone was handed to him, he said: “This was my first year at camp and I didn’t know what to expect. But I had a great time and I made new friends.” Then he turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “And I want to thank my STM, Addi.” Let me just say the tears were forming. His mom turned to me and said that he’d never talked in front of people before. Crowds scared him and he wasn’t a big talker.
Galatians 6:9-10 comes to mind: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
During that last session, the camp pastor read Philippians 4:11 which says: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Many of the parents at this camp were a wonderful representation of this verse. They have learned to be content whatever the circumstances–whether or not their daughter will ever be able to say their name or their son will be able to see their face. Whether or not their child will ever walk or ever be independent. When the medical bills are piling up or another scare takes them back to the hospital. When another surgery becomes necessary. When their second or even third child is also born with autism or another disability.
I’m thankful for my time at Joni and Friends. I always go to camp ready to serve and be a blessing but when I get there I end up being blessed far more than I can ever return. The child-like faith and openness, the hugs and love from all of the campers reminds me that in some aspects of life, they are so much farther ahead than I will ever be.