Upon arriving at Camp Allen, my first year to serve with Joni and Friends, I felt spiritually, physically, and emotionally unprepared. After retiring to my room that first night, I knew that I was placed with the siblings in the Pre-K or JAM (Jesus And Me) group. There was peace in that. I am richly blessed to be the oldest of six children, going all the way down to a three-year-old. I would feel right at home surrounded by all those active little ones. The Lord’s ways are unknown and beautiful, He is ever faithful to teach me those lessons I least expect. Where taking care of a challenged camper would have definitely stretched me, the Lord had other tools in store for that purpose.
The JAM room (nursery) where we played games, watched, and loved on the campers was the same room in which the younger siblings of campers joined us. It was a wonderful blessing to be able to spend time with the siblings while still being available to help with campers if any needs arose. For several meals throughout the week, I sat with another STM’s camper and her family. Angie (5 years old) has one of the most beautiful smiles, and despite being non-verbal, the joy that emanates from her communicates more than words ever could. This was her family’s first year, but they declared that they would be coming every year after this! Seeing families so refreshed by the Spirit of Christ that lives and breathes throughout camp was amazing. And to think that I could be a part of that was more than humbling. During the three full days of camp, I was able to laugh with and snuggle several little children, all of whom helped me to see the truly precious gift I had: that is, to serve such tender hearts.
Yet what the Lord really used to stretch me and cause me to seek His face anew each and every moment were those I had the privilege to serve alongside. Within only a few days after arriving for training, a couple different conversations arose that caused me to depend on my Father in new ways. I was asked questions about the way I chose to live out my faith. I was able to share things with those around me, and all because Christ chose to shine brightly. In my weakness, when I felt utterly helpless, I had nothing to offer. In those moments, God became everything, ALL I had to lean upon, ALL I had to offer. There was nothing left of me, only HIM. Oh, to be thus confronted and helpless always! 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The last two days of camp I had the joy of getting to know another camper and her family. Jenna just turned four and is a precious girl with Down Syndrome. Some of my happiest moments were spent walking with her up and down the grassy slope outside the chapel, swinging her high, and watching her whole face wreathed in smiles. She is sensitive to loud noises, but I found that through talking calmly and quietly in her ear while holding her close, she was able to feel comfortable.
On our drive home, a fellow passenger asked if I had one word to describe my time at Joni and Friends. After thinking a moment, “AMAZING” was the word that seemed to best fit. I know it is a vague description, but that is simply because the Lord chose to work so mightily that week in so many ways. I will certainly never forget all His great mercies, nor those wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ who so faithfully prayed for all of us. Your prayers and love were felt in many ways; thank you so much!
As the Lord continues to lead, I will definitely seek His will as to whether He would have me attend next year. Until then, it is my prayer that His work will continue in the lives of all those who had the blessing to be at Family Retreat and that His presence will be felt for the rest of their lives.
Isaiah 32:18-19 – “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”