I’m Heidi Shuler, and this is how I’m living deeply through volunteering (now 10 years!) at Joni & Friends Family Retreat.
Do you want a glimpse of Heaven this side of eternity? Do you want to be a part of the most amazing talent show IN THE WORLD, to experience Jesus in a way you’ve never imagined, and be a part of the most hilarious burping contest EVAH? If so, join us at Joni & Friends (JAF) Family Retreat. The first time I experienced JAF, I went for the day with my friend LeeAnn Furrow Tolsma and our kids. We helped with the children’s program. I was asked to help with a non-verbal, non-ambulatory 12-year-old. (I had a 12-year-old who was a non-stop soccer-playing, lake-swimming kid.) For this week, the parents of that sweet girl were given the only free time they’d get that year. JAF is like a great big family – so many volunteers return year after year, all raising their own money to help serve. Many of the families return year after year, too. You form immediate bonds. Throughout the week, the moms get to meet, and the dads meet. The kids have their own space with their own volunteer. I lead the group Young at Hearts. It’s the special needs group that ranges in age from 18 to 50s. Let me tell you about 3 special people:
First, Carrie. Carrie has cerebral palsy and the most amazing smile. If you don’t know Carrie, she is challenging to understand. But let me tell you: ANYONE can understand her sweet, Jesus-filled heart when she sings Amy Grant in the talent show!
Then there’s Dee. Dee is in a wheelchair and blind. She will challenge anyone in Bible trivia and win. When I asked her what Heaven would be like, she said, ‘I’m going win a foot race with my dad!’ Dee was the proud winner of the paper plate musical chairs competition last year.
Finally, Bruce. Bruce and his sweet mama drive from Florida so he can experience camp. Bruce has severe cerebral palsy, but the most amazing smile in the world. He’s confined to a wheelchair. But last year, Bruce experienced his first water slide! It took about 6 men to get this accomplished. When Bruce came down the slide, half the camp was there taking pictures. His laugh and smile said it all.
Every year we have a dance. And honey, you have not experienced a dance until you’ve come to JAF! It’s wheelchairs, non-verbal campers, parents, little kids, and grandmas all sharing the joy of Jesus through dance, joy, and conga-lines. But the most amazing part of JAF is worship- the total opposite of a traditional worship service. It is full of people worshipping and praising in their own special way and space. No one is stared at. No one is judged. Everyone is loved. Y’all come and help out. Experience the most magical week of your life. It’s a place that’s impossible to understand until you’ve experienced it. Come join us!!!
NOTE: This year, for the first time, Joni & Friends Family Retreat will be two weeks (July 16-20 and July 22-26) instead of just one. CSPC will provide a team of camp volunteers July 21-26.
Would you prayerfully consider serving in this way? Check out this link to learn more. https://cspc.net/events/joni-friends-service-trip/