God Calls His People to Love the Vulnerable, Defend the Weak, and Bring Those the World Forgets into His House

By |Published On: September 11, 2023|Categories: Family Retreats|
Jessica seated in her wheelchair at Family Retreat smiling with her mom Julia leaning in next to her.

“Are we going back yet? We are coming back, right? We wanna come back, can we?” 

David and Julia heard questions like these all the way home from their first Family Retreat. Their three daughters, including seven-year-old Jessica who lives with spina bifida, were so taken with Family Retreat that they couldn’t stop talking about it! They’d never had a vacation like it—in a place where they all felt loved, included, and celebrated.

A picture of Jessica as a little girl giving Joni a hug around the neck as they're both seated in their wheelchairs and smiling at the camera.

Finding Friendships that Last

Before Family Retreat Jessica had learned that she would have a one-on-one volunteer throughout the week. She’d hoped her volunteer would be a “cool teenager.”

But God had other plans, and Jessica got paired with an older lady named Nancy. The two bonded quickly, forging a friendship destined to last. By Jessica’s ninth birthday, she and Nancy were still friends.

And Nancy sent Jessica a hand-made quilt—a “sick day quilt” to cuddle up in for comfort. Now, years later, Jessica still treasures her quilt.

While Jessica has always known the love of home and church, the bonds formed at Family Retreat have an extra element of meaning. Within the Joni and Friends community, families like David and Julia’s—and individuals like Jessica—feel true belonging among people who “get it” about life with disability. Because of this, Jessica felt called by God to give back, helping others discover the blessing of the Family Retreat experience…

“It’s not disability ministry until the disabled are ministering.”

Joni Eareckson Tada

David and Julia brought their family back to Family Retreat several times. Then, when she was old enough, Jessica decided she wanted to serve as a volunteer. Since then she has enjoyed multiple roles, including helping with crafts, photography, drama teams, and children’s music. One highlight for Jessica has been coaching volunteers on how best to communicate with the campers they get paired with, drawing from her own experiences and insight into disability.

For Jessica, serving at Family Retreat is an opportunity to watch new families and volunteers begin the week not really knowing what to expect—and then seeing the connections and understanding that have formed by the end of the week.

What happens at Family Retreat?

As Jessica can tell you, many life-changing things happen at Family Retreat:

  • Isolated people find belonging and friendship.
  • Weary parents get respite and refreshment.
  • Whole families hear and experience the Gospel.

But the ministry of Joni and Friends doesn’t end with the last day of Family Retreat. Throughout the year, we work to reach families where they are, connect them with churches, and equip churches to be God’s hands and feet to people living with disability.

You can help Joni and Friends change lives!

“Go out quickly in the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame…. Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”

Luke 14:21, 23 (NIV)

God calls his people to love the vulnerable, defend the weak, and bring those the world forgets into his house.

Our Doing Life Together resource can help you and your church carry out this call by combatting isolation, meeting practical needs, and building community for people navigating disability.

When you give to support Joni and Friends, you make disability ministry possible, in Ohio and across the globe. And families like Jessica’s discover new hope, meaning, and purpose in Christ.

A child smiling

Support Joni and Friends Ohio

Your generous gift today will bring Gospel hope to people with disabilities.

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