Missionary Families Find Rest and Hope at Family Retreat

By |Published On: April 17, 2023|Categories: Family Retreats|

Joanna and Alberto serve as missionaries in South Africa, focusing on prison ministry. They have four children: Ana (25), Isaac (23), Margaret (19), and Phoebe (15). Phoebe lives with Down syndrome, autism, and type 1 diabetes, and is a non-verbal communicator.

Daily Life with Disability

Life with Phoebe brings her family great joy, and also comes with unique challenges. Because she has no awareness of danger and is also very strong and determined, Phoebe needs constant supervision to keep her safe. Phoebe also has difficulty walking distances. As a result, she will often choose not to move herself even a few short paces.

Because of her type 1 diabetes, Phoebe’s food intake must be carefully managed and regulated to stabilize her unpredictable glucose levels. And though Phoebe’s health revolves around food, eating presents one of the greatest challenges to her family. Mealtimes can feel like a battle until all food is out of sight.

Providing the ongoing, round-the-clock care that Phoebe needs often proves exhausting for her parents. And outside the home, the family has endured years of difficulty and rejection while finding schools and other activities where Phoebe can experience a sense of belonging.  

Family Retreat: Providing Rest for Kingdom Workers

Yet with all the demanding care that Phoebe requires, her entire family is a beautiful example of steady patience. Even amid a meltdown or unsafe behaviors, Joanna surrounds Phoebe with soft, sweet singing. Just as her parents and siblings exude gentleness, Phoebe’s witness of Christ shines through her gentle spirit and gift for one-on-one connection. Phoebe loves to spend hours holding the silent, peaceful attention and eye contact of a friend.

Phoebe is a “connector,” a clear “kingdom-worker,” as her family puts it—a missionary in her own right.

But even a strong spirit-filled family like Phoebe’s needs help and rest as they navigate daily life with disability. While in New England on sabbatical from their work in South Africa, Joanna and Alberto felt a strong need for respite. And thankfully they also learned about Joni and Friends Family Retreat. Eager for rest, connection with other families navigating disability, and spiritual renewal, they signed up.

At Family Retreat Joanna and Alberto were stunned by the love their family received.

Joanna greeted Phoebe’s volunteer buddy with tears, marveling at her dedication and service. By the time Family Retreat ended, Joanna decided that she wants to serve at a Joni and Friends International Family Retreat one day, pouring God’s love and encouragement into other missionary families living with disability.

Please join us in praying for what God has in store for Joanna, Alberto, Phoebe, and their family. And support Joni and Friends New England to bring hands-on help and Gospel hope to missionaries and other families living with disability, both at home and abroad!

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