Ministry Continues Beyond International Family Retreats

  • By: Joni and Friends
  • April 10, 2014
  • Christian Institute on Disability, Family Retreats

AmberSome plant, some water, but God makes it grow!
~1 Corinthians 3:6

Joni and Friends’ International Family Retreats provide families affected by disability a week of encouragement, rest and lots of FUN. But what happens when the wheelchairs have been distributed and the Bibles handed out? When the crafts have been packed away and loaded alongside suitcases headed back to America? A lot! In many countries, people with disabilities face crushing poverty, social stigma and isolation. While one week of ministry is a welcome respite, we know it is crucial to follow-up and continue coming alongside these families. Kevin, one of our in-country partners in China, goes the extra mile to ensure that life-changing ministry doesn’t end on the last day of an International Family Retreat.

Amber has a physical disability that limits her ability to walk, but has no impact on her mental capacity. When Amber reached school-age her family was devastated when her school in China refused to enroll her. After Amber’s mother reached out to the media, the school allowed Amber to attend but the circumstances were far from ideal. After several years the family learned that Amber was only being allowed to audit classes, and would not have the proper paperwork to continue on to middle school. Amber told her mother that the teachers instructed the other children not to touch her, saying: “She is sick. If you touch her, you could get what she has. Don’t help her if she falls down.”

Kevin met Amber and her family at the retreat in China and learned about her difficult circumstances during a follow-up visit. He could sense the family’s frustration and anguish over their daughter’s mistreatment, so Kevin and another Family Retreat volunteer decided to visit the school. The two arranged to have lunch with Amber to encourage her and show solidarity with the family. When they arrived the students were curious and gathered around their guests. To Kevin’s surprise, the children were being friendly to Amber during their visit and one girl graciously took her lunch tray when Amber was finished. The school officials and many of the teachers came to see them and a school photographer chronicled the experience.

“My favorite moment was at lunch when I asked Amber what she wants to be when she grows up,” Kevin said. Having never considered her possibilities, Amber couldn’t answer the question. She shared that drawing was her favorite activity. “In what moments we had left in our lunchtime, I drew a teddy bear with a top hat on a napkin,” Kevin said. “She smiled, carefully folded it and put it in her pocket before being assisted back to her classroom.”

Kevin has seen firsthand the seeds planted during Joni and Friends’ International Family Retreats. “Ministry continues with this family, even the extended family,” Kevin said. “Doors were opened for trust and new beginnings. The follow-up allows roots of healing to grow deep into each home and even the community.”   

Would you like to volunteer abroad at an International Family Retreat? We have numerous retreats happening all around the world. Visit our International Family Retreat page to learn how you can get involved!


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