Joni & Friends' Special Needs Family Camp by Grace Tung (English Translation)
Early this August, Pui Tak Center arranged for five Chinese families to participate in a family camp designed for children with special needs. The camp took place in the Conference Point Center in Wisconsin, with beautiful environment, well-equipped facilities, wheelchair access, and a golf cart to provide transportation throughout the camp. Participants may stroll in the woods, ride a boat on the lake, or play and swim in the water. Parents can drop off their children to volunteers for one-on-one care while they attend various activities in the camp. They can relax and enjoy the beauty of nature, and participate in lectures and discussions. The separate men’s group and women’s group discussions were especially valuable experiences. On one memorable evening, special arrangements were made for parents to enjoy sunset dinner on a cruise boat and dance together. The program for the children with special needs was also very exciting, especially the Talent Show on the last night. We must not underestimate these children. They were singing and dancing, painting and writing poems. Everyone enjoyed the evening and the ice cream afterwards!
The camp was hosted by Joni & Friends, which has many years of experience hosting similar conferences around the world. But this was the first time for Chicago participants. There were Chinese and Mexican families, so headset translations were provided throughout the camp. Pui Tak Center supported this ministry by providing volunteer assistance. Families and volunteers who participated experienced God’s wonderful works and shared God’s love in practical ways; parents were able to get some support and relief from the strain of long term caring of their children with special needs. Everyone is looking forward to participating next time!
I was one of the Chinese speaking volunteers recruited by Pui Tak for this family camp. We served the camp as Short Term Missionaries (STMs) and was supported by the church’s Mission Board. I’d like to call it a “short-short term mission” because I had never participated in such a short term ministry before, but those short 5 days were eye-opening, here's a few examples:
For parents who have children with special needs, caring for them daily is very challenging. I was assigned to take care of a 23-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Her parents did not want to let other people know about it. They kept her at home until a few years ago when she started interacting with others. Since then, she began to open up, and learned to walk on her own. Her hands could pick up chopsticks and cup, and she also went to school and learned how to write. What’s amazing is that she can now even collect information from the computer and learn things not taught in school, including Chinese history and Tang poetry. She remembers all of them by memory. One night, during the Vegetable Guessing Game, she was able to guess correctly almost 80%! To my total amazement, what she cannot verbally communicate, she can write. During the Talent Show, impromptu, she wrote the well-known Tang poem “Singing Goose.” This poem is because she recently went to the Ping Tom Park and saw some geese and loved them. She insisted that her father take her every day to go see and feed the geese. The geese are her friends. So she found the poem from her computer about geese and remembered it. From memory, she even wrote out the poem to me as a gift. Do not look down on their disabilities! They may have some talents that others do not have. I wish she can communicate more and learn more new things. I heard that she even learned some cooking from television and her mom said she did a fine job cooking. It is much more difficult for families raising children with special needs, and others do not know parents’ inner strain. After staying with them for a few days, I believe it is even more difficult than when I was taking care of kids in the orphanage.
The camp is tailor-made for the families with children of special needs, so all the facilities and activities were designed for these families to have a relaxed, comfortable long weekend. It took much manpower and resources-- to help 20 families, had almost the same number of volunteers. The volunteers needed to arrive a day-and-a-half earlier to receive some special training, preparing the campsite to welcome the families. It was a very lively scene! Among the Chinese volunteers were Chinese translators, so language was not a barrier. I found it special that those some of those who participated in planning, worship team and even small group leaders also were themselves from families with special needs. That they face similar situations and emotions, really made an impact on the camp atmosphere--there was the feeling of mutual support throughout. I was touched that the Christian families really treasured their children with special needs and that they can use the truth in the Bible to teach their children. When I was in high school, I read the ministry founder’s book, Joni: An Unforgettable Story. It was such blessing to now see her accomplishments and be involved in the ministry.
One of the purposes is to hopefully in those brief days share the Gospel, especially to the parents who are not believers yet. I didn’t have much opportunities to converse with the parents of the child that I cared for because of the packed schedule and not knowing them too well. Thank God, after praying to Him about my desire to share the Gospel, I had the opportunity to have breakfast with the mother alone on the last morning. We talked about her child, the week’s camp activities, and eventually the camp’s main theme: Psalm 23: 1, in which David said, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The mom asked, “Who was David? I began to tell her David's background--David was a shepherd, who later became the king of Israel. He went through a lot of difficult situations. This poem was his heartfelt voice: the LORD was his shepherd. So, I talked about Jesus Christ as our Shepherd, Savior, and I shared the basics of salvation with her. She felt how real Christ was. When I asked her if she was willing to accept Jesus as her personal savior, she made it clear that as long as her husband was willing to accept Christ, she will follow. During the noon sharing, her husband actually stood up and accepted Christ! I wanted to pray with him, but unfortunately, time was too tight, with everyone busily packing and getting ready to return. Later, I learned that he had already been attending CCUC’s seeker Sunday school class. Pray that the seed is growing in his heart and continues to grow!