Family Retreat in Serbia

  • Nov. 3, 2015
  • #8742

A mother of a teenage son with autism finds hope and help at a family retreat.

Family Retreat in Serbia

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada with a sweet story from Serbia.

The last time we met, I told you that my friend Judy Butler at the age of 75 just volunteered to serve at two of our International Family Retreats. She traveled first to Belgrade in Serbia, and then she was at our second International Family Retreat for special-needs families in Romania. Anyway, I was so touched when I read her email report.

When she arrived first in Serbia, Judy was happy to see that nearly every Serb speaks some English. On the first day of the family retreat she met Danika who came with her 18-year-old son Jacob who has autism. Judy sat down with this woman on the first day of retreat and with very little prompting, this weary, worn out special-needs mother spilled out how her husband was not speaking to her or their son, Jacob. And apparently he had not spoken to them for a long, long time. In fact, although all three in this family were still living under the same roof, the father had basically disassociated himself from Jacob. Sadly, he wouldn’t even acknowledge Danika, his wife.

Judy took a deep breath, and tried to encourage this despairing mother that she would find hope in the coming few days. Judy tried to paint a vivid picture of how encouraging our Family Retreat would be for Danika and Jacob. But this mother’s response was just to lean on her elbow and give a hopeless smirk. It was obvious she didn’t think Judy had understood a word she had said.

Well, over the next day or two, Judy connected often with Jacob and Danika. And she noticed that Danika’s attitude was slowly beginning to change. And by the third day, she was treasuring the short breaks she was able to take while Jacob was cared for by a big, burly, happy Serbian Christian volunteer. This guy took Jacob on long walks, even jogging at times. Bless his heart, this Serb included Jacob in as many activities as he possibly could.

Judy was glad that Danika attended the workshop she gave on caregiving. Someone in the audience asked Judy’s opinion about healing, and she used verses that revealed God’s heart and love for those with disabilities; how His coming was to bring hope and salvation. All the while, Danika was in the back, taking it all in. On the final day of retreat, Judy was in the back of the room listening to another speaker, and Danika slid up next to her and gave a big smile. Bless this dear mother—Judy could not believe she was smiling! Then Danika gave her a big hug, and she leaned over and whispered in Judy’s ear “I found hope, thank you. It has been a wonderful week with my son!” Wow! And you know the best part? Danika not only found hope in Christ, she and Jacob got connected with a bunch of volunteers from the Belgrade Bible School. Each family left with a copy of the Joni book in Serbian, plus a promise from the Bible School students that they would follow up, they made a commitment to visit each family and give them a Bible.

You know, Danika’s struggles with her husband and her son with autism are not all that different from families here in America. So if you are a parent giving care to a special-needs child, please visit our radio page today at and ask for your free copy of “Help for Caregivers.” It’s a fitting gift given that November is National Caregivers Month. So again if you are a caregiver, or if you know someone who is giving care to a big teenager like Jacob with autism, then this booklet is for them. So contact us today at, go to our Radio Page and ask for “Help for Caregivers.”

© Joni and Friends


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