Matthew's Story

  • Feb. 27, 2014
  • #8304

Listen to the story of one Family Retreat volunteer going the extra mile to help his special needs friend at camp.

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada and every story has a humble beginning! 

That’s why I want to tell you about Matthew who, when he was 14 years old, volunteered with his family at one of our Family Retreats. His parents, PJ and Donna, always knew their son was the sensitive, caring type, but never realized how much so until Matthew was assigned to help Billy, a young kid with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair. Matthew (remember he’s only 14 years old) rolled up his sleeves and pitched right in. During the very first day, however, he discovered there was a big problem. Billy’s mother had forgotten to pack the specialized charger for the batteries on her son’s power wheelchair. That meant after the first day, Billy was without any power. And his cabin at the Family Retreat was way at the bottom of a sloping hill.

We tried to find a charger that would work, but it was a no-go. Like I said, Billy’s wheelchair was pretty specialized. It meant that if this kid was going to take part in times of worship, all the activities and the rest of the camp fun, he would have to be pushed everywhere. But was this a problem for Matthew? No way. This 14-year-old jumped right in, arriving at Billy’s cabin door early every morning in order to push him up the hill to the dining hall, then to the swimming pool, the zip line, the basketball court, and all the other places. This was no easy feat – remember, Billy’s in a power wheelchair, and even with the motor disengaged, this thing was heavy! But there was Matthew, pushing with all his might to get Billy up that hill. PJ and Donna were amazed! Their son did not complain all week. In fact, he seemed to delight in the challenge; making the extra effort; going the extra mile; no pain no gain. All that mattered to him was that Billy would not miss a thing, and have a chance to hear about Jesus as well as enjoy the full Family Retreat.

Matthew’s parents saw something unique in their son at that retreat. They recognized his extraordinary ease in sacrificing and serving others. Now, I want you to know that this Family Retreat with Billy and Matthew (the one I just described) was almost 10 years ago. Recently Matthew’s parents and I crossed paths, and when I asked about their son, they were happy to give me an update. Matthew is now 24 years old – he’s a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton and a member of one of the elite Special Forces. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised to hear that. What his parents saw in him as a 14-year-old is now bearing fruit as he heads on special op duty overseas. Matthew is delighting in the challenge of no pain, no gain. He’s going the extra mile, happy to make sacrifices in order to now serve his country. And I like to think that our ministry played just a small part in helping to shape that young man’s character, for Matthew continued to volunteer at Family Retreats right up until he was ready to serve in the military.

Oh, by the way, friend, our 2014 schedule of Family Retreats is up on our website, should you wish to serve like Matthew. And you moms or dads, think about sending your 17 or 18-year-old to one of our Family Retreats – Donna and PJ would tell you that it really builds incredible character as these young people push the wheelchairs and serve kids with disabilities. See what it’s all about on my radio page today at We’ve got a great video we just posted that will grip your heart for sure. Oh, and one more word about Matthew, the Marine: Donna only hopes that he doesn’t lose his caring spirit in the military – the same spirit she saw at Family Retreat. But I told her, I wouldn’t worry. Matthew is still all about serving in the name of Jesus.

© Joni and Friends


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