Wonder Valley Retreat

  • March 25, 2013
  • #8061

At first, Catherine—a girl with a disability—was shy, keeping to herself. But once exposed to all the fun at the Family Retreat, you will not believe where Joni found her!

Wonder Valley Retreat

Hey! This week starts our season of Joni and Friends’ Family Retreats!

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada and our first of 25 retreats for special needs families is starting today up at Wonder Valley Ranch — it’s a beautiful setting right near King’s Canyon in the foothills of the Sierras and, oh boy, are these families going to have a great time. ‘Cause I’ve been to this particular Family Retreat before and the highlight for the disabled kids and their siblings is often … the mud pit! The team loads a fenced-in area up with good, clean dirt, sprays it down with water and, well, you can imagine the fun from there, right?

I remember when I was up at Wonder Valley Ranch — it was the first time we had held a Family Retreat in that location — I encountered a special needs kid named Catherine. She was, oh I don’t know, about 13 or 14 years old and wore a brace on her leg. The first day of retreat, I saw her in a wheelchair, though, but later on that afternoon, there she was in her brace. Catherine was pretty shy; this was her first Family Retreat. Her siblings seemed to dive right in to all the activities — you know, kayaking and the petting zoo and the carnival — but Catherine, she seemed to prefer to stay shy and stay on the fringes with her volunteer. I saw the two of them talking together — girl talk. Catherine was a quiet young girl — she had a doll, kept within reach of her mom and dad — but when it came to joining in on all the fun, it seems she preferred to remain on the sidelines. I spoke to one of the leaders about her and asked if they’d keep an eye on her, to see if they had any creative ideas to reach out to Catherine. After that, I got busy with some of the other activities, figuring that between Catherine’s volunteer and the Family Retreat leadership, well, they would find some way to connect with this kid.

Well, two days later when Family Retreat was really going full steam, everybody was getting to know each other, I made an effort to look for Catherine. I didn’t see her volunteer; I noticed her parents were at a workshop and I wondered where Catherine could be and how she was faring. I happened to wheel over to the mud pit to check out all the fun, you know, so many kids and volunteers squealing and laughing and having a great time making mud pies and slipping and sliding. Well, while I was watching, one of the volunteers waved and yelled, “Hey Joni!” I hardly noticed who it was; she was covered head-to-foot with mud. “C’mon over,” she yelled again. When I wheeled closer — oh, no, could this be? — Yes, it was! I couldn’t believe it! There was Catherine in the mud pit having a ball. I did not recognize her, for all the mud. She and her volunteer came stumbling out of the mud pit to be sprayed down with the hoses (that was also a very fun thing to do) and as she wiped her eyes, and laughed and smoothed back her wet hair, yes, I could tell, it was Catherine all right. And she had the biggest, brightest, happiest smile on her face. How that volunteer got one shy girl standing on the sidelines to, well, in the middle of the mud battle, was beyond me. But she was having the time of her life.

Bless her heart, Catherine responded to the message she heard later that week about Jesus Christ. This was one 13-year-old who had experienced change at Family Retreat … change on many levels. And God opened her heart through fun in a mud pit. Look, maybe you know someone like Catherine and her family who attend your church or live in your neighborhood. How about giving them one of our Family Retreat brochures? Go to my radio page at joniandfriends.org and we’ll send you a brochure right away. It’s all about giving a special needs kid the smile of Jesus — even if that kid does end up getting just a little muddy.

© Joni and Friends 


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