“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Before leaving for special needs family camp in Latvia, a number of concerns occupied my thoughts. Here are just a few: Will my suitcases be big enough to hold clothes and 30 books to give away? Will the 24 hour layovers in Istanbul, Turkey–both coming and going–be uneventful? Will conversing with moms through a translator keep us from bonding? (The answers: yes, no, and no.)
Two questions that never came to mind were the ones that dominated discussions during camp week: What does it mean to be baptized? Can people with special needs be baptized?
The topic first arose when Pastor Ugis Pallo explained the meaning of baptism during morning assembly and announced that a baptismal service would be held on the last day of camp. A young woman who is non-verbal and has mild developmental delays made clear her understanding of the sacrament and her desire to be baptized. Ugis called her home pastor and invited him to participate in the ceremony, but the man declined.
Because, he explained, her special needs were punishment for generational sin which made her unworthy of baptism.
Though the response did not sit well with Ugis, he and the other pastor talked several more times. Somehow, by the grace of God, the issue was resolved by baptism day, and the young woman’s pastor came to the service.
But the story doesn’t end there. Several young adults with special needs and moms of younger children started asking questions. A young woman named Diana found Ugis after supper. “What does it mean to be baptized?” she asked, and he answered her questions far into the night. Katie, a young mom nabbed Naomi, my travel partner, one afternoon. “I was baptized into the Lutheran faith,” she explained. “How is that different from what Ugis talked about?” During our last mom’s support group, which I always opened by asking if they had questions, the first one posed was, “Would you explain the purpose of baptism?”
I began to speak, sure that God had gone ahead and prepared for every detail of the answer. From the thorough grounding about the meaning of baptism presented in Discovery Discipleship classes taken long ago. Through the teaching Pastor Tim has provided about this sacrament throughout the years. And through the presence of my translator, who happened to be Katie, the young mom who had talked with Naomi.
The baptismal service on that last afternoon of camp was a blessed event:
Diana, who accepted Christ during the week, was baptized.
So was Laura, the daughter of the mom who asked about it during our support group.
But not Katie.
Katie scheduled her baptism for early August, so her family could witness her profession of faith.
No translator was available during the service, but it didn’t matter. The Spirit of Christ made his presence and his good pleasure known by uniting us as one and speaking to my heart as his command to make, baptize, and teach disciples in all the nations was obeyed.
Feeling thankful and blessed,
Thanks to 2016 summer travels I have set a globe-trotting personal record which quite possibly will stand for the rest of my life. In the past 2 weeks I have sojourned in Latvia for a special needs family camp, in Istanbul during a 24 hour lay over, and in Idaho for our annual Shadow Valley Family Reunion Camp. Below are the top ten differences observed in the three places recently visited.
10. In Latvia, the coffee is delicious. In Istanbul, the teas are delicious. At Shadow Valley, anything on a cool, mountain morning tastes heavenly.
9. The Soviet-era accommodations at the Latvian special needs camp were adequate. The small, newly renovated, family hotel in Istanbul where we stayed was a beautiful jewel. Our pop-up camper on the side of an Idaho mountain feels like home.
8. The streets in the old city of Riga, Latvia are immaculate and populated by tourists. The streets of Istanbul are filled with people and garbage. The mountains of Idaho are reached by winding along gravel roads traveled by very few people.
7. The Latvian countryside sports the biggest snails I’ve ever seen. Cats swarm the streets of Istanbul. Giant slugs slime any Idaho gravel road that skirts a river or stream.
6. In Riga and Istanbul, there’s no lack of pigeon poop. Deer poop rules the roost in Idaho.
5. Latvian vistas are Narnia-like. Ocean vistas are breathtaking in Istanbul. Mountain vistas stretch deep, long, and wide in Idaho.
4. In Latvia, I answered to “Jolee” because most people there dropped the final “n.” In the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, I was called “La-dee, La-dee” but rarely answered because my suitcases wouldn’t hold the carpets, purses, scarves, and trinkets street hustlers were selling. At Family Camp I answer to whatever I’m called: “Jo,” “Jolene,” “Aunt Jolene” or “Miss Jolene” depending on the age of whoever is speaking.
3. Most Latvian food was an adventure in unfamiliarity. Kabobs in Istanbul were amazing. Food at the Idaho camp is a parade of yummy family favorites.
2. In Old Riga, there are churches everywhere. In Istanbul, there are mosques everywhere…though the Armenian Orthodox Church was across the street from our hotel. At Idaho Family Camp, church is a gathering of people rather than a place.
1. The special needs family camp in Latvia provided the blessing of time to talk to moms. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul offered the blessing of time to walk and drink in a foreign culture. Shadow Valley Family Camp gives the blessing of time to connect with family and to think and dream and write.
Where have travels taken you this summer? Leave a comment.
And they were bringing children to Him…but the disciples rebuked them.
But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them,
“Permit the children to come to Me;
do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.
Mark 10:13–14, 16
In the 1960s, getting to church was no easy feat for our family. Mom not only had to corral and spit shine three young children, she also had to wheel Dad to the car, lift him into the passenger seat, and stow his wheelchair in the trunk. After we arrived at church, she completed the process in reverse order before negotiating the parking lot curb and the steps leading to the front door of the building. Once inside, the only place for Dad and his wheelchair fit was behind the last pew, under which he discreetly hid his urinal. When he needed to use it, Mom wheeled him to a dark, rarely frequented corner of Fellowship Hall because his chair was too wide to enter the men’s bathroom.
Looking back, I wonder why my parents bothered to go to church with so many hindrances stacked against them. But I’m glad they persevered. Because of their determination, I came to know Jesus, and my life was changed. And because my life was changed by Him, I spent the hot and windy weekend of June 10–12 at Hidden Acres for the first annual Wonderfully Made Family Camp for kids with special needs, their siblings, and their parents.
Our goal for the weekend was to remove obstacles so kids with special needs and their families could enjoy camp. To that end, sidewalks were poured so wheelchairs could get from here to there easily. A special dock was constructed so every child could give fishing a try. A pool lift was installed. In the barn, ramps and stairs were built so all kids could ride a horse. A personal buddy accompanied each child do outdoor activities: to the pond for boat rides–the first ever for many families–to the climbing wall, the zip line, and the giant swing. Buddies helped kids complete crafts, learn Bible verses, sing songs, and play games during program time. While their kids were in being cared for, parents enjoyed a program with Gary and Barb Rosberg Friday evening, attended support groups on Saturday morning, enjoyed massages in afternoon, and had a date night on Saturday.
On Sunday morning, every elementary-age child–and I mean every, single one–went on the stage to sing Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, the song they learned over the weekend. Proud parents stood to record the moment on video in photos. For many dads and moms, it was the first time their kids had participated in such an event.
I stood in the back, watching the door in case one of the kids who tended to run made a mad dash for the exit. I failed miserably at the job because my eyes were filled with tears as I watched the children on stage. I thought of how delighted Dad would have been to see every child included and of how he would have reveled in the luxury of bathroom privacy.
I also thought of how delighted our Father was in His children–those who donated funds and materials, as well as the 104 volunteers who served throughout the weekend alongside the Hidden Acres staff members–who obeyed His Son’s command by removing every hindrance so little ones such as these could come to Jesus and be blessed by Him.
Central Iowa’s first Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) for families of kids with special needs was held over the weekend. It was an unqualified success as these top ten comments overheard show.
10. From a mom: My son had 8 s’mores at the campfire last night. We got to sleep pretty late.
9. From the typical sibling of a child with special needs: I went on 3 trail rides this afternoon. It was my best day ever.
8. From almost every parent, child, and volunteer: This camp is amazing!
7. From numerous dads and moms: My massage was wonderful. I haven’t been this relaxed in years.
6. From the sibling of the Man of Steel’s camp buddy: Hiram’s my buddy, too. Can he be part of our family forever?
5. From several young campers: When can we go swimming? We’re going swimming now! We swam until the pool closed at 10 o’clock last night.
4. From a young camper: Dad, will you come meet Kristen’s parents? She wants me to come to her house to play someday.
3. From more than one parent: How long have you been running special needs family camps? You are so well organized.
2. From the planning committee: We want everyone to know that God provided everything and everyone needed to make this camp a reality.
1. From more parents, kids, and volunteers to planning committee members: Thank you for letting us be part of the camp.
And one more from the planning committee to every parent, child, and volunteer: Thank you!
Saturday evening was sweet evening for all who attended the Wonderfully Made Family Camp fundraiser in West Des Moines. Not only was over $2000 raised (how sweet is that?) to get us closer to our goal of $15000* to cover expenses for the 30+ families registered to attend, but those in attendance enjoyed a sweet evening of fellowship, music, and dessert. But don’t take my word for it. Observe it yourself!
Sweet spring nosegays on a chilly, blustery evening.
Sweet desserts up for bid in both the silent auction and the noisy one. (See top photo)
A sweet picnic meal in keeping with the evening’s camp theme.
A sweet chocolate fountain compliments of Chocolaterie Stam.
And sweet music performed by the Harwoods, a family familiar with the challenges and joys of special needs. They drove from Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the fundraiser because they have experienced special needs family camps and know the worth of such camps.
You can watch and listen to the Harwoods at their website. Be assured, it is worth your time.
*Sweet and successful thought the evening was, more donations are needed to meet our goal of $15000. If that goal is exceeded, extra funds will go toward the purchase of a portable lift so every child can enjoy Hidden Acres wonderful pool. Learn more about how to give at the Hidden Acres donation page. As much as donations, we need people to serve as one-to-one volunteers with the children and in other capacities at the camp. Volunteers need to apply, pass a background check, and attend the training that will be held from 9:00 AM–3:00 PM on Friday, June 10 before camp opens at 4:00 that day. Volunteer application forms can be downloaded here. The deadline for submitting applications is May 15, 2016.
If you have any questions, leave a comment or send an email.