Reflecting on my trip to Peru with Joni and Friends to volunteer for a Family Retreat for families touched by disability, I am once again amazed at the way we saw God move among us, answering prayers, changing hearts, providing all that we could ever ask for and more. This is something that never seems to grow old, never loses the incredible impact that it has on my life each time I am able to participate in a Joni and Friends Family Retreat.
Our time began with an Architects Conference at the University in Lima. About 40 students gathered to listen to local speakers as well as those representing Joni and Friends, discussing the need for wheelchair accessibility in Peru. Three out of the six speakers were affected by disability themselves and the impact of the meeting was obvious.
The next day, there was leadership training with the Peruvian team, uniting us all in heart, mind and purpose. Each one there seemed fully engaged as I taught on the plan that God has for each and every one of us and the opportunity to love these families as Jesus would. Cindy and Don Prince also shared their own story and how God has “specially designed” those with disability, acknowledging that each and every one of us has been created in God’s image. The Peruvian team shared with us why they were involved and what they saw as the needs of those with disabilities in their country.
Our first day at the retreat sight was spent training the Short Term Missionaries. As we prepared for the families to arrive, Elizabeth, our in-country partner came to me and said, “Kara, I went to bed last night, praying to God and telling him, “I wish we had more for these families, I don’t have enough toys for the children, I didn’t plan enough activities. And look at the stairs, all of those stairs, we can’t even get into the buildings…” and she was in tears.
“Elizabeth,” I said, “look at this place that God provided for us at the last minute! It’s beautiful! Look at that pool and the ocean! And he gave us a wedding here yesterday so we have flowers to decorate the tables, flowers for the women’s spa, and last night, just to show us that he loves us, he gave us fireworks to light up the sky (they were for the wedding but we all got to watch them)! We are just like the Isrealites, “God, this isn’t good enough!” All we have to do is love these families and God will do great things. It’s enough Elizabeth. God is enough.”
We sat by the ocean every day during morning devotions-listening to the pounding waves, reminding us of His presence and His steadfast love. We had activities planned for the afternoons but the families just wanted to play in the pool, relaxing and enjoying one another. The weather was beautiful and everything we did was outside by the ocean. One of my favorite memories will be Lazara, a little girl about 8 years old with spina bifida who sat upon my lap for hours, her feet dangling in the pool, even dozing off for a nap. Each time I would relax my arms, she would pull them tightly around her.
One family who came had two children out of five with Down Syndrome, a 14 year old and a two year old. I had never heard of such a thing. I would go to the mother, scooping little Bradley up in my arms, walking with him, loving him. My arms ached from holding children and it was wonderful!
We had prayed that the Lord would break through the language barrier and did He ever, speaking through our hearts with His language of love. Saying our goodbyes was so difficult, many of the mothers were in tears, feeling support that they had never experienced before, many finding new hope to face tomorrow. And many of the fathers began to understand that their children were a blessing rather than a burden. The children blossomed before us and although many left with tears in their eyes, they were radiant.
As I peeked my head into the bus for one last goodbye, Bradley’s mother, Gladys said to me, “Don’t forget us! I love you so much!”
Returning home Sunday morning, I couldn’t wait to go to church for the worship that night. As we sang the words, “I want to see your face,” I could see the faces of all of my new Peruvian friends pass before me and I heard God whisper to me, “You HAVE seen my face.” As we served these families, loving one another, God opened up the heavens and made His presence known. He has a way of doing that when we acknowledge and include those who the world would consider unwanted, disposable and defective, “My power is made PERFECT in weakness.”
There aren’t enough words to fully describe all that we saw God do amongst these families. Many, many lives were impacted, including my own.