How God Uses Sam to Change an Entire Church

How God Uses Sam to Change an Entire Church (and a 12 year old girl)

Story Submitted by Nancy and Anne Meador

Edited by Kara Ferris

Nancy- Our forever connection to Joni and Friends Family Retreats began when our daughter, Anne was 12 – almost 6 years ago. I was looking for ways for us to serve as a mom/daughter team and I have long wanted my daughter to feel comfortable around others whose lives are touched with disabilities. I also wanted her to grow up not thinking that she was the center of the universe.

So, we volunteered for our local Joni and Friends Chapter in Oregon at the “Sometimes Miracles Hide” luncheon which honors mothers who may have disabilities or their children may have disabilities. While the mothers are treated to a very special luncheon, the children attend a carnival also attended by nearly 100 volunteers who watch the children with disabilities as well as their typical siblings. I ended up in the nursery with the babies and Anne was involved in the carnival so I wondered how she might be interacting with the kids for the 4 hours I wasn’t with her. I figured she would either be put off and uncomfortable, never wanting to do something like this again OR she would thoroughly enjoy the opportunity. Fortunately, it was the latter. Not only did she love the experience, but she asked if we could both serve at the Joni and Friends Family Retreat for a week that following summer.

I was glad she had a good time, but I gulped at the thought of working with her at family retreat. She might have felt very comfortable and eager, but it was way out my comfort zone. I agreed that it would be good for her, but I wasn’t so sure it would be for me. Thankfully, her enthusiasm prodded me forward and we got the approval for Anne to serve with me as a team as Short Term Missionaries (STMs) at Mission Springs in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California.

The first day seemed all good with the training, ‘I can do this,’ I thought. I have had 3 kids of my own, took care of my mom who battled cancer, I’ve been a pastor’s wife for many years, worked in doctor offices so medical stuff didn’t bother me and I’ve worked with lots of other kids through the years. But then I got the history of our  assigned camper, Sam. I remember my heart breaking for all of his severe physical challenges, and it made my physical challenges from a number of surgeries seem  so minuscule.  I thought of his wonderful parents and that’s what made the tears flow.  I went to the pay phone that night to call my husband to tell him about our camper who would arrive the next day. He was surprised to hear me say that I didn’t think I could do it, while choking back tears – I explained that my mother’s heart was too tender even before meeting Sam and his family.  The task seemed overwhelming.  Anne on the other hand, was more excited than ever.  So my husband and I agreed that as always, I would cling to Philipians 4:13 “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me,” knowing that God had provided up to that point and must have us there for a reason.

The rest is a story of God’s faithfulness. Cheryl, Rob and Sam – (his baby brother Toby, not yet born) had an amazing impact on our lives. Really, after the first day with Sam, my focus shifted from his many physical challenges to marveling at God’s big plan that was so mysterious and wonderful, and yet very reassuring that he was wiser and more powerful than I could ever imagine.

We thought we were going to “bless” this family. Instead, they blessed us in ways that have shaped and molded not only our lives, but also, the lives of my husband and son who later came to serve at camp, dozens of people in our church who joined us in the following years, and now, we have a brand new disability ministry within our church body, all because of how God used this family and especially Sam, to teach us about the importance of every person made in God’s image.  They really are a unique family, but maybe I am biased because they are the ones who God used to teach me valuable lessons.  From the moment I met them, they exuded enthusiasm for Sam. Not only were Rob and Cheryl grateful for every new day with Sam, but also just to be at camp, encouraging Sam with the new environment as well as reaching out to new friends.

They treated Sam with the same love and attention as any parent but I recognized that they didn’t take even a smile for granted.  They took Sam everywhere with them, camp was no exception even though they had to haul all of Sam’s special equipment , bring special food, train “newbies” like us to care for Sam, and still take turns getting up during the night to turn Sam at regular intervals since he can’t do that himself.  I was amazed with their incredible attitudes in the face of such tiring and daunting tasks. I wondered how they met such daily challenges without becoming overwhelmed.  I wondered how they could maintain a marriage with such challenges.

At mealtimes, I loved being able to feed Sam (in my inexperienced way) and give them a break from the routine – even though his parents didn’t seem to mind either way. It wasn’t like they wanted to get away, but instead were thankful for the help. I was so grateful that they engaged in conversation with Anne and I, asking us questions about our life and sharing their lives openly in return.  They taught us so much about persevering through trials and trusting God for every minute and recognizing His complete  sovereignty in the birth of their precious son. They actually lived that reality and didn’t just say it glibly.  They were the ones living out Phil. 4:13 and I was learning from them what that really means.  I don’t think either one of us realized at the time what God was doing putting us together. Providentially, Anne and I were headed in a new direction after meeting Sam and his family.

God used Sam to light the fire under us to get other people involved in supporting these precious families who He has blessed with the task of caring for family members with disabilities. They are so like Jesus with their servant attitudes. We saw the huge need for not only serving at camp, but all throughout the year in our local churches. Like most parents, they don’t want to give up their responsibilities and love for their kids, they just need breaks and an opportunity to talk with other parents in similar situations. We drove the 7 hours back home after camp dreaming about what God might do in our church, how to go about encouraging others, and hoping we could return to camp the following year. By God’s grace, hard work saving money and the gifts of our church, we have returned to camp many more times as well as serving at respite days for families in our community.  Each time we leave exhausted, but incredibly blessed by the families we serve and looking forward to the next opportunity.

But we will always have a special place in our hearts for Sam.

Anne– I remember not knowing exactly how to communicate with Sam because he’s non-verbal but I still talked to him as if he could understand me. It was a bit of a personal challenge for me since I’m pretty communicative myself. It made me realize how much of a blessing it is to be able to communicate and how much I take it for granted every day. Sam showed me to never stop giving thanks for the “little” things in life. Even when we would get a slight smile from Sam, you could just feel the love of God reaching through this little boy! And Sam has a wonderful family! His parents are some of the most dedicated people I know and would do anything for Sam.

You don’t need to be an expert to have a relationship with a person who has disabilities, or a family touched by disability, just be a friend. Pray for them. Even something as small as acknowledging someone with a disability can be huge and make them feel included. Many people will surprise you with what they have overcome and what they can do, despite their disability. We are all disabled. We are all sinners and that is our main disability that we have to deal with every day. Some people with disabilities, especially Down Syndrome, are the happiest people I have ever met! They worship the Lord like none other. If only we had faith like that.

Before I went to Joni and Friends Family Retreat, I hadn’t really been exposed to people with disabilities, especially people that were my own age. When I returned, my world view was rocked, even at 12 years old. I didn’t feel as hesitant to go up and talk to someone in a wheelchair or say hi to a kid with Down Syndrome. The Lord really worked in my heart that week. I was so blessed by camp. Meeting the families and talking with the other STMs that had been coming for years really made me want to do the same. It was totally the Lord who made my mom and me come that year. Since then, I continue to love going back each year to serve the Lord and see old friends. I think the Lord may really have a future for me in the area of working with kids with disabilities. We’ll have to wait and see what He has in his perfect plan!


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  1. Thanks Sam! – a member of the changed church.

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