jean-more than I could imagine

A dear friend recently sent an email, sharing with me how her week serving at a Family Retreat had touched and changed her life. I asked Jean if I could share her experience with our readers because it shows how deeply someone can be affected by a little boy who happens to have a disability.

More Than I Could Imagine

Written by Jean Bilang

Edited by Kara Ferris

It’s been over a week since I returned from camp. This was my 4th time to serve as a Short Term Missionary (STM) with Joni and Friends Family Retreat at Missions Springs in Scotts Valley, California. These camps are designed for families affected by disabilities. We spend a day in a half in training and then the family arrives for five days of respite, refreshment and fun!

Our theme verse this year was Eph. 3:20‐21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!”


The special boy that I was entrusted to care for this year was David. He is 6 ½ years old, and he has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He was exposed to drugs in the womb. Even though he was born with a disability, his loving parents adopted David and his little brother, Phillip- an amazing picture to me of the Lord’s love for us – unconditional and merciful. David is unable to walk without assistive devices, mainly his walker, and he is just beginning to learn to use forearm crutches. He also had a stroller with him for when he was too tired to use either. David’s mind is very sharp. He is quite inquisitive, always hungry for information, and wants to know what is going on with the world all the time. He is also very driven. When his mind is set on something, he is very persistent. One of the lessons I learned from serving David is ‘strong determination.’ The camp put up a rock wall one day for the campers and David got in line. When it was his turn, he was harnessed and strapped. His little arms could barely hold on to the rocks. On his first try, climbing up more than half way, David slipped and it caused a downward slide. His dad and another volunteer were up there with him and thought it was time to stop. They started to remove the harness, but David strongly objected and with a firm solid voice, said, “No! I just need to get to the top and push that red button!” He set a goal for himself and determined to do the best he could. How can I not learn from him? This little boy, at his young age was teaching me not to be a quitter when the going gets rough and when life gets hard. He started climbing again, being pushed upwards by his dad, slowly but surely, sliding, being pushed again and was almost there. We all were delighted and cheered for David when he finally made it all the way to the top and we heard the siren like sound when David pushed the red button on top. David did it!! Not just by himself but with the help of his dad, an image of God the Father, helping his child and all the child needed to do was be willing to go and accept the help.

David is also a very tender hearted boy. He loved on me and I can’t forget when he first said “I love you” to me. It was unexpected. We were out having a picnic with his family on the lawn. David was sitting in his stroller very tired and I was sitting on the blanket, by his side when I heard him whisper. “I love you, Miss Jean.” I had to ask him to repeat it, because it was almost a whisper and I wasn’t quite sure if I heard him correctly and he said the words again. The words were music to my ears. Wouldn’t it be music to your ears as well when someone affirms you and says “I love you?” I am seeing a lot of “God dots” on camp, connecting the dots, how God brought me to serve at the JAF retreats some four years ago. We all need to be loved, and the love that God the Father extends to us enables us to love others. God loves David so much, and his love is shown in this little boy, extending the love to his family and to me, and to the other people at camp.

When it was time for me to take my break, David was sad, but he let go of me. After my break, his first question to me was, “Did you get a good rest?” His sweet thoughtfulness, his caring for me makes me cry.

I was physically stretched. On the third day of camp David seemed unusually tired and didn’t have the energy to walk. I had to either carry him as we went through the carnival that was set up that day or hold him from behind just under his shoulders. My back hurt that night but the Lord provided me the energy to finish the day. After I woke up the next morning, refreshed and ready for another day, it dawned on me that I was only caring for David for a few days, his parents are there for him 24/7 and what an amazing dedication they have to serve David and his little brother and love on them as the Lord loves.

During the talent show, David sang “Jesus Loves Me,” booming and at the top of his voice. Months before I came to camp, I had been singing and playing this song on my guitar. There was a verse that David sang that I didn’t know before, it goes, “Jesus loves me, when I’m good, when I do the things I should. Jesus loves me, when I’m bad, even though it makes Him sad.” It was a child’s song alright, but the verse just spoke to me. Jesus loves me even when I am bad‐ a picture of God’s grace and again, His unconditional love. While we were yet sinners, He died for us! What are the chances that my camper, who God had arranged especially for me, had been working on the same song? It really made me cry, especially since David made me wait for that night to hear him sing this song.

Close to the end of camp, David said to me”Miss Jean, would you be my buddy again next year?” It was so hard to leave. Going to Joni and Friends camps has been the highlight of my summer for the last several years. It was an amazing week at camp. God is able to do immeasurably more than all I asked or imagined, according to His power that was at work within me.

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