Special Needs Camp Day 5

It’s Friday already? With the end of the week comes the end of our time at camp and I feel it came too soon. I honestly didn’t want to leave (although I am grateful to leave the mosquitoes behind). Thank you family and friends for all your prayers this past week and for those of you who came to help with setting up and taking down the tents. The staff from Grace Community Church enthusiastically expressed their gratitude for this small service, so do know that all of your support is greatly appreciated.

The special needs camp is named Camp Grace and indeed grace was abundant here. We came alongside the GCC staff to help in whatever ways we could, but found ourselves being served even more generously. I wanted to encourage the staff and campers this week, and encouraging conversations we did have, but I was deeply moved and ministered to by their testimonies of God’s grace in their lives. Communication was admittedly difficult with some of the campers. There was time set aside for the staff to meet one-on-one with the campers to discuss the midday message. My camper was chatty, excited for the chance to tell me stories about her sister who was with her at camp, as well as about many other family members and friends. Things got even more difficult when she’d switch to talking in fast Cantonese to me after I sputtered out a few words during one of our talks. I felt I had met my match and struggled to redirect our conversations back to the message. I didn’t know if she was truly responding to our discussions about the characteristics of God. But one thing I was able to come away with was that she was incredibly joyful about an answered prayer for healing. She knew Jesus had answered her prayer and she was so happy to share that with me. Just one of many reminders of God’s grace that He cares for us.

Last night as we were wrapping up the day with a staff meeting, Pastor Rick invited the campers to stay with us and he opened us up in a time of corporate prayer. The first one to pray was a camper with Down syndrome and significant speech impairment. He prayed for a solid couple minutes. His mom told us later he was praying for everyone in the camp and for everything that we had done that day. Following him, many other campers eagerly lifted up their prayers leaving no moments of silence in between. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this verse from Psalm 8 which was preached on earlier in the week.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,

you have established strength”

Our speaker, Pastor Matt, said from this verse that God chooses to show his strength through the weak things of this world. The campers might not have full mental or physical capacities, but God is glorified by them. Their simple faith expressed joyously is a testament to that.

Please continue to pray for the campers and staff as they travel back down. They stopped over in Solvang today and are staying overnight there in a church pastored by the brother of one of the GCC staff (!). Pray for all of us, campers and staff, that what we’ve experienced and learned during this camp would permanently change us to love God more, and to love His people more, especially the least among us.

Special Needs Camp Day 4

Today was our last full day with the campers and the much anticipated day trip to Santa Cruz. It’s something that the campers have been looking forward to all week & they definitely let us know how excited they were for today. We ate a quick breakfast and then drove about 30 minutes from our campsite to board the Santa Cruz Beach Train. This took us directly to downtown Santa Cruz. All the time we’ve spent outdoors this week has helped me to slow down and enjoy the Lord’s creation out here!

It’s sweet to see how much the campers appreciate the opportunities to enjoy things that come easily to many of us & even be taken for granted. Although the campers can’t always express their thoughts verbally, they show this in other ways, often through facial expression and physical affection. This was evident in their smiles today as we ate ice cream from Marianne’s after lunch, and then during bowling afterwards. We had a lot of fun bowling together & cheering one another on while talking with them in between frames. Many of them shared that it was one of their highlights of the week!

I’m thankful for our partnership with the staff from Grace Community Church. I’ve been able to learn through the example of how patient and gracious they are, especially by consistently caring for the campers physically & spiritually throughout the week. One of the conversations I had with one mom of a camper stood out to me in particular. She was sharing about the joys & challenges of a raising a special needs child and how she learned the importance of allowing the church to serve her & her family. She mentioned that many of the burdens she initially felt and kept to herself were designed to be shared with the church body so that we can function as God designed. It taught me that God has used our time at special needs camp not only to minister to the hearts of the campers, but also to their families too. It’s a blessing that each camper has a believing family member who was able to come with them this week. He’s been faithful this week and is growing me to learn how to love more like Christ. Gospel love is what transforms the lives of these families and gives them strength to keep persevering.

Prayer requests! Please pray for the health and safety of the team as we pack up and head back tomorrow. Pray that the campers come to know the Lord (if they don’t already) and that they would grow in faith and pray for the families to trust in the Lord’s wisdom and strength for how to best shepherd their hearts.

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Special Needs Camp Day 3

We finished day 3! Our team started the day off a little tired spiritually and mentally, but a few of us got to pray together to refocus our hearts on Christ, work through various struggles, and encourage one another to remember the reason why we are at camp. Praise God for being so faithful to answer prayers and allow us to be used by Him in the midst of our weaknesses and failures. I was particularly encouraged by the teaching on Psalm 139 from Pastor Matt, one of the seminary students at The Master's Seminary who came to speak for us. It was a great reminder for both the campers and staff that God's presence is with us always and He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is control of all things and we cannot escape from the LORD like Jonah had tried to do. In light of this truth, how are we growing in the fear of God and being held accountable to His word? This led to a time of one-on-one sharing with a camper, who expressed how angry she was about all the evil in the world, including recent shootings, immigration laws, murders, etc. It was a great opportunity to explain to her that none of us are above committing evil because of sin that resides in our hearts and 1 John 3:15 says "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Whenever we fail to show love, it is considered hating others and is essentially the same heart of a murderer. It helped her to see how much sin we personally commit against God and how it was necessary for Christ to take our place though He was sinless. It was a great discussion about the gospel that I'm so thankful for! Please continue to pray for her heart to be softened by the truth, to be convicted of the sin in her life, and continually repent in obedience to God.

In addition to that, I've been thankful for the time at camp, growing relationships with other campers as well as getting to know the Grace staff and gleaning from their wisdom as many of them have been faithfully serving the LORD for many years. Please continue praying for our team, for perseverance with the mosquitos, patience with the campers, and dependence on the Lord these last two days!

-Danielle Tong

 

Special Needs Camp Day 2

Greetings from Special Needs Camp!

It’s been a full, but fun day at camp. The day usually starts around 8:00am with breakfast, followed by worship and a message. Today, the sermon was on Psalm 8 and we learned about God’s power and sovereignty over creation. It’s a fitting message as you’re being surrounded by towering redwood trees and beautiful scenery.

The day usually consists of eating meals together, doing crafts, and going on hikes. It’s been a joy getting to know the campers and seeing how unique their personalities are. It reminds me of the verse in Psalm 139:14 “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Although they have mental and sometimes physical limitations, they are nonetheless made in God’s image. This is what makes them special.

One small thing that stood out to me was watching the kids (Noelle & Christian) play with the some of the campers. They were having so much fun together, not allowing their differences to separate them, but just accepting one another. It reminds me of how prejudiced I can be sometimes and how much I need God’s help in that. It’s not natural for me to open up to people whom I think are so different from me, but I’m learning to accept others for who they are. It reminds me that God loves these special needs individual so much and that I should have that same love for them.

Please pray for physical and spiritual energy for the counselors and also the campers! We’re only halfway through the week, but we praise God for all the work that He’s doing through the camp.

Special Needs Camp Day 1

As I began to drive down the mountain, I could hear the singing from the campfire circle of “I am in the Lord’s Army” (I am certain that I can hear Carrie’s voice just a bit louder than everyone else).  I leave my family behind to serve as this week will be just too busy to take off from work. Today was a bit of a blur, and I thought it would be best to simply leave you with my observations.

Curtis and I arrived just a bit before everyone else. We had the privilege of playing packhorse and drove up all of the campers’ tents. It wasn’t long before a caravan of LBCSJ folks arrived. What I saw next was an eagerness and willingness to labor for a group of individuals that would probably never understand what was done for their benefit. We had about an hour and a half before the campers would arrive. In that time, eight large 10-person tents and nine smaller 4-person tents were all set up.

Pastor Rick and Janelle arrived next in a large U-Haul. What I saw was appreciation. Appreciation for work already completed that the team from Grace would normally have to do after a six-hour drive while trying to unload all the gear and while setting up camp. Appreciation for the love demonstrated through service.

It wasn’t long before the two vans of campers arrived. Everyone unloaded and was happy to finally be at the campsite. What I saw next was excitement. Excitement as campers reunited with some of the LBCSJ helpers from the previous year. It was wonderful to see conversations pick right back up. I also watched as each of my own children interacted and created relationships of their own.

The camp is barely underway, and I already feel blessed by the experience. I will only have the privilege to attend in the evenings, but I am eagerly looking forward to how God will grow me as well as use me through this opportunity.

The team is planning on daily blog posts, but cell coverage is pretty much nonexistent in camp. The plan is that I will pick up the post each night and send it once I get home. It’s a good idea in theory, but we need to see how it plays out. We might just overwhelm you with four posts on Friday.

In His service,

Rob, Nicole, Theresa, Curtis, & Cora

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