Special Needs Camp

Fundamentals and Applications of the Gospel

This past Sunday the Special Needs STM team had a sweet time of fellowship and equipping together. Over lunch, we got to reflect upon Pastor Mark's sermon ("Satan's Sons No More" - Ephesians 2:1-7) together. I was encouraged by the discussion over the greatest influence in our lives, the reality of the spiritual forces of evil, the lies/deceptions we are prone to when we put other things before God, and our tendency to get distracted and wander (like young Mark Chin at the theme park). In particular, I was convicted by one sharing of how people who have been Christians for a while often get "desensitized" to the gospel in their own lives, but that Ephesians 2 was such a sobering reminder of what our lives were like before being saved: we were "dead in the trespasses and sins" (v.1), "sons of disobedience" (v.2), and "children of wrath" (v.3).

Teddy started off our equipping time by posing the question of "what makes Christians united in a way that is fundamentally different from unity of the world"? What is different about the unity that our team shares as compared to the unity of classmates at school, coworkers at a company, or teammates on a sports team? As our team walked through Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 together, we were reminded that Christian unity is not based on what we have done but on what Christ has done for us. We are united not necessarily because we are from the same church/team or because we have the same spiritual gifts or goals, but foremost because we have all been saved by grace and made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5-6). We see from 1 Corinthians 12 that though we may all have individuality, we are all members of one body with an indispensable role to play. Not all of us may be an eye or a hand, but "the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable" (v.22). In addition, by bestowing greater honor to the parts that we may think less honorable (v.23), we can show others that our God does not assign value based on our appearance, level of function, wealth, or reputation; our salvation and worth is not by merit but by the economy of grace alone.

So how can we achieve or be growing in this type of unity and love for one another? First, our unity is protected by the holiness of our walks. Ephesians 4:17-24 reminds us that we must no longer be walking in our former ways but "to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (v.23-24). Are we ourselves first growing in our pursuit of holiness? And do we care if others are growing in pursuing holiness? Second, we see from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a several descriptors of what love is. When we see sins in the lives of others, are we willing to love them by speaking into their lives? And when others see sins in our lives, are we willing to receive correction with love and humility? Sin destroys unity, and so we must protect the unity that we have in and through Christ by pursuing holiness in our own lives and being willing to give and receive correction.

We ended our meeting with a time in prayer. A few of our collective prayer requests include: GCC's continued search for a nurse (recently answered, praise God!) and a Bible lesson teacher for the camp, for God to prepare the hearts of the campers to receive His Word, for all the ministry team members to be preparing for camp by continuously pursuing holiness even now and not just seeking to protect the unity of the team during the week of camp, and for the various logistical tasks that our team still needs to do before camp.

Weekend With the McLeans

Last weekend, we had the privilege of spending multiple sessions with Pastor Rick and Janelle McLean from GCC special needs ministry. Although a lot of our time with them was informal conversations, I was able to glean a lot from their experience, encouragement, and challenges towards approaching those that may seemingly be different from you or I on the exterior. As Rick reminded us, we are all called to minister to one another because of 1 John 4:19-21 "We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." We are only capable of love because Christ first loved us, and through God's command we are called to love everyone - including those with disabilities.

During our Sunday lunch meeting, the McLeans recalled an encouragement where one of the disabled girls was sharing to others in the ministry how it was such a blessing for herself to have special needs because it brought her to salvation. All I could think of was "wow", that is such a powerful testimony of how the Spirit can transform the heart of the wicked into an understanding of grace and sufficiency that only God provides. Pastor Rick used this as an illustration of the evidence of fruit that comes only from the Lord, because many times there will be discouragement or questioning of whether things that are taught is truly understood. This reveals a lack of trust on our own part, but also that their minds are sharper than what we may assume. We were discussing how it may be uncomfortable or awkward to be around people that are different; Rick simply encouraged us that it is ok to feel this way but to not let it deter us from continual love and service towards them. We follow the examples that Christ has set before us where He approached those who were unloved in the community and loved them (woman at the well John 4, bleeding woman who touched Jesus' garment Mark 5:25-34).

Janelle referenced Psalm 139 in how God has designed us to be who we are - He did not make any mistakes and created people uniquely for a reason. We can recognize the awkwardness, but her exhortation was in how we respond. We must remember Jesus' example and motivation that He gave to us, as we are all created in the image of God. Do not use awkwardness as an excuse, because that is simply selfish. We are not normal vs abnormal - instead we're all abnormal with sin but are able to hide ours better whereas those with special needs are not. As like with anybody, the challenge is in loving somebody else without the need to be loved back. We may not be paid back in the way we expected or desired, but that is the essence of sacrificial and unconditional love we are charged to live out.

Finally, some of the prayer requests the McLeans asked for was wisdom and strength during the week of camping as issues always arise. We can also be praying for the recent decrease in attendees, as caregivers do not want to bring their patients to church related events due to aversion towards Christianity. Most importantly, we must pray that the focus will be kept on Christ in all that we do.

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.