Family Retreat – Herbertpur 2018
The 3rd family retreat at Herbertpur was conducted from the 5th – 7th June 2018. It a much-awaited event for the families who were part of the retreat for the past couple of years, as they experienced a kind of encouragement and strength that they otherwise would not have. Very rarely or never do these families get to be guests to anywhere, so the warm welcome and the care they receive at the family retreat is something very special, the families look forward to. Most importantly it is aimed to provide a time of respite and rest to the primary care givers as their family member touched by disability is taken care of by the volunteers at the retreat.
The objectives of the family retreat were same as the previous years:
- To provide opportunities for leisure through accessible, age-appropriate activities
- To facilitate meaningful conversations between families who understand the challenges of life with disability.
- To provide respite for primary caregivers of those with disabilities.
- To provide opportunities for churches to become involved with brothers and sisters with disabilities
The Theme for this year’s retreat was ‘Arise and Shine’. The welcome note by Joni in our own language was very touching and of much encouragement to the entire team and the families who were part of the retreat. 21 families had participated in the retreat this year and to assist them we had 20 STM’s and 10 of us were part of the leadership and planning team.
The leaders met in the month of March to plan for the family retreat 2018. Role and responsibilities were designated and the work went underway immediately. The families who were part of the retreat in the previous years were individually visited and invited. The Local churches were approached to identify new families. The volunteers from the local churches too were invited. Of the 20 STM’s we had this year, 6 of them were part of the previous retreats, 7 of them were from the ‘Road to Emmaus’ summer internship program on disability awareness. The other 7 were young people from the local church. In-addition we had staff from the disability project to help the children and assist in house-keeping and cooking. Each STM was assigned and briefed about their family. All the STM’s had a one-day training to understand the objective of family retreat and to get familiar with the disability etiquettes.
The initial part of the first day was spent in welcoming the families and orienting them to the retreat site. Besides that, the day usually started with a time of devotion, then the men, women and children broke into groups. The Joni and Friends family retreat curriculum by One Story was used in the groups for study and discussion. The men and women also had the opportunity to share from their own lives and encourage each other. The children meanwhile were told bible stories using flannelgraphs, had time for crafts and games. The afternoon sessions were for families to share their stories and pray for each other and the children had fun activities that included water games, face painting and action songs. Evenings were for games. The campus has been blessed to have a newly constructed inclusive playground and the children made most of that opportunity; swinging, spinning, jumping and sliding. The men and women had group games too and they participated actively with no hesitation. The women had an opportunity to get a facial done and for some women it was their first chance to have one done, they were glad and excited about it.
On the final day, each of the families and the volunteers had some time for reflecting on their experiences over the three days. It was quite a touching moment. One of the families recollected that their child on the autism spectrum had so much social engagement in those three days and for the mother that was such a joy to witness. Another mother expressed how she would want to continue this fellowship with the other women in the group apart from the family retreat. Fun was something we promised the family retreat would offer and the children went around troubling their parents right from the time they arrived about getting a face painting done and the parents expressed how much children look forward to simple joys as these. Tiya and Esther, two precious children who were with us last year are now with the Lord, but their parents made it a point to be part of share their stories about the Hope those children had brought in their lives. We have briefly narrated what Tiya’s mother shared:
Tiya, was born with cerebral palsy and abandoned by her parents. Her uncle adopted the child into their family. They came in contact with the Anugrah project when Tiya was 5 for therapy services and the family have been good friends of the staff at Anugrah. One of the Therapists had introduced Tiya’s family to Jesus and the family eventually welcomed Him into their lives. It was during those days the first family retreat at Herbertpur was conducted. Tiya though could not speak, could not move, by her very being was letting people know the love of Jesus through her parents. Through all the brokenness the family experienced, Christ’s love shone bright through their lives and family retreats was a wonderful opportunity for them to testify that love to the other families walking through the similar path. While Tiya was winning souls for Christ, she fell ill with a kidney disease and in no time had gone to be with the Lord. The family was broken, their church found no replacement to the joy Tiya brought and in this family retreat the child was dearly missed. During the sharing session in the afternoon’s Tiyas mom said something very powerful that; ‘Though my daughter never spoke or moved by herself, she brought salvation to my household and the family retreats were a great source of encouragement and strength to my family’. The family had requested us to invite them to the retreats every year as it was in these retreats they were moulded to know that God was sovereign and there was and still is healing in the eternal Hope.
Every year the volunteers have something significant to learn and this year as well the family retreat had an impact on the lives of young people. One of the volunteers spoke about how important it was to consider minute details of accessibility and another had mentioned about how children with disabilities are more similar than different. Some already had a personal experience in care taking thus were able to relate quite well to the others who were part of it. One of them was assigned to a boy on the autism spectrum and he was explaining about how vigilant he had to always be and how those little cues meant the child wanted to communicate something. All of them were able to appreciate the differences and were grateful for the opportunity.
The retreat this time was another opportunity for the families to relish old friendships and open up to each other as this would be the only opportunity they get to cross roads with people on a similar journey. It was nice to watch families that have journeyed quite a bit encourage their friends that are still in their early days. For the staff at the project, these are moments we get to slow down from being mere service providers to becoming one of their own to experience the realities of everyday. It was a blessing to all of us and the team members have already been suggesting what best could be done next year.
We the staff at the disability program, the families of persons with disabilities and the STM’s are very grateful to the Joni and friend’s ministry that has inspired and been a channel of hope to our friends with disabilities in and around our little town of Herbertpur!