The theme for 2019 Joni and Friends Family Retreats was “One Way,” based on John 14:6. Chantal Huinink, Coordinator of Organizational and Spiritual Life with Christian Horizons, delivered a series of devotions based around this theme for the 2019 Christian Horizons Family Camp, and we wanted to share them with you through this forum. To learn more about Christian Horizons Family Camps, visit our website.
Reflecting on the story of Jonah, have you ever tried to run the other way when God asked you to do something?
I certainly have. I was born with cerebral palsy. Thanks to the example of Joni Eareckson Tada I knew that God could do great things through people with disabilities, but for the first 20 years of my life I wanted little to do with disability. Despite my need for a power wheelchair, limited fine motor skills and significant visual impairment, I wanted to lead a “normal” life as far away from disability as possible.
I grew up planning to become a teacher or a psychotherapist. There is nothing inherently wrong with these passions: I believe God placed them inside of me and uses them frequently, but in the context that I was planning for, they did not utilize my faith or my lived experience as a woman with disabilities.
The boss at my earliest summer job as a children’s sports and activity camp instructor planted the seed that diversity of skills and abilities was a positive and valuable thing. He did so when I was quite literally stuck in the mud because I intended to lead a group of children on a hike after it had just rained. To my surprise, rather than saying this was my problem, he apologized to me that day because no one was there to help me do my job to the best of my ability.
The seed that my diverse gifts and abilities were valued and welcomed was watered when my youth pastor took it upon himself to lift myself and my wheelchair onto a school bus so I could travel with my friends. This strengthened my faith because I knew that only God made it possible for me to ride the bus and it proved to me that my presence was not a burden but a blessing to others.
Several years later, at the Urbana missions conference where I reconnected with Joni and Friends, I sensed God was nudging me toward ministry with people affected by disability and was strongly encouraged by their representative. As soon as I return home from the conference I wrote a cover letter to Joni and Friends but hesitated to send it because I was incredibly fearful of what God might expect of me.
Four years later, on the eve of graduation from my undergrad my campus Minister said to me “you have to send the letter!” In the hours after I finally sent an e-mail to Joni and Friends the doors to ministry flew open. Within weeks I was studying theology of disability and serving at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat. Within months I returned to the international disability Center of Joni and Friends for a Cause 4 Life internship, where my eyes were opened to the needs of families affected by disability around the world: I learned all about ministry with people affected by disability, and specifically how to implement Joni and Friends Family Retreats.
Little did I know, within that same year Christian Horizons would be launching their first ever family camp in partnership with Joni and friends. Not only that but God had orchestrated my life so that I would be relocating to the same city as Christian Horizons head offices, making it possible to work with them throughout my Masters of Divinity in Social Work. Since then Christian Horizons Family Camps have grown from seven families and nine volunteers to 27 families and 60 volunteers in four locations. I have helped to establish and serve at national and international Family Retreats. I have also had opportunities to write and speak about faith and disability across Canada and around the world.
Nurturing the faith of people who experience disability through family camps and helping faith communities understand the best practices for fostering belonging through speaking and writing about the intersection of faith and disability are not just things that my role at Christian Horizons requires of me, they are components of teaching and counseling that truly fulfill me. I am also working toward chaplaincy in hospital so that I can support the spiritual well-being of those struggling with chronic illness, disability or end-of-life.
If God asks us to do something big and unpopular like he asked Jonah, and me, we may feel like running away as he and I did. The book of Jonah shows that such tactics may temporarily relieve our anxiety, but they may also put ourselves and others in danger. The storm that comes upon Jonah and the people he is with demonstrates that God is always in control of everything and it is impossible to run from Him.
God did not get angry with Jonah or me for trying to run away. Rather, he used the journey back to draw many others to himself. Sometimes God also allows storms to come upon us so that even more turn to him like the others in the boat with Jonah. The people who are with Jonah do not blame themselves or God for the storm. They assume that it is related to who Jonah is, what Jonah does or where Jonah is from. Similarly, when we face challenging situations we may be tempted to blame it on the characteristics of others. However, Jonah reminds us that such aspects of a person do not bring on its consequences.
The people with Jonah may have mistrusted God or resented Him for the circumstances they were faced with but because Jonah was honest with them and took responsibility for his part, they realized God’s power, put their faith in the God that Jonah and we serve, likewise committing to serve Him.
God protected Jonah even though he disobeyed by allowing him to live in the fish for three days and nights. God’s protection may come in ways that we do not expect or enjoy. Nevertheless, God reminds us that He loves us because He does not hold us accountable to the full extent of our mistakes. Surprisingly, even though Jonah is likely uncomfortable in the belly of the fish, while there, he recounts all of God’s recent faithfulness and begins to praise him.
No sooner than Jonah refocuses through prayer does God put him back on land and allow him to attempt his mission again. He speaks to Jonah the second time, proving that our God is a God of second chances. Jonah eventually goes to Nineveh and he begins to prophesy very convincingly, causing the king and his people to reform their lives accordingly.
I’m thankful that God is a God of second chances, and even when we initially turn away from him we are welcomed back to the work that he has called us to. What is God calling you to, today?