When I think about Joni Eareckson Tada’s Ohio disability ministry, I am reminded to hope; and, not to just hope in anything, but to hope in Jesus and in the word of God. The Lord has laid the verses of Jeremiah 29 on my heart for the past several months.
Jeremiah 29:11-15 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. … when you pray I will listen. If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me.”
The ministry of Joni and Friends Ohio has been many things to my family. It has been a beacon pointing us toward Jesus. It has been people who have been there to support us as we walk this path. And, it has been a place where we can relax and appreciate the Lord’s kindnesses.
About 11 years ago, I was in a desolate place. I was at a point in time when I began to realize that my daughter’s autistic behaviors, seizures, and developmental delays were not something she would outgrow. In desperation, and as a way of coping, I began to read, study, and take action.
I researched church trends of responsiveness toward disability. I began to advocate and speak to my church, our pastors, and anyone else who would listen. I wrote articles, gave speeches, and hosted a mom’s support group. It was within this support group that I was introduced to the ministry of Joni and Friends Ohio.
In spite of this flurry of activity, during those earlier years, I was very lonely. I felt no one understood our family’s struggles. I was in a desert, a place of utter despair. This is when I began to really seek God’s presence and to try to understand His purposes. In this desert is where I was reminded that Jesus is indeed real, and I can cling to him for comfort and strength. During this time, we began to attend Joni and Friends Family Retreat, and I began reading Joni’s books.
What I found was strength to believe what the scriptures were telling me about God’s love for us and plans for our lives, and my family began to sense God’s wonderful purposes for our lives. We found spiritual rest and comfort at Family Retreat, peace, and time to think about God’s leading. Joni’s words helped me to know how very blessed we are to be on this path, which has given us the opportunity to learn to trust the Lord and to count on His people.
For many of those earlier years, every July, around Family Retreat time, the Lord spoke to us in very tangible ways about the path he wanted us to take. He imparted courage to implement plans for Disability Awareness Month activities at our church. He gave us new strength to advocate for inclusion. He called me into the profession of nursing, and He provided a scholarship which paid for my schooling.
Just a few years ago, after Family Retreat week, the Lord spoke to me and told me I needed to begin to live as if I have hope. It was through Family Retreat, and Joni’s book called “Heaven,” that I began to see plainly the wonderful hope that I have in Jesus. During this time, the Lord lifted me out of depression and helped me to cling to His promises.
I can only attribute the Lord speaking to us in this way around Family Retreat time, to the many prayers of His saints who surround the Joni and Friends Ohio ministry. The prayers and hands-on support of the Joni and Friends Ohio team, both staff and volunteers, have carried our family forward the past eleven years. Furthermore, because of the impact of this ministry, our church, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Xenia, has become a haven for our family and others who are affected by disability.
We are so thankful to be a part of the Joni and Friends Ohio family. We have Family Retreat “moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters,” who have enveloped us in friendship, prayer, practical support, and in Christ’s love. The Joni and Friends Ohio team has become our dependable friends to whom we entrust our children and our spiritual development as a family.
Because of this ministry, we have the courage to hope in the words of Jeremiah 29, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Joni and Friends Ohio is located at 249 Bellbrook Ave. in Xenia. Joni and Friends evangelizes and disciples people affected by disability and trains churches in disability inclusion ministry.