Today was our Family and Friends Picnic. When I say “our” I mean Joni and Friends Greater Philadelphia. It’s a bit like a family reunion. Everyone who is a part of the Joni and Friends family is welcome to attend. Those who come include families who attend one of our three weeks of Family Retreat, volunteers who just want to serve and make the day stress free for those who come, Short Term Missionaries who serve one of the weeks at camp and want to reconnect with those who made such an impact in their lives. Others who come are those who have been part of a support group, or church ministries, families who come to the Easter Egg Hunt or a men’s baseball game, or even those who don’t know anything about us, but heard there was an opportunity to connect with other families who live a similar life journey.
What struck me most at this gathering was the distance people traveled. Our picnic was in Lansdale; which is a relatively central location for most of our “locals.” But so many more than the locals (a geographic radius of about 30 miles) joined the fun.
Three families came from the Pocono area, a 50-60 mile trip each way. A number of others traveled about 80 miles each way to come from the Lancaster, PA area, northern and southern New Jersey. That is significant, especially when you recall they are traveling on a HOT day, with at least one person in the car who has special needs or a disability.
But – the award for the longest travel goes to the family who drove up from Virginia, and went home again the same day. Their drive was about 4 hours one way. (I’d like to claim that the family there from the state of Washington came the greatest distance; and while they did they didn’t come specifically for the picnic. They were in north Jersey with family and came over for the day).
But back to the Virginia family . . . .Wow, they drove through the DC metro area to attend a picnic for a few hours. While I am humbled and honored, I find myself asking the question, “Why?”
Without being asked that question directly they talked repeatedly about how they missed us – the larger Joni and Friends family. Some say Joni and Friends really is more like Joni and Family! They just needed a “booster shot!”
For me, I think the answer goes deeper . . . it is just THAT HARD sometimes to live life with disability. To be able to have real, honest conversations, support, friendship and connection with those who “get it,” distance is no barrier.
What makes me sad about that is this . . . we at Joni and Friends want to equip churches, the body of Christ, to be that source of connection, friendship and support right where people live. While we’ve seen an increase in recent years in the number of churches who are creatively ministering
with (not just to!) people affected by disability it’s not yet enough.
Disability is so pervasive and varies so much from person to person it is sometimes hard for churches to know where to begin; or how to maintain a ministry for the full life spectrum of families affected by disability.
So while we continue to pursue our mission of equipping churches to be the front line of ministry, here’s to valuing, honoring and embracing families affected by disability through picnics, Easter egg hunts, baseball games, support groups, pampering days and so much more!