As a volunteer writer for Joni and Friends, I have sat across the table from or talked on the phone with individuals who all share one thing—incredible stories about simple steps of faith. A faith that believes everyone belongs in God’s house, as a part of His family. A faith that obeys His desire that we “compel them to come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14:23 NIV).
But some take things a step further. They know personally the blessing involved when they seek out overlooked members of Christ’s body. The blessing is so good they must share it with others.
After David Wright attended a Joni and Friends Family Retreat for the first time, he knew he had to go back—and this time bring others with him. He reflected, “There are few [experiences] that challenge, grow, stretch, and bring out something new in you that you didn’t know about like Joni and Friends.” As chaplain and Bible teacher at The Master’s School in Connecticut, David stood in a unique position to encourage four teenage boys’ spiritual walks.
As the guys journeyed through Family Retreat, each young man experienced a period of blessing and stretching common to all, yet unique to each person.
One of the four teenagers, Johnny, redefined his camper’s definition of “cool.” The fatherless twelve-year-old thought being cool included inappropriate language. Johnny—naturally popular, handsome, and athletic, became like an older brother to this camper. Through Johnny’s love for this boy, playing with him, the camper updated his definition of “cool” to acting like Johnny. On the last day, David saw the two boys lounging on a bean bag like brothers, without a care whether others viewed them as cool or not.
Another teenager, James, came to Family Retreat not certain of his salvation. “He liked Jesus from afar,” David explained, “but he wasn’t sure how to react.” Then James was paired with a fourteen-year-old whose parents never said, “No.” Unaware of social norms, the camper often laughed when inappropriate or cried when he didn’t get his way. Despite any discouragement, James showed genuine friendship to this boy. As the campers practiced for the grand talent show, James’s camper wanted to include ridiculous dancing and miming, and James encouraged his creativity—championing his camper’s cause and not caring if he looked like a fool.
When James returned home, that week had allowed him to see Jesus, to taste life as it should be. Now, back in his high school halls and on the soccer field, he talks about Jesus differently.
For one week, these four teenagers focused on other people, and David saw the difference back in Connecticut. “They’re becoming men, not focused on their own high school world.”
Reconnecting with members of the body of Christ is an experience, a blessing, you can’t forget. But it’s also too good to keep to yourself. After a summer brimming with ministry and service, who would God have us bring along for next year?
Danielle Ledoux is a former intern with Joni and Friends’ Cause 4 Life program who enjoys writing about God’s work in people’s lives. She is a graduate of Pensacola Christian College and recently received her Master of Fine Arts in Dramatics.