If you have followed the sporadic posts of the last week you will know that I was in Oregon preaching for a Family Retreat of the The Elisha Foundation (that is pronounced ee-lie-sha, not uh-lee-sha).
Around 10 years ago, Justin and Tamara Reimer were blessed with the birth of their first boy, Elisha. Within 45 minutes, he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome – and life took a surprising twist for the Reimer’s. A delightful one!
As the Reimer's learned how to minister to their son (while having a few more kids!) an idea struck them – “why not give families in our situation what we would love?” That is, a few days off and some much-needed spiritual refreshment. They founded The Elisha Foundation in order to do just that – and more.
The Reimer's knew from personal experience how incredibly beneficial it would be to have a few days respite and time to learn from other families in similar situations. This was the third retreat they have done. The location is wonderful – a dude ranch about 15 minutes into the wilderness north of Bend, Oregon. 40 acres of private ranch backing on to a gabillion acres of National Forest – all pristine wilderness.
Each family goes through an application process in order to come to the retreat. Justin and Tamara arrange with their home church and other friends for a volunteer staff of 25 or so. From the moment a family arrives, they are assigned a couple of staff members to care for their special needs child. That alone is a remarkable ministry.
The next 4 days and 3 nights are packed with worship in song, preaching (what I was doing), activities for all the kids (special needs and otherwise), great food, lovely on site cabins, and even a good share of free family time. Plus, Justin and Tamara add lots of little extras including some great books, a candlelight dinner and more.
For some families this was the first break they had in over three years of 24 hour-a-day care for their child.
Just stop and consider that.
Of the families in attendance, two had terminally ill children with severe mental retardation. Another family had a child whose successful brain tumor removal had left him with a new personality. A grandparent was there with an undiagnosed child whose mother did not want him anymore.
For these families, every day presents a whole set of problems and decisions. Just keeping a job can be a major difficulty – and that in a nation without socialized health care.
What the Reimer’s are doing through The Elisha Foundation is something I hope to see duplicated around the country and globe. All it takes is a little bit of money, a crew of servant-hearted volunteers and someone to pull it all together. As Justin told me several times, it is an easily transferable idea.
If nothing else, this week taught me how difficult churches can make things for special needs families. I will save my comments on that for another post, but for now, take a peak around The Elisha Foundation website and... send them some of your money.