Fun times in the park have become a regular highlight of our summers.
For those families who participated in previous activities like Family Retreats, this time served as a family reunion. For other families, this time was a chance to receive love and acceptance from a community, perhaps for the first time.
We had some new faces this day. Leah (above and to the left) is one of our newest volunteers. She was eager to bring a special clay for the kids to make sharks or fish or snowmen ... whatever the kids imagined. Some creations were quite good!
Other kids just loved being present, enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery with friends.
Blowing bubbles was once again a big hit. Even the adults enjoyed it. We were thankful to have some bubbles remaining from the Family Retreat.
Like most celebrations in China, there was a time of singing. It always amazes me how seriously these young men take singing. We were invited to see them participate in a music class they attend; their teacher donates her time to bless individuals with disabilities. It's so great that such service is becoming more common.
As we departed, the question on everyone's mind was: when's the next time we can gather together?
It is always a privilege to partner with the Joni and Friends team.
Dr. Zhang shared during our training. His daughter joined us this year as a volunteer. Dr. Zhang translated Joni's autobiography into simplified Chinese.
I'm always glad when my family can join me in our activities.
On Saturday, the kids enjoyed flying kites. It was a nice windy day.
The kids also enjoyed bubbles. Bubbles near and far!
And then there was water! Hudson did not enjoy being soaked, but most of the kids thought it was great fun!
Meanwhile, the parents were receiving training and encouragement. This is Melissa and Clemen's group. Dayna and Leah led the other group.
In the afternoon, we had another two guests share their stories (to my right). Their stories were powerful. All of the men who attended the dad group this afternoon were impacted. It was my favorite hour of the retreat.
Inside, the kids had lots of songs and crafts like a typical VBS setting.
More outside fun! This time with water guns.
Molly and Hudson loved their new best friend, Mary, who was one of the team leaders of the Joni and Friends team.
Saturday night was family swim night. One of the mother's cried as she expressed gratitude for her to be able to take her child swimming with friends.
And of course, my kids loved the swimming. Dayna repeatedly voiced, "This is so much fun!"
Here is one of my good friends. I gave him the English name of Jimmy. He would like for me to visit his home every day. I could only promise to come in a few weeks, but I'll do my best to see him when I can.
On Sunday night, the Joni and Friends drama team started the talent show with dramatic mime interpretation.
When it was the kids turn, they filled the stage with more energy and excitement than I can express with words.
They were ready with costumes and all.
Our musician friend continued to play Mozart-like pieces.
And of course, Molly and Hudson had a puppet show to perform. Many evenings in our home look like this. In this drama, they are acting out Joshua and the walls of Jericho.
One of the best parts of the retreat is the closing ceremony. This is what it looks like for a family to walk through the tunnel of volunteers and JAF team members. Words of encouragement and hope and love were spoken over the family as they traveled.
At the end of the tunnel, they were greeted either by Dayna and me or Steve and Melissa.
The family retreat is truly only the beginning. A few days after the retreat, this grandmother (on the far left) had to go to the hospital for cerebral infarction, a type of stroke. This family asked us to come and pray, which we were honored to do.
This year's retreat involved 160 people, including 31 families and 8 young adults affected by disabilities. Volunteers came from three countries: China, America and Mexico.
Our team of volunteers greeted the buses as the families arrived.
We partnered every child with a local volunteer.
For the first time, some of our volunteers came from family participants from previous Family Retreats. The tallest young man, Leo, was difficult to handle in the past, but he has grown up and is now an eager volunteer to bless others.
We've gotten to know this family this year through day camps and picnics. It was our privilege to invite them to the family retreat.
Because of a cancellation, we were able to invite this young man back with his grandparents. He is the young man who can play Mozart or Beethoven on the piano.
In the last four photos, each father (or grandfather) was involved in our dad support group. Arguably, it was the most receptive dad group ever.
Lewis and his grandmother are always a joy to be around.
Bert (in the forefront to the left) is now one of our most faithful volunteers. His buddy attends a special ed music school.
Towards the end of opening ceremony, the Joni and Friends team surprised the kids with balloons.
They also led us in our theme songs, including movements to "Fly" and "Everything's possible."
Rui Rui, who has replaced Dion as treasurer and volunteer coordinator, worked very hard to prepare the volunteers for this retreat. She is standing next to Leah.
We first met this family through the Heart to Heart English classes that we offered for two years.
Without fail, the parachute is always a favorite.
Of course, for my kids, nothing beats craft time ... except maybe a carnival or swimming, which came later.
It's amazing to watch these kids grow up. Through various projects, this is our third year to work with the twin girls.
One child loved this game so much that the Joni and Friends team let him take it home after the end of the retreat.
And of course, an event can't really be a celebration without this young man. He and his parents have faithfully been involved with most projects this year. His mother invited 5 of the families who came to this retreat, and she also went with us to Jianping last June.
It didn't matter what "ability" an adult or child had, the evening was just simply fun.
Games won stamp marks, which in turn added up to redeem prizes.
We had several young adults who did not allow a disability to stop them from serving.