Joni & Friends

Performing Big Fish Little Worm
at one of the Joni and Friends
Family Retreats.
Photo courtesy of Kristi Pelfer.
I had the privilege of performing for two Family Retreats sponsored by Joni and Friends  at Twin Rocks Friends Camp and Conference Center on August 11 and 18. The camps are set up for families with special-needs children. A short-term missionary is assigned to each camper to give families a chance to engage with others who understand the unique demands of life with disabilities.

They were unforgettable performances, but we knew something special was coming because of the way they were set up.

Almost seven years ago I met Brent Olstad and his family in a restaurant in Medford, Oregon, where I was having dinner with my parents. You can read the story as I posted it here, but what I didn't put there is that Brent thought I was staring at his family like I was a crazy man! That's how Brent introduced me before both of my performances! A sticker on their son Bryce's wheelchair was what caught my maniacal gaze. It was for Wheels for the World, another ministry of Joni and Friends, and I was probably thinking about all the connections I have to Joni Eareckson Tada: When I was ten years old Billy Graham's Worldwide Pictures distributed a movie that told her story: Joni. It impacted me deeply! The film shows how she became a quadriplegic in a diving accident as a teenager, and how she's gone on to be a mouth painter, international speaker, writer (3 million copies of her autobiography in print), and singer. In fact Joni sang the Oscar-nominated song for Alone Yet Not Alone in which I play a land speculator. Her husband pressed her diaphragm so she could hit the high notes!  She personally called our friend, Art Sanborn, who became a quadriplegic in a boogie boarding accident. His story and how he now jogs and does 150 pushups every day is told in his amazing autobiography, Walking Miracle.

Eventually I introduced myself to the Olstads and mentioned another connection to Joni: We have a friend who'd gone to Peru, Poland (and after that encounter Cuba) with Wheels for the World. They bring donated wheelchairs to developing nations and equip people to use them, and Brent had worked with our friend! I'm sure we had many eavesdroppers in that restaurant as we talked excitedly about how the Creator of limbs could work so mightily through those who couldn't use them.

Last October I performed at The Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland, Oregon. It was a fundraising event for Twin Rocks Friends Camp, where I served on summer staff when I was in college. Through the event they were able to raise $415,000 towards their $1.25 million Into the Spotlight campaign to improve current facilities and purchase new equipment and toys in anticipation of their 2018 centennial celebration.

The Olstads at The Newmark
The Olstads also spoke at the Newmark Theater that night, and talked about how the camp has worked to accommodate Joni and Friends.  It was there that the Olstads reconnected with me and invited me to perform at the retreats.

Those performances kicked off my Northwest Tour throughout Oregon and Idaho, during which I drove over 2000 miles. One of the things I did (safely) while driving was record my thoughts on the performances and how they were set up:



In the podcast I mention that our mom read Joni's story to us, but she doesn't remember that! She did read The Cross and the Switchblade and The Hiding Place, but we're pretty sure it was the film that got my attention as a lad.


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