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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Signs for Hope ASL-Immersion Family Retreat 2016!

WHEW!!  That was a lot of work!   And FUN!





Worth every minute of it!



Matthew 18:5, “Whoever receives a child in My name, receives Me.”

Plans for next year's family retreat have already begun with lots more volunteers ready to assist!  Praise God!


It is funny...God's will. Sometimes it is exactly what we think it is, but often it is not anything like we think it is.

This family retreat was "in the works" for over 3 years.  Families adopting deaf children were begging to get together and then hearing families were begging for help with their ASL learning. 

I prayed! Others prayed!  I shared and searched and searched some more and thought the doors would open here or there, somewhere, but they did not.

Until...this past October 2015.  The contract was signed in early November and I let our SFH board members know the dates, immediately. Somehow, I thought they could all be a part of this first ever SFH ASL-Immersion Family Retreat, but it was not to be. 




I have had three years to plan and re-plan, in my mind, our first SFH family retreat using much of the training I have received over the past 3+ years relating to children who come from "hard places" and also attending a Joni & Friends Family Retreat as a STM (Short Term Missionary) three summers ago. 

When God did not open the way for all our SFH board members (general and/or advisory) to join us, I just kept moving forward. How could I not?  The need was great! 

We were so blessed to have two SFH board members, one advisory and one general, join us and their commitment and sacrifice to do whatever asked was encouraging and so needed.

Maybe I was hoping He had a plan for others to join me, in time?  I never really considered abandoning this years family retreat, even though I knew things were not going as they should, having a detailed plan in place, on paper not just in my head, and a full team of volunteers to help facilitate every detailed part of the plan. 

Psalm 10:14, “But You, O God, do see trouble and grief; You consider it to take it in hand.  The victim commits himself to You;
You are the helper of the fatherless.”

I KNEW there would be many unfinished plans, lack of clear communication, especially as the date for retreat grew closer.  There was NO WAY I could get everything done and in place in time. We just did not have an adequate number of volunteer staff. Yes, the framework was there for all.  And everything I wanted for the hearing families to experience was in place, i.e., bringing these families together and providing an ASL-rich encouraging environment for all.  However, as the details and volunteers for the children's program did not match the number of children families both deaf adopting families and our Deaf support families were bringing...YIKES! 












No, I never wanted to do all this all myself.  Are you kidding me?  I already have plenty on my plate to keep me on my toes, every single day. 

I do know how to delegate when I have volunteers ready, willing and able.  God has gifted me that way.  I have planned and organized events well on this scale before, but I had dozens of volunteers from the beginning each with a skilled leader I knew personally as their guide, in place in plenty of time.

So why did God allow these inadequacies to go on for our first family retreat? Why did He not provide what we prayed for...adequate volunteers and Deaf support staff?  Why were all our SFH board members not able to join us? 


Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, 
Defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Some would say it was because this was just not HIS timing for our family retreat, we should have only moved forward when we had every person needed and in place to do so.  I would tend to agree most of the time with that thinking, as it has biblical foundations.  And that is my approach for our 2017 family retreat.  I am a firm believer in the orderliness of our God and His desire to do things with great quality and not just halfway. 

However, this time I believe it was to spread God's vision for SFH beyond those already involved.  God did provide some willing Deaf volunteers, at the last minute--His perfect timing--some with no experience at all with adopted children whatsoever and some who had adopted deaf children.  Those who had no experience with adopted children learned much in the three days they interacted with our hearing families and their adopted deaf children and they want to come back next year for more, as do the others. 






Intermediate ASL class for hearing parents who have adopted Deaf children.

Helping educate His Church one-by-one in how they can obey the command to 'care for the orphan' (James 1:27), when not called to adopt, is always on our radar.  Giving them the opportunity to see how different it is to raise an adopted child, especially one with deafness and no language prior to coming home, helps them connect with and support these families in ways they never could had they not "done life with them" at family retreat. 

In addition, the staff at Bonclarken Conference Center, the place for our first family retreat, went above and beyond to accommodate and serve us in every way.  This began with our initial visit there in October and continued throughout the retreat. Had this not been such a good fit and partnership, with so many uncertainties surrounding our first family retreat, I suspect I would have been easily tempted to cancel this year's event.

There were no expectations placed on us for providing the specific number of folks joining us until about 10 days prior to the retreat and then we were granted flexibility to add folks right up until Thursday at check-in. Which we did.  We were not required to pay for anything we did not use.  $200 held our dates from November and they would not even accept a partial payment one month prior to the retreat saying we would settle up the week after retreat.  THIS was the most tangible reason why I continued to push forward fully knowing our staff insufficiencies.  ONLY GOD!

Yes, discussions are ongoing for next year's family retreat and folks are volunteering to fill in those vacancies of leadership.  I now know them and together we will make improvements.  As soon as the dates are secured and a contract signed, we will begin promoting family retreat 2017 fully for volunteers and families.  Praise God!

Now, allow me to share some very interesting facts surrounding this year's SFH ASL-Immersion Family Retreat!



Asheville Deaf Church joined us for worship on Sunday and our children were eager to learn the signs to the song, Jesus Is Champ!

Ten hearing families joined us from five states with their hearing biological children and their adopted deaf children.  One family had multiple adopted hearing children, as well.  These families brought twelve deaf children who were adopted from China, Poland, India and the US Foster Care System.  We had six hearing couples. One couple is in process to adopt their first deaf child, one was a hearing single mom, one was a hearing dad attending without his wife and adopted deaf son. They are missionaries in the Philippines, their deaf son is Filipino and mom and son were still in the Philippines. And one hearing grandmother took a hearing dad's place. 

Yup!  A hearing grandmother is learning ASL to communicate with her two deaf adopted grandsons. 


James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. And to keep oneself unpolluted by the world.”

Our 4 Deaf families (support staff) who have adopted Deaf children and biological children, served either in the children's program or in our hearing parents program each morning and evening.  We had a Deaf grandmother of one of our Deaf support family's join us, as well.  And the hearing mother of one of our Deaf support staff brought her therapy dog for all to love on.  

We ended up with 65 children ages 16 mos. to 17, with the majority of the children being 7 or under.  Many of our older hearing siblings became "helpers" with the younger children.  There were some great blessings observed with this. 

Next year, I am praying we have a 3 to 1 ratio of adult volunteers to children and ample space to spread them out appropriately, with additional volunteers to facilitate the behind the scenes activities as needed.




Our own family and friends support staff, some local and some not so local, were invaluable in their support and help.  No they do not know sign language.  Their support began even before set-up on Thursday morning and included grilling Thursday and Saturday evenings meals, baking cakes, decorating and/or serving for our parents special event, driving golf carts to transport things and people, to the clean-up after Asheville Deaf Church joined us for worship and lunch on Sunday.  You guys were great!

What would we have done without each of you?!?!

There are three ways you can help us prepare for next year's family retreat. 

You can thank God for what He allowed to happen at this years family retreat.  I shared many of our hearing families comments and photos in our May/June 2016 PrayerLetter here

You can join us in asking for God to continue to provide the needed volunteer staff and the needed donations specifically for our SFH ASL-Immersion Family Retreat 2017. 

And you can ask Him if He wants you to join with us next time. 





Matthew 25: 45, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these, you did it unto Me.”




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