Prince Andrew and His Royal Court

  • Nov. 29, 2012
  • #7979

Listen to Joni reminisce about her experience with a special boy and his volunteers at the Joni and Friends Family Retreat.

Prince Andrew and His Royal Court

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada with a heartwarming story.

This summer Ken and I had a chance to serve up at the Joni and Friends Family Retreat in Mission Springs, right in the middle of a Redwood Forest near Santa Cruz, California. Now as you’ve often heard me say, our retreats for special needs families are such a fun-filled week of great activities and opportunities to learn about Jesus Christ, but this particular retreat was even more active — active in an unusual way. You see, at this retreat, 60% of the special needs kids attending had significant degrees of autism. So you can imagine, we really kept our volunteers busy. And all week long, Ken and I were so impressed, so blessed, so inspired by these volunteers — we call them short-term missionaries — they did an awesome job serving these families of so many kids with autism!

In fact, let me tell you about Andrew. This little boy has a significant degree of autism, he’s non-verbal and non-stop when it comes to energy; in fact, Andrew is a "runner" so it took three STMs to keep up with this 10-year-old. Everywhere I looked at Family Retreat; there was Andrew going full-steam with his three volunteers, Naomi, Mariellen and Derek keeping pace (and giving mom and dad the chance to relax for the first time in ages)! These three young people, all of them about 17 or 18 years old; these three shadowed Andrew everywhere: to the pool, horseback riding, helping him climb the rock wall, helping him during the arts and crafts time and during the slip ‘n slide. It was so cute because Naomi, Mariellen and Derek named their little group, "Prince Andrew and his Royal Court." “We are his entourage”, they would say.

They were the first act in the Talent Show. And it was so funny. This foursome gets up front on stage, holding onto Andrew the whole time; anyway, Mariellen then announces: “Most of you may not know this, but little Andrew here is quite a magician! In fact, right now he will perform for you his most famous act!” With that, they let go of Andrew and this kid darted straight down the aisle and out the building. Of course Naomi and Derek went running after him, and Mariellen opened her arms wide and said, “ Ta-Da! You just witnessed Andrew’s famous disappearing act!” Well, I about lost it — it was so funny; but it was also very poignant. It spoke volumes about the love and compassion of Andrew’s three volunteers! About midweek, I wheeled outside my cabin one morning and there I saw Mariellen, Naomi and Derek with little Andrew. They had discovered that this active 10-year-old absolutely LOVED pushing a wheelchair over the speed bump in the driveway right in front of my cabin. In fact, I snapped a photo of Andrew and his royal court somewhere after the 18th time crossing that speed bump. And his volunteers were smiling all the way. My hat's off to these three awesome kids!!

Ephesians chapter 6, verse 7 says, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” You know, I think that’s why these three teenagers were able to smile throughout the entire week. Sure, they were helping Andrew wholeheartedly, as well as his mom and dad, but they were able to keep their energy up because they were serving Jesus. Hey, I’d love for you to see the photo —the one I took of Prince Andrew and his royal court — just go to my radio page today after this at and let that photo inspire you to come and volunteer next year with us at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat.

© Joni and Friends


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