Joni and Friends Blog

Special Needs Families are Experiencing Deep Community at Family Retreat!

“He sent out his word and healed them.”

Psalm 107:20

Shawn and her husband Wilson have two beautiful children. Ten-year-old Anna and her brother Rafa who is seven and has hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, multiple behavior challenges, a visual impairment, autism and the need to be fed through a feeding tube.

Rafa’s complex disabilities have left his parents feeling exhausted and often frustrated.

And those feelings were generated even before Rafa was born. After receiving his diagnosis while he was still in the womb, Shawn and Wilson were understandably overwhelmed, to say the least. But the trauma that they experienced based on their doctor’s reaction threatened not only their emotions but their preborn baby’s life, as well. Shawn vividly remembers, “They pushed us hard to terminate, but this is our beloved little baby boy whom God promised to us, so that was not an option.”

“God gave him life. Who am I to end that?” Wilson asked one of the doctors.

Despite their firm decision, Shawn and Wilson were horrified and offended to receive a book for parents whose babies die – with the chapters about abortion highlighted! 

Tearful and scared yet trusting in God, Shawn and Wilson decided to name their son Rafael, which means “God has healed.” They held firmly onto God’s promise that Rafael’s life would have meaning and purpose, and they nicknamed him Rafa.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 147:3

Day by day, the relentless challenges of medical concerns, doctors’ appointments and increased expenses eliminated the possibility of any family outings, and the reality of living with disability began to take a toll on Shawn and Wilson’s family. Isolated and nearly depleted emotionally and physically, Shawn and Wilson knew all too well the stresses and strains that disability brings.

But this very special couple was finally able to relax when they attended Family Retreat. They re-connected with each other by simply spending time together hiking, horseback riding and even napping one day knowing that their children were well cared for by our Joni and Friends Texas team. And Anna and Rafa had fun making new friends and learning about the never-ending love of Jesus!

“The staff members and volunteers were truly the hands and feet of Christ. I appreciated that it’s not just a love in tolerance for kids with special needs, but a real appreciation of each individual’s gifts. It was not ‘look what they can do despite their disability.’ They were seen and treated as people with true value and purpose.”


“We didn’t feel like the odd men out. Nobody cared that our son screamed or that we were using a tube to feed him. We got hugged and loved, and we had deep conversations about life with people who get it.”


Through Family Retreat, families like Shawn and Wilson’s experience the truth that “God has healed” our hearts and souls firsthand. Family Retreat is a safe place where every life is celebrated and every family is welcomed into the beautiful body of Christ, and it’s all made possible by the support of people like you!

Will You Help Support Joni and Friends Texas?

Your partnership makes all the difference! Your prayers and financial support makes it possible to send practical help and the love of Jesus to individuals and families living with disability.