“Hope, hope is one of the things I will be packing to take with me back to South Africa,” I shared with my mentor group.
I looked around the table of new and old friends with a heart of gratitude.
For ten days our family attended our mission organization’s PEP (personal enrichment program). The focus of this time is to provide soul care; not only for John and me, but for Micah, Jake and Caleb too. Membercare, particularly the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health of its families, is one of OC International’s core values. The attention and care given to its missionary families was one of the central reasons why our family chose to join OC International in January 2003.
Flash forward twelve years and here we were – attending PEP for the first time. It’s not that we hadn’t been afforded the opportunity before. We have participated in many other OC debriefing opportunities throughout our tenure with OC both on and off the mission field. One of the issues was timing. Our previous home assignments had been scheduled for the fall and winter – PEP is offered only in July.
The other central issue centered upon Jake and Caleb. With both boys on the autism spectrum, and having various challenges related to sensory, planning, and comfort issues, we wondered, “Could Jake and Caleb not just survive, but thrive in such a program?”
Well, the long and the short of it is that Caleb jumped in with both feet from the very first day! What an encouragement and what a joy to see how far this 12 year old boy has come! From singing to dancing to playing every single game (even water being dumped on his head), and participating in his group’s play on FUN NITE, Caleb laughed and smiled his way through the entire 10 day program.
Jake took a few days to warm up – and there were some bumps – but with the deliberate and intentional care of OC’s PEP staff, Jake became more and more integrated. So much so, that he participated in the FUN NITE by reciting the Gettysburg Address (and receiving a standing ovation!) and later, also playing a role in his group’s play.
One sweet compliment we received were these words, “We have never seen children on the autism spectrum to be so loving and affectionate.”
Another compliment: “When we were developing our rules for the week, Caleb said, ‘Be Thankful’ for his rule. I’ve never heard a child with autism show this kind of care and consideration.”
Way to go, Jake and Caleb!
The hope that I am packing in my suitcase back to South Africa next year centers upon these memories. If Jake and Caleb can participate and enjoy such a diverse and interactive time with children and adults they only had just met and in a setting in which there were many different things happening all at the same time, what might we try in South Africa upon our return?
Our previous years of homeschooling and home church in Jo’burg have isolated us. Not that this has been a bad thing – certainly not! Our homeschool and home church life has been an intentional one and the boys have gained much from these experiences. I wouldn’t trade these years for anything! However, the hope I take with me is that perhaps there is something more we can do to enhance their social learning and experiences – even as we homeschool. Perhaps we can even try again to find a South African church that will accept our boys as they are and do as the PEP staff did – allow our children to participate and demonstrate the wonderful gifts and abilities and personhood of Jake and Caleb.
This is the hope I am packing….