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  • Jesse Doell

Told to Believe: Coming to Faith at Special Needs Camp

As many people know, one of the unique features of the Youth Farm Bible Camp is that we offer week long camp programming for adults with special needs (ASN). We’ve been doing this since the 1980’s and remain the only faith-based ASN camp in Saskatchewan. It’s one of the things that makes YFBC one of a kind, and it’s an integral part of who we are. Our kids campers train our staff to stretch their leadership, evangelism, and, much of the time, patience skills. Our ASN camps remind our staff about what it is to be human, and how to practically serve a God who is over flowing with compassion for those in need.

I started at the camp in 2008, fresh out of high school and looking to change some of the unhelpful habits I’d already begun in my life. God presented YFBC to me through a friend of mine and I dove in to my first week as a Junior Staff member. It changed my life. I still remember the names and faces of my first cabin (largely because most of them still come back every year!) and I still have very found memories of that week. I’d never felt more alive and through serving my campers God lead me to cast aside many insecurities that had been holding me back.

After being at the Youth Farm full time every summer since I’ve grown to have a lot of experience with special needs ministry. If you’ve ever done this type of work before you’ll understand that it’s common for spiritual questions to come up when you work with people with intellectual disabilities. One thats hounded me over many years is: When you have an intellectual disability what does it mean to have faith?

Can people with severe disabilities come to saving relationship with Christ? Do they all just receive get out of jail free cards and are called up to heaven automatically? And then most importantly, how do my answers to these questions affect what I do at camp?

This past week during our third ASN camp of the summer I received some answers. In addition to my regular responsibilities I was camp pastor and received the privilege of sharing the Word of God every day with an audience engaged enough to put any Sunday morning church service to shame (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the one who did the most talking, even during my messages!).

After Wednesday campfire, one camper who was a really good friend of mine came up to me to talk. After we spoke to each other for a bit he commented first on how I sounded like Billy Graham when I preach (which is one of the greatest compliments of my life) and then talked about how much he’d always wanted to meet Billy Graham.

That evening as I was praying over and planning my message the next morning Billy Graham was brought to mind again. So I looked through some videos on youtube and came across the last message of Billy Graham, “The Cross” that was distributed as a part of the My Hope Canada and America outreach effort.

I’d heard of it but never watched the whole thing. I watched it starting 22:00 minutes in and was brought to tears by the powerful display of the necessity of salvation and I again experienced and realized Jesus’ grace. I watched it again and had the same reaction. Then a thought came into my mind, “What if this just works the campers up to be emotional? I don’t want to upset anyone unnecessarily or just manipulate emotions” Thankfully, I quickly discarded that thought from my mind quickly. How awful and prideful of me to experience Jesus’ grace in an emotional way (As everyone does if they’ve ever encountered Jesus) and then decide that the campers at camp whom I love don’t deserve it or aren’t ready for it. That their intellectual issues prevent them from being able to engage Jesus emotionally in a real way. What a disgustingly common assumption.

So the next morning I lead the chapel and set the stage, describing the story of Jesus from Gethsemane to the cross, and then played the Billy Graham video. After the 10 minutes you could see in the eyes of many in the chapel, campers and staff, that they had met Jesus in some way thanks to Dr. Graham.

“Now I don’t understand all about it, there are many things about the cross and about salvation that I do not understand. And I’m not told that I have to understand it all. I’m told that I’m to believe and anybody can believe. A blind man can believe. A deaf man can believe. An old person can believe. A young person can believe. And that word believe means commit. I commit my life totally to Him”


If believing is giving intellectual assent to certain church doctrines or even “believing” that Jesus died on a cross in the same way I believe that the chair I sit on exists then there are many who can never come to faith. But because, believing IS committing like Dr. Graham says anyone can do it! There is no disability that can prevent you from encountering the Lord of the universe and their is no disability that can stop you from making an act of will in receiving him. Now, there may be some campers whom I never will be able to recognize it in, and that’s okay, I know Jesus speaks to hearts in ways I don’t understand. But this in no way excludes them from the ability to believe or from God’s willingness to transform, sanctify, and clothe people with special needs in His righteousness.

But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

JOHN 20:31

In a world where the church seems to waver from either believing that faith is not necessary for anyone to come to salvation to those who believe that if you believe the wrongs things about Genesis you’re going to hell I’m going to follow the lessons that I’ve leaned here in this place. It is through faith in Christ alone that anyone can experience the fullness of life and be saved and that gift of belief is open to everyone.

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