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Camp Blessing reminds adults with special needs that God designed them perfectly for a purpose

The entrance to Camp Blessing in central Texas Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 10th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Summer camps are in full swing. Kids across the country are swimming, ziplining, and setting marshmallows on fire. Young people with mental and physical disabilities used to be sidelined, but now they can attend a host of camps suited to their needs.

REICHARD: Few of those special camps are faith-based. A camp in Texas specializes in those, including a group of people not usually associated with the summer tradition.

WORLD Reporter Bonnie Pritchett visited that camp. Here’s the story.

TIM FERRELL: We're gonna we're gonna continue typing in because I'm trying to get some stuff loaded up so I can put it on my mp3 player…

BONNIE PRITCHETT: With his bags mostly packed the remaining camp prep for Tim Ferrell includes reloading thousands of songs accidentally deleted from his computer so he can create his camp playlists. One of his caregivers helps Tim/Ferrell who is legally blind and has Cerebral Palsy.

His parents, 78-year-old Shirley and 84-year-old Joel are happy to let her help.

Tim Ferrell is 52-years-old. And he’s going to summer camp.

AUDIO: [Laughter]

SHIRLEY: Oh. Ok. Well, be in the kitchen for a little bit.

Seated at the kitchen table in their College Station, TX home, Joel and Shirley discuss raising Tim.

SHIRLEY: Tim was born at 30 weeks. And it was some time about between six months and a year that we realized that he had different disabilities…

Then came the CP diagnosis. Their pediatrician warned Shirley not to have more children. A neurologist suggested Tim be institutionalized.

Joel, Tim, and Shirley Ferrell

Joel, Tim, and Shirley Ferrell Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

Joel Ferrell still scoffs at that idea.

JOEL: That was not gonna happen…

Buoyed by their faith and the support of their church and friends, they raised Tim at home with his older brother and had two more kids.

They raised Tim to be as independent as possible, including sending him to an overnight camp five hours away.

SHIRLEY: But this was why we drove so far because we learned that they had a camp for adults…

In 2019 they discovered Camp Blessing – just 40 minutes from home. The camp offers many of the same activities but with a notable distinction. Tim Ferrell explains.

TIM: At the other camp, we didn't get devotionals. We didn't get we didn't get worship. If you remember your days of growing up you had your church camps. You had youth camp. You had all that. I did not get all that when I was growing up. So, this is kind of my youth camp, my church camp…

And camps like that aren’t only for the campers. Physically caring for Tim isn’t difficult. But other things are.

SHIRLEY: To me, I think one of the most difficult things about having an adult son is that you want to always honor their adulthood and not always be the mom or the dad. But you still have that responsibility of making sure that he has what he needs…

Tim is more concise.

TIM: What that does for both—[Cough] excuse me—for all of us, is it just gives us a break…

So, while Tim is away, his parents will spend the week in Houston catching up with old friends, eating out and relaxing.

And Tim will spend his second week this summer at Camp Blessing. It’s an experience that never gets old for him - beginning from the very first movement he arrives.

AUDIO: Alright! Tim’s here. [Music and cheers]

Each camper exits their car and is escorted through two columns of cheering, welcoming camp staff and volunteers. Tim grins and bobs his head in rhythm as he rolls down the runway.

VOICE: Alright Tim! [Cheers, applause]

Tony Memmel, Camp Blessing’s worship leader greeted Tim at the cheer line. The two met one year after Memmel gave his testimony. His story revealed something Tim couldn’t see about the guitar-playing singer.

TIM: The idea that he only had one hand. And he does so well in the worship…

Tim Ferrell, left, and Tony Memmel practice the song for the Thursday night talent show.

Tim Ferrell, left, and Tony Memmel practice the song for the Thursday night talent show. Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

Learning to play guitar was a calling for Memmel. But how would he play with a left arm that ends at the elbow joint? He points to a spot on his arm.

TONY MEMMEL: I have a space on the end of my arm that is the exact perfect size of a guitar pick. Like I was 100% made – designed - to play the guitar…

SINGING: One. Two. Three. Four…

Securing the pick in place took eight years of trial-and-error. And a mutual love of music secured his friendship with Tim – and their recurring performance at the camp talent show.

SINGING: No I won’t back down. No, I won’t back down. [CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

From the stage, Memmel sees there’s hardly a dry eye.

As encouraging as that song may be— in the moment—Memmel wants campers to stand their ground on the eternal truth of who they are as God’s image bearers.

MEMMEL: And, so, what I like to tell the campers too is what what the world might perceive as weakness with the Lord can actually be something that is great strength. Because he's designed things in ways that maybe we don't understand yet…

Camp director Greg Anderson stands on that truth as well. His son, Brandt, has a genetic condition that significantly delays his growth. He is nonverbal and has hearing loss. At 21 years old, Brandt is the size of a slender 9-year-old.

ANDERSON: We say this every single week. We firmly believe that God does not make mistakes, period. Hard stop. Every single person, whether a volunteer, whether a camper, is perfectly created by God in His image for a purpose in his kingdom…

Not all campers have the verbal skills to shout “Amen!” But Tim Ferrell does.

TIM: I've had many opportunities to share, to share on what people have asked, Why am I in this chair? And I've had to say, that's the way that's the way God built me.

SINGER/MEMMEL: Every star up in the sky is shouting who God is. And every cell down deep inside is made in his image…

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in Central Texas.

SINGER/MEMMEL: The wonder of it all is he is mine and I am known. I am known.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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