Every year during Happiness Retreat one of the most popular
items on the program is the talent show. Michael Ayers and his wife attended
the show this year to see their daughter Ashley perform.
Ashley, 34, is a resident of Baptist Children’s Homes of
North Carolina (BCH). Ayers said his daughter tends to be more on the quiet,
introverted side, but since coming to live at BCH four years ago she has
learned how to better interact with people and has opened up more.
Living at BCH has helped her do more things on her own, like
making her bed and doing her laundry. “Everyone needs their wings,” Ayers said.
Happiness Retreat is one way youth and adults with
developmental disabilities like Ashley are able to just be themselves. “They
don’t have the same outlets a lot of others do, and Happiness Retreat gives
them that,” Ayers said.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) began
Happiness Retreat in 1974. This year four three-day retreats were held at
Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro and one three-day retreat was held at
Truett Camp. The retreats look much like a mini-Vacation Bible School and
include worship, Bible study, arts and crafts, and games. More than 850 campers
and chaperones attended retreats this year.
Every year volunteers from North Carolina Baptist churches
across the state come to Happiness Retreat to help lead in all aspects of the
program. Donnie Wiltshire, BSC consultant for special ministries, said the
retreats wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers.
Wiltshire said volunteers do what they do because of the
campers. “No doubt about it, it’s the campers. An opportunity to have an
experience like this, and to be with so many people who really love them, is
very rare in the disability community,” he said.
For all the fun and games, the priority remains teaching the
gospel of Jesus Christ. “We want to create an environment where the campers can
experience the love of Christ and respond,” Wiltshire said.
Wiltshire encourages people to remember that those with
disabilities “are people created in the image of God and worth the cost of the
life of Christ.”
“We’re all different,” he said. “This is just a difference
that surprises us and we’ve learned by our society that people who are so
different should be marginalized or hidden. Not only do we have a lot to give
them, we have a lot to learn from them.”
Wiltshire said the main barrier that stands between the
church and those with disabilities is attitude. “Don’t be afraid. Just reach
out and love them. As our attitudes change, they will receive a warmer welcome
in our churches,” he said.
Lindsey Jackson is also a resident of BCH and a three-year
Happiness Retreat participant. “Happiness Retreat lets me be myself and do
different things with different people,” she said. Jackson enjoys the talent
show and making new friends each year.
She also enjoys Happiness Retreat because she doesn’t feel
judged. “People judge people with disabilities, and they don’t give us the full
credit for what we can do,” she said.
Jackson works a few hours each day as a dietary aid and also
volunteers in the Alzheimer’s unit at a nearby nursing home. She is grateful
for her time with the senior adults and takes opportunities to encourage them
and help them have fun.
Happiness Retreat volunteer Ron Huber has a 43-year-old
daughter who is developmentally disabled. For nearly 30 years Huber and his
daughter have been coming to Happiness Retreat. “We grew together with Happiness
Retreat,” he said. “The minute she left she was talking about next year.”
Raising a child with a disability has taught Huber the
importance of focusing on the positive. “You need to focus on what the child’s
strengths are and how they can be part of the world. It’s more important to
imagine what it can be than what it could have been,” he said.
Although not always easy, Huber has learned to trust God. “You’ve
got to trust that there’s a power in control, and you’re not that power. Let
Christ be central in your home. You’ve got to let God do the developing and
molding and shaping,” Huber said.
Happiness Retreat is a family event for many volunteers.
Courtney Smith, 22, along with her sister, mom and dad, all volunteer. Smith
graduated earlier this year from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro
and is planning to attend seminary in preparation to answer God’s call to
vocational, full-time missions. With a degree in community and youth sports
development, Smith wants to work with underserved people groups and integrate
physical activity into her ministry.
This year Smith brought with her to Happiness Retreat the
8-year-old autistic boy she has been working with for the last four years.
Watching him grow, Smith knows that “the Lord has put me there for a reason.”
Happiness Retreat is a time for the campers to try new
things — and a time for
volunteers to be patient and to let them try. “Let them do what they’re capable
of,” Smith said. “This is a time for us to be a friend.”
For more information about special ministries visit