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“Where are the lame? I must make my home in their shadow. Where are the lowly- the ones despised? Where is pain at this moment? Because I have tired of trying to get God to come to me, instead I will enter into the place where He already is... when you avoid pain, above all else, you are avoiding God.” ~ Matt Mooney, A Story Unfinished. 

Two weeks ago I stole this book from my friend Keri’s desk (with her permission). Little did I know, it was my heart that was about to be stolen. 

The Mooneys' firstborn son, Eliot, was born with a condition known as Trisomy 18. The Mooney’s prepared for the arrival of their son with the knowledge that it was entirely possible they would be able to enjoy only a few moments, maybe hours with him. With Eliot, every moment was a miracle, and they celebrated every day they were able to hold him in their arms. All 99 of them. 

"We started 99 balloons not as a way to remember Eliot... we needed no reminder. We miss him every day,” Matt says. “What we did need was a way to live out the lessons that God taught us in his life. So we started an organization called 99 Balloons to put into practice the things we saw people do for us. To surround families who are walking through a disability with their child.” 

For the last 8 years the Mooneys have been sharing this vision. Through 99 Balloons, they’ve been able to provide tangible opportunities for others to care for those whose lives have been impacted by disability, both locally and internationally. 

When Andrea and Ryan heard about what God was doing through 99 Balloons, they knew they wanted to be involved. They took their first step by volunteering for a rEcess night. These nights are designed to provide families living with disability a much needed and seldom received break. 

Andrea shares about her experience with rEcess, “It’s a complete blast, and such an honor when you are paired with a child, to spend that time with them. You get to know the child that you’re paired with, and the parents get that break. They trust you to take care of their child, and it’s a blessing. You say, ‘Go, be free for a while, we got this! It’s going to be okay.' You want them to feel at peace.”

Ryan says something else they love about rEcess, is that they are able to serve together as a family. “We have a 6 year old daughter, and we were able to take her with us. At a young age she’s able to experience rEcess and understand that while there may be some differences in ability, she can see the joy in their heart. That’s been really special for us, for her to be a part of that as well.” 

After a year of volunteering in this capacity with 99 Balloons, Ryan and Andrea were given an opportunity to be a part of what was happening internationally as well.  

"The plight of children and adults with disability in a global context is really a dark place,” Matt explains, "And often, marginalization is the reality for these folks. What we started here stateside, we've begun taking to other countries. Surrounding these families, and pronouncing beauty over everyone that God has made.”   

Andrea says the experience of being with the special needs children in an orphanage in Ghana has completely changed her perspective, “I think when we see someone with a disability or with a special need, our tendency is to feel either uncomfortable, or to feel as if something is wrong with them. And I’ve seen, more and more in my heart that something is wrong with me. That they are beautiful, and God made them, in his image. And just being in the orphanage in Uganda, and being with those children, the joy that they have in their hearts is genuine and real because God meets them where they are.” 

If this ministry has captured your heart like it captured ours, there’s a place for you in the story also. 

Ryan offers his advice for those who are interested, but unsure about where they might fit. “For someone who’s thinking about going to rEcess but maybe hasn’t totally jumped in... initially, some people maybe feel intimidated. They might think, 'I don’t know if I can really handle someone with special needs.' I would say, the staff does such a great job of training you, and really just making you feel comfortable right away. When you come in, they go over everything. They do a good job of making it easy for the person who’s volunteering.”

Matt also says anyone with a willing heart is welcome, "That’s part of what we believe, that if you’ll come in and be present, then you can actually help the people that we’re trying to help.” 

To connect with the team at 99 Balloons, visit www.99balloons.org.