Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Connection and Belonging by Brad Mowry

I stood in the doorway to the living room – I was frozen. It was a typical Sunday evening for us. We had several pizza boxes spread out on the dining room table and about 30 college students packed in our house. All of these Young Life leaders-in-training had come over to eat and hang out as usual.

But tonight was different. There was something added to the scene that I had never seen before. 

I grabbed my pizza and headed into the living room. My sons wrestled with and chased college guys around the house, the din of conversations and the ambience of the football game could be heard, and
Hannah lay on her therapy mat in the middle of the room.

What made this evening different from every other pizza night, was that there in front of me, Kristen was on the mat next to Hannah. She was combing Hannah’s hair with her fingers and talking to her. 

Hannah was cooing and laughing and looking in Kristen’s eyes – hearing her and being heard.

Why did I freeze? What was so different about this scene? In the 11 years since Hannah was born, this was the first time that someone other than a family member had taken this kind of notice of her. And, more than that, had really connected with her.

The Young Life podcast “On the Frontier” recently referenced the following quote by Brene Brown from her book, Daring Greatly:

“Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.”

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…"

Kristen took the time to truly connect with Hannah in a way that was meaningful to Hannah. Hannah was seen, heard, and valued by this young college-age woman who would eventually become her first Young Life leader.  

So Hannah and Kristen made a connection, but Hannah needs more than that. Hannah yearns to belong. She has a right to belong, and I want that for her and all of my friends with disabilities. 

How does one find belonging?  Brene Brown says, “true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” What I have come to know from parenting a child with significant disabilities and befriending others with disabilities, is that no one presents their “authentic, imperfect selves to the world” better than people with disabilities.

This is a gift that people with disabilities have to offer the body of Christ. Because people with intellectual disabilities are often vulnerable and very accepting of others - presenting their authentic,
imperfect selves in relationships - they help us to do the same.

Able-bodied and able-minded people can, and often do, hide our authentic, imperfect selves. I hold back from letting you see the real me: I might not tell you my internal struggles, I can wear loose clothing if I put on a few pounds, or utilize the “comb-over” if my hair thins any more. I will smile when I’m really sad, and tell you I’m fine when I’m not doing well at all.

But Hannah cannot hide her “authentic, imperfect” self (and I don’t believe she wants to). Hannah’s perceived “weaknesses” are not hidden when you spend time with her. Being with Hannah encourages me to abandon my attempts to fit in and to forsake my need for approval. 

We need to discard these false attempts not simply because we are being inauthentic, but because we will not find true belonging while we continue to attempt to deceive others or ourselves.

Disability ministries like YL Capernaum offer the church the opportunity to enter into relationship with a group of people who are much better at creating a community of belonging, when we invite them in. 

If belonging is based in presenting our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, and people with disabilities do this better than most of the world, we ought to be falling all over ourselves to invite people of all abilities, in the midst of our imperfections, into our churches. We are robbing ourselves of true connection and belonging by not seeking out friendships with those with disabilities. 

Brad Mowry works for Young Life – an international ministry reaching out to adolescents. Brad is the Coordinator for Young Life’s ministry with adolescents with disabilities in the Eastern and Greater NY Divisions (an area that covers everything from Ohio to Virginia to Maine). The Mowrys have 7 children and reside in Western Pennsylvania. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Power of Friendship by Christen Morrow Ara

It was the first day of school. The cafeteria buzzed with the excitement, anticipation and pure awkwardness of freshman navigating the social arena. New clothes and backpacks and shiny shoes bragged of back to school shopping. After checking in at the office, I was headed to my spot with my people… the cafeteria lunch tables where students with disabilities waited to be served and fed by staff. After greeting several of our Capernaum friends, I spotted what I’d been praying about… the freshmen! There is always a sense of shock and lostness on their faces during those first several days, and I was determined to show up and meet kids on day one!

Quietly and inconspicuously tucked at the end of a table sat Abby. Her tiny walker was parked behind her as she waited for an aide to deliver her lunch tray. Her beautiful brown eyes captured me, and I asked if I could sit next to her. The conversation that followed was more of a monologue with a few one word answers to my questions. Though we would both agree that our friendship began that day, she would tell you that some strange white girl speaking Spanish just wouldn’t go away and had all kinds of tails of potential adventures of high school and Young Life.

A few weeks later I visited Abby’s home. It took some persistence as she was sure it just would not work for her to go to the football game with me and several of her classmates. I showed up a little early, knowing that because of her disability and because of the culture, I needed to meet her parents and earn their trust. Her home was ‘in the projects’ on the south side of town, in one of the four units with wheelchair access, right alongside 3 other Capernaum students. As I began to chat with mom, I realized that Spanish was her second language, Meztec was her first, and English was foreign. There were several other kids in the home and my ease with them began to calm the tension the whole family felt at the idea of sending Abby off in this giant white van with ‘Young Life Capernaum’ painted on the side. As the lift folded and the door to the van shut, I watched as the 6 family members stood on the sidewalk waving.

The game was a blast, we won, and she spoke a few words and even smiled. But there was more coming for her … club, scavenger hunts, Starbucks runs, girls nights out, and later on even prom, overnights and CAMP! In fact it was at camp where Abby was changed forever when she met Jesus. The next year, Abby flew to Colorado with our Capernaum friends and leaders for a discipleship week of camp.

As Abby grew in her desire to know Jesus, her dad picked up a Bible and began reading, her mom
returned to her childhood faith, and the family recognized they needed a church. During this transition, I switched churches so we could begin attending a Spanish speaking service together. I watched this hesitant, fearful, reserved family begin to grow in service and leadership. I watched as some of Abby’s teenaged brothers made a decision to follow Christ!

Fast forward to today: It’s been 13 years of friendship. Abby, now Abigail, has graduated from a training program for receptionists and secretaries. She works, she has gained citizenship, and she has a deep confidence and wisdom. Our friendship has extended through family tragedies and life changes. They’ve welcomed my husband, daughter Abigail (who is named after Abby) and now soon our second child into their larger family. She and her siblings serve together in a local Spanish speaking congregation in lay ministry. Bartolo, Abby’s father, leads men’s Bible studies. Eva, Abby’s mother, shows up with food and counsel for women in crisis.

Recently, I asked Abby to join me at an interest meeting for beginning Young Life in a nearby community, and here is what she said, “Young Life changed my life and introduced me to Jesus, and it changed my family for generations. We now serve God together, we minister to families like ours who are down and out, don’t know Jesus, and don’t know where their next meal will come from. Beginning Young Life in a community like this will transform the community!”

This is the power of a friendship between a Young Life leader and her ‘club kid’ over the long haul. What a gift I was given in the school cafeteria that day… and what an impact this family is making through their lives of service!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tim’s Covenant by Brad Mowry

I hustled to the top of the zipline at Rockbridge – I admit, I drove rather than hiked up the stairs to reach the top of the quarter-mile long ride at Rockbridge Alum Springs. I was on assignment, but my area was at camp and they were taking the plunge on the zip that day.

One of my guys was getting suited up to take his ride. When I first met Tim, he introduced himself, “I’m Batman.”
“This is going to be easy for you, huh? Batman does this kind of thing everyday!” I said to Tim, noting that he was a little shaky. “Uh huh,” was his unsteady reply.

“Tell him about our bet,” one of leaders, also named Brad, said to Tim. The bet was, “If Tim wins (racing down the zipline), then Brad has to buy us ice cream. And if Brad wins…, then Brad still has
to buy ice cream.” A good bet to be sure!

We all laughed, and I enjoyed watching Brad and Batman sail off into the distance.

It wasn’t until I returned home and was listening to a Tim Keller sermon on God’s covenant with Abraham that I realized how much Tim’s “covenant” with Brad reflects the beauty of the gospel.

The traditional convent between two people in the Old Testament said, “If I break my end of the bargain, I will die. If you break your end of the bargain, you will die.”

But, God offered a different take in Jesus. God said, “If I break my end of the bargain, I will die. If you break your end of the bargain, I will die.” And, in fact, God never breaks His end of a promise, yet we do daily. And Jesus has taken on and conquered death on our behalf.

Did Tim and Brad know they were illustrating the gospel? I doubt it. But this is what happens often in ministry - we are ministered to. God shows the power of the gospel in little glimpses – even with a bet between Batman and his leader.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Poured Out by Elizabeth Robinette

In honor of my leaders at Rockbridge and all the leaders who served at camp this summer:

Have you sat on a bus on the way to camp and already felt overwhelmed? You were excited to serve a kid with special needs, but then you realized, “Oh my God, I am in charge of serving a kid with special needs.”

Have you had your personal space invaded, your water bottle stolen, or your hat removed from your head? Then you must be a Capernaum leader. Have you arrived at camp, sweating through your clothes and had campers hanging on you or hugging you? Then you must be a Capernaum leader. Have you realized it is Day 1 and come to the conclusion that perhaps you shouldn’t have volunteered; and you think you may not make it to Day 5? Then you must be a Capernaum leader.

Have you gone to bed, after an eventful day, in slightly damp sheets from the humidity, and woken up to a kid crawling in your bed? Then you must be a Capernaum leader. Have you panicked thinking you lost a camper….for the tenth time… and chased after him? Then you must be a Capernaum leader. Have you tended to every need? Tied shoes? Administered medication? Assisted in the bathroom? Cleaned? Redirected behavior? Served at mealtime? Encouraged to eat? (but not too much) Attempted to motivate walking to the next event? You must be a Capernaum leader. Have you tried to get your camper out of the pool, but he refuses to get out? And you wonder how you are going to make it to dinner on time? Have you wheeled your friend up the hill and realized you were not going to make it without help? You are a Capernaum leader.

Have you sat in a clubroom with hundreds of kids with special needs and other dedicated friends, watched faces light up with laughter at the egg drop game? Have you heard voices singing at the top of their lungs? Or watched dancing all out to Taylor Swift? Then you are a Capernaum leader. Have you witnessed your friends imitating the funny characters or repeating the lines? Have you realized that the person you brought to camp is no longer a kid with special needs but a friend? You are definitely a Capernaum leader. Have you realized this friend shares the same hopes and dreams you
have, the desire to be loved and accepted? Then you are a Capernaum leader. Have you watched your friend accomplish the ropes course (or at least try) and then celebrated together? Have you laughed together after being pied or dunked at the County Fair? You are a Capernaum leader.

Have you felt God’s strength in your weakness? Have you witnessed the smiles on the faces of friends being treated like royalty? Have you seen a glimpse of the Kingdom of God? Then you are a Capernaum leader indeed. Have you seen God’s glory in the other volunteers and staff as they cheer, serve, help, work, feed, love, give and give? Then you are a Capernaum leader. Have you shared God’s heart for people; God’s steadfast, unconditional love? Have you lived out your faith and not just talked about it, been poured out like a drink offering for the gospel? You are a Capernaum leader. Have you been the hands and feet of Christ? Have you been a light and revealed God’s glory? Then you are definitely a Capernaum leader. Have you gone home from camp excited for solitude, rest, air conditioning, and your own bed? But then you woke up missing all your friends from camp? You are a Capernaum leader. Have you watched your friends respond to the gospel? Have you rejoiced that they belong to God and are part His family, part of your family? You are a Capernaum leader.

Well done good and faithful servant! You are a Capernaum leader.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Oh How He Loves Us! by Christen Morrow

“Oh how He loves us….” Few places on earth give us a glimpse of the way God loves us in the way that Young Life camp does. We see this so clearly when our friends with disabilities are surrounded by leaders who know and care for them, when able bodied peers are experiencing camp alongside campers with disabilities and when an entire work crew, summer staff, and assigned team are serving behind the scenes.

Two weeks ago I was privileged to watch contagious joy as 134 campers with disabilities and their entire entourage of 99 high school age buddies and 94 adult leaders pulled into camp. The welcome was so wild, joyful, and outrageous that tears of joy poured down my cheeks. Rarely are individuals with disabilities received somewhere with so much anticipation, celebration, and excitement. From the moment they arrived, it seemed that heaven itself was singing, “He loves us, oh, how He loves us….”

As the week began and the games, activities, competitions, club talks and cabin times progressed, I caught glimpses of the impossible made possible. A camper who recently had her leg amputated left her wheelchair behind and was harnessed in to ride the zipline and then the giant swing, a sign language interpreter sat by her side making sure she was able to communicate clearly and knew exactly what to expect. Friends conquered fears as they mounted a horse, entered the pool, or climbed onto the ropes course. A group of leaders, who refused to be discouraged by their friend’s behaviors and were determined to continue to experience camp with him, got to witness as Ryan understood

JESUS was the light of the world and then asked one of his leaders to help him make Jesus the boss of his life! Watching our friends interact with Scripture through letters written to Jesus, activities in
cabins, and conversations with leaders were evidence of the love of Jesus being poured out. The moments and the stories are countless, but each one is known to God who loves us infinitely and who takes the time to display that love!

On the final morning, our speaker invited campers who wanted to make Jesus the boss of their life and live in the light to come forward and trace their hand in the giant sun she had used to represent the light of Jesus in the world. As our friends came forward with their leaders, they were lead in the song we’d heard heaven sing over us all week… “How He Loves Us.” Take a moment and listen to the sound of 327 people declaring along with heaven that God indeed LOVES us more than we can know… and realize that ‘US’ includes you. God’s love for our friends in Capernaum is a reminder of how God loves you and how God loves me! What a welcome, celebration and outrageous joy await us as we come near to Him!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When Do We Win?

At camp, each night there’s a fun game up on stage in which campers are chosen to participate in front of the whole 400+ people at camp. Last Monday night one of the campers, who was having a great time at camp but who doesn’t like loud noises and is a bit socially awkward, was chosen to come up on stage. He bravely walked up there, with his leader close behind him. The game on this particular evening involved the camper laying down on a scooter while holding a laundry basket. Meanwhile his leader was to push and pull him while he used the laundry basket to scoop small, colorful balls from the middle of the stage into their corner. The team that gathers the most balls wins.

Gradually teams were eliminated until it was just our friend and his leader and one other team. They battled and the other team was really good at this game; they were scooping up lots of the little colorful balls and their pile was overflowing. Our team was hanging in there, but their pile was substantially smaller when the music stopped and it was time to announce the winner.

However, then it happened, our team was announced and congratulated as the winners! The other team looked confused but graciously stepped off the stage, and the whole room cheered for our team. I looked around in wonder - here was a group of people who are really nice and who really desired to do the right thing, and yet they missed it. While it had been a brave act for our friend to walk up on stage and play the game in front of his peers, and we could celebrate this with him, he didn’t really win the game…..

The next night when it was game time, again one of our campers was chosen to participate. However, this evening was different. This evening the Game Show hosts were featuring someone from the audience with a special skill. They had heard of Sam’s skill and so they invited him to answer some questions in order to highlight his skill. Sam can name the exact release date of every animated movie that has been made since 2002 and can list the trailers previewed in the theatre before the movie is shown. So this night, after Sam named the dates and trailers for several popular movies, he received applause from the audience for his amazing memory. People were in awe of his skill. We were all amazed at the way God has made his brain work. This night we were not just allowing a person with a disability to win a game out of pity or because we didn’t know what else to do, but because he had a skill and an ability that we all enjoyed and could celebrate.

God has made each of us with gifts and abilities and skills that we are to identify, grow, and use for God’s glory. (I Corin. 12) Together, let’s celebrate those gifts with accurate opportunities to shine!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Living Generosity

By Lyn TenBrink

“Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood…. “  Genesis 8:21-22

“I will bring you out of from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you…” Exodus 6:6

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:15

Some of us grew up with a Bible that had all Gods promises highlighted.  I remember as a kid thinking it sooo great that God made those promises and He kept them.  So unlike anything I usually experienced in life with people. 

As I grew older and tried to mimic keeping my promises…I simply failed miserably, and it became a vicious cycle of disappointment.

But something changed in me as I developed friendships with people different than me, especially in   I began to see Gods intent in those promises as a covenant with humanity but also as extreme generosity!  He is God; He did not and does not need to make any promises to us!  But He did and does because of His extravagant love.  He proves He knows our needs and hears the cries of our heart by stepping in and lavishing His generosity of Spirit ALL OVER US!!!!! Everyday, Every hour, Every moment!!!

His generosity gets even more personal through his Son:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”  I Corinthians 10:13

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  John 8:11

God generously offers us peace, the gift of being known, faithfulness, presence, grace… the list could go on and on and on.  Often we struggle to mimic God’s example of fulfilling promises, but His generosity is something we can grasp.  Since I have been involved with Capernaum, I feel like I have been taking a crash course directly from God on generosity.  
My Capernaum friends extend generosity like no one else.  I am not talking about a transactional give and take, I am talking transformational inside out.

My Capernaum friends generously:
-       Repeat the same word 5 times as I struggle to understand.
-       Suffer sore muscles because I lift them out of their chair incorrectly.
-       Endure noises they hate and that agitate them just to be a part of a worship experience.
-       Let me put words on how they feel instead of me actually asking them.
-       Come to a club I planned instead of me asking them for their input.
-       Quietly accept society’s lie that their worth is in what they do.

This list could go on and on.  Our friends with disability have so much to teach us about the generosity of Jesus’ lavish love!  The last few years of my life I have only ingested a mite of it.  But every once in a while I imagine how different my life, my church, my friendships, my community would be if the generosity my friends show us was shown back to them?   How different would this world look if we truly let the generosity of Christs love lavish over it?

Jesus’ time on earth was the result of a generous Gods love overflowing onto this earth.  Jesus then generously stepped into the lives of everyone He came in contact with and then generously lavished Gods love all over them.

What if we read scripture through the eyes of Gods generosity?  What if we met people like our Capernaum friends and dared to imagine all the ways they were generous with us in life, spirit, mind and soul?