Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

Monday, October 23, 2017

In Full View of Them All

by Brad Mowry

“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:11-12

The crowd had gathered to get a closer look at Jesus – to listen to his authoritative preaching firsthand. They hadn’t expected to get a picture that would blow their mind.

This is so much of what we are doing and the ripple effects of impact are felt all around what we do as people are watching.

I had a glimpse of this several years ago. My 18-year-old daughter, Hannah, has cerebral palsy and the church we attended had arranged for several women to rotate in spending the service will Hannah so my wife and I could attend worship.

“I’ve got to tell you a story!” the woman who was with Hannah for this particular Sunday said. She went on to tell a story of an older man who walked in to the church with tears in his eyes and told her that he’d never seen anything like what he saw in the parking lot.

I searched my mind, “What amazing thing had I done?” I wondered.

“I’ve never seen brothers care for their sister like that,” he said, hot tears filling his eyes.

I recounted the morning: my wife was already in the nursery, so I had the kids (only 4 at that time). I got out and started the wheelchair lift. Eli took over while I went to get Micah out of his car seat. Isaac backed Hannah off the lift, wiping drool from her mouth. Eli raised the lift back to the van, then we were off and heading to the door.

Amazing, huh?

I couldn’t figure it out – that’s just living for us. But to this man, who sat in his car each week while his wife attended the service, he saw love in a powerful way through a little girl who couldn’t walk, talk, or wipe her own mouth.

A similar thing happened in that house in Capernaum 2,000 years ago. Jesus impacted a man and did it “in full view of them all.”

We now have the chance to do the same. I firmly believe that when we love our friends with disabilities – in full view of them all – there is a powerful impact. The world is watching and when Young Life, and the Church care for the “overlooked and ignored” (Matt. 25:40, MSG) people are amazed.


Brad Mowry works for Young Life – an international adolescent outreach ministry. Brad is the Coordinator for Young Life’s ministry to 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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Disability to Disciple

by Kaitlyn Goehringer
Also, check out this video of Kate talking about Capernaum Friends Serving On Summer Staff and Work Crew


A tie-dye cat t-shirt, a bright pink backpack – straps pulled tight - resting uncomfortably high on her back, a contagious smile that makes you wonder what she’s thinking– Although she is surrounded by a sea of her peers, I can spot her almost immediately as she exits the school building. At first glance you might use a lot of words to describe Liz – joyful daughter, unintentional comedian, intellectual disability, but if you’re anything like me when I first met Liz, the word “disciple” probably isn’t one of them. I am ashamed to admit that for almost two years my self-righteous heart had kept me from seeing the disciple in Liz and so many others with disabilities like her. My prayer is that as you continue reading you will hear both the honest confessions of a self-righteous heart and the invitation of our gracious Father into the very depths of the Gospel through people with disabilities.

Self righteousness is our attempt – misguided as it may be – to try and earn or prove our rightness before God and others and even ourselves apart from the finished work of Jesus Christ. In all honesty, I live as if my own performance and abilities are somehow capable of earning or proving my worth to the world and to God. I live this way because at my core I want to believe it. I hate the thought that I can’t earn my own merit, because if I can’t earn it, I can’t control it, and I love being in control. What does all of this have to do with Liz or disabilities? Everything. You see, the way we view people with disabilities is a very clear window into the self-righteousness of our own hearts. Nothing diagnoses a self-righteous heart better than a poor or absent vision for people with disabilities in the Kingdom of God, and this is the very tool God used to begin to uproot the deep-seeded self-righteousness in my own heart.

Liz is 22 years old and was born with an intellectual disability. Make no mistake about it, Liz was created uniquely and purposefully this way to bring something to this world that I believe she could not bring if she fit our definition of “normal”. Liz lives life with an honesty and realness that I deeply crave. Nothing is fake with her and she doesn’t even have to try – it’s just who she is. When Liz prays, it is as if God himself is sitting right next to her, holding her hand and hearing her prayers. Liz’s relational lifestyle is one big, bold, risk – and so is her ministry. It doesn’t matter who you are – the grocery store cashier, a friend at school, the bowling alley attendant, the CEO of a fortune five hundred company – Liz will proudly and boldly share with you what she refers to as the “Gossip” of Christ. At this point I’ve lost track of how many people Liz has directly impacted with the Gospel. “Before I met Christ I struggled with my anger so much that I had to go to Shepheard Pratt Hospital for 10 days. I felt sad and worried and depressed. I didn’t believe in God or think he could help me with any of my problems” Liz would share. “I learned that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and came back to life. I decided I wanted a strong relationship with Jesus. I am more happy now that I have a friendship with Jesus. If you have a disability or don’t have a disability, God loves you the same. Don’t be shy about your disability. I thank God for giving me a disability because he made me special and he made you special too!”

Liz doesn’t know anything about theology. She doesn’t know the books of the Bible in order, or any old testament characters. She knows only one Bible verse by heart which took us almost 5 months to memorize. But Liz exemplifies this verse better than any person I know: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” NOTHING. Not a single thing. Except Jesus. Liz may not know the definition of sanctification or even that a word like sanctification exists, but Liz knows and lives the only thing that matters –Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, and that he changed her life. For a very long time I had a very limited vision for Liz and her faith, because to be quite honest – she has limited abilities. The extent of my vision for Liz was congruent with the extent to which I believed her abilities could perform – in life, in relationships and in God’s Kingdom. Essentially what I was living and believing in relation to Liz was that our abilities determine our usefulness in the Kingdom of God.

By sheer grace God began to reveal to me both the simplicity of His Gospel and the self-righteousness of my own heart through my relationship with Liz. Each day I would preach the Gospel of “justification by faith alone” yet live something completely different, and the more time I spent with Liz, the more this became glaringly evident. If I really believed that my faith is grounded and rooted in Christ’s performance and not my own; if my power and goodness and usefulness comes from Jesus Christ and him alone – what makes me any more “useful” to God in his Kingdom work than Liz?

This past April, after a year of leadership training, Liz was placed as a leader on our Capernaum team. My biggest fear for Liz as she entered into our leadership community was that she would be viewed as a “nice addition” to our team – that she wouldn’t be taken seriously or that people’s automatic reactions would sound something like “Aww, isn’t that sweet…” – like we somehow did Liz a favor by letting her become a leader. Let me be blunt: Liz does not need our sympathy. She has everything you and I have that matters: Jesus Christ. Our Young Life community in Baltimore desperately needs Liz. We need the picture of the Gospel that she provides. We need her unique gifting. We need the freedom she offers each of us as she reminds us daily that nothing can earn our place in God’s Kingdom. Our community is more complete because she is a part of it. Don’t get me wrong, training Liz and finding ways to uplift her special abilities was not and still is not easy. It certainly isn’t convenient or efficient by any means, but it is necessary. I am thankful to say that our leadership has welcomed Liz and sees her as an integral part of our community, but this was not by happenstance. A community-wide theologically correct vision for Liz took great intentionality from myself and from the area director with whom I work. While people with disabilities do not need you and I to pity them, they do need you and I to advocate for them. We need to be the people who are willing get our hands and knees dirty as we bend down on all fours and invite them to stand on our backs. This is the position of true humility, and it is the very position Christ willingly took for us in order to restore our dignity and bring us to himself. Jesus saw us as disciples long before we could do anything to earn it. Do you want to walk in the way of the Cross of Christ? Start by choosing to see a disciple, not a disability.






Monday, August 7, 2017

Danielle Taylor

My dear friend Danielle and I only see each other once in a blue moon these days and we laugh about how old we are getting. We live several hours apart and while I wish I could bring her with me to train and equip leaders and staff to understand and work with our friends who are nonverbal, Danielle still helps me in spirit through this beautiful piece we worked on many years ago. This past month I shared it with our entire assigned team as we prepared to welcome friends with many different abilities to camp, and Danielle became a voice for others. I am so proud to call her my friend and to have her ‘join me’ in ministry from afar!

Danielle Taylor


Who am I? My name is Danielle Taylor and I have Cerebral Palsy. I am a person that has what lots of people like to call “special needs.” I am not able to speak with you using my own voice or words. I am not able to walk, run, skip, or jump. I am not able to do any of my own personal care- including bathing, dressing, feeding, or toileting. I cannot run away from unpleasant circumstances, because, in a lot of ways, I am a prisoner in a body that doesn’t function “normally.”

I am a person, and I do the best I can with the abilities that God has given to me. I do have feelings. I do have opinions. I get angry, feel happy, giddy, selfish, hurt, frustrated, and even at times ignored and forgotten. I hate to sit and wait with nothing to do and no one to respond; it may look like sitting and waiting is all I can do, but my mind doesn’t just “sit and wait,” its ready for action and challenge! I answer “YES” with a smile and my head up, and I answer “NO” with a nod of my head and putting it down (when my body cooperates). Sometimes people perceive my movements to be stubbornness, when most of the time, they are just something that my body does without permission from my mind. I can also let you know by my facial expressions if I am happy or uncomfortable, or by using this really fancy machine called the Dynavox. My Dynavox is really the first voice I have ever gotten. Just like you had to learn to use your voice as a baby, I am slowly but surely learning how to use my new voice, so please be patient with me and try to allow me enough time to express what I am trying to say.


I enjoy lots of the same things that you do. I love to swim. I love to read and listen to good books. I love to eat pizza and chocolate any time of the day! I love good movies! I love to get all dressed up for proms and dances- you ought to see me in this chair when I get going! I love to go to Young Life and church to see all my friends and learn more about God! I love to have my hair look pretty, and I love it even more when people notice and tell me how great it looks. I have a great sense of humor, and I love sarcasm and any kind of joking around or pranks; when you have a disability like me, you have to laugh to make it through life!

I am not “retarded.” I know my addition and subtraction, and I even know my multiplication and division tables. I have known my ABCs for many, many years, and I am tired of having to prove it to people. I can write a sentence using my Dynavox, but it may take me an hour. I can read, but the physical aspects like holding a book, turning a page, or even vision make it very impractical, so I just listen and let you read.

I am a person with hopes and dreams. I want to be challenged. I want to show you who I am and what my abilities are! I want to be treated with respect. I need love and understanding, kindness and caring, maybe even sympathy, but I do not need pity. I am not a child, but a young adult, and oh how wonderful it would be if people would believe me when I say that, and treat me like a young adult. Please try to get to know me, and please, look past this wheelchair and these flailing arms to see the person inside. Do not talk about me when I am there, talk to me. My disability doesn’t affect my hearing or my ability to understand what you are saying to me. Listen to my Grandparents, friends, and assistants who truly know me and know my needs- they are my voice. Put yourself in my mind and get to know me, let me get to know you. Believe in me. I can do many things that may surprise you if you just allow me to. Have faith in me, I deserve that. I have no hidden agendas and I will not lie to you. Treat me as you would want to be treated- I am someone just like you- someone with weaknesses and strengths, abilities and disabilities, hopes, and dreams, but most of all- a person with HOPE. My hope lies in knowing that someday, I will leave this “handicapped” body behind, and my spirit will be free for eternity with God in heaven- and then you will see!!


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Xuan's Story: Not Defined By Limitations

Guest post by Xuan Truong
I was sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck at Young Life camp. My head barely reached the bottom of the truck door window. I looked up and stared fearfully at my friend who had spiritually mentored me during my last semester as an undergrad. “What am I doing?” I yelled through the crack of the window. All I got for a response was a smile and a chuckle. I could tell she had been excitedly anticipating this moment for days. She was going to have a blast watching me from below. Fear began to take a stronger grip as we made our way up the mountain. I listened as the driver made small conversation with my zip-line partner, trying not to think about what I just agreed to.

Zip-lining itself was not my main concern. It was the impact of the stopping brakes at the end that I
feared would crush my bones. In this case, the camp staff decided not to use the brake, but instead have someone catch me. I thought that was the worst idea ever. Having my body crash into some guy I barely met. What am I even doing up here in the mountains, at the hands of strangers? I am just a little person, not even 3 feet tall. What am I doing going on a zip-line? My parents would kill me.

I have a condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) or brittle bone disease. Growing up, I was constantly reminded of my limitations. Statements like you can’t do this, you aren’t strong enough. You are too small. You are too weak. Your voice isn’t loud enough. You will always need help. Those phrases tore at my self-esteem, my core. They were repeated over and over again by not just my parents, but by most of my relatives and people who would barely know me. My world was a preset box of my inability.

But here I was on top of this cliff, watching as the crewmember attaches the hooks to the line. These hooks would be the security between the trench below and me. For the past five years I have been breaking the limitations my family has imposed on me one by one. It surprised them but more importantly, I surprised myself. From moving out on my own, attending multiple higher-level institutions and travelling abroad without my parents, I soon became known as the “adventurous” one in my family. Adventurous indeed. I was about to do something that many people in normal physical conditions would never choose to do. The lift that the camp employee was standing on began to lower. I was now fully strapped on to the zip-line. He let go and I slowly descended down.

The actual experience on that zip-line was a bit anti-climatic. Because of my weight, the speed at which I was carried down was much slower than expected. Nonetheless, when asked I told people
that this was my favorite part about camp. It taught me a lot about fears. Not just my own, but overcoming fears that others have placed on me. From then on, I realized most of the limitations I thought were my own were actually from others. Society has conditioned us to see the disability before the ability. In the country that my parents originate from, a person such as I going off to college was unheard of. Those restrictions they placed on my life were motivated by fear. In turn, I inherited their fears and subconsciously turned them into my own truths. When someone tells you it can’t be done, it’s more of a reflection of their limitations not yours.

As humans we all have our own individual limitations. That is what makes us unique. I have accepted long ago that I will never be able to walk. That alone closes a lot of doors both personal and career opportunities. However, recently I have started to notice how my own so-called “limitations” have been opening conversations about having a disability.

I now define my own limits. I know what I am capable of, when I need assistance, and when a task is not suitable for me to complete. My family, my friends, or society no longer defines these limitations. More importantly than that, I want others with disabilities to have opportunities to do something so daring that it transcends their own barriers. I want them to have my zip line experience.

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.