Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

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.

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!