Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

Monday, November 3, 2014

Last Man Standing by Christen Morrow de Ara

Woodleaf is a holy place to me. It’s the first place I took kids with disabilities to camp and watched the Holy Spirit transform them. It’s the first place I saw typical kids embrace our friends with disabilities so fully. In fact, Young Life’s Woodleaf was recently recognized as the most diverse Christian camp in the world!

This past summer I saw the beauty of that diversity again in a fresh way. A group from Bishop, California came with 12 guys and their 2 leaders. Mostly athletes, this was a high-energy group who embraced every adventure and challenge with physical prowess and excitement that only an adolescent male can know. Night one, I watched them make their way down to the obstacle course in their camouflage gear, mud caked under their eyes chanting a call and response, but I was struck when I noticed the last guy in their group who was calling out their cheer to which they responded. John had an undeniable place among this cabin of boys. He rallied them on, hyped them up, called them forward, motivated them, all the while struggling to keep up as his four-foot-five-inch frame carried a lot of weight and moved slowly.  In any other setting, it would be clear that he has developmental delays, but here they disappear when he is in his role of motivator and cheerleader. I watched his calls carry his friends through the obstacle course and watched as they would complete a task then turn, without skipping a beat, as a group and reach arms over walls, under nets, through tires to pull, lift, and even carry him through as though it was the most natural act of teamwork. They were one.

John seemed to be about 100 yards behind this group anywhere in camp that they were moving just because of his own struggle physically to move, but not an inch behind their hearts and participation. Cabin unity games, mud wars, high dive contest, he was central to who they were. There wasn’t a struggle to include or a burden to make him part of their group—he just was. On more than one occasion, John somehow ended up on stage in a game, in the center of the water regatta or dancing as the program characters entered and all of a sudden, his 11 cabin mates would jump up next to him to join him, chant his name, or cheer him on.  They were the first to celebrate him.

I’ll never forget him as the last man standing in a game one night on stage in club, his 11 high school aged friends began to chant his name in celebration of his victory and in response, 370 typical high school kids and their leaders sprung to their feet to join—a standing ovation by 381 people who called him by name in celebration and embrace.  I don’t know many places on earth that our friends with disabilities are so fully invited, welcomed, and celebrated than in Young Life, a young man who the world might find unlovely or unwanted totally embraced into a family, a young man whose loss of his own father is being filled by Godly male leaders walking alongside of him and embracing who he is with joy, acceptance, and adventure…. This is John’s experience in his Young Life area.  It was no surprise to me that on the last day at Say So, John stood, took the microphone and exclaimed “I’m comin’ home to Jesus, man!” and the camp once again erupted in cheers, laughter and tears.

Woodleaf continues to be a holy place for all of us who experience this kind of embrace. We are all made more whole, feel more healed, and sense the welcome of our Heavenly Father when we watch the Johns of our community invited in, welcomed, and celebrated. We need them!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

16 Words by Lyn TenBrink

“HI!!!!  My name is Lyn! 
I need LOTS of help!
I want to be a nice stranger!”

Last month I was traveling for Young Life and we went out for dinner to a barbeque joint with our divisional trainers in Denver, CO.  We sat and I excused myself to the bathroom.  Immediately when I entered the bathroom I heard some grunts and guffaws going on.  I entered a stall and heard in a loud, frustrated and anxious voice, “I need help!”  I gave it a few seconds and then asked how I could help. 

I won’t go into the details but the young woman in the stall next to me did indeed need help.  I began handing her certain items under her stall and as I kept repeating this she very clearly described the scene and I could tell that there was something unique about her by the vocabulary she used, how she spoke and the need for me to keep explaining the boundaries that “should” be there when a stranger is helping you in a bathroom.

When things were in a “tidier” place, she burst out of her stall and stuck her hand out to shake my hand.  Immediately I reminded her we needed to wash our hands “real good” before we shook hands.  After we washed a few times she quickly stuck her hand out again and said, “Hi! My name is Marni and I need LOTS of help!!  You are a nice stranger!!  She disarmed me with a mere 16 words.

“Hi!!!!”  With much, much enthusiasm! We had not even seen each other yet, in fact we had been through a rather messy situation and I am not sure she was as excited to meet me as she was excited to finally bust out of that stall but seriously- I would be such humble pie if I was her and yet her eyes danced she was genuinely excited to meet me. Heart melts.

“My name is Marni and I need LOTS of help!”  This literally made me want to hug her because honestly….I need lots of help too!  It was like we were kindred spirits immediately.  How in the world do you not want everyone you meet to be that vulnerable?  What would it look like if we introduced our selves that way to every one?  What crap would we literally cut right through in our very soul if we started out introductions that way?  What would it be like if we addressed our God that way?  Is this what freedom in Christ is- simply naming it and moving forward with Him and others?  What a gift like none other!

“You are a nice stranger.”  Seriously, Marni’s enthusiasm clearly indicated that a “nice stranger” was a rare thing in her life.  Is it really that hard to be nice?  Do I make the time to be nice to strangers throughout my day?  Who’s a stranger exactly?

“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life… use your freedom as an excuse to serve one another in love: that’s how freedom grows.”  Galatians 5:13-15

Marni’s vulnerability allowed me to serve her in love and in turn my freedom grew. She gave me such wonderfully messy permission to live free in that bathroom!  I can’t tell you how often her 16 words have passed through my head since we met.  Last week I was in Colorado Springs at Senior Leader Training with Young Life.  I met so many new people and so many times in my head throughout the introductions I wanted to enthusiastically burst “Hi!!!!  My name is Lyn!  I need LOTS of help!  I want to be a nice stranger.”

But…I didn’t… probably should have because I have lots of friends and strangers in my life that could use the freedom in Christ transparency that Marni modeled to me.  It feels so good to admit I need help, and it feels so good to be nice even if we are strangers.  Thanks Marni where ever you are! 

Be a nice stranger this week!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

999 To Go by Suzanne Williams

When we found out who was going to be on our assignment team at Carolina Point, we started pinching ourselves.  Our assignment has been over for a month now and I’m still pinching myself that we got to spend three weeks with one another.  We learned, laughed, played, grew, worked together, tried new things, encountered hundreds of kids and leaned on the Lord in ways that were new to all of us.  It was stunning, to say the least.

I have had the privilege of sifting through photos from our time at Carolina Point, including our first ever Capernaum week there.  We have hundreds of photos, well over a thousand from our time.  Each one tells a different story, all worthy to be remembered, told again, celebrated and told again. 

Yet one comes back to my mind and heart regularly.  

The entire camp is in the brand new zero-entry level pool at camp, for the Pool Dance Party.  The pool was built with all of our Capernaum friends in mind, so this moment of every one of them being in the pool was one that had been dreamt about for years.  Even the man that designed and built the pool came out for it.  The perimeter of the pool was filled with empty wheelchairs.  There were sixty Young Life leaders either in the pool or helping at the diving board.  The Assignment Team encircled the pool.  Every noodle and flotation device known to man was in the pool.  There was a long line of friends waiting for their moment on the diving board.  Friends who are typically in wheelchairs, were going off the board in the arms of their YL leader.  Tim and Katie (two of our program directors) were on the mics, cheering on our friends and announcing who was up next.  A crowd of friends in the pool, waited and watched and cheered for each person as they jumped.  It didn’t matter what the jump looked like.  It wasn’t about grace or elegance or perfection.  It was about friendship and value and celebration and being together.

Thankfully as I look at this picture, I am reminded that God constantly gives us the grace to learn, time and again, that our friends with disabilities have great lessons for us.  That life is about friendship, value, celebration, community and an honest embrace of God’s love for us…thankfully not perfection or elegance. 

If each picture has a lesson or reminder in it, I have 999 more to soak into my heart.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Authenticity by Christen Morrow de Ara

My husband and I love being volunteers with the local Capernaum team… incredible leaders with commitment and passion through changing life seasons… they began as college students, most have gotten married, and several have kids now but continue to serve as volunteer leaders.

When we returned from Peru to live in Fresno and joined the team this past year, we began to get to know their high school friends. Christian, my husband, became friends with Nate right away. Nate is one of the most creative people I have ever met. He invents all kinds of animals, characters and even robots out of recyclables. Nate is an expert on anything from the world of Sci-Fi and Christian and Nate became fast friends on that basis. Christian also has a deep appreciation for one of Nate’s characteristics that not everyone appreciates quite as much. Through Christian’s eyes, I am coming to value this about Nate too… Nate is more genuine, honest, and authentic than anyone I have ever met. Nate will tell you what he sees, what he thinks, how you look, and who you are. 

Nate and Christian talk on the phone quite a bit and this year has been Nate’s last as a high school Capernaum friend, so we’ve been working on transition. It hasn’t been easy for Nate, but he and Christian continue to talk through it… they talk through the changes and challenges of life with a frankness and an openness that is so real it can be startling.  Last week when I was at a community Bible study for some of our older friends that Nate has been becoming a part of, I heard some of his honesty and it embarrassed me….

We were talking about friendship and how a friendship with God is what motivates us to have conversation with Him in prayer. Nate spoke up… “I have one friend who talks to me often, but its hard because he is married… to her…” (Nate points at me accusingly). “He can’t be my best friend because he is hers… and its hard. Its hard being married to her too, he told me that…” This is where I wanted to either defend myself, scold Nate’s “inappropriateness,” ask my husband ‘WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN TELLING HIM?” or hide under the table. I just laughed. I realized that Christian has been real with Nate too. Marriage is hard. Relationships are hard. Transition is hard. Life is hard, but when we pretend its not, sugar coat things, and act as though its all beautiful and easy, we aren’t being very honest and we certainly aren’t helping one another by denying the challenge. Christian has been real with Nate as he navigates changes, relationships, and his life… and Nate understands that even a marriage is challenging, but that God is the only friend who will ALWAYS be available to him. Nate was quick to point out that most friends are unavailable at some point, but this idea of God being available at all times and not ever hard to get along with meant the world to someone whose honesty often isolates him.

Christian and I laughed later as I relayed the story. Nate’s honestly is refreshing and he gets it… a relationship with God means being understood. All other relationships become clouded by our humanness… I can’t be offended by Nate’s clarity or honesty, I can learn from it though.  Perhaps if we were all a little more honest with one another and not so quick to respond with the first 14 responses of defensiveness that jumped into my mind, we’d feel a little more free to be where we are and find the kind of acceptance that Nate finds in his friendship with Christian, and ultimately with Christ.  We call Autism a disability, but I am learning instead to call Nate an authentic and honest friend.  Perhaps its me that is more disabled at times by my “appropriate, polite, and kind” ways and my quickness to judge “appropriate” and “inappropriate” behavior without hearing my friend’s heart that is just speaking truth.

Thanks, Nate, for keeping it real! We love you!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What It Would Look Like by GR Smith, Capernaum friend in Omaha

This month, we have a guest post from our friend G.R. Smith who attends Capernaum in Omaha.  I wonder what it would look like if we all reflected on what we've learned and took the time (and courage) to dream like G.R. does.  Can't wait to see how God continues to use G.R. in Young Life!

I enjoy the activities and studying the Bible at Young Life.  I like the people who are there.  I like to learn about the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.  I also like to learn about Heaven.  These are some topics we go over in Bible study at Young Life.

For Young Life, I went up to Castaway Camp in Minnesota and did work crew a few summers ago.  On work crew I vacuumed out the cabins and greeted the campers as they got off the busses.  This year, my friend Ann and I went to Nashville.  I was there to learn how to be leader for Young Life.  I learned how we can make our churches welcoming to everyone.  On the second night, we went to downtown Nashville, and we danced at a karaoke bar.  I had an awesome time.

Ann, my parents, and I are talking about me getting a job over at Young Life.  I was thinking about what I would like to do if I got a job working with Ann at Young Life.  I would come up with different activities that would be new and fun.  This summer, I am going to help out at Castaway Camp again for a week.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Young Life Capernaum by Justin McRoberts

Singer, Songwriter and Artist Justin McRoberts wrote this incredible blog post after a fundraising concert for YL Capernaum with Christopher Williams and Elizabeth Hunnicutt.


Monday, April 7, 2014

We Need to Teach Kids to Dance by Lyn Ten Brink

I grew up in a Christian tradition that didn’t dance.  Not only did we NOT dance -there were very negative connotations with dance.  However, I grew up trying to watch every dance movie that came out.  How can dancing be so wrong that whenever I watch Sister Act I cry over the last scene every time.  The sheer unashamed authentic joy bubbling up from the inside out!!!???  Seriously, how do you not want that authenticity?

On a Friday night a few years ago 3 of my Capernaum friends, Sarah, Shawnzy,  Jessie, and I met at my house for pizza and then we were going to a concert.  We got there a bit early and got a great couch together near the front of the room.

We couldn’t wait for the music to start and when it did there were squeals of joy and smiles a mile wide.  It appeared that the rest of the room grew up in the same tradition I did but the 3 women on the couch I was sitting with wished they had a bit more floor space so they could dance. 

After about 15 minutes it was fairly evident that this couch was not going to suffice.  Sara, who oozes joy from every pore of her being, simply bubbled over every time a song was performed but tried to hold it in.  I finally leaned over and whispered to Sara, “Do you want to get up and dance in the back of the room?”  She jumped up, grabbed my hands and we danced our way to the back of the room and got our groove on for the rest of the concert. 

We had so much fun in our little corner of the world.  Delight and sheer joy bubbled out of Sara with every beat!  I couldn’t help it.  I just cried with joy and sorrow at the same time.  Joy at the authentic spirit in Sara that could not be suppressed, and sorrow on my behalf, for I had fought this authenticity deeply in order to fit in or be accepted.

That concert was a few years ago and I have been dancing ever since.  It’s not pretty; a Dutch, white, oldish woman dancing, but I am exhausted from suppressing joy and sorrow.  I am exhausted with my own inauthenticity!  My Capernaum friends have taught me the authenticity God yearns for from us.  They get it.  I need them in my life- God knew that.

A few weeks ago I was at Young Life New Staff training in Florida with about 200 YL new staff.  Chap Clark was leading the teaching on the characteristics of disciples of Jesus and shared 4 points to help kids toward an authentic relationship with Jesus.  He concluded that as leaders , “We need to help kids dance.” 

So, Young Life and ministry everywhere….in Capernaum we know the kids who can dance, with reckless abandon, anytime, anywhere, it bubbles out of the core of their being, God is there---- we just need a beat. 

God desires authenticity.  Who do you need in your life to move there?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Don't Let Your Hearts Be Troubled by Christen Morrow de Ara

Its been a decade since I walked the are high school campuses with the my good friend and Area Director at the time, Mark Statema. We prayed, listened, and watched for where we should begin the second Capernaum Club in our area. One lunch hour at Sunnyside High School as I rounded a corner I laid eyes on a group of guys, all in wheelchairs who clearly had varying stages of Muscular Dystrophy. They were way too cool to talk to us, had their Slipknot tee shirts, ear buds in their ears, they were talking about the latest video games. “That’s it, we are starting here!” I declared to Mark. He looked a little surprised… but I went on to explain, these guys need Young Life leaders to walk with them. They are facing an ugly disease that will take their lives in the next 10 years, they need to know the giver of LIFE eternal.”

And so it was. We began with Friday nights playing life sized video games and pizza. Slowly, a club was born and we got to be a part of their family and families. Its been a privilege to take most of these guys to camp, to see them come into a relationship with Jesus, to walk alongside of them and their families as they face a disease that ravages their body with such courage.

These guys and their families have become my friends, my extended family. In spite of having moved overseas for 5 years, I’ve had the incredible privilege of walking their final days with most of them.. a gift to me. This week I am walking with the “last man standing” from our Sunnyside Capernaum team. JC went from being the most disinterested kid of the bunch to our friend, a leader, a brother. He is courageous and strong. His concern in these final days isn’t for himself, but for his mom and how she will handle his absence.

As I sat next to his bed today, I shared pictures from previous camp trips, told him stories of some of our crazy friends and leaders, and then we sat with this Scripture

John 14:1-3
 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

When everything is ready… my Heavenly Father is preparing a place for Him and it will soon be ready. In the meantime, I am learning from my friend JC how to NOT let my heart be troubled in the face of death….