Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

Friday, December 11, 2015

Freshmen by Christen Morrow Ara

I love freshmen. I love contact work with freshmen. There is something so exciting in the air when you walk on campus and meet students who have recently entered what can be a terrifying world of high school and begin to be their friend!  The excitement of new possibilities, new lives transformed, new families touched, new camp experiences on the horizon, and all the life to be had together through friendships built in Young Life Capernaum…. And this fall, our Young Life Capernaum team in Fresno, California has had an exciting new emphasis on freshman. Our club is so alive and full with new friends who are freshmen in high school!

As my husband Christian and I enter into relationships with students, particularly those from Spanish speaking homes, we are having a blast! Our friends are now one semester into their high school career… and can you guess what they are talking about, dreaming about and looking forward to? According to our friend and co-leader (and also their teacher), Mike, Young Life Capernaum club is
the main topic of discussion from the morning after club until minutes before the next club begins! Mike said that they are trying to guess what the next themed club might be, who ‘gets to be last’ in getting dropped off; thus giving them just a little more time in the front seat of the mini van with their leader. They can’t get enough! Here are a few of this fall’s highlights from our freshmen friends: video game nights, pajama club, human bowling, super hero club, movie outings, Starbucks ‘just to catch up’ and riding “shotgun” with their wheelchair loaded in the back and long forgotten.

As we watch many of our older Young Life Capernaum friends transition and into the next stage of their lives and faith journey, we are so excited about a whole new generation of high school kids who are becoming our friends, who are being invited into a fullness (and silliness) of life that they haven’t ever dreamed of, and who will be introduced to the One who made them and loves them! What a privilege we have to start all over again with a new freshmen class and be sure that every teenager with a disability is invited into all that God has for them!

What has been the highlight for your freshmen friends??

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Universal Design by Lyn TenBrink

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

It has taken me awhile but I am learning that with the nature of my job and all the traveling to and fro, God uniquely weaves and connects learning points for me. For example just in the month of October I had a conversation with:
  • A woman in the airport who works with cities to create “universal design” in their public spaces. She was most excited about the variety of people she got to meet while working on a variety of projects.
  • A woman at a meeting I attended is working to develop a “universal design” around worship services.
  • A gentleman who was my seat-mate in the airplane has a cognitive disability and he works for a company that anticipates challenges he may have in his travels, and makes arrangements so that nothing gets in the way of his job. As he states it, “I work for a company that gets ‘universal design’ at every level.”
You get the message here; I have spent a lot of time thinking about “universal design.” As I have, questions have come to mind such as: 
Why do we need agencies and people to be intentional about this? 

Why don’t we practice hospitality and accessibility more often?

Why are public organizations more aware of and moving forward with UD than Christian organizations?

Why do we need laws to demand UD?
How have I been intentional about universal design in the last 24 hours?

These questions may have a variety of answers, but one thing I am convinced of is that these questions are part of the reason Jesus came.  He spent so much time modeling hospitality and accessibility; including a variety of learning styles and contexts so that people could hear “good news!”  He went to such a variety of people that his actions simply screamed, “ALL of these people are included, celebrated and needed” in the gospel of universal design!!!!  Jesus brought an inclusive, universal gospel of hospitality!!!!!

Our friends in Capernaum are part of that picture!  Jesus blew it up on so many different levels.  Our friends in Capernaum are changing those of us involved, and they are also opening our eyes to other “varieties” of people that Jesus came for!  Because I know Shawnzy,  Allen and Zach, its easier for me to invite Keisha and Azreal into my life. 

God is opening our hands so that we can invite more people to the table!

What does the life of Jesus in Luke 14 and Corinthians 12 have to say about “universal design?”
  • We prepare, invite and go intentionally as if it’s a new day!!!
  • We need to flip our individualistic thinking. We often think that we are the key to others flourishing, however THEY are also the key to my flourishing.
  • No part of the body is indispensable. None, not even one.

What would it take for us to be a people of universal design as Jesus intended?

Lets keep going my friends!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Davis' Story by Brad Mowry

I met Davis and his aide, Kate, at Capernaum camp last year. Davis is 19 years old and in a wheelchair. He is not very verbal and has much difficulty with loud music and crowds. I got to know Davis as I helped his aide get his feeding pump working (my daughter is also tube-fed so I am called in when someone’s having trouble!) and I entertained him with my imitations of Elmo and other Sesame Street characters.

On the first day of camp, I saw Kate pull in to camp with Davis and ran over to greet them. Davis had an Elmo stuffed animal this year, so my Elmo imitation got an early audience! 

Davis wasn’t doing well with the crowd and staying in our club meetings, so I had one of our property staff members set up a simulcast in the game room. Kate said, “I don’t want anyone to have to go to any trouble.” I replied, “Well, you don’t know where you are then, because it isn’t any trouble for us!” We often do whatever it takes for kids at Young Life camp, and just like in Mark 2, I had no doubts that we would “cut a whole in the roof” for a Capernaum camper to hear the gospel.  

At the end of the message, our camp speaker, Lori Conner shared with the kids that Jesus is making them an offer of relationship and they need to make a choice. She told them if they wanted a relationship with Jesus, they could say, "Yes,” to Jesus and she explained a simple “ABC” prayer - Admit, Believe, Commit.
When Lori said this and Davis heard it over the simulcast, he hopped in his wheelchair and shouted, “Yes, yes, yes! A-B-C, A-B-C, A-B-C!” When Lori told us the story, we all cried. I have seen a lot of kids – mostly typically functioning high schoolers – meet Christ at Young Life camp, but that was one of the most powerful conversions I have seen!

I am so blessed by knowing Davis and grateful that God brought him to Rockbridge, we “cut a hole in the roof” by setting up the simulcast, and his prayer has impacted so many people.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Out of the Abundance of the Heart... By Travis Feaver

Two years ago, when I was first introduced to Richard, I was told that he could not communicate. I was told that he could not speak, but that he was learning how to use a communication device that would speak for him, as speaking was too difficult due to his cerebral palsy. I was to be his aide at the local junior high school.

I remember the first day of school that year. I remember our first lunch. I was trying to feed him his fruit cocktail, and he kept frowning. Then, with a spastic wave of his arm, he knocked the fruit mix all over me. And then he smiled.

I learned very quickly that Richard knew how to communicate. He told me very clearly that day that he did not want his fruit. But there was more to it than that. I learned that what he really needed was someone to ask him what he did want, and to be patient, to wait for an answer.

As I sat with Richard, and as I waited with Richard, I learned that he really could talk, and that no one in the school system had ever given him the time and space he needed to communicate. He has a wide range of vocabulary, and he’s pretty easy to understand if you take the time to get to know him, his words, and his voice.

More than anything, he wanted to be included. He loved saying “Hi” to kids as we passed them during the lunch break. He began to get frustrated any time someone didn’t acknowledge him. This was a change. He had begun to expect to be noticed.

We invited Richard to club last year. His family was grateful that we were including him, and Richard was simply glad not to be in the after school program one day a week. He didn’t get much attention in the after school program, but at WyldLife, he was always a part of the action. That year, he learned that he was deeply loved. That year, he heard that Jesus came to earth and died so that he could be with Him forever.     

This last July, Richard was getting ready to go to camp with us. While filling out his health form with his grandmother, she told me that Richard had been asking her about heaven and hell, and wanted to know where he could have gotten ideas about this. I asked Richard if he wanted to talk about it, and he got very quiet. I told him we could talk about it later, without grandma if he wanted, and he agreed that would be best.

The day before we left for camp I came to hang out with Richard and pick up his luggage. We were sitting on his front lawn, waiting for grandma to come home, and I asked him if he wanted to talk about heaven and hell.


“What about heaven and hell?”


“About whether you are going to heaven or hell?”

“No,” he said. “Ma.” Grandma.

We talked about how Richard knew where he was going, that because he knew Jesus he knew he would be with him in heaven. I asked if grandma knew Jesus.

“I don’t know.”

Then his grandmother got home. I let her know that we had talked about it, and that Richard was asking questions because he wanted to know where she would go when she died, and that we would keep talking about it at camp.

Richard seemed relieved. He was excited to go to camp the next day, and I doubt he slept much that night.

The next morning, it seemed like the whole family was there to see Richard off. I stopped by his house to pick him up, and was greeted at the door by his mother, his aunt, and his grandmother. His sister and cousin were there too.

He couldn’t get out the door fast enough. We loaded him into the van, and we were off.

It was a great week of camp for Richard. He got to go swimming, sleep outside under the stars, play in the messy games, and do the ropes course. Every experience was a big deal. When asked what he
thought about each one, he would answer, “Cucuy,” his word for scary, the name of a Mexican monster. But when asked if it was fun, even though it was cucuy, he would grin and shout, “Yeah!”

Richard got a taste of heaven that week. But more than that, he got the key to heaven.

He learned through the club talks, and through cabin time that he could be sure of his salvation because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And he learned that he could share that relationship with others.

When we returned home after camp, he was able to communicate to me that we needed to talk to grandma. I asked him what he needed to tell her, and he could hardly contain himself. He just gave me this look that said, “You know.”

And I did. I asked if he wanted help telling grandma what he had learned about Jesus at camp, and he shouted, “Yeah! When?”

So, we have set up a time to get together and talk about Jesus with his grandmother.

Richard, this young man who supposedly could not communicate, is planning on sharing the good news of Christ with his own grandmother. Please pray for this young friend of mine, that he would be courageous, and bold as he shares the truth he now knows, and that his grandmother would not only hear the good news, but see it in his face.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Richard’s heart has gone from empty, to overflowing with love for God and love for others. He has learned worth, that he matters, and that he can make a difference.

Our God does crazy things. He opens the eyes of the blind, and opens the mouths of the mute. And when he does, we all are blessed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Abigal, her father's delight by Christen Morrow de Ara

Abigail. Her name means “her father’s delight” and she lives true to her name! Abigail’s stepfather has come to know the delight that she is and is richer for it… as are we as her Young Life leaders and community. But recently, as I have been getting to know her whole family and begun a friendship with Abigail’s mom, I’ve been able to share the delight that she is to her HEAVENLY FATHER.

Abigail’s mom Cindy is an incredibly strong woman.  She is a post partum nurse by trade and that nurturing nature carries over into every area of her life. She has known much adversity in her life and experienced hardships that would make most of us run and hide. This woman, however, continues to stand, to serve, to care for extended family, for her own Abigail, and now more than ever, to serve God. Cindy recently shared that Abigail has brought her back to her faith in Christ.

Since Abigail camp home from an inclusive week of camp this past summer, she has carried a sense of the delight of her Heavenly Father into her home. Abigail’s love is simply expressed, usually with a pat on the head and a gentle “love you,”( if you happen to have your hair in a pony tail or a bun, she may display even more of that love).   Abigail usually likes her space at club and tends to sit in the back by herself and rock and talk her way through the club talks. We’ve learned not to push her out of this space and to our surprise, that she is listening as she talks!

A couple of months ago, as Cindy dropped Abigail off for club, she mentioned a serious medical condition she was experiencing, that Abigail’s dad was being released from the hospital following surgery, and another family member hospitalized from an accident… and that she was off to care for them and would be back when club ended. As she left, my heart was heavy. I texted her and asked if we could pray for her when she returned. Cindy heartily welcomed the prayer and as another leader and I grabbed her hands to ask with her for healing in her body, Abigail joined. Abigail began to repeat our prayers, rubbing her mother’s back and reassuring her mom that Jesus heard and Jesus would heal her. “Don’t cry mom, its Ok….”  Our prayer reached the ears of her Heavenly Father who was delighted, I am sure. Her assurance of His healing power was real and deep. Her comforting of her mom was straight from the Father.  While we are still waiting to hear if she is cleared from the blood clots this week, we are rejoicing in all kinds of healing that has happened since we prayed as Cindy is experiencing grace, mercy, and a renewed relationship with Jesus.  

Abigail’s family continues to face challenges and last week lost their home in a house fire, but they have joined my family at church for several weeks now. We worship together, Abigail sings just a little louder and a beat behind the rest of the congregation and at times will join me in using sign language in her worship. Her delight in her Father and her desire to sing to Him, is a reminder to us of His delight in her… and in us. Cindy and I chatted after church Sunday about the reminder that Abigail is of the security we have to be with God and not do for God because of His delight in us… in the midst of health challenges, relationship challenges, and even in ashes. Wow. Might we know the delight we are to our Father like Abigail does. Might we bring that delight into our homes in a way that leads others into the grace and freedom Cindy is experiencing from Abigail’s leadership.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sitting for Hours by Suzanne Williams

Last week, I boarded a plane and headed to Florida to see my Nana who had just suffered from a stroke.  She’s ninety-six and a half (this begins to count again once you get to your nineties I guess) and has lived a strong, feisty, good life. 
Each time I told someone where I was headed, I couldn’t help but hear my friend Molly’s voice loud and clear. 

It was quite some time ago when Molly’s grandmother passed away, under the incredible care of hospice.  I was driving Molly to her Special Olympics basketball practice a couple of nights later and she was, per usual, rocking out on her air guitar to the High School Musical Soundtrack.  In an instant, she dropped the air guitar and pushed the power button on my car radio for an instant silence.  She then asked, “Do you know hospice?” 

I answered with some kind words about how hospice had taken great care of her grandmother.  She looked at me and said, “No, Suzanne, do you know hospice?”  So I began again, this time talking not only about her grandmother but also Christopher’s dad and how both of those experiences were filled with great care, kindness, grace and help.

It was clear that she didn’t like my answer because she quickly responded by pointing a finger at me and saying, “Hospice, it’s a bad idea.  You go to hospice and you die.”  And just as quickly as she powered the radio off, she powered it back on and picked up her guitar. 

Well, I couldn’t argue that one and just decided to leave that up to her family, mainly her sister, knowing that someday, if they ever need hospice in their family, it won’t go over well with Ms. Stubborn. 

So here I was last week, pulling into a Hospice House in Florida and thinking about Molly and so many of my other friends in Capernaum.  It’s hard not to when a giant sign reads “Hospice” in front of you.  Might as well of had a tag line reading “Come here and you die”. 

I giggled and shared the story with my sister, and then proceeded to spend the next four days coming and going from this stunning facility, to be with my Nana.  She lay peacefully in her bed, while we sat quietly in her room and talked to her despite the lack of hearing aids.  With each visit, I thought about how so many of my friends in Capernaum have taught me what it looks like to just sit with someone.  Our friends are amazing at sitting, with no purpose other than to be next to that person.  They can sit for hours with someone and say nothing. They rest comfortably in the presence of friends, regardless of response.  And with the same stubbornness that Molly has, believe, without a doubt that their friends know fully of their presence when they are around.  They have taught me to believe and know the same to be true. 

Molly was right.  My Nana did go to hospice to die, but it certainly wasn’t a bad idea.  They cared for her well and they provided us with a place to sit in the quiet of her room, knowing full well that she was aware and grateful for our presence. 

I’m picking my air guitar back up because Hudson is requesting music from the Planes Fire & Rescue Soundtrack, which happens to have an ACDC song on it.  Power on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jesus Talked to Me by Christen Morrow de Ara

Do you ever long to hear God speak? Do you ever just wish He would give you a message that is from Him for you or a friend? Sometimes I long for marching orders to be made crystal clear so I can obey Him and feel confident in that! To hear even three little words whispered from Him brings order and sense to my days. Listening to the Lord can at times feel like such a discipline to me though. It means being still, being quiet, making space. It means ceasing activity and busyness so that I can tune my heart and quiet my mind. That is hard. It is something I want to be able to do better, something I strive for and have even taught my friends about and hope to help them learn to do.

My friend Megan teaches me often with a depth and a confidence that is simple yet profound. Megan graduated from Capernaum and is now part of our Friends 4 Life community group for adults over 22 hosted by a local church and run my some parents and adults in the community.  Megan loves Jesus and her family is part of a small inner city church where there is more Spanish spoken than English, and Megan, her brother EJ, and sister Maddie are all welcomed and embraced with a simple understanding that Down Syndrome doesn’t make them any less valuable as members of their church. After church last Sunday, Megan’s mom, Michelle, called me.   

As I answered the phone, I could hear Megan in the background. Her stutter draws me in, it causes me to lean toward her and focus more intently to understand what she is saying, I found myself leaning into my phone as I navigated my shopping cart through crowded aisles, balancing the phone and managing the baby.  “Megan wanted you to know that she listened to Jesus and Jesus talked to her!” During worship, Megan often plays “air guitar,” but may also begin to dance or use sign language as part of her expression of her love for Jesus. Evidently, this past Sunday, she sat quietly. As worship ended, Megan leaned over to her mom and said “Jesus talked to me,” Megan stuttered. Michelle has been raising kids with special needs for 27 years and she has seen and heard lots of imaginative things from her children, but she sensed something different in Megan. “What did Jesus say to you, Megan?” she asked. “No more sad. He said that. No more sad.” Michelle told me that she wrestled with it but felt as they were leaving that if the Lord had spoken, it was purposeful and the pastor should know. Michelle marched Megan up to the pastor and helped her communicate her message. The pastor dissolved in tears. “That message was for me. Only God knows the sadness I’ve been carrying.”  Megan embraced her pastor and patted his back as she did, repeating “N-n-n-o more sad.” After the pastor thanked her and he wiped his tears of joy and relief, Megan smiled, waved goodbye and hopped in the car “I’m hungry, mom.”

Hearing from Jesus wasn’t something she needed broadcast to the church or used to gain approval or recognition, but it wasn’t something she doubted or second-guessed either. Jesus spoke, she heard, she shared and people were touched. It’s that simple. Jesus talks to those who listen and His words are life giving, healing, and transformational. I want to hear Jesus like Megan does and then I want to share what I hear with a simple faith and great joy… and then go get some lunch!