Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Power of Friendship by Christen Morrow Ara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tim’s Covenant by Brad Mowry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Poured Out by Elizabeth Robinette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Oh How He Loves Us! by Christen Morrow

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When Do We Win?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Living Generosity

By Lyn TenBrink

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

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

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

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

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

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

His generosity gets even more personal through his Son:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Stepping Into Different Roles

I have a lot of favorite parts of my job. I guess that’s part of why I can always say that I love my job. Of course, there are things that I could do without, but when my days look like they do, it makes it pretty easy to push through those things. Something that I have been particularly excited about lately is getting to help some of our Capernaum friends around the division step into different roles.

For some, it’s getting to do work crew or summer staff this summer. I’m thrilled about them getting to spend a month at a YL camp where they will work tirelessly to serve hundreds, if not thousands, of campers. They will fold towels, make beds, wash dishes, serve meals, clean game rooms, fill water balloons, pass out safety glasses and so much more. All for free, all so kids can encounter Jesus.

For so many of our ministries, it’s the transition that they are walking through where they are graduating their older friends into church ministries or other opportunities. This has been a goal of ours for the past few years and it seems to really be taking off this year. Building relationships with churches takes time and none of us were ready to just send our friends off to something that didn’t exist or that we didn’t believe in. Thankfully, churches around the division are stepping up to say “yes” to our friends with disabilities, yes the church is in incomplete without them, yes we aren’t quite sure how to do this but we will, yes we believe we’ll be better for it. Just a couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the Regional Special Olympics Basketball tournament. Many of our friends in YL Capernaum are on teams, as well as many of the young adults that graduated into a ministry called The Ascent, run by three churches. My heart exploded when I looked down the bleaches to see volunteer leaders (with their own young children) from the Ascent, filling a row, cheering on their new friends. The buzzer sounded and they jumped off of the bleachers, charged the court and were high fiving our friends. They get it… it is all about relationships. A bench-clearing buzzer redefines what they signed up for, not a program, but a relationship.

And for my friend Owen, it means making another mark in Young Life’s history. Owen is one of our Capernaum alumni from Fayette County, GA. His YL leader taught him about being a leader and about how to use his gifts and talents to serve others. He’s done program (the funny guys) for clubs, a few training events and even a weekend but this summer he’ll be the first person with a disability to serve on a YL Assignment team in a program role. He’ll be a part of the humor in camp for thousands. And not humor in the eyes of the world, where people would laugh at him. But humor in the eyes of Christ, where kids walls will break down, they will enjoy pure humor, they will laugh with their peers and they will be reminded that the world is a bit bigger than themselves. Owen’s taking the stage and it’s sure to be amazing!

As I sit in the Denver airport today, I find my heart exploding over these great stories and the knowledge that with every new Capernaum ministry comes the opportunity for moments like these years down the road. It’s just all so good.

Thanks for praying with us and cheering us on!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

On A Mission

There is a beauty in our friends with different abilities serving one another at Young Life Capernaum. Last Wednesday, I got to see it in action again!

We were recently given the gift of a van that has space to transport our friends who use wheelchairs and our friends who don’t. Club was starting in an hour and we still had 2 pick ups to do, rush hour traffic, and of course the process of securing each wheelchair in our van all made for a bit of a rushed evening.

“I help you, Christen,’ said Zachary. Zachary takes service seriously and does it with a smile like at our local grocery store where I run into him bagging my groceries or at home, or hanging out with my family, his attitude is incredible! As we pulled up to Joey’s house, Zachary, always aware of safety, carefully got out, walked around to the back and opened the back hatch, lowered the folding ramp and stood by with a smile of pride and joy.

As Joey’s dad wheeled him toward the van, Zachary stepped forward; he said to me, ‘I do it or you?’ We didn’t need many words that day, Zachary and I worked seamlessly together and got our friends in that van, secured, through town, unloaded, and to club and right to the feet of Jesus!

When club was over, Zachary quietly stood by the van, opened the doors, unfolded the ramp, handed me tie-downs and LOVED helping! As we drove and talked about the club talk, I asked one of our friends Joey, what his experience with church was and he responded “I heard that God is nice and takes care of people but I don’t know much about Him….” I listened as my reserved friend Zachary piped up “I know about Him. He loves me. He helps me. You want Him help you too?”

I was amazed by the boldness of Zachary who told Joey about how God has helped him at school with his grades and to do a good job at his work sites. Next thing you know, our whole van is listening to Zachary pray for Joey who struggles with the way kids look at him. Zachary was asking Jesus to be Joey’s best friend, to help him find nice friends, and to know love. I was teary eyed. The van was quiet.

As we folded up the ramp and Zachary took his place in the van again, I asked my friends if they remembered the story we’d used all last semester to talk about Jesus. Zachary recounted perfectly the story of the friends lowering their friend who couldn’t walk down to Jesus’ feet. He even opened his Bible to show find the story. We reviewed the characters in the story and I asked my friends which one they were like. There was a long silence and I wondered if they were still tracking with me. I looked in the mirror and caught Zachary’s ear-to-ear grin as he said “I the friend. I take friend to Jesus, even push wheelchair.”

Zachary is on a mission. He is a junior in high school and this is his first year at Young Life Capernaum, but he is on our team! He is praying for his friends’, who also experience disability, not just to know about Jesus, but to know Him! We aren’t talking about him coming to camp as a camper this summer, he already knows Jesus! Zachary wants to get more friends to Jesus’ feet and he will do all he can to make that happen! We are working on a plan to get Zachary to work crew this summer!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Heart Of Stone - Lyn TenBrink

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

I love rocks and stones. We have them all over our house as door-stops, on window ledges, in bowls on coffee tables. We have them as souvenirs from trips since our kids were little to now. I even collect “hearts of stone” that our family has found on various excursions. 

While these rocks are reminders of places, moments of time, history, beauty, creativity, they also remind me of where my heart has been and the places God has had to chisel away so He could give me a heart of flesh- a new spirit.

The older I get the more familiar I am with the process I have to go through with God and sometimes it comes in the most beautiful and unexpected moments and usually results in tears that I can’t explain. Tears that are both joy filled and sorrowful, tears that almost feel holy because they come from such a sacred place where God did His work. Where He literally loosened my fists and opened my hands, palms up, suspended in the air with expectation.

The last few years I have experienced God’s chiseling of my heart of stone MOST through my relationships and experiences with Capernaum friends. God has used them to begin a new spirit around:

Justice. As I have watched and walked with, in order to navigate a place for a wheelchair in a movie theater, a line of people or seating at a restaurant. Thanks Annie!

Knowness. As such a remarkable gift that it forces me, as a cracked pot, to look at the expanse of my Potter’s hands. Thanks Shawnzy!

Generosity. From a friend who has to repeat the same sentence 3-5 times until I finally understand, every time. Thanks Krissy!

Authenticity. In a way that when a song comes on at club, and despite the plan, a dance party bubbles up as if it was meant to be. Thanks Katie!

Honesty. As if there is no other way and the gift that goes with it is a genuine “new day” ALL. THE. TIME. Thanks Andy!

This chiseling of my “heart of stone” very rarely is comfortable or chosen on my part. In fact I avoid it. But I think God has had enough of our hearts of stone, at least mine. And I have a lot of new friends who give me a very real picture of what a “heart of flesh” looks like and I like it!

Do you need some new friends? Do you need a new spirit? Well, let me invite you to Capernaum!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Serve Not With 'Have To' But With Love

Last week, 5000 Young Life Staff gathered in Orlando to celebrate Young Life’s 75th birthday! The room was filled with people representing every aspect of ministry in the mission. We had people from around the world, unfortunately not all 99 countries that we are in but close. We had people from YoungLives, Capernaum, Multi-Cultural and Urban, Suburban, Wyld Life, YL College, Private Schools, Military Bases, Small Towns, Inner Cities… you name it, they were there.

Young Life did a lot of spectacular things in preparation for the conference and while we were there, but one of my favorites was how they chose to make the Work Staff Team representative of the mission. The team was made up of 60 folks, chosen from among over 400 applications. People came from around the globe to serve on this team and they worked hard. Harder than we can imagine and covered details that we’ll never know about.

We had the privilege of having three of our Capernaum friends serve on the Work Staff Team along with three coaches (amazing Capernaum leaders). They each brought their unique personalities and
 Jessica and Kara serving the YL store at YL75
gifts to the group. Owen brought his energy, passion and voice. GR brought his deep love for Jesus, joy and the gift of faithful prayer. Kara brought her sweet spirit, encouragement to others and a heart of gold. They all served selflessly, setting a bar for the entire team and really, for all of us.

On night one, Young Life had every flag from every country in which we have ministry. A woman walked out on stage and with a spotlight on her, delicately played her cello while all 99 flags were paraded into the gathering space for all of us to take in the greatness and vastness of what God is doing around the world. Kara was so moved by this that by the end of the week in our journey back to Nashville, when I asked her what her greatest highlight of the week was, she said “the flag ceremony, I was just so amazed by how big God is and how awesome it is that people do ministry in those places. I couldn’t believe that I got to see that. I cried the whole time.”

It wasn’t Magic Kingdom or Universal Studios. It wasn’t free swag or all of the new friends that she made. It wasn’t a daily trip to Starbucks or endless amounts of great food. It was the picture of God at work around the world at the same time that He’s at work in our hearts.

Jessica, who served as Kara’s coach, said that every day Kara prayed out loud for the international staff and volunteers. She “thanked God that they could be free to talk about their faith and not be persecuted for it”. And then she would end her prayers asking God to help her and the work staff to “serve not with a ‘have to’ or with haste, but with love”.

May our hearts cry out in the same way and our memories be greater for the kingdom perspective that Kara has reminded us of!