The Capernaum Project
It’s 3:44 am on Thursday, March 10, 2011. I cannot sleep. I am rehearsing a day that changed my life 25 years ago today. As my wife and 3 sons soundly sleep, my faithful dog Archie is up with me as I write and ponder a now 25 year-old miracle. Twenty-five years ago today I was at the very first Young Life Capernaum club. I remember it like yesterday. Will you share it with me and rejoice at what God has done from that very small beginning 25 years ago. The Lord says in Zechariah 4:10 “Do not despise small beginnings.”
MaryAnn, my supervisor and “big sister”, along with Kelly, Valerie, and I aimed at our 4th attempt to pull off a club for kids with disabilities. We had failed 3 times in the first 3 weeks. The day after our 3rd failure Kelly, MaryAnn and I met and were discouraged but decided we wanted to try again. To accomplish something that day, I suggested we name this ministry that Young Life was embarking on. I read that morning in Mark 2:1-13 of a paralytic, four magnificent friends’ faith through every obstacle, and Jesus who saw a person and not a disability. It all happened in Capernaum. I suggested we name it the Capernaum Project because of the story and the fact that we were going to be a 2 year pilot project here in San Jose.
So one week later MaryAnn, Valerie, Kelly and I acted as the 1986 version of the four Capernaum friends. We brought 5 kids in wheelchairs to the 1st club; Jim, Brett, Alison, John, and Lori. Amazingly, Lori is still with us today as a volunteer. We had a handful of my campaigner kids from the typical club I led.
We met in a small room of the Adult Independent Development Center in Santa Clara, California. That room had a hard time containing the joy and excitement that was pulsating all around us. We sang and I had never experienced such joy singing. We all made a joyful noise to the Lord. We played musical hats for the skit. The laughter, smiles, and joy at something so simple astounded me. I told kids about our club talks and that we would talk about Jesus and their challenges. I asked what they would like to talk about. They all said death. Their bus driver had died 2 weeks earlier and they were grieving.
Then we celebrated Jim’s birthday with a chocolate cake and candles. Valerie presented the cake to Jim and we sang Happy Birthday. Jim was so happy that I thought he might have a seizure. It would have been the 1st Capernaum seizure of many in the arms of loving friends.
When we finished club that day I drove kids home in our leased lift-equipped van. I’ve always, since that day, considered our van rides home as 2nd club. What a time we had for 2 hours in the van talking, laughing, getting lost, singing, and playing Mr. Radio. If you don’t know what that is I will teach you sometime. What a day it was.
Our committee of Carol Kerley, Ken and Alice Kerley, Esther Quement, and Alan Metelak were behind the scenes giving visionary support, prayer, and money. We loved each other deeply and gave ourselves to this new project in hopes of making it one in many in Young Life. Our vision was always the world and not just local.
A few months later my beloved MaryAnn asked me to be Area Director for Capernaum. MaryAnn believed in me when no one else did. I owe her my vocation. She is a spiritual mother that helped me birth Capernaum.
So here we are 25 years later. Every one of you is the offspring of this small beginning created and led by Jesus who loves kids with disabilities. I praise and worship our faithful God who got us started. I praise our miracle God who has led us today to have Capernaum around the world. But we are on our way to the next 25 years. I hope and pray to be around to see what God will do.
Lastly, I give celebration to this day in honor of Steve, Donny, Robbie, Julie, Mike, Jose, Antwon, Ben, Lucia, Herbie, Brandon, Ju, Diego, David, and others I didn’t know quite as well. They all died during our time here in San Jose. All were involved in club. All met the Lord. We will see them as ushers in Heaven.
Happy Birthday Capernaum! Let’s blow out the candles, celebrate, and go forward into all God has for us in the next 25 years.
The recipient of God’s grace!
Nick, the blessed