In 1977 Bob Mitchell came to our region. During his visit we had the privilege of being taught the basics of Young Life. One of the things he said, that really stayed with me was, “what we are about in Young Life is not so much Christian witness as much as Christian withness.”
Then in 1995, while on an YL Capernaum Ministry study trip in Germany, I met a wonderful woman named Rosal Stiefel, who had been engaged in serving people with disabilities for 35 years. She talked to us about camping. She said, “We do not do camp to young people with disabilities. Instead we do camp with young people with disabilities.” She expounded on this idea saying, “Ministry with young people with disabilities is an experience of encountering Christ in each other.”
These two statements from two wonderful followers of Jesus, along with the majestic striking words of Jesus in Matthew 25, deeply influenced the early development of YL Capernaum Ministry.
Embedded in these words is: a theology of mutuality, a theology of reciprocity and a theology of incarnational encounters in one another. Those are not mere words or concepts. They are crucial to orientation and way of doing ministry along with our results.
The friends we engage with tend to be seen as tragedies to be pitied. They tend to be seen solely through the prism of ability; as those only who need to be offered help. When we engage our friends in this “ministry to” manner we truly disable our friends. We do not recognize the image of God in them with their corresponding spiritual gifts, talents, and abilities. They are stifled and unable to grow.
This is why we hold to our core value of “ministry with kids who happen to have disabilities.” This is a condescending approach in the best sense of the word which means “come down to be with”. When we take to our knee to be eye level we are condescending, recognizing our friend has something to offer us as do we for them.
We come recognizing we will encounter Jesus in our friends who were born this way to show the glory of God as Jesus stated in John 9:3. This orientation allows us to receive as well as give but it also allows our friends to give as well as receive.
The result is empowerment and an ever-expanding sense of who they are in Christ and what they can do. We become a holy beloved community in Jesus. We begin to experience Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (and I will add – neither disabled nor able-bodied) for you (we) are all one in Christ Jesus.
About three years ago I was suffering and I mean truly suffering with undiagnosed sleep apnea. Every day was overwhelming as it gets to function. One day I was getting ready for club and pouring my heart out to the world. God I can’t go on. How am I going to do club? I found myself begging God to take me home. I had sleep apnea for 5 years at that point.
So, I went to club. At the end of club I was feeding one of my friends named Stashu who needs total care. I was lost in my exhaustion. As I lifted a cookie to his mouth I stopped in wonder. I saw the most beautiful sparkle in Stashu’s eyes with a slight smile.
I could hear Stashu silently talking in the voice of Jesus, “Nick I understand daily wearing of a body that won’t function well. I understand what it is like to feel no one understands. I understand what it takes to get through each day. But I also understand the life I have is a gift to be lived in mystery, even joy, rather than a problem to be solved.”
I placed the cookie in Stashu’s mouth and smiled back at him and said, “Thanks Stashu.” Christ in him had given me hope and faith to go in spite of how badly I felt physically.
This is “withness.” This is ministry with kids. This is how we do Capernaum and God is glorified.
Praying for you as you are receiving and offering Christ with kids,