(Written by Lauren Sharp)
“I don’t have a background working with special needs kids. God’s made YLC work, and it’s exciting.” -- Stefan Kling
Young Life Capernaum (YLC) gives young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the chance to experience all the benefits of Young Life by bringing together this often isolated peer group. Whether it’s through regular “club” meetings, camp, or a number of other activities, YLC kids have fun, make friends, develop self-esteem and begin a relationship with Jesus.
After coming to City Church, Erik and Sarah Bonkovsky and Blake and Lindsey Stack realized that while Hanover County had established YLC, Richmond City had yet to do so. In 2011, the two couples approached Stefan Kling and David Perks – both with Young Life backgrounds - to work with YLC in Hanover and start a chapter in Richmond.
Barriers to Entry
Getting a YLC program off the ground may sound fairly straightforward, but doing so in Richmond has been a story of prayer, perseverance, and God’s provision in the face of a lack of resources, awareness, and trust.*
• Resources. In general, YLC and special needs programs struggle in under resourced areas where there isn’t a lot of money or transportation to support consistent attendance, and often there’s a lack of parental involvement to reinforce the lessons learned during club. • Awareness. The team at City Church is still finding it difficult to spread the news through networks and organizations that serve special needs families. • Trust. The volunteers know that more than being friends with the kids, they have to earn their trust and their parents’ support so they can build deeper, long-term relationships and truly see results. The team is still looking for some parents of special needs kids to champion YLC to others and help earn more parents trust.
Fully aware of the challenges ahead, the team went forth in prayer and simply committed to show up and let God do the rest. Stefan commented that over the past two years, seeing the progress that’s been made has taught him that God provides and sustains in spite of our inadequacies. Stefan feels unprepared and unqualified and inadequate, but He knows God’s goodness is magnified through our weakness and he’s called to trust that promise. He added, “It doesn’t mean you don’t try to prepare, but He’s shown He’s the Provider and Sustainer.”
God’s Personalized Pursuit
So, what does that look like? If you were at the first night of club last year, you would have seen a group kids that was hesitant, fearful, and non-communicative—some of the kids do not speak at all. Stefan related that they had a fun event, “but personal connection wasn’t necessarily there. The kids were not interacting in a way that we’d hoped.” They were not engaging with leaders, participating, singing songs, or listening to the message. But over the course of the year several really special things happened where the team saw God working in the midst of club. One of them is Davis’s story.
Davis is in a wheelchair and has limited communication skills. He doesn’t like big rooms, big groups, or big sounds. So YLC club is truly a bad fit! At first, he would circle the perimeter of the room and wouldn’t speak to anyone. One night, Davis’ parents shared that he likes Black Eyed Peas songs and knock-knock jokes, so the YLC team made sure to include Fergie and a few jokes at the next club. It worked. Slowly, over the course of several months, Davis came in closer. At one club, the kids started an activity where they stretched out a bike tire to get everyone inside, then they started calling for Davis to join. No one thought he would, but once it was wide enough he rolled himself in. The team knew they’d just seen the unique way God pursues us each individually, based on our personalities, our relationships, and our circumstances. Jesus did this when called out to Zacchaeus in a tree, gently conversed with the woman at the well, and invited his disciples to a new occupation. With Davis, and with us, God works through the Spirit in our hearts and in community to meet us where we are, too. He knew that with a little music and a good joke and some time, Davis would open up to the new friends He brought together through YLC…and ultimately a relationship with Him.
*Can you help us break through some of these barriers? Want learn more about getting involved with Young Life Capernaum? Contact Blake Stack (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Stefan Kling (email@example.com).