Group photo of Young Life Capernaum participants
Azusa Pacific University students have engaged with the local community this year by working with disabled teens and young adults through the Young Life Capernaum program. It is one of the many year round Local Engagement opportunities offered by the Office of Service and Discipleship (OSD).

“Young Life Capernaum is a ministry designed for students ages 14 to 22 with disabilities,” said Joseph Hsieh, junior a kinesiology major and OSD Local Engagement intern. “We want to engage in mentorship and build relationships within the community.”

Every other Friday, APU volunteers and club members gather at the Church of the Open Door in Glendora for club meetings. They spend the night cultivating personal relationships and spreading the word of God. “This program is important because it gives members a home where they can be themselves and encounter the Lord,” freshman acting major Allie Chobanian said. Volunteers lead the club meetings which consist of social time, games, a sermon (known as club talk), small group time, and dinner. While each semester is tailored to the participants, the general curriculum is designed to introduce the concepts of Jesus, faith, sin, and resurrection.

“We try to provide a space that is made for members’ needs to engage in authentic relationships,” Hsieh said. “At this point in the semester, I am able to have genuine connections with them. When it's my turn to give the club talk, I know who I’m talking to beyond a superficial relationship.”

During weeks where the club doesn’t meet, APU volunteers gather for leadership meetings to plan the next week’s meeting. “We go over prayer requests, what’s going on in our lives, and we pray for each of the teens and young adults by name,” Chobanian said. Leader meetings help keep the program organized while also building community between APU students. “Our leaders are amazing at building each other up,” Hsieh said. “It’s really helpful to have people alongside you working towards the same goal.”

Outside of weekly meetings, volunteers engage with club members through contact work, going with them to run errands or drive them to and from the meetings. “Our goal is to walk alongside our kids and live life with them,” Hsieh said. Chobanian recalled a time when one of the club members invited the volunteers to her art show. “It meant a lot that we were all there to support her, so the contact work aspect is super meaningful,” she said.

Participating in this program has been extremely impactful on APU students’ lives as well. “Seeing the club members grow in their faith is amazing,” Hsieh said. “We get to see the smiles on the kids’ faces during and after meetings. They get so excited to learn about Jesus, and that is a big reminder of why this program is so important.” Chobanian had a similar experience.

“Seeing them grow in their beliefs by inviting their friends to meetings or telling others about the Lord is a testament to how powerful faith can be,” she said. “It has challenged me in a healthy way to grow in my own beliefs.”

Young Life Capernaum also hosts two overnight camps each year where APU volunteers and club members get together to learn about Jesus and Scripture. They play games, listen to sermons, have dedicated worship time, and talk in small groups. “In November, we went to winter camp, and it was a meaningful experience to witness the club members encountering the Lord and help them ask the challenging questions that come with being a disciple,” Chobanian said.

“When I got to APU, I was looking for a place to use my background in disability ministry, and Young Life Capernaum gave me a sense of home and belonging as a freshman,” Chobanian said. “I highly recommend other APU students to come volunteer because it is the most fun and welcoming club you could ever be a part of.” Hsieh also encouraged students to reach out to the OSD to sign up as a leader. “Our friends would be really excited to meet anyone that wants to give volunteering a try,” he said.