An Able Legacy

From the Spring 2011 issue of Relationships magazine.

Steve Roloff hated life in middle school. Born with cerebral palsy — a collective neurological disorder that affects movement and muscle coordination — Roloff's legs often refused to cooperate; when he spoke, he slurred his speech. "People get rejected when they are not able to conform to society's demands," he said.

A teacher invited Roloff to a youth event at a local church. The speaker that night also suffered from a disability. He spoke about strength, and Roloff found he needed some too. "I needed to start a relationship with Jesus Christ," Roloff said. "That [was] when my life changed and I got more confident in myself and started to focus out, instead of focusing in."

The challenge to fit in, however, followed him to high school. Used to sitting alone at lunch, he was surprised when one day someone sat down next to him. That someone turned out to be a local Young Life leader. "He befriended me when no one else would," Roloff said.

Soon after, Roloff started attending club and hanging out with the leaders when they did their contact work. "This not only gave me social skills," Roloff said, "but [the] confidence to interact and reach out to my peers who needed Christ."

Fast forward more than 20 years to the fall of 2010, where Roloff has completed the first stages of opening a church aimed at building those same relational bridges to the broader disabled community. Based in Denver, Colo., Broken Tree Community Church will not only minister to an often-ignored segment of the population, but help network community efforts to assist them as well.

Achieving this vision rides the coattails of a life that has already defied the odds. In 1995, Roloff married his wife, Jill, whom he had known sporadically since childhood. Jill, also born with cerebral palsy, complements her husband in more than just his vision. Though his arms are weak, hers are strong; though her legs are weak, his are strong. Jill also gave the new church its name. "Everyone is broken," Roloff said. "The only way we could ultimately be healed of this brokenness is a relationship with Jesus Christ, who was broken for us by dying on a tree."

Nine months after getting married, amid pressures to abort the pregnancy, their son Dylan was born. Three years later, another son, Colby, followed. Neither suffers from a disability, yet both have taken hold of their parents' vision. Dylan, now 15, regularly volunteers for Capernaum (Young Life's ministry with kids with disabilities) in Denver. He went to Young Life's Crooked Creek Ranch last summer to help leaders minister to teens with disabilities. "You can never say what it's like [to be disabled]," Dylan said, well aware that imagination and empathy can only offer limited insight. "We're here to make a difference with the disabled community and help them make a real connection with God."

"Of course," said Roloff, "whatever big brother does, little brother does too." Colby, 11, attends WyldLife in nearby Castle Rock, Colo., and helps with Capernaum as well.

Now, at the beginning of a new ministry, Roloff wants to continue to extend the grace first shown to him all those years ago. "People who are disabled have dreams, visions and callings too," he said, "and it's our desire at Broken Tree to do everything we can to see those dreams, visions and callings fulfilled."

For more information about Broken Tree Community Church, please contact Steve Roloff.