From the Grapevine

An Able Legacy

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.

– Travis Johnson

Let the Heart Be Unbroken

It was spring of 2010 and the end of the school year in Yelm, Wash. Shannon Gubser, part-time Young Life staff and part-time teacher, had in mind to celebrate junior high graduation with the Campaigners from Yelm and Ridgeline middle schools. Together with other leaders and staff, Gubser planned a special evening, intending to pray individually for each of the girls they’d walked with through their years in WyldLife.

As the leaders welcomed girls in, Gubser was surprised to greet an unexpected guest. “In walks this girl I’d never seen before,” Gubser said. Brittney had come with her best friend, but was a stranger to Gubser and the other Young Life leaders. “So, we start praying for each of the kids,” she said. “In the middle of it, our area director said, ‘Brittney, I think it’s time that we prayed for you.’” That very evening, Brittney decided to begin a relationship with the Lord.

Gubser was overjoyed, cherishing her time with Brittney leading up to their week of summer camp. A fun time at Washington Family Ranch culminated with Gubser sitting beside Brittney during the presentation of the “Broken Heart” play.

The play follows the story of a girl who walks through life hardening her heart because of hurtful experiences. At the end of the play, Jesus appears to the girl, heals her heart and assures her He’s been with her throughout her life. The play’s message resounded with Brittney. When she was able to put words to her tears, Brittney turned to Gubser and simply said, “This changes everything!”

“I think she had this piece of the truth,” Gubser said. “She understood that this truth changes relationships with boys, it changes relationships with parents, it changes relationships with people at school and every area of life. We came back from camp, and the best way I can describe her is like the woman at the well, who went back to her city telling people about this man who knew all about her. Brittney came back to school, and back to Yelm and started telling people about this Jesus, about this guy who could change lives.”

– Cory Bordonaro

At Home in Narnia

Heading into her senior year of high school, Diane wasn’t sure where she’d call home.

She certainly didn’t expect it to be with her Young Life leaders, or in a place called “Narnia.”

At the age of 12, Diane received a phone call that her mom — who was raising Diane by herself — died in a tragic car accident. The news rocked Diane’s world.

She moved around several times in her teen years, and a judge ruled to emancipate her to live on her own before her senior year of high school. With her future living conditions uncertain, Diane’s Young Life leaders intervened.

“One time at house prayer, I said, ‘Hey, my friend Diane — just pray for her. She has this situation that’s really tough,’” said Emily Wynn, a Young Life leader at Fort Defiance High School in Virginia. “It wasn’t even like, ‘Hey, can my friend move in?’”

One by one, the roommates started approaching Wynn. They all had the same idea.

“They asked, ‘How would it be if we asked your friend if she wanted to stay here?’”

Fort Defiance Young Life leader Kara Smith accompanied Wynn to Home Depot, and the two leaders set about making a loft for Diane. That was the easy part. Convincing Diane to accept their offer figured to be tougher.

They soon invited Diane to move in to “Narnia,” the name of their James Madison University college apartment.

While initially a bit reluctant, Diane decided to give Narnia a shot. Looking back, she knows it was the right decision.

“The first night I actually stayed in Narnia was a Sunday night,” Diane said. “When I first opened the door, there were 12 girls screaming and jumping up and down. I just felt so loved. It was great. I couldn’t explain this year in a sentence or in a word. It’s just been unbelievably unpredictable and amazing. I would have to say it was the best year of my life.”

Whether eating brownies, pranking friends during snowstorms or having heart-to-heart conversations, Diane’s life in Narnia has been an unforgettable experience.

It’s also been an unbelievable, faith-building experience for Wynn.

“I really feel I learned about taking steps kind of blindly in the direction I know the Lord has provided,” said Wynn, adding that Young Life truly is about relationships. “I didn’t know how any of it would go, but it’s cool because God gives you one step at a time.”

– Chris Lassiter