Young Life Lite

For Dinh, a high school sophomore, whose mode of transportation is a wheelchair, and whose method of communication is an electronic “boogie board,” the word was “club.” Every day after school — for weeks — Dinh approached the mother of Becca, a freshman friend who also uses a wheelchair to get around. He would write one word on his electronic message board and hold it for Katie Marlatt (Becca’s mom) to read. The word was “club.”

Dinh persisted with his one-word invitation for Becca to attend Capernaum in Greenville, South Carolina. His strength of will was almost too much for Becca’s mom, a retired Navy chief. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I sometimes tried to avoid him. Still, every single day, Dinh approached me about club.”​

Eventually Dinh’s enthusiasm eroded Katie’s resolve, and she brought Becca to club. Becca arrived in her hot pink power chair, and Katie in “full mommy armor.” Katie had been involved in her own church, helping to create community for Becca with other kids and their families. So Katie arrived at her daughter’s first club experience admittedly closed-minded about this organization called Young Life. She’d planned to stay around to watch, looking for some flaws in the operation. But then something unexpected happened.

She hadn’t expected a leader named Tom to cross the floor, drop to a knee and look at Becca asking, “Who is this beautiful girl?” And Katie certainly hadn’t expected her shy daughter, who often feared men, to pick up a conversation with Tom. Katie never thought her daughter would find a best friend in a girl named Katelyn, and that Katie would feel the call to become a Capernaum leader herself.

“I felt something strange that night,” Katie said. “I was surrounded by a bunch of teenagers being themselves and I needed to know what was going on there. I thought I might volunteer from an arm’s length, but the call was too great for that.”

Katie continued to attend club with Becca during that fall of 2013 and Becca’s friendship with Katelyn grew stronger. Katie was grateful for their friendship not only because Becca felt so loved, but because their relationship freed Katie to meet other Capernaum kids. Katie didn’t realize that her daughter’s best friend was related to another Capernaum leader. Tom, who had welcomed them to Becca’s first club, was Katelyn’s father. Because his daughter loved Capernaum so much, Tom started dropping her off early and staying late. He’s been a leader for four years. Tom said, “Capernaum breathed life back into me. It brought Jesus back to me.”

Tom travels on business, so he wasn’t always at club, and somehow Tom and Katelyn’s father-daughter relationship had escaped Katie. She hadn’t expected that. And because Katie hadn’t expected Tom to ask her out (not without a little encouragement), when she mentioned they might not see each other over the holiday break, Tom asked her out. To the Young Life Christmas party — with him and Coop. Coop, a staffer with cerebral palsy, was the unsuspecting chaperone on the couple’s first date. Tom and Katie continued their courtship over the next year, often double or triple dating with Capernaum couples, piling into and out of vans to go to movies or for pizza.

Looking back, Katie recognizes that her first encounter with Young Life was, for her, a reluctant step of faith toward an unexpected, unimaginably rich future. Katie says she had no expectation of ever committing her heart to anyone else, but God (and possibly Dinh) had a greater vision. Dinh’s compelling one-word invitation — “club,” brought about a two-word pledge when, in May 2015, in front of 160 Capernaum friends and their parents, fellow leaders, family and friends, Katie and Tom, said, “I do.”