A Journey with an Unknown Destination
The boy is passed out on the ground of the Bombs Away trail in Corvallis, Oregon.
After two front-flips on a new mountain bike with a seat adjusted too high, 13-year-old Michael Worotikan is eight feet away from the jump he took while going too fast.
He wakes up next to his dad Albert Worotikan, and his pastor. He sees his surroundings in black and white. His pastor assumes his body is bruised and they fashion a sling for his injured arm out of a bike tube.
After a mile and a half walk to their car, they drive to the hospital and discover his injuries are more extreme than they expected.
The boy’s L1 and L2 vertebrae are fractured as well as his humerus. His shoulder is dislocated, his rotator cuff is torn and most of his ribs are broken and bruised. His kidneys have minor bruising and he has a minor concussion.
The road to recovery consists of wearing a sling, shoulder surgery, physical therapy, Vicodin and Percocet, but Worotikan adds another element to his recovery: music.
“I can’t really do anything else, can’t really go running or mountain bike, [and] video games are boring now, so I guess I can try and play piano,” Worotikan remembers thinking.
While his physical injuries limit him, his musical abilities develop by practicing the piano more often than before. He no longer sees practicing as a task he’s done since second grade, but a way to recover. He soon learns to play music by ear.
Nine years later, Worotikan is a senior at Seattle Pacific University pursing a double major in music technology and business management. The plan is to take a fifth year to finish his degree and graduate in 2017.
He is no longer the young boy with the sling, but his love for music remains. He’s now a 22-year-old with a dream of pursuing music as a career.
But what exactly does that path look like? He doesn’t know.
Where the exact place his passion will land him, whether it be performing, joining a record label or recording studio, is unknown; he believes music as a whole is the direction God wants him to take.
“I feel like that’s where God wanted me to go … I felt called out of high school to pursue that avenue,” Worotikan says.
While the road ahead is unclear, Worotikan trusts that God wants him to focus on music.
For now, he performs when he can, uploads his music and covers to his SoundCloud account, is working on an EP album, and is a frequent musician for Young Life, the youth ministry he’s a part of.
His passion for music isn’t founded on the possibility of being famous and wealthy; it’s about glorifying God.
“If I ever wake up one day and find out that I’m not doing music because I love music anymore, but I’m doing music because I can make a lot of money, then I think I need to stop because it’s no longer about music or bringing people together or serving God,” Worotikan says.
A trip to Café Fiore
His next performance is only a few weeks away and Worotikan drives his gold 2005 Jeep Liberty to Café Fiore in Queen Anne. The narrow streets only allow one car at a time to pass through.
When a car from the opposite direction turns onto the road, Worotikan pulls off to the right side to let them through.
The tires of the Liberty veer off to the right until the car passes, the same tires that travel across I-90 every week to the Young Life Capernaum event he leads for kids with disabilities in the Issaquah and Sammamish area.
As the fourth car approaches, he turns the wheel to the right once again and pulls over without hesitation or annoyance.
His dark brown eyes glance in his rearview mirror before turning the wheel to the left to continue driving down the residential street. The mirror is decorated with a necklace of wooden beads and various lanyards.
A red Santiam Christian High School lanyard hangs next to a Young Life lanyard with an attached nametag that reads, “Breakaway Lodge.” He wore the tag last summer as the camp musician at the YL camp in Gearhart, Oregon, a camp he loves.
The bouquet of lanyards and beads is tied off with three Little Trees Black Ice scented air fresheners.
The Liberty pulls off to the side of the road again, but this time it’s put-in park.
The gold door opens, and his white Nike high-tops touch the cold pavement. He walks towards the coffee shop sporting light wash jeans with intentional rips in the knees, and a white long-sleeve shirt that hangs lower than his navy blue Carhartt T-shirt.
He’s a mix of Justin Bieber-like street style with a country twist, revealing the Oregon farm life he grew up with.
He strolls into Café Fiore and orders his usual: coffee. No creamer. No sugar or flavoring. Just coffee.
The barista hands him his drink, and he takes a seat at a small wooden table as Adele plays on the radio.
The sunlight peers in from a nearby window, causing a glimmer of light to reflect off his silver nose stud on the right side of his face.
In a few short weeks he’ll be performing at the Justin Timberlake versus Justin Bieber cover concert hosted by SPU’s radio station KSPU.
By now, he’s not only a seasoned performer with his guitar, but with his voice as well, something that began when he first discovered his ability to sing after auditioning for his school’s Christmas concert in sixth grade.
The Justin versus Justin concert is another outlet for him to showcase his musical abilities.
Justin vs Justin
When the day of the concert arrives, Worotikan roams around Weter Hall as he waits to perform.
Students mingle in the small lounge, waiting for the concert to begin.
Worotikan scans the room for familiar faces, but as a senior, he doesn’t recognize many of the underclassmen.
He takes a sip from his venti Starbucks cup and continues to look around the room.
He’ll perform in front of over 40 audience members in less than an hour.
He’s no longer the young sixth-grader who first discovered his ability to sing when he performed at his school Christmas concert years ago.
The last time he performed was at the SPU talent show in May of 2015, but he’s not nervous.
The concert is about to begin and Worotikan walks through the crowd to prepare for his performance.
As the fourth act, he lightens the mood with an acoustic version of Justin Timberlake’s “Until the End of Time.”
Despite his Bieber-like wardrobe, Timberlake is his cover choice. He enjoys Timberlake’s music and remembers listening to NSYNC as a kid.
The audience welcomes him with applause as he takes the stage. With the mic and his guitar, he plays Timberlake’s song while the red spotlight illuminates his face.
When the competition wraps up, audience members cast their votes for their favorite performance.
Worotikan talks with performers Reginald Hale and Luke Farquhar, and dances along to the music playing in the background as the voting takes place.
The winner of the concert is announced, and when Audrey Cunningham stands to take her prize for her cover of Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” Worotikan claps along with the crowd.
“Atta girl,” he calls out and smiles.
For Worotikan, the competition is a fun event to participate in.
Covers aren’t his favorite, but with his busy school life, it’s good to perform when he can.
“I do covers and I like covers I guess, but I definitely prefer playing [my] own stuff,” Worotikan says. “It’s harder to get noticed for doing your own stuff because you have to really put your passion into it and show the creativity behind it, but I’ll take that over anything.”
Junior Mary Peggins first saw Worotikan perform at the KSPU launch party last year and has since seen him perform at various venues including Emerson Coffeehouse, the SPU talent show, the SPU Hawaiian Club and last year’s KSPU Kanye versus Drake cover concert.
While Peggins watched him perform various covers, she remembers hearing one of his original songs during his talent show performance.
“Guns & Hearts” is about heartbreak and the fatal 2014 shooting at SPU.
Peggins was a freshman when the shooting occurred and she’s familiar with Worotikan’s song about it.
“Tell my parents don’t be sad through all the tragedy, it taught me how to fight,
Sister, don’t lose sleep, sometimes a broken heart reminds us we’re alive,
To the girl I fell in love with, please don’t break another heart like mine,
Here’s to heartbreak and memories and all the silly dreams that keep us up at night.”
“I feel like he puts a lot of emotion into his songs,” Peggins says.
When she thinks back to his performance at the talent show, she remembers feeling the tone of the song as he performed.
“Since that was a more emotional song you can just kind of hear the somberness of it,” Peggins says.
His ability to express his emotion and make the audience feel it as well is an element Peggins remembers. It’s something she feels he does well as a performer.
Worotikan walks into Bannan auditorium at Seattle University to lead worship at Atmosphere, a Christian group on their campus.
He talks with some of the team leaders and plays his guitar as they set up for the night.
“Love on Top” by Beyoncé and Hozier’s, “Real People Do,” are strummed on the guitar as the leaders hang strings of white lights across the room.
When the night starts, around 40 students walk into the narrow room and Worotikan sings and plays his guitar as they shuffle in.
For worship music, he’s chosen “Good, Good Father.”
It’s only his second time there, but he’s led worship countless times before.
For Worotikan, worship music is an important element in his life that allows him to connect with God and bring people together.
“I think it’s just a different avenue of connecting, [and] embracing the presence of God,” Worotikan says.
The Young Life musician
While his SoundCloud has nine tracks, most of which are covers and songs about love such as “Sometimes” and “Wildfires,” Worotikan is also passionate about using music to serve youth.
When Auburn Young Life area associate Dom Folkins contacts Worotikan to ask him if he’s interested in being the musician for a middle school day-camp for YL kids in Auburn, he commits.
Kids arrive at Auburn Middle School as Worotikan prepares to lead the music for them at Club, an event with music, games and a short talk about Christ from the speaker.
He walks around the school music room that will be his stage for the morning and plays his guitar and sings parts of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” one of the songs he’ll be leading.
For Worotikan, it’s no longer intimidating to perform in front of a younger audience.
Being the camp musician at Break Away last summer was a musical experience with middle school kids that made him more comfortable performing in front of them.
“Middle-schoolers aren’t scary anymore,” Worotikan says as he waits for them to walk into the room.
The Young Life event begins and Worotikan instructs the kids to stand up and sing along with him and the lyrics projected on the screen behind him.
He smiles and dances around as the kids sing in a quiet and hesitant tone.
Worotikan stops playing in the middle of “Shake It Off” and encourages the kids to yell the lyrics rather than quietly sing them.
He explains that Young Life camp is about having fun and being loud when singing.
Eventually they sing louder but their enthusiasm doesn’t match his as he sings Katy Perry’s song “Firework.”
For Worotikan, singing music at Young Life Club isn’t very formal, but it’s something he enjoys.
“Doing Club music is very different,” he says. “A lot of musicality goes out the window in the sense that I don’t sing things the same way, [so] it’s less of a performance and more of just a sing-along.”
Team coordinator for Issaquah and Sammamish for Young Life Capernaum Danny Kesl serves youth with disabilities with Worotikan, and over the two years of working alongside him, he sees him not only as a team member, but also a friend.
“You see something special pretty quick,” Kesl said in a phone interview when asked about Worotikan.
While Kesl supports whatever musical avenue Worotikan pursues, he believes that a career as a Young Life musician is suitable.
“He has that ability to connect with others,” Kesl said.
What Kesl believes stands out to him and other leaders in the area is Worotikan’s passion for God.
“Through Young Life we’ve gotten to see he loves Jesus more than anything else,” Kesl said.
Through watching Worotikan perform at Young Life, he notices a difference between before and after Worotikan first started as the Capernaum musician.
“The kids sing so much louder than they did [before],” Kesl said.
Regardless of where Worotikan’s musical journey takes him, Kesl hopes Worotikan recognizes the impact he makes.
“I hope he can remain confident in his music and know that he makes a difference by writing [and] by playing music,” Kels said.
The first Saturday of each month
When Worotikan performs as a Young Life camp musician he focuses more on keeping the atmosphere up-beat and fast paced to make it fun, but there’s also a more serious tone to some of his Young Life performances, like the worship he leads at Young Life student staff.
Worotikan stands in the sanctuary at Seattle First Church of the Nazarene in front of about 40 Young Life student staff members.
He and the other college-age individuals are training to become YL staff. They meet on the first Saturday of every month for a time of worship, prayer, staff training and small group discussions.
It’s just after 9 a.m., and Worotikan is ready to lead worship.
He stands in the front of the sanctuary, puts the guitar strap over his shoulder, and greets his fellow student staff members.
A green wooden stool holds up his MacBook decorated with several stickers including one from Young Life Seattle. He stands behind the makeshift podium and begins to sing the lyrics on the laptop screen.
“Oceans” by Hillsong United is one of the songs he’s chosen to sing this month.
He says the upcoming line of the second stanza as a way of leading the group in worship.
“And I will call upon Your name,” Worotikan says.
The student staff associates sing along as Worotikan strums his guitar.
“And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.”
For Worotikan, music is a way of connecting with God, and he feels that his ability to lead worship is one of his skills.
“It’s a talent that I have and using it to glorify God … is when I feel closest to Him,” he says. “The more I have opportunities to worship, the more I’m just kind of in God’s presence and draw closer to Him.”
The unknown future and faith
While Worotikan hopes the road ahead is filled with writing more music and performing, where exactly this will lead him is still a mystery.
“It’s such a weird season of not knowing and just not understanding which direction I’ll go and where God will take me,” he says. “If I end up making millions one day because I write music or get in a band that’s successful, that’s awesome, or if I end up doing Young Life for the rest of my life and sharing the love of Jesus with high school kids, that’s even better.”