“Engage with God, your identity, discipleship community & the nations.” This is what the beginning of the discipleship program I chose to do starts out with at the front of their website.
Maybe you have heard of YWAM before. You might know others who have gone through the program or you are contemplating doing a DTS (discipleship training school) through YWAM.
What is Youth on a Mission? YWAM stands for Youth with a Mission. It is a 6-month discipleship training school. It is similar to a gap year program. YWAM wants young people to dedicated time to knowing God more and making Him known in the nations.
Well, what exactly would 6 months at a YWAM base look like? And how should one know if it is something young adults looking for a closer relationship with God or missions experience should consider?
I am here to tell you about my experience as someone who has a calling to do missions and has desired from a young age to know God.
Questions I’ve asked myself are: what does knowing God and loving him with all your heart actually look like? What does it mean to be set apart, a follower of Jesus, a light in this dark world, and not settle for life being a lukewarm Christian?
Throughout my time (6 months) with YWAM, there were definitely ups and downs. Some things I learned and agreed with, and some things I wasn’t so sure about and had to research myself later on. I’ve tried my best to be as honest as possible about my experience with YWAM.
Here’s what we’ll talk about:
- Why I chose YWAM
- YWAM Kona
- Lecture Phase
- Theology Questions
- Ministry Nights
- Outreach Phase
- Ministry in Amsterdam
- Pros & Cons
Why I Chose YWAM
During high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I kept thinking about going to college, I knew it doesn’t hurt to get a degree, and it is important to be able to support myself.
I wanted to be open to God’s leading before going to a 4-year college, I started feeling like I should set aside time to do missions or some type of discipleship school.
Deep down I have had a desire my whole life to do whatever God calls me to, and if that was full-time missions I was down. I just wasn’t sure how that would practically look like, and wanted to work on my relationship with God and Scripture.
I thought that going away and dedicating my full time and attention to learning more about my identity, God, and missions was the next step I should take.
I thought it was the best way for me to not be distracted, and give God at the very least, 6 months of dedicated time to him before continuing what he had for me next.
I felt this strong urge in me to go, so I did. I sold my car, worked for a semester while taking community college classes, and raised as much support as I could to be able to go.
I had enough for the lecture phase and was still a few thousand short for the outreach phase. However, they still let me go and said the money could come in later before the outreach phase.
The base I chose was the largest in YWAM, located in Kona, Hawaii. The lecture phase was on the Big Island of Hawaii and it was beautiful.
I partially picked this specific location because I knew someone on staff at the DTS. She had all good things to say about it. And I mean, Hawaii… can we get any prettier? 🙂
In YWAM there are over 200 different bases all over the world to chose from, each unique in their own way, and some bigger or smaller than others.
It felt too risky to chose just a random base without knowing anyone who had gone before, so I chose Hawaii.
The first part of the DTS was called the lecture phase. This part was dedicated to one’s own personal relationship with God. We had classes every morning that went on into part of the afternoon.
The topics covered are specific to the school you choose, mine was called Engage, so it was all about engaging in God and in your identity with God.
The core values of my school were:
- Engage with God: He wants to be known. Discover who God is and learn what it means to have a relationship with Him.
- Engage with your identity: The truth of who you are made to be from God’s perspective.
- Engage in the community: Journey with others that help form Christ-likeness in you.
- Engage in the nations: Learn what God is doing in the nations and become part of it.
Each week we had new topic and different speaker teach our class of about 25-30 students.
The topics covered in class were:
- The Nature and Character of God
- Hearing God’s Voice
- Identity in Christ
- The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Biblical worldview
- Intercession and spiritual warfare
- Cross-cultural ministry
I remember the very first week of classes my mind was blown. The speaker really emphasized the importance of having a good foundation in who God is, his nature, and his characteristics.
He emphasized the importance of breaking preconceived notions of who we think God is and actually looking at his true character. I took notes religiously, but sadly lost my notebook on the plane back home after DTS (!)
After the first week, other speakers came and went, and some were questionable in their theology in my opinion. I tried to have an open mind on some things but also tried to discern too. The thing was, anytime I questioned something in my mind, I was afraid to voice it because everyone else was so 100% into what all the speakers were saying and doing.
There were a few who I had discussions with, but it was difficult because so many were so hyped in the moment (throughout much of the lecture phase), and if you brought something up it was like you were less of a Christian for not agreeing all the time.
We also had weekly worship services we were required to go to, intercession time for the nations, and ministry nights (which were times of worship, praying for others as the Spirit lead, prophesying, and letting the Holy Spirit “do as he does”).
Ministry nights were weekly and my least favorite, because it felt so chaotic. The event was done in the campus’ prayer room, which I loved and took advantage of going to, but the actual night freaked me out to some degree.
It would start out calm, then as the night went on, people would be speaking in tongues, laughing hysterically, crying, falling backward being “slain in the Spirit.” I felt something about it was off.
To be completely honest, I can usually sense when something is off, and felt the urge to leave many times (and did on some occasions). Individuals were so in the moment, and the worship leaders would set the mood hyping up the students.
But it wasn’t about that, it was the fact that people were literally getting knocked out, unconscious falling backward out of control.
Others had to catch the people falling backward, and it was like they would praise them for being “slain in the Spirit” – like the Holy Spirit was more actively working in that person more than the rest.
This usually would happen when a “holier” person or ordained teacher or staff member, sometimes a student, would pray earnestly for that person laying hands on them.
Something they taught so fervently was to let God do as he does. And I totally agree with that. We are not to put God in a box and it can be so easy to have a biased view of God, one that you grew up with when in all reality God is so much bigger and greater than we can ever imagine.
God is in control of the entire universe and obviously can do as he wishes. Many times that is through the supernatural because he is a supernatural God.
We can pray for God to heal because God does heal and can do miracles to this day. Whatever God wishes he can do in and through us.
I also know we are not to try to force anything, and that God is not the author of confusion. God calls us to have a sound mind.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.2 Timothy 1:7
We are called to have a renewed mind through abiding in truth- the Scripture.
be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:2
Before Jesus went back into heaven, he commissioned his disciples to do as he did; to cast out demons, heal the sick, share the gospel, be a witness for Christ in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth, baptizing in His name.
They spoke in tongues at Pentecost and did these things (some say that they weren’t actually speaking in tongues, but that speaking in tongues means speaking in a language that has not been acquired in the usual way through immersion or study).
Things were specific to that time period because Jesus literally laid his hands on his disciples who had witnessed Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection, and ascension back into heaven.
After Jesus ascended back into heaven, the Holy Spirit entered every believer actively working to this day. There is power in the name of Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples had specific roles to play being the first Apostles and disciples of Jesus persecuted for Christ.
YWAM teaches that Christians are to do as Jesus and his disciples did. That we are to speak in tongues, cast out demons, heal the sick, perform miracles, and of course baptize and make disciples in Jesus’ name.
Outreach phase was by far the best part of YWAM for me. My outreach portion was in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
I got sent with four other students from my DTS, and two staff members who were the leaders of our team. The outreach phase was said to be designed to apply what we’ve learned from the lecture phase.
Our team members got along really well the entire time, and it was funny because it was our outreach leaders who had more of the issues (mainly they just had completely different personalities and clashed sometimes).
I remember talking to one of the leaders before leaving on outreach and how when I began questioning a few things about YWAM, she instantly got defensive and I felt like she shut me down. She had been involved in YWAM for years, and maybe it felt like I was questioning her when I questioned YWAM.
This made me sad, because I didn’t feel like I could be as open with her about some of the things I had questions and concerns about. Thankfully, I had other people I felt I could be more open to about.
A few weeks before we had to leave for outreach, I was still over two thousand dollars short. I wasn’t too concerned about it though because I knew if I was supposed to go, God would provide the money somehow.
I did a few fundraisers and got creative selling donates & coffee, slices of pizza, and selling ice cream on campus with some of my other team members. Then through multiple individuals, a few hundred dollars were donated by some people I didn’t even know. T
hen a few days before the deadline was due, a girl from my team who I barely knew at the time took me aside and handed me a letter with exactly two thousand dollars cash in it.
I obviously was supposed to go on outreach and I couldn’t believe how God had provided by literally giving me $2000 cash in my hands.
Ministry in Amsterdam
Some of the ministry we did in Amsterdam included:
- Homeless ministries (2-3 evenings a week) – so much fun, and so many relationships built over the 2.5 months we were there. One homeless man who was in his 20’s or early 30’s originally from England, ended up giving his life to Jesus and turned his life around. While we were there, one of the guys on our team was able to connect him with a church who found him a home and job, and he was able to use his magic/card tricks to witness on the streets to others in the city. One of my team members is still in contact with him today and now he has moved back to England where his family is.
- Street Evangelism (2-3 times a week – also so much fun!) We met up with the team (mainly consisted of YWAM Amsterdam’s staff members) there, and we learned so much on how to best approach people, have conversations, pray, and witness to strangers. I grew so much in talking to people about Christ, and though I was terrified to witness to strangers at first, it ended up being one of my most favorite times of the week. We would meet together in one large group at the beginning, pray with everyone, then split up into smaller groups to go out in the city.
- Prayer House Ministry (2-3 mornings a week) – the prayer house was located in the middle of the Red Light district which was insane. So much evil outside and around the prayer house, but inside was such a safe place of peace. The prayer house’s team’s goal was to have prayer going there consistently throughout the week. We signed up and would take turns leading prayer meetings multiple times in the week.
- Women’s Ministry – the YWAM Amsterdam leaders had a group ministering to the women who worked in the Red Light district and we were able to meet some of the women and even go to their houses for a cookout. We ended up doing that a few times and making food together on a few occasions. In the end, we prayed for God’s blessing and protection over them. The women in the windows felt trapped and stuck in their situation, and sometimes it would take years before they would get the courage to leave. While we were there, we saw one woman leave the Red Light district where she previously worked for years. If you don’t know about the Red light district, it is known internationally as the main tourist attractions of the city in Amsterdam that offers legal prostitution. Many visitors who come to Amsterdam, come just for that.
- Prayer Walks– we would do prayer walks around the city every few weeks as we felt led to pray against evil and heaviness in the city.
- Soccer Ministry (once or twice a week)- we would ride our bikes about 30 minutes away to play soccer and other games with some neighborhood kids and young adults. A lot of them were apart of a large Muslim community and we were able to talk to some of the women and moms on the sidelines at times too.
- Youth Ministry – we took a trip to Germany to speak at one of our leaders’ home church and that was an incredible time of the youth really opening up to us as we did small groups after the main message.
- Outreaches – we participated in a few day outreaches a little way outside of the city. We joined some of the Dutch staff members and friends we made at YWAM Amsterdam and helped them put up a tent, making smoothies and waffles for a Christian event.
- Kitchen staff – Lastly, we worked in the kitchen at the YWAM Amsterdam base. Our team would either make meals for staff and other students and groups coming and going staying at the base or would do clean up after dinner meals. It was quite common to see other short-term groups come and go, but mainly they would stay for shorter periods of time like a few days or a few weeks. Sometimes they would also have seminars going on and we could get to know some of the teachers and students who went to the seminars. The one seminar I joined a few times was on Human Trafficking. The leaders of the seminars were so informative and I learned so much during the few lessons I joined in on. I also met a few girls joining the seminar and a few I am still in contact with.
I liked how YWAM had us go for several months to join ministries vs. a few days or week like many short-term mission groups. From my DTS of 25-30 students, groups of 5-7 went all over the world to Egypt, Uganda, Papa New Guinea, India, and our group to Amsterdam.
Even though it still was only for 2.5 months, I still felt like I really got a feel for the city, knew my way around well through traveling on bikes most of the time, and got to see what being involved in ministries going on there was like.
If I had stayed even longer, I would get to know the people even more. It normally takes a year to get out of the honeymoon phase of a new place from culture shock.
Pros & Cons
Just like any decision you make, there will be pros and cons to everything we chose to do. Here are a list of some of the pros and cons from my time with YWAM.
- Got to take time out of life to focus more on God
- Was able to be introduced to a whole new way of Christianity it felt like, God definitely was breaking some boxes I had put him in
- Met genuine people who also had the desire to grow closer to God and do whatever he calls them to
- Saw and was encouraged by many Christians on fire for missions praying for hours at a time pouring out their hearts to God to reach the nations and save lost souls
- Built some solid friendships with people who may have some differing views as me, and learned much from them
- Spent time exploring new places (in Hawaii we had time to explore in the afternoons and weekends when we didn’t have to work in the kitchen on campus every other weekend)
- Grew a heart for Europe and missions there (I never saw myself going to the Netherlands or Europe to do missions before, and to be honest, didn’t want to be judged for doing my DTS in Hawaii for the classes part, and then outreach in Europe). Was able to stop caring (or at least careless) of what people thought of me, and do things for God, not for people’s expectations of me.
- Got a feel for what planning out a weekly schedule to do ministries full-time might look like. It was tiring at times, and our team didn’t always feel motivated to spend hours interceding in the prayer house riding our bikes there in the freezing rain, but we did it anyway. Even on days, we didn’t feel good, we pushed ourselves to keep going and to always look out for evangelism opportunities in our day-to-day lives.
- Encouraged me to pursue controversial things in the Bible myself, and pursue missions that were more practical and affordable.
- If I didn’t do YWAM, I probably wouldn’t be at the university I am at now (which is a missionary work college where you earn your degree and do a 16-month internship overseas alongside long-term missionaries during my junior and senior year of school).
- Extremely expensive to do a DTS in Kona, Hawaii (lecture $3,700 and outreach $5,500)
- Felt on guard much of the time during the lecture phase because much was so new to me, and it did feel like many were just mindlessly following without seeking the scriptures for themselves (not all, but many)
- During ministries nights, it seemed like some were exaggerating what the Holy Spirit was doing (especially when people claimed they got healed- later on, a few from my class actually admitted & confessed halfway through the lecture phase, that they had exaggerated healings, and that they just wanted to fit in with the rest)
- They emphasized hearing God’s voice so much and sometimes felt like others would just make up what they thought they heard God was saying. They acted like God audibly spoke directly to them (and maybe God did), but some of the things they prophesied over us were true, and some were not. It was difficult for me to be in the moment because during the lecture phase I felt on guard much of the time.
- Discipleship for myself was not seen that much. I don’t ever remember being “discipled” by anyone, just listening to lectures. The times I did have with my outreach leader, weren’t that helpful. However, I do know some people were more discipled than others.
- I did not gain too much clarity in what I was supposed to do after YWAM. However, I did know I wanted to study the Scripture further and seek things out more myself. I actually considered doing a 9 months bible program where you personally go through the Bible verse by verse studying it 6-7 times in the 9 months. I knew there was still so much I need to figure out myself and felt a little confused after YWAM.
No ministry or organization is perfect, and every YWAM base is different. There are over so many bases all different all over the world.
I just happened to pick the largest and craziest in my opinion (and from what I’ve heard from others).
I was actually really thankful that I was able to experience another YWAM base during the outreach phase. It was on a smaller scale but still a good size, and the ministries that have gone on there over the years are so encouraging and inspiring.
While each base has some differing beliefs on some level, all refer to themselves as non-denominational. However, I believe most bases are more on the Pentecostal, charismatic side. It was something I didn’t realize jumping in and was not used to, growing up in a more conservative church.
Overall, I am thankful for the time spent in YWAM and for the supporters who helped me go. I learned so much and God opened my eyes to a few things, good and bad. Would I do it again looking back now? I’m not sure. Did I learn a lot from it? For sure. And I do think God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
If you are considering YWAM yourself, take into consideration a few things. Be wise about it, and maybe research a few other mission sending organizations or discipleship schools.
But if I had to go back, I probably would just go to the missionary school I am at now- instead of doing YWAM first. But like I said, if I hadn’t done YWAM, I am not sure I would have heard of Bethany Global University in the first place and have ended up where I am now.