I was about to leave a gathering of about 50 leaders of YWAM in Africa and they asked me to come stand at the front while they told me what impact my being there and my teaching had made. It was a very encouraging few minutes! They were grateful that I had just bothered to come without a specific invitation to teach, that I just wanted to be with them. They often struggle with a sense of isolation. Most of all, they said they loved the stories I told and would always remember them.
In recent months I have had similar comments from younger YWAM leaders in Cambodia (over 150 of them from scores of nations) and Thailand (about 250 for an afternoon) and Malaysia (around 100, I think, from many nations; again younger ones). These events seemed to be among the most appreciated and fruitful activities I have ever done. So, on the plane home from Ethiopia, I was thanking God and reflecting on why these sessions have gone so well.
On the trip, I was reading a book by the former Chief Rabbi of Britain entitled, The Home We Build Together and a sentence stood out:
“Identities are built on values, but they need narratives to make them come alive.”
Aha! That describes exactly what I have been doing. These talks are so very meaningful to people because I am helping them build secure identities as career missionaries, as YWAMers. I don’t just teach ideas or values. Rather, I emphasize a value and then tell stories that illustrate them. For example:
I told them about how Loren Cunningham gave me and my fellow students, in the first Lausanne School of Evangelism (SOE), the opportunity to pray about going to Afghanistan in 1971. Even though I was the only one who felt God was saying go, he took me seriously. I didn’t know where Afghanistan was, had no way of getting there, still owed money on my school fees and had been a Christian less than a year, but when we had talked and prayed together, he agreed that I should go.
Yes, in YWAM we “champion young people”.
I then went on to recount how a team came together in time for the trip, but that it was a fruitless and miserable summer in Afghanistan because the team had a rebel on it who caused division and discontent. I was that rebel—who subsequently had to repent and confess publicly to the other SOE students. Failure is a great teacher!
Another of the stories I tell was a time when I took offence towards Loren Cunningham and held onto that offence for two years. That was a time of serious disobedience to God’s ways and Word and I reaped the consequences for years afterwards.
Every group loves those stories that demonstrate how I have messed up. They give hope and they also teach values in unforgettable ways.
In spite of the fact that Marti and I still feel young and energetic (most of the time), we are actually some of the longest serving YWAMers—102 years between us! We have to remind ourselves that our presence means a lot, particularly when we find the time and resources to travel to far-flung places just to be with groups who are more isolated, or those who are young and just beginning to get used to the weight of leading others.
Our stories and the values we teach with them strengthen the awareness of what a privilege it is to serve in this part of the Body of Christ. I always aim to strengthen the awareness of that privilege, but without tempting anyone to pride or comparison within the Body. After all, even though YWAM has grown way beyond my expectations, it is still a very small fraction of the Body of Christ.
The New Living Translation of John 10:10 quotes Jesus saying:
“My purpose is to give [you] a rich and satisfying life.”
I would never have expected it, but at this stage of my life, I find myself strengthening identity in the lives of hundreds of volunteer missionaries in one of the largest missionary movements in history. It is completely “rich and satisfying”! I thank God for His goodness.