And just like that, 6 months is finally over. After 3 months in Los Angeles, 4 weeks in Kenya and 6 weeks in the Philippines, here’s a few of my reflections and thoughts looking back.
For the first three months of this Discipleship Training School, we lived in the Youth With A Mission Los Angeles base located just north of the city and overlooking the area.
I was living with 8 other men from all over the world enrolled into the school along with 10 women for our Compassion DTS.
Lead by our school leaders Christie and Javier Lopez, we spent these next 12 weeks attending classes each day and going out into the city doing evangelism all as part of our training, along with doing work around the base as part of our contribution to the 80odd people in the base community.
In the lectures, we spent each week studying a different topic, from the Character and Nature of God, to his Father heart for the broken and the lost, to our identity and call to missions as a church. The speakers all had powerful thoughts and challenges for us as we reflected on what God was telling us through it.
For me, one of the selfish reasons for deciding to do a YWAM DTS was because I naively thought I was ready and wanted God to give me guidance and show me his big plans for my future. But what I came away from this lecture phase realising was that actually he’d been wanting to grow me as a person, focussing on just knowing the elementary truths of his love and desires for me. I learnt in some incredible and practical ways of how to trust him, not only with the future, but every day, with whatever I’m doing and giving it up to him, and it changed something in me. Sure, God did give me some clarity with the future, he gave me incredible dreams of where he was wanting to take me, but now I’d realised, it wasn’t about my future I was as concerned about anymore, but it was seeing a glimpse of what his big picture dream is for the future, and how I, and you, fit into this as believers united in his purpose.
Just on the edge of the YWAM LA base is the start of a beautiful mountain range which stretches for miles, and so often after our morning of classes, I was so fired up and buzzing by what God had been teaching me, I would just run up them, or sometimes walk, and just be. I learnt what it was like to just dwell with Papa God and hear from him directly. He took me on journeys where I had to trust him, because I didn’t have a clue where he was taking me. He showed me so many fresh revelations and understandings that I couldn’t help but be moved to action from them. He showed me how through this passion I have for the Bible, he actually speaks to me through this, and that I do have a gift to teach and to preach others from his word. He showed me what it was like to fall back in love with him once again.
Following this, 12 of us from the school were placed into a team who’d be going to Kenya and the Philippines for mission. So after our last week with our commissioning and lots of goodbyes, we set off to Kenya!
For the next 4 weeks we would be living in two different locations on the west side of Kenya along the coast of Lake Victoria in a rural area called Awasi, and near the city of Kisumu.
Lead by an incredible YWAM contact from Holland – Bob de Groot, we spent the first two weeks in Awasi playing with the children from an orphanage we were living near, leading church services, speaking with many many people in their houses and sharing from the Bible with villagers from local rural communities and leading and preaching at open air evangelism events called crusades.
We went to about 5 different communities in total and at each we would split up and speak with locals in their houses sharing the gospel with them and praying with them. After this we would usually run a crusade at the centre of the village where everyone would come and hear from the songs and the message we had prepared for them, for which we took it in turns. In each of the locations we had been at for crusade, and would go to, we usually always performed the skits that we’d prepared, such as the ‘Everything’ skit where I got the opportunity to play Jesus, as well as a dance routine which was great fun. God was really with us in each of the houses and as we ran the crusades, people came for prayer without fail every time and lives were changed dramatically.
After only a few days, because of my frequent preaching and leading in services, I had been identified as ‘Pastor Ben’ which would end up sticking with me and being my nickname for the rest of the school. As easy as it was to preach a message of forgiveness, and to see so many people come forward in repentance, it was hard to process just how much suffering they had been exposed to. Many of the families we spoke with in their houses had children suffering with Malaria, people dying so frequently because they could not afford the £10 malaria cure.
For the second two weeks of our time in Kenya we would be living in Kisumu where we spent the mornings painting in a hospital, and the afternoons at a youth camp at a church in a rural area called Dunga. Each morning we went to a Paedriatric Oncology Ward at the local hospital where we spent time with the children and their parents there as well as painting all the walls of the hallway to liven the place up and make it a nicer place for the children to stay as they spent months there during treatment. One of the children there called Teddy became good friends with one of our team, and even during the treatment, the team was praying for healing for him. We later found out about 6 weeks later that he had made a miraculous recovery and was now able to run around outside and do the things he’d once dreamed of.
In the afternoons we went to a youth camp in Dunga ran by a group of Ukrainian missionaries and they loved the skits and dances we had prepared for them. One evening whilst we were there, one of our newer christians on the team shared his testimony for the first time and we saw how the Holy Spirit brought so many people forward for prayer.
Before long at all, it was time for us to fly away again, but it was hard, especially to say goodbye to the translators in Awasi and the pastors who we’d been working with, they’d been such an incredible help, but they insisted we were the blessing from God to have come to them.
Similarly to Kenya, we spent two weeks in our first location on the main northern island Luzon in a place called Olongapo, and then we spent our final four weeks on the main southern island Mindanao in the YWAM base there called Cagayan de Oro.
In Olongapo we were staying in a building called Project Life Subic hosted by the founders Leslie and Sonny Nabong. This happened to be located right in the centre of the Red Light District as a lot of their ministry is involved in helping women who had been involved in the industry. As in Kenya, a lot of our time here was spent leading devotions for the different ministries they were involved in such as the sewing class and English class, as well as going to the rural communities and sharing the gospel with them and leading Bible studies. Though our mission here wasn’t specifically for the women working in the Red Light District, the women or our team did go to the bars and spent time speaking with them and we ran a beauty parlour for them one evening. One of the women who had been involved in some of the events we’d been running later on decided to start coming to church. We also spent a few days helping with a youth camp in the area lead by one of the men who had once grown up through the work of Project Life Subic. The camp was incredible and we saw how God was speaking to all the youth who came and touching their hearts in amazing ways.
Again it was so hard to say goodbye to everyone, especially the youth who’d had such an impact on us as well. For our farewell evening we were shown a video of the impact we’d helped to make in this area even over such a short time, many tears were shed but we then got the chance to try Balut – a popular filipino delicacy!
Now onto our last location, Cagayan de Oro for the last 4 weeks. As you can imagine, we were involved in many different ministries going on here, but many of the first few weeks were spent getting to know the locals in the 5 communities near us, sharing the gospel with them, praying with them, and running open air crusades. By this time, we were pros and everyone felt comfortable getting involved in the events, but we’d also seen how everyone had unique giftings and anointings which God had been using and growing in each of us to create the perfect united team for the mission we’d do. Here we were also involved in running another youth camp, leading the youth and childrens groups, attending an orphanage and running a programme for them, and feeding children in a number of different locations.
Again, it was hard here to see the type of conditions that many of the people were living in. One of the worst communities we were ministering too was at an area called ‘Smokey Mountain’ because it was situated on a Landfill site. The jobs of everyone in the community were to sort through the rubbish in order to make a living, the problem was, just under a year ago, the government had stopped dumping rubbish here and moved to a different site much further away. Now this community was without even a job to earn money for food. We saw many children starving or picking up mouldy food from the rubbish and eating it, no matter how bad for them it was.
It’s not surprising that after seeing horrific stuff like this, all of our team spent time processing what we’d seen and were each sat down with a trauma therapist after what we’d experienced. As hard as it was to see these sights, I was reminded of Lamentations 3:21-32 which says:
“Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.” – Lamentations 3:21-32 (NIV)
Even though these communities were incredible suffering and in such bad situations, we knew that by being with them, by sharing the gospel with them, by praying with them, by feeding them, by loving them, we were showing them the love that comes from the father, and bringing them hope.
Every location that we went to, every community we were part of, God was there, God poured out his love onto these people and so many lives were changed because of what he did through us whilst we were on this mission!
Finally we got back to Los Angeles for our debrief week and graduation. The school leaders helped us to see the enormous impact we’d had on all those we’d met and then they commissioned us for our future missions, wherever we might be in the world.
It sure was a reverse culture shock arriving back in America, especially as the first place we went to after being back was In-and-Out, a fast food restaurant on the way back from the airport!
After so many goodbyes and farewells, it was time for everyone in our school to return home to their own countries, some of whom would be back to YWAM soon enough, but for me, first it was time to do a bit more travelling along the west coast before coming back home to sunny old England!
This will be the final email in the YWAM series for all those who signed up to my YWAM Post Updates, if you would like to continue receiving post updates from me with future blog posts you can subscribe here:
If you missed it in my last post, here is the summary video of what I got up to with the team in Kenya and the Philippines.