Youth With A Mission founder, Loren Cunningham, and his wife, Darlene, led 400 staff and students to raise the first two walls of a student-staff housing project in Kona, Hawaii.
The recent housing project in March 2005 is an addition to YWAM's University of Nations. The unique university equips students for life application of the Word - mainly through missions.
According to the 2005-2007 Catalogue, "The UofN exists to equip people to do the work of God, to give them 'passport skills' to serve in countries they cannot enter as traditional missionaries, or to serve in arenas of society where they could not serve without the qualifying tools to do so. It is a Great Commission university, designed to multiply missionaries to be salt and light in the world for the Kingdom of God."
Since its inception in 1978, the UofN has offered over 800 courses (some in over 60 languages), held at more than 400 locations in over 140 countries. As of January 2005, there are 150,000 students registered to pursue degrees.
The University of the Nations is distinct from other Christian educational institutions, according to David Joel Hamilton, on staff with YWAM.
Giving a fine arts course as an example, he wrote "one could teach the same basic content in terms of curriculum and skills training as a traditional [non-Christian] university, add on a chapel program once or twice a week and call it 'Christian education.' "
He followed with a comparison of UofN.
"But at a UofN fine arts course, students begin by looking at God, the creator of beauty, and study the Biblical basis and value of beauty within His economy. This might be followed by a focus on art history from a Christian perspective. Then, practical skills could be integrated."
Cunningham has long since attributed the UofN to God's doing. Back in 1973, Cunningham felt the word "Kona" in his mind, coupled with a picture of a lighthouse shining out of Asia, and he eventually knew that God was telling him to build a university in Kona, Hawaii. Students confirmed his vision with theirs; one also had an impression of the word, "Kona."
After four years, YWAM bought an abandoned hotel in Kona. When he was clearing the property, God expanded his understanding of the university's purpose.
"We were to train young people to go as 'missionaries' into every area of influence in society. In our training, we'd stress relationships with God and each other as much as academic content," he wrote.
In recent years, however, the university and YWAM hit a wall, and it was change or perish.
In 2001, the Global Leadership Team met in Kenya concerned that they were drifting from the founding values and that this could lead to a demise.
They cried to God to "rescue us as a mission and a university."
After fasting and praying for a month, God showed them to recommit to "Jesus as Lord over everything" and to build "relationship and inter-dependence, not autonomy."
In 2003, a challenge came. "It was the largest crisis YWAM had faced in 44 years of existence," stated Cunningham. Poor decisions on developing the condominiums adjoining UofN Kona campus, which were intended to bless YWAM with profits, instead threatened the campus.
YWAM's president, John Dawson went in to study the situation and concluded the crisis was "a symptom, not a cause." Lack of integration of various legal and organizational entities was a major contributor to the crisis.
Since that time, YWAM has committed itself to an obedient "realignment" with God's will, resulting in abundant blessings from God, materially and mission-wise according to Cunningham.
"Today, God is speaking to us from Nehemiah, giving us a fresh mandate to build," to which Cunningham attributes both physical expansion of the school's property, as well as an increase in the number of students trained by the University.
"God has rewarded our obedience with the most amazing outpouring of finances we have ever experienced as a mission," he said.
He also stated, "I've seen the 'numbers guys' fleshing out the goals we felt God urging us to trust Him for, only to realize we were going to be on track to have the numbers of students He'd told us to pray for so many years ago."
"We invite you to join us in this venture, to add your faith, your love, your prayers, and your hands to ours as we obey the word of the Lord to 'arise and build!' " he wrote to YWAM's 20,000 staff around the world.
Youth With A Mission began in 1956 when Loren Cunningham, then a college student had a vision of young people going out to the world as missionaries. YWAM has now become one of the largest mission organizations in the world.