Youth With A Mission, one of the largest youth and missions organizations around the world with members and missionaries stationed in over 130 nations, recently began a prayer initiative to seek God's guidance and vision for the ministry.
Called "50 Days of Prayer," the initiative calls on the tens of thousands of YWAMers all over the world to set aside the 50 days between Easter Day and Pentecost to fast and pray together "for a fresh word from God" to the mission.
Last week, about halfway into the 50-day initiative, YWAM's Executive Chairperson Lynn Green shared with the Christian Post the secrets to the ministry's success: vision, strategy, mission and diversity.
The following is the full text of the April 20 interview:
How would you describe YWAM's organization?
It's hard to say because it's so diversified. It's best to think of YWAM as a movement made up of missions, from nation to nation. In each place, YWAM would be seen as indigenous. They think of YWAM in England as an English mission or YWAM Indonesia as an Indonesian mission, but we are very strongly tied together. That's by virtue of our staff, who go through a six-month discipleship school before they start. That gets everyone tied together. And because it is indigenous in nature, YWAM will do whatever the priority is for that nation. For example, in Brazil, it may be sustainable development, but in England, the focus is church planting and youth mission whatever may be the greatest need.
Who makes up YWAM?
The greatest number of people joining YWAM will always be young people, but our staff ranges from people aged 8 to 80. Our primary calling is the youth because we realize that most people make those life-changing decisions when they're young. However, there are also whole families who are part of YWAM.
What about the University of Nations? Is that YWAM's own university?
University of Nations is the organization under which nearly all of our training comes. It's a network of courses - tertiary educational courses - that are available and are in over 80 nations in the world. We have hundreds of courses, which are all modular. You might study something called graphic design, frontier in mission planting, or cross-cultural skills. Each modular study goes towards a recognized degree for U of N. Actually for our students to graduate, they need to take courses on at least two different continents and in several nations. We want people to keep growing during their whole lives, and in a very global way, to become citizens of the whole world.
I read that the founder, Loren Cunningham, had an actual physical vision from God to start YWAM when he was in college. Can you tell us about that?
The vision was really a picture that he had in his spirit. It was a globe - as if seen from space - and there were waves lapping each continent, and each wave would come up further inland until he saw that each continent was completely covered. Upon closer inspection, the waves were actually young people. He knew then that the young people would be taking the gospel to the world.
What is YWAM's commission?
It goes back to that picture of the waves of young people covering the continents - that is - to take the good news of the gospel to the world, and as we've grown, we realize that the gospel is good news in every area of society. It's not just good news about personal salvation. It's good news to resolve injustice, to resolve freedom, to set people free from exploitation and abuse The gospel has a greater depth than what we understood 40 years ago. We are increasingly mobilizing young people to make a difference, not just in church planting and evangelism, but also in social justice. By getting involved in education, by penetrating the areas of media and entertainment and getting the Christian message across in music, film, and theater productions, YWAM has become much broader and deeper at the same time, especially in the last two decades.
Why do you think the youth are so important to be used by God?
It's not exclusive to the young people, but even biblically, most people have a sense of God's calling when they're young, and there's a simple reason - God wants us to know and serve Him from when we're young.
There are certainly generational gaps. How can we address this issue?
I think that the differences between generations continues to grow and the gap between generations tends to widen, but we have to work at that. It's so easy for the older generation to dismiss the changes of the younger generation as being unexplainable or as wicked, but because intergenerational change is happening so fast, it's a danger for us not to work at this. Being able to identify with the youth culture and communicate the gospel into it without being dismissive of the culture is pretty important.
How do you propose to do that?
To be humble, good listeners, and try to get under the skin. Treat it as a cross-cultural experience, as if you were reaching another nation and give them the same sort of respect. That way, we learn before we pass judgment. We are usually too quick and only have a superficial look at the youth.
Many people believe that the post-modern culture has been a very negative influence on young people's faith. Do you agree?
I think that there are many positives to post-modernism. The youth don't have the same confidence in scientific materialism, which blinded the eyes of three or four generations. They don't have the same confidence that material advancement equals personal advancement. Therefore, there is a hunger, an interest.
They also look for the truth in stories. They are a story-oriented or narrative-oriented society. They're looking for the meta-narrative that makes sense, over all the other personal stories. Of course, that's the gospel! It's really significant that the head of the Christian message is a story. It's a story about a man in an insignificant town in an insignificant of province in the Roman Empire. I think we have a generation who are very interested in a story and when it becomes their own story, then there is great passion. That's very positive. Then, they can talk about the universal truth. 'You know this thing you found? It applies to everybody.'
I think the emphasis they have on living with authenticity is good. If you believe it, then live it, and that's just great for the gospel.
What is one project which YWAM is involved in currently?
One of the most interesting projects is the prayer project, 50 Days of Prayer. That was something that we just felt - when the leadership team met last August - that God has called us to a season of fasting and praying.
We're trying to pray for the whole world to a level of detail that hasn't been done previously. We have 4,379 omega zones to pray for, and we've got that down under 3000. It's a great project because people are able to log onto the site and view their prayers and see what other people have prayed for, as well as strengthen our calling from God.
And it's working! We're moving towards 3,000 registered users on the site. It's working now that we are halfway through, and it's quite clear that God is saying the same thing all over the world through other prayer projects.
What He's saying is that we have to become more Christ-centered and to have complete transparency and integrity. This is especially about letting God re-examine our hearts and convict us in a way of how we have become divergent. This is about realigning our actions with the Word of the Lord. When you get to the end of the book of Deuteronomy, you get this summary of God's word to Israel: 'Be careful and do.' We need to consciously remember to do what the Lord has said to us. This is the most important thing about the 50 days and after that is praying towards all those parts of the world and that we go to all those parts of the world.
Have you heard of the Global Day of Prayer?
I was involved for 15 years with March for Jesus, which is very very similar [to Global Day of Prayer]. We had 12 million people in 177 nations all praying in one big ongoing prayer meeting. The Transform the World prayer is also very similar. We started in 1987 in London, and we had a commission from the Lord to go on until the year 2000. We did exactly that. We continued to organize national days of prayer and citywide days of prayer. We had 177 nations, and 1000 or more cities where people were praying, 12 million people on one day. We felt that the prayer movement was to finish in 2000. It seems to me that He found Graham Power and continued the prayer movement. When we asked him his method and vision, and everything, it's all exactly the same, even though we hadn't had any direct contact before he got started. It seems to me that God spoke to us in 1987, and God spoke to Graham in 2000, and we can't take any credit for it. God spoke and the same thing is happening.
What about the recent tsunami? What is the YWAM response to that devastation?
Because of the indigenous way YWAM is organized, we have lots of teams alleviating the tsunami devastation. We're very grateful that our teams all survived and went straight into relief work. Because they're indigenous and were there before tsunami, they will be there for a long time. We're well placed for the long-term relief work for these communities over the next ten years. Therefore, YWAM's profile as a movement to provide relief and ongoing development should be raised at this time. We have literally thousands of people who are involved in sustainable development, such as creating jobs and building schools.
How is YWAM similar or different from other ministries/groups?
I think God brings to birth movements. They may become denominations, organizations, local churches, but God sets into motion, or He births movements or organizations and YWAM's DNA has been this way. A YWAMer will feel different, not better or worse, but different. It's like what makes a person a member of the same biological family. There is lots of diversity in some people.
I know ministries have been working together more cohesively than before. Does YWAM follow that pattern?
We are almost always working in coalition with somebody. Where there is already a church established, we work with the local churches. We are very reluctant to do something without the existing church. We also work with other organizations. Nearly every YWAM leader I know sits on boards of other commissions.
Can you tell us about YWAM's growth over the past few decades?
It's growing so fast, we can't even keep track of it. We're not even sure of our full number of staff... My job is to update the mechanisms so that we can keep track of all the people. My current project is to get our measures to speed with what is happening.
The areas that are growing fastest are non-Western: Brazil, India, Nepal, and Korea throughout sub-Saharan Africa.. These are the places where YWAM is growing very fast. We're growing all over the world, but in Western nations, growth is slow.
Why do you think that this shift is occurring?
I think that the spiritual momentum in the Kingdom of God has shifted to the non-Western world, to the south. Most of the dramatic spiritual leadership that's really making a difference is in the non-Western world, most of the church growth is in the non-Western world, and most of the nations that are moving toward the Christian faith are non-Western, while the Western world have been Christian and statistically, are moving away from it.
Places like Brazil are beginning to have a relatively new feeling, that they can impact the world, that they have a capacity to send missionaries, which they wouldn't have recognized 20 years ago. In fact, YWAM has sent out 2000 people from Brazil. They're doing long-term Bible translations, which will take a good 20 years to complete. They've gone ahead and begun such long-term projects. Also, missionaries have gone from Brazil to Portuguese-speaking places, such as Macau. We in the English world forget that still, large chunks of the world speak Portuguese.
What can you say about the global developments over the past few years?
I think we are going through a very rapid change, for example, shifting from Western leadership to non-Western, and I think that Western institutions and academics have been very slow to recognize that. Very often in America, we are initiating things that are called global, but they don't include the leadership of the south, or where they are not the majority. If you look to Africa, S. America, India and couple other places like Korea, Indonesia, and Philippines you've got the majority of the Christians in the world. They are producing outstanding academic theologians, leaders, etc. We are slow to recognize this, but the leadership has shifted. A huge factor of that is China, which we don't have the chance to interface with yet, but we will have. I think it's important for us from Western backgrounds to learn all we can from non-Western leadership and get in on the anointing of the sense of God's presence that so many of them carry. There is faith. There is a Biblical orthodoxy about them. They are not under seed that are divergent from Scripture like the way Western churches are. I think we just need to recognize that there's where the leadership is, and to learn and to follow them.
Youth With A Mission is an international movement of Christians from many denominations dedicated to serving Jesus throughout the world. YWAM began in 1960 with the main focus of getting youth into short-term mission work.
Currently YWAM reaches out to people of almost every age - including those past the retirement age - in over 130 countries. YWAM operates in more than 900 locations in over 140 countries with a staff of over 11,000.