I was finishing high school, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Well, I had some ideas, but that was all. I knew I was good at a few things, such as acting and creativity, and that I “loved the Lord,” but really didn't know how to integrate these things into a life-calling. There were plenty of options, but few things that really felt right.
In the midst of all this, thank God, was my youth pastor. Jim Nolson was somebody that was a quiet, consistent, listening presence in my life throughout the last few years of high school. I am so thankful on so many levels for him being around. I suppose the biggest impact he ever had on me was when, in the midst of all these options for where to go after high school, he quietly suggested a Discipleship Training School with a group called Youth With A Mission.
Jim and his wife had completed a Discipleship Training School (DTS) just before coming to my church to take on the youth pastoring position. I had heard a bit about “Y-WAM” through him. He told me about the YWAM base in Cambridge, Ontario, where he and Sharon had been. It was a five month missionary training school, and this particular DTS had a focus on the arts. My interest was piqued.
Jim and Sharon took me on the two and a half hour drive to see this YWAM place. I walked around the buildings, learned about their performing arts focus, and took in a performance of 'Toymaker & Son'. It was very well done, better than most “Christian” things I had seen involving the arts. On the ride home, this YWAM place began to be a distinct possibility.
It wasn't too long before I was aiming to attend the September, 1993 school. God had different plans. For whatever reasons, things just didn't seem to be coming together to attend the September school, and my family and I decided that the January, '94 school would be a better option.
It was at the end of October that my family faced a tragedy when my brother Andre died in a car accident. Obviously, this sent us all into a time of uncertainty and grief. As the dates approached for the January school, my parents and I talked about what we wanted to do. We decided to go ahead and send in my application. If I was accepted to the school, I would go. We would leave it in God's hands.
A couple of weeks later, I got a call. I was accepted. I was going.
Days before the school was to begin, we got another call, which went something like this: “Uh... We have to move the school to Dunham, Quebec. It's in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter. Do you still want to come?” To which I responded, “Um... Okay. Sure.”
I packed up my things, and soon I was settling inside a large, old building on the outskirts of a town whose population was rivalled by the number of staff at the base. The town's size doubled with the presence of the 33 DTS students.
Entertainment was hard to come by. It was an event when we were able to borrow a TV and a VCR to watch a movie. This was a perfect environment to dig into God and into community.
It became a very healing time for me. Having just lost my brother, I was able to experience a closeness and brotherhood with friends that I had never known before. To cross some metaphors, I soaked in and ate up the teaching. I wondered why I'd never heard sermons on the Father heart of God before, or heard anything about how big the Kingdom of God really was.
I turned 20 during my outreach phase in Honduras, while experiencing a completely new culture. I was seeing a much larger world than what I had ever known.
To say that my DTS was life-changing may not be an overstatement, but it was more than just a singularly enriching experience. It was life-altering in that it set about a course of events, and a continuum of relationships, that would shape my character and my destiny.
My DTS led to my coming on staff with YWAM a year later. This in turn led to working with YWAM in Kitchener, and forging a deeper friendship with people like Dave Skene and, of course, the Whitler family. These relationships eventually led me to Modesto, California, pioneering a work here with the Whitlers and later with the Sustars (who I also met during my DTS).
And now, I am in the same position that my youth pastor Jim was in 17 years ago. My life here in Modesto has included co-pastoring the youth group at New Hope church with Chris, and watching kids who were just 12 when I first arrived here become 19 year-old men and women on the starting line of the rest of their lives.
So far, two of those youth group members have done a DTS, and found it as life-altering as my own. As I write, a third, Alexa Blevins, is trying to raise funds for her own DTS. She is hoping to leave in mid-April for England. It's stirring to see someone who has been through all that Alexa has been through coming to the edge of what I'm know will be a great adventure.
So this is where you come in.
I really want Alexa to have this experience. She's an awesome young woman, and this DTS could set the course of her life in a direction that is quite thrilling. She's been diligently working and saving and trying to raise funds for this school, and I want to help her out. If you have just a few dollars and about a minute and a half to spare, please click on the 'Donate' button I'll be posting on the sidebar of my blog. This will take you to New Hope Church's Paypal page, where you can direct your donation to the 'Student Missionary' fund. You can receive a tax-deductible receipt for your gift.
On behalf of both myself and Alexa, thanks. You will be helping to shape someone's destiny.