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17 Things You Probably Didn't Know About YWAM

Dallas Quantz August 27, 2020
Group of YWAM missionaries beginning a prayer walk on the streets of Mazatlan


What is Youth With A Mission all about, anyway?

Maybe you’ve heard about our missionary training programs or been told about something called “DTS”. Perhaps you have a friend or family member that’s considering going to YWAM. Better yet, maybe you’re considering going to YWAM!

YWAM has been around for over 60 years now. A lot has happened since then! What began as a vision given to a young man has since turned into a worldwide missions movement.

This blog will probably only scratch the surface for what YWAM is all about, but hopefully that’s enough to make you want to get to know us a little more. And if you happen to already know a bit about YWAM, keep reading anyways because you might learn something new!

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1. YWAM started with a wave

It all started with a vision. One afternoon in June 1956, a young American man on a mission trip to the Bahamas knelt in his room to pray.

This 20-year-old was asking God for a message to share with a youth group later that same evening. Little did he expect that God was going to give him much more than a message for one evening of ministry. God was about to impart a vision that would spark one of the most versatile missions movements the world had ever seen.

In the middle of his prayer, he looked up at the wall in his room to see it suddenly come alive. It was the moving image of a world map, like a movie. Waves began to crash onto the continents, then they would recede, continuing to grow and crash into the continents over and over again until the whole world was covered.

As he looked closer, he saw the waves on every continent turning into youth. They were speaking to people on street corners and outside bars and going from house to house, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. What an incredible vision!

Four years later, this man, Loren Cunningham, officially founded Youth With A Mission (YWAM). What started out as a request for 1 message for 1 night of ministry turned into a vision for a global missions movement that has since spread across the world.

YWAM was God’s idea from the very beginning. All he needed was a man willing enough to believe that mobilizing thousands of young people into missions was possible!

YWAM missionary women engaged in a time of worship at YWAM Mazatlan

2. We are a youth-led movement

One of our foundational values in YWAM is to “Champion Young People.” Maybe you picked up on this from reading our name, but just to be clear, we’re all about youth! God spoke this to us from the beginning, and he continues to speak it to this day.

Part of championing young people is believing in their gifting, calling, and ability. That’s one of the reasons why you find so many young people in leadership in YWAM.

We like to give youth the chance to lead us forward, trusting in their ability to hear the voice of God. Oftentimes they can hear God’s voice the clearest because they tend to be less afraid of making mistakes than older people!

We don’t believe that age is a limiting factor. God makes this clear in his word; you only have to look to Jeremiah, David, the disciples, and Timothy to see that it’s true! God was constantly calling young people into positions of leadership and influence.

We want to release as many young people into leadership as possible, doing our best to eliminate any obstacle that would keep them from fulfilling their God-given calling.

A Homes of Hope team and the recipient family standing in front of the finished home they just built for a family in Mazatlan

3. We're multigenerational

As much as YWAM is about youth, we’re not exclusively youth. We believe there’s added strength that comes with the generations. We have people in YWAM as young as 9 and as old as 90!

We have babies, toddlers, teenagers, young adults, grandparents, and even great-grandparents! Many of our campuses have numerous families serving together in missions. Some even go on outreach together!

Like we mentioned, age is not a limiting factor for us in YWAM. We need the generations to be represented among us and we're grateful that God continues to bring people of all ages to join our mission.

4. We have 3 main branches of ministry

Everything we do in YWAM can be grouped under our 3 main branches of ministry: Training, Evangelism, and Mercy Ministry.

Evangelism is at the heart of everything we do because we believe everyone has the right to hear the gospel message and have a chance to accept Christ. It’s one of the reasons our slogan is “Know God and Make God Known”!

Training is how we multiply. YWAM started our first training school in 1969 and since then have continued to add more and more missionary training programs.

Our mercy ministries are what allow us to meet people where they’re at and serve them however they most need it. We have ministries that reach out to orphans, refugees, prostitutes, and the poor. We love to work hard and show the love of Jesus through a practical expression of compassion and mercy ministry.

YWAM missionaries having fun during a worship time at YWAM Mazatlan

5. Everyone in YWAM does a “DTS”

Something that all "YWAMers" have in common is that we’ve all done a Discipleship Training School (DTS). This is our entry-level school that serves as the doorway to the rest of Youth With A Mission.

In short, a DTS is a 5 to 6-month long program designed to train and equip students for missions. It’s divided in 2 parts: The first 3 months make up the lecture phase, and the last 2-3 months are called the outreach phase (often completed in a foreign nation).

DTS is a life-changing experience with the potential to completely transform your life. It’s a time to dig deep and really get to Know God so you can Make Him Known

All of our staff have completed a DTS somewhere in the world and is often the reason our graduates continue on in YWAM.

Learn More About DTS

YWAM missionaries and an elderly Nepali woman smiling for a photo while on outreach in Nepal with YWAM Mazatlan

6. Our founder has traveled to every nation on the planet

Our founder, Loren Cunningham, is the first missionary to personally travel to every country in the world. That’s over 195 nations! In addition to that, he’s also visited more than 150 islands and territories.

Loren doesn’t just visit the nations—he’s intentional with every trip. As a young man he would pour over the world atlas, learning about all the different regions in the world. He carries each country close to his heart and truly sees the world through God’s eyes.

His love for the nations is contagious and has inspired thousands of missionaries to follow God’s obedience to the ends of the earth! We’re honored to be led by such a God-fearing man.

7. We are literally all over the globe

We have 1,200+ locations in more than 180 countries—and we’re still growing! We’re constantly commissioning new teams to pioneer new campuses and ministries all over the world.

As we’ve grown in YWAM over the years, we’ve developed a wide range of ministries that are currently active in many places on earth.

Different places have different needs, and different needs call for different responses. Each location has its own unique expression of ministry. Some build homes for the poor, others distribute the Bible door-to-door, and some even have a medical ship!

YWAM missionary team surrounding and pointing at a globe of the world

8. We represent almost every passport

One of the most exciting things about participating in YWAM is getting to work with people from many different nations. Our staff come from nearly every country in the world, including places like New Zealand, South Africa, Indonesia, France, and Peru.

Being multinational is something that distinguishes us. Currently, our movement has more than 18,000 full-time volunteers spread across the globe. You can find Brazilians in Uganda, Colombians in Cambodia, Germans in the USA!

9. All YWAM staff are full-time volunteers

If you’ve ever met a YWAMer, it’s likely you’ve heard them talk about living on financial support. Or, maybe you haven’t! Not everyone is aware that all YWAM staff, from our founder to the newest recruit, practice dependence on God for provision.

YWAM doesn’t pay a salary. We did in our early days, but it didn’t last long—the money kept running out! Our leaders sought God’s direction and sensed that our organization was to be different: every YWAMer would be responsible to believe God to provide for their expense.

As soon as we made that shift, the provision flowed and testimonies of God’s faithfulness abounded. Since then, person after person in YWAM have stories of God’s mighty provision. God has provided everything from toothpaste and laundry soap to airfares and buildings!

Trusting God for our finances is so foundational to our mission that it’s been written as one of our foundational values (#16). We’re convinced that so long as we’re obedient to God’s direction for our specific mission, we’ll continue to flourish and bear good fruit for the Kingdom of God.

YWAM Mazatlan missionary students looking out over the ocean

10. We have no headquarters

Most people are surprised to find out that YWAM doesn’t have a central office. But isn’t YWAM Kona the biggest base? they ask. Isn’t that where the founders live? How can a global organization function without a head office?

Many find it hard to believe that YWAM can successfully operate with our decentralized structure. Yet, we’ve been doing it for over 60 years!

One of the reasons we’re able to multiply without headquarters is the fact that we’re a values-driven movement glued together by strong relationships. Every location is expected to operate with the same purpose, beliefs, and values that God has spoken to YWAM.

In other words, we’re responsible to hold one another accountable to a set of God-given values. It’s what gives us the freedom to multiply so rapidly, and we feel it’s a much better alternative to a long list of rules and policies. This globally decentralized structure allows each YWAM base to begin its own ministries, develop its own training programs, and conduct its own outreaches.

We don’t operate alone though! YWAMers are constantly gathering together in different cities and nations, coming together in fellowship to hear God’s voice corporately and continue doing what he’s called us to.

Without the strong relationships forged between us in YWAM, this structure simply wouldn’t work. Thankfully for YWAM, it does!

Group of YWAM missionaries beginning a prayer walk on the streets of Mazatlan

11. We have a university

Did you know that YWAM has a university? YWAM has been running training programs since the early 1960’s, but in the mid 1970’s, God spoke to our leaders that we were to establish a university to take our training to the next level.

Our university, called the University of the Nations (UofN), is designed to be a “multiplier for missions”. We’re passionate about training our students to be the most effective missionary they can be in whatever sphere of society they’re called to. Our vision is to see the kingdom of God come through spiritual, cultural, intellectual, and professional training.

Our education is based on modular learning, meaning our courses are offered in focused 3-12 month programs instead of multiple simultaneous classes, as in a traditional university.

We operate on the belief that information + application = transformation. For that reason, each program also has an application phase, sometimes called outreach, that gives students an immediate opportunity to put what they’ve learned into practice.

The DTS is our entry-level course and is a registered program with the UofN. Once a student has successfully completed their DTS, they then have the opportunity to further their education in a wide variety of second- and third-level courses. Whether it's in medicine, art, business, or counseling, the options to study in the UofN are endless.

Finally, we believe that everyone should have access to a quality Christian education. Every YWAM location that runs a DTS or other UofN training program is considered a UofN campus, so access to Christian education grows with every new location we pioneer.

Members of YWAM Ships Mazatlan smile for a photo in front of the M/V Amazing Grace

12. We have a ship ministry

1978 was a big year for YWAM. Not only did we pioneer the University of the Nations, but we also pioneered its twin ministry: YWAM Ships!

YWAM has a deep history of maritime missions. For the last 4 decades, we’ve focused our outreach efforts on the coastal regions and remote islands of the world, otherwise known as “The Liquid Continent”.

Many of our vessels provide dental and medical assistance to people who have little or no access to medical care. We also have other vessels such as yachts, riverboats, sailboats, barges, and even houseboats working to bring hope and healing to the most isolated places on the planet.

YWAM Ships is the mobile expression of our land-based campuses, and we just so happen to have a ship here at YWAM Mazatlan! Some of our ships are big enough to carry cargo containers or host DTS’s, while others are small vessels serving remote tribes and villages up shallow rivers.

Whatever the vessel, the mission remains the same: Engage the Isolated. We believe that everyone has a right to hear the gospel, and we work to share that important message to some of the most forgotten-about people groups on the globe.

Read more: 9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About YWAM Ships

13. YWAM is both a movement and an organization

Youth With A Mission is most often described as a global missions movement—and that's 100% right. Anyone who is part of YWAM automatically becomes part of YWAM the movement. Why? Because we’ve all done a DTS, have the same YWAM DNA, and we all desire to see the Great Commission fulfilled.

Even though we’re decentralized, YWAM still has an organizational structure. We have campuses and ministries and locations spread out across the globe, doing ministry in the name of YWAM. Our physical campuses—be it on land or on a ship!—form part of YWAM the organization. They have full-time volunteer staff members, schools, mercy ministries, and so on.

But the majority of YWAM graduates actually go on to work in another area of society. We have YWAMers that work in business, government, education, and media. These YWAM grads are journalists, film directors, teachers, inventors, and musicians. They work in government and politics and medicine. They are part of YWAM the movement.

Both the organization and the movement are important; neither is more valuable than the other. Each has their function, and at the end of the day, we’re all living to Know God and Make Him Known.

Smiling group of YWAM Mazatlan missionaries holding up Bibles as they head out to do Bible distribution in Mazatlan, Mexico

14. We're committed to "End Bible Poverty Now"

Did you know that some people in the world still don’t have access to the Bible in their mother tongue? Believe it or not, some languages don’t even have an existing Bible translation yet!

YWAM is deeply concerned about something we call “Bible Poverty”. Bible Poverty exists anywhere that a person has no access to read or hear the word of God in their native language. In response, YWAM has joined together with other Christian organizations such as Wycliff and SIL to “End Bible Poverty Now”.

Ending Bible Poverty means that everyone on earth has the opportunity to have the word of God in their hands, free of charge. Our vision is to produce and distribute the Bible to every people group in every language until every nation is transformed by the word of God.

Read More: Why You Should Care About Ending Bible Poverty Now

YWAM bases in nations like Norway, Costa Rica, and Mexico have launched Bible distribution ministries. These campuses have teams going door to door and giving a free Bible to any home without one.

Hmm, young people spreading across the globe with the message of the gospel? Sounds a lot like the vision Loren had back in 1956.

15. YWAM developed the “Christian Magna Carta”

During a YWAM gathering In 1981, God spoke to Loren Cunningham about something called the Christian Magna Carta. The original Magna Carta was written in England in 1215 in order to establish the basic rights every human should have access to.

The Christian Magna Carta is similar, but takes it a step further by outlining the following fundamental human rights as implied by the gospel. YWAM affirms that everyone on earth has the right to:

  • Hear and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Have a Bible available in their own language.
  • Have a Christian fellowship available nearby, to be able to meet for fellowship regularly each week, and to have biblical teaching and worship with others in the body of Christ.
  • Have a Christian education available for their children.
  • Have the basic necessities of life: food, water, clothing, shelter and health care.
  • Lead a productive life of fulfillment spiritually, mentally, socially, emotionally, and physically.

The Christian Magna Carta is one of the 4 “YWAM Legacy” words that God has spoken to our mission. These words are clear directives from God and shape the way we do ministry in YWAM. For example, many of our mercy ministries, such as Homes of Hope, can be categorized as a response to the Christian Magna Carta.

Young YWAM missionary reading the Bible on the streets of Mazatlan

16. We have our own publishing office

YWAM has its own publishing division that’s focused on producing wholesome literature that inspires biblical values and spiritual growth.

YWAM Publishing’s first project was printing tracts for evangelical outreach during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Since then, the ministry has grown and now publishes over hundreds of books, with 300+ of those books being YWAM titles.

Our publishing office is known for creating a couple book series, the “Christian Heroes: Then & Now” series being among the most popular. This series shares true, captivating stories of real people who’ve answered God’s call to missions, and have been the inspiration for many young people to become a missionary.

YWAM Publishing aims to educate the world about missions and inspire individuals to respond to the needs of the world. Not all books are about missions though; you can find titles about Christian living, prayer, discipleship, and even homeschooling!

17. YWAM invites speakers who practice what they preach

In our early days we were privileged to have some of the most renowned Christian leaders in history teach in our training schools.

One of these people was Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman known for sheltering persecuted Jews from the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. Another was Duncan Campbell, a prominent leader of the 1949 Hebrides Revival.

It's the stories and influence of people like these that teach us so much about perseverance, faith, and the love of God.

To this day YWAM continues to invite speakers who live out what they teach. We don’t just want head knowledge; we want a tangible encounter with God that will leave us no choice but to fall more in love with him and seek to do his will.

YWAM student gets baptized in the ocean in front of YWAM Mazatlan

YWAM has been around for over 60 years, and we’re not planning on slowing down anytime soon.

United by faith, love, and relationships, we’ll continue to spread the gospel message across the planet in whichever way God leads us. We won’t stop until the Great Commission is completed.

If you feel called to become a missionary, then YWAM might just be the right place for you. We’re believing God for the biggest wave of missionaries this world has ever seen. Why not join us and embark on one of the greatest adventures of your lifetime?

Apply Now For Your Discipleship Training School!

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