10 Ways to Help Refugees Feel Safe in Your Classroom

Never have there been more displaced people in the world than there are right now. That is what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported earlier this year. According to the report, there are currently about 65.3 million people who have been forced from their homes. Among them are over 20 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. The size of this massive population makes displaced people, as a whole, the 22nd most populated “nation” on earth—nuzzled between France and the United Kingdom in recent population surveys.

As churches and mission organizations grapple with these overwhelming figures—and ask the question “What can we do to help?”—many Christians around the world will find themselves face-to-face with a refugee in the near future. For most refugees who find themselves suddenly in a country which isn’t their own, one of their most pressing needs is to find a friendly teacher who can help them navigate this difficult transition. This might include learning a new language, a new form of currency, an entirely new education system for your children, and much more.

So whether you are heading overseas to a refugee camp in the Middle East or Africa, or volunteering at a language school in your hometown, here are a few ways to help refugees feel welcome and safe when they’re in your classroom.

The following tips are brought to you by the TESOL schools at YWAM Montana-Lakeside, where we equip missionaries with tools to transform entire communities through the power of relationships, education, and the gospel message. Our next TESOL course, beginning in April 2017, features a special focus on the refugee crisis, and participants will receive a teaching certification and a wide range of practical skills to help them make a positive impact for refugees—both at home and abroad.

Creating Stability

“When it comes to learning, a safe and friendly place is the best place.”

1. Break Down The Wall

Take out a blank piece of paper. Draw a line down the center, splitting the page into two columns. On the left side, make a list of all the struggles a refugee faces as they transition to life in America (or in whichever city or country you find yourself). If you don’t have time to make a complete list, then write only 3-5 things that resonate most deeply to you, such as: learning a new city’s public transit system, finding meaningful work, and recovering from the traumatic stress of war.

Next, make a list on the right side of the paper to include all the ways you want to help. These can be very practical things, such as: taking a refugee on a fun adventure for the day by exploring your city’s bus routes, or sitting in a coffee shop and teaching them a few phrases relevant to their new occupation (remember that some of these refugees were rural farmers while still others were doctors and engineers in their country, but now they may all be forced to work unfamiliar jobs, such as in hotels, restaurants, assembly lines, and grocery stores).

Some of the items on your list may be less practical, or less hands-on. For example, when faced with helping a refugee recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you may find that your only response is to pray and ask God for physical and emotional healing in their life. Whatever your response, having this simple two-column action plan is a great place to begin your journey of helping refugees in your community. It will align your heart with God’s heart, and will give you a vision and a hope for the plight of displaced people everywhere.

And this is more than just a list of actions and needs. Each of these difficulties are like bricks in a wall—a barrier separating each refugee from a future of untold possibilities. And there are practical ways, and even some delightfully impractical ways, that we can all help break down that wall.

2. Be Their Rock (Take Care of Emotions First)

Do you remember what it was like trying to study in high school when half the time you were distracted by all the feelings and emotions that go with being a teenager? Is that person interested in me? Should I ask them to the upcoming dance? What if I get rejected? What if I don’t get rejected!? This onslaught of emotion—whether positive or negative—can make it hard to focus on your math homework, yet these social pressures are a necessary part of navigating society. And no matter what stage of life we are in, we are required to complete tasks, both simple and complex, no matter what social pressures are being placed on us.

For a refugee, it is quite common for them to be feeling an extremely wide range of emotions while attempting to complete very complex tasks at the same time. Some of these tasks can be brand new to a refugee and may require a great deal of learning and practice before they can get it right. Imagine trying to learn a foreign language while still struggling with the loss of your spouse to violence. How might your studying be affected? And imagine the feeling of standing before a judge in an American courtroom, when the government of your previous country was complicit in a genocide against you and your entire community. In a way, we are familiar with the difficulty of learning while under emotional stress. We dealt with it, to some degree, as emotion-filled teenagers. Many refugees deal with it every single day, and some of them feel this pressure to a greater degree than we could ever imagine.

It is extremely important to take care of the emotional needs of anyone who is in the process of learning something new—and a new refugee may have a lot to learn. When emotions run high, learning becomes impossible. In fact, a student may completely stop learning until you’re able to correct whatever physical or emotional barrier is hindering their learning process. In order to help refugee students with their learning, we must be their “rock” (or show them how Jesus can be the ultimate anchor in their life). This might mean making sure that we’re emotionally stable ourselves. And before we try to teach our next lesson, it helps to first stop and ask the question, “What are my students feeling, and how can I help alleviate those emotions?”

In my personal experience, it also helps to avoid having balloons in your classroom or anything else that may inadvertently explode in the middle of your vocabulary lesson! I laugh as I think about this, but sadly, many refugees are all too familiar with explosions. And our classrooms need to be safe places where students feel a sense of security and stability instead of fear.

3. Create a Safe Space

When it comes to learning, a safe and friendly place is the best place. And there are a few practical ways for us to create such an environment in our classroom. One key to managing the emotions of your students is, above all, to manage their expectations. Try starting each class in the same way, using the same processes and activities each time. By doing this, your students will have a better idea of what to expect before entering your classroom. When your world has been flipped upside down multiple times and you’re unable to know what the future holds, it’s amazing what it can do to have a place where you know exactly what to expect, every day. Classrooms are some of the best places for creating this kind of trust and hope for the future, and it comes down simply to you being a teacher that manages your students’ expectations.

Another thing you can do is to greet your students at the door each day. Many refugees come from “warm-climate cultures” that value hospitality and friendliness much more than the refugee’s new host country. Thus, politely greeting them at the door before every single class—and, similarly, making sure to gently honor them as they depart—can go a long way with developing your relationships. And as you try to take care of your students’ expectations it is helpful if you keep the seating arrangement the same for every class (even if this is only for the very beginning of each class). As language teachers, we often like to “keep things interesting” by moving the furniture around the room. However, you can create a little more stability in a refugee’s life by making sure they’re able to start each new lesson in the same seat.

Valuing Culture

“We have to adopt an attitude that we are learners more than we are teachers.”

4. Understand Their Story

Alright, so by now we’ve connected with a group of refugees and we’ve helped them find emotional and social stability. Where do we go from here? It is important for us to increase the understanding we have of our students. As we move forward in our relationship journey with anyone, we naturally move from being “strangers” to being friends. And one of the steps of that journey has to be “understanding.” Learning more about that person, and letting them and their story affect our own. This is how many great friendships are created, and sometimes it happens so naturally that we don’t even notice it. Suddenly, we realize that we’ve become great friends with this new—and once strange—person.

Understanding someone from a different culture than your own, however, can take longer. And it can require more of a process, and more intentionality on your part. There might be some serious cultural and linguistic hurdles that you will need to overcome before you can have the sort of lasting relationship that we all find to be so meaningful in life. As you can see, you need to make every effort to get to know your refugee students more. Listen to their story, let it sink in and have its affect on you, in order to cross the divide of strangeness and misunderstanding.

Take heart, because this means that you (the teacher) now need to become the learner. You may need to start asking a lot of questions. You may need to do a little digging and researching. And you may need to look a little foolish, in order to one day become “friends.”

5. Know Their Name

You might be surprised to find out that most teachers I observe do not spend nearly enough time trying to learn their students’ names. Yet, a person’s name is one of the most important pieces of their identity and their story. It not only says something about them, it is them—it is who they are. So, getting it right should be at the top of your to-do list. Of course, learning new names, many of them with foreign sounds, can be quite difficult. Here are a few tips to help you quickly learn your students’ names.

Begin by getting their name in writing somehow, if possible. If you can see it in writing, then you’re more likely to remember it. You can try having them write it on a name tag, but this will only help you if your student is literate and uses the same alphabet as you do (if their name is written in Arabic, let’s say, then you will not find their name tag to be very beneficial and you will need to help them spell their name using your alphabet). And it is at this point that so many newcomers to your culture may start to think about adopting a new, less foreign name—such as “Mike” or “Jessica.” But every time you attempt to use your student’s real name, you honor them and help them keep this part of their culture and identity intact. You’re saying to them, “I value you, and I value your culture—I value your story.”

So get to know your students, not by their face but by their name. Use it often, and do your best to pronounce it correctly. I often find it’s best to take a moment right after I’ve met someone for the first time and ask them “How do I say you name? Am I saying it correctly?” And if you find yourself in a room full of new students, then do a fun icebreaker activity that will give you numerous chances to hear everyone’s name over and over again. For more on this, we’ve put a few of our favorite icebreaker activities in our resource, Fun Activities for Teaching English (see the activities titled Find Someone Who and The Name Game for a fun place to start).

6. Let Them Teach You

In order to ever begin understanding someone we have to adopt an attitude that we are learners more than we are teachers. Every good teacher must rely on being a good learner. And one way to express to your students how much you value them and their culture is by letting them teach you something. Create opportunities in your classroom for your students to instruct the whole group. It could be allowing them to create a collage that illustrates life from their native country, or letting them share a unique or differing perspective from their culture as it relates to the topic of today’s lesson. Once in a while, we enjoy hosting a “Language & Culture Party” where everyone from our language class is able to bring a dish from their country, and where we are able to have a meal together and celebrate all of the cultures in the room as we learn from one another.

If you are a language teacher and your objective is simply to teach other people your language, and never the other way around, then you are missing out on one of the greatest blessings that is right in front of you. And you are missing out on an amazing chance to honor and value the other cultures in the room. If you work closely with a group of multilingual people, then don’t miss out on learning as much as you can of their languages. You won’t be disappointed that you did, and in the end it will make you an even better teacher of your own language.

Building Relationships

“Do all three of these in the same day. This is how friendships are made.”

7. Have Fun Outside the Classroom

We’ve discussed some of the amazing advantages that classrooms bring, especially in the way which they create a safe and friendly space for learning. But learning can happen outside of the classroom too, and so can a lot of other things. Relationships, I believe, are meant to be created outside. I have spoken with teachers who struggle to understand why they didn’t see deeper relationships formed from their time spent teaching in classrooms. And my greatest encouragement to anyone who is seeking to build relationships through their teaching is to simply get outside the classroom.

Now it may be wise for me to give you a word of caution at this time. Despite your best intentions, you may need to be careful of your organization’s policies regarding fraternization, if there are any. And you definitely want to make sure you do what is acceptable and wise within the cultures represented. For example, in some cultures, if a male and female are seen alone together, it is automatically assumed they are a married couple. Still other cultures might not be comfortable with mixing genders in public at all, no matter the size of the group. So these are all things to be aware of, and might require some sensitivity. However, if you find yourself in a North American or European country, then it’s likely that you’ll have no problems scheduling a time to meet your students outside of regular class.

Plan a fun outing over the weekend, or host a movie night, or take your students to the grocery store and then prepare a meal together. Or do all three of these in the same day. This is how friendships are made. Be wise, be understanding, and see the transformation that comes when friends go outside together.

8. Be Their Guide (Walk Alongside)

We are all familiar with the image of the prototypical leader. That person who is willing to walk in front and lead the way. Oftentimes, they are also seen as the person who gives the most effort, and who gets the most fame in return. I don’t have anything against this type of leader, but I want to try to offer another model of leadership which I find to be valuable, especially for refugees.

A refugee who has been forcibly displaced from the world they once knew, doesn’t need you to be an expert lecturer, a fanciful storyteller, or a “sage on the stage.” They need more from you than to quietly listen while you recite all of your knowledge in the hope that some of your students passively receive it. Instead, your students need you to be their “guide on the side.” They need you to be there, to walk alongside them as they navigate their new world—as both parties actively participate in the learning process.

This principle is key when creating the type of relationship we’ve discussed so far—where you, as the teacher, are also committed to being a learner, and where you are striving to understand their story. Solidarity is what is needed most, not leadership and subjugation. They need a guide, and you need more understanding. Therefore, it is vital that, during this journey, you walk alongside your refugee students instead of solely out in front.

9. Be Their Champion (Stand Up)

Finally, when it comes to developing positive relationships while caring for the needs of your refugee students, it’s important to realize that on certain occasions they may need you to rise from your guiding role and for you to take a greater stand than ever before. You may need to raise your voice. You may need to exit the classroom and take it to the streets, to the newsrooms, and the courtrooms. Not only have refugees lost their home country, their family members, and their entire support network, but most have lost their voice as well. They may need you to take a stand and fight for their rights and needs as citizens—and as your friends.

At the beginning of this article I asked you to create two lists: one for the struggles that refugees face, and one for the ways you wish to help them in those struggles. Some of the ways you can support refugees will be very practical. However, there will also come times when a little imagination, innovation, and bravery are what is needed most. Is there something on your list that no one else will do, or even attempt? In what ways do refugees need you to stand up and be their champion?

Equipping for Transformation

“Bringing God’s practical love and Kingdom to those in need.”

10. What’s In Your Tool Belt?

Welcome to the starting line. This is where your adventure begins. There are tens of millions of refugees and displaced people out there who are waiting for you to be their champion and guide. They need a teacher just like you, and they have a lot to teach you as well. As you give them the tools they need to successfully navigate their new lives, it may be a good idea to take a moment to assess your own set of skills. Are there any tools in your “tool belt” that could do for a little sharpening?

We work with hundreds of students every year who want to be agents of transformation in communities around the world, bringing God’s practical love and Kingdom to those in need. With that in mind, here are two schools that I think you would find invaluable as you make a better world possible for those in need everywhere on the planet.

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Our TESOL schools are designed to train everyday people like you and me to be English teachers in any country on the mission field. Our upcoming course features a special focus on the refugee crisis, and includes a mini-outreach to a refugee community in the United States. This course is backed by an internationally recognized TESOL certification that can open many doors of opportunity, both in limited-access nations overseas and among the multicultural neighbors near your front door. Whether or not you have any prior training or experience as a teacher, this course will be an unforgettable learning experience.

Community Development School

The Community Development School is a course that focuses on equipping you to become an effective multiplier of community transformation from a Kingdom of God perspective. This course provides an overview of the issues involved in helping communities be transformed toward God’s intentions. It focuses on a Biblical understanding of the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment, and the strategies needed to enable people to overcome the hurdles to their community’s transformation. The key is people—transformed hearts, minds, and lives—resulting in transformed communities, societies, and nations.

As You Go

Winston Churchill once said, “I never worry about action, but only inaction.” And it is our hope that you will be able to pursue the dreams God has for you—whatever they may be, and however difficult or worrisome they may seem—and that he will completely equip and empower you for that future. As you begin, please reach out and share your vision and heart with us as well. And share any questions you have or challenges you may have experienced, so that we can be of help to you as we learn together.

May God bless you as you go.


It Is Worth It!

Hello, Taiwan, it’s nice to finally meet. This plane touching down, this is a year and a half of praying and dreaming. This is seven months of raising support and fighting fidgeting nerves. This is three months of dedication, self-sacrifice, self-discovery, and preparation.

But, oh, wait. I’ve been here once before, haven’t I? That’s right, I’ve lived here for nine years.

Well then, Taiwan, it’s a pleasure to be back.

I am as giddy as a man embarking on a first date. There’s a smile etched on my face and I’m confident stars dance in my eyes. Being back in Taiwan, I am overwhelmed by love for this nation. A team member asks me what I love so much about it, but there’s really no concrete answer. I love it all: from the people to its culture, from the maddening, gritty city streets to its sheer marble mountain walls to its fine, snow white beaches. It’s my childhood. It’s memories. It’s home.

We bathe in the city’s scents struggling to navigate our luggage through narrow, bustling streets just inches away from a visit to the hospital due to vehicles barreling down the already crowded roads. I relish every moment of it. Memories in the backroom of my heart emerge knocking dust from their shoulders. Oh, look, there’s a piece of my childhood! Hey, I understood what they said! I totally want to go back and buy some of that! Déjà vu like a freight train.

Outreach is vastly different then my preceding life in Taiwan, I discover this quickly enough. In a way it’s just a shadow of what I’ve experienced. There is no safe haven of an American home brimming with American food and culture. There is no air-conditioned room for one to escape to when the noise of the city becomes deafening.

There’s no plush bed to rest my weary body as night blankets the city. There is my team and I and the pulse of a muggy, clamoring city. Indeed, outreach is a different animal entirely.

Four days in, immersed in a liquid warm coffee shop, I groan internally, my mind wards off the relentless lure of sleep. What’s the point? My thoughts murmur. There is a man before me, he tells me one story, but his eyes speak another. One of loneliness and wandering, seeking a pinprick of light that will blossom and become something worth living for. He’s worth it. A subtle prod throbs at my heart. The conversation lulls for a brief moment. “What does your father do?” An open door to share Christ? Simplicity at its finest. “Well, he’s a pastor?” The man poses questioningly, “so you’re a Christian.” It’s not a question, but a pointed statement. I nod knowingly, “Yes.” Where does the conversation go from here? He picks up the rope and tosses me an end. “So what do Christians believe?” My heart fractures with a realization that I’ve subtly known but never explicitly faced. This man has never had an opportunity to hear about Christ. And it dawns on me. This is why I am here. He’s worth it to sacrifice a few hours of sleep for.

[promote_post title=”Learn more about Endurance DTS” post_id=”195″ description=””/]

We take to the countryside; making our bed in a home so bizarre it would be difficult to paint a picture. Spiders spindle their webs as we shower below them. Fleas and mosquitos feast on my feet, lighting it up like a Christmas tree. A few days in, my knee blows out and that night I find myself fighting back tears and seething with the same question: What’s the point?

A few days later we do a kids ministry to a group of children coming from broken families. They are hilariously ecstatic. They engage in a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” like it’s the finest thing they’ve ever had the privilege to partake in. They cling to us like monkeys as we leave. My heart swells when we say goodbye. A whisper prods at my heart. They’re worth it. They’re worth fighting through pain in my knee to demonstrate a glimpse of Christ’s vast love.

Days march on. Some days I find myself at wits end, dragging a bum leg around. Some days I’m on a couch dying with laughter with my YWAM family. Some days we’re traveling six hours just to minister to one group of children. Some days we’re traveling by subway, bus, train, and walking to make it to our next destination. Some days we’re dancing our hearts out with little children as they cling to us, grinning ear to ear. Some days I’m bent over a sink washing a seemingly endless line of dishes. Some days we’re eating the strangest foods in the midst of an Asian temple. Some days we’re interceding for God’s heart toward his children. Regardless the circumstance, he is faithful to remind me and to show me His love. He shows me in the tears in the women’s eyes. He shows me in the calculated interest to know more following a street performance. He shows me despite my ignorance. He shows me despite my impatience. He shows me along the damp, reeking streets with a backpack straining at my muscles. He shows me as I stand beneath the stabbing cold shower. He shows me through the sad eyes of a working class man. He shows me through the toothy grin of an elderly man. He shows me in the timid smile of a child. He shows me they’re worth it. He shows me their beauty. He shows me how he loves them. He gives me a taste, a sliver of the Kingdom. It makes the sweat and tears worth it; it makes the exhaustion and hours of preparation worth it. Because Jesus thought we were worth it. So why shouldn’t they be?

So that Jesus is Glorified

During a Discipleship Training School students travel from all over the world to a particular location to learn that God speaks, that He wants to speak to them, that He has a call on their lives and a purpose for them. They learn about the character and nature of God through scripture and who God says that they are because of what Jesus did on the cross and through His resurrection. It is a time of strengthening identity and foundation in their faith; it is incredible! In every school we see God bring healing and transformation, and we see people gain a better understanding of God’s heart for them and for others. All of this is amazing to watch.

But it was never meant to stop there!

All of the healing and transformation and truth that is heard and believed throughout a DTS is for a purpose: so that Jesus would be glorified in our lives! Youth With a Mission is a missions organization and our mission is “to know God and to make Him known”. You could even say that our mission is to know God so that we can make Him known. As believers, disciples of Jesus, our mission comes from the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’”.

our mission is to know God so that we can make Him known

For this upcoming Fall DTS, we have been praying for God to highlight a theme for us to focus on. We have felt God reminding us of the purpose of our own personal growth in our relationship with Him: we are called to preach the gospel and make disciples in all the nations, pointing them to Jesus!

This Fall’s theme for DTS is “…so that Jesus is Glorified!” The verse that the Lord gave us is 2 Thess. 1:11-12

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

Our prayer is that as God draws us into a deeper relationship with him during this season, we will see our personal growth as unto something greater. May the end result be that through that deeper relationship with God, we understand more of His heart to share with others and seek to pour out all that has been invested in us to the world around us…so that Jesus is glorified!

We want to invite you to be a part of what God is wanting to do both in – and through – all of us this Fall. We anticipate that God is going to do some very profound things and we are incredibly excited about what He continues to share with us. Maybe the Lord is leading you to consider joining us. Please pray about it. Perhaps God wants to meet you in a special way too, “so that…”

The Well – An Update on Our New Worship School

We recently finished running a new course called “The Well.” The Well is a hands on, practical application course for those who want to gain more experience in worship leadership and ministry. During our 12 weeks together, we led worship 148 times, traveled thousands of miles to lead worship in churches around the country (some with congregations over 5,000), led two 24-hour worship experiences, filmed and recorded a live worship time with some original songs on the deck of our Student Center, and attempted to become more devoted followers of the Holy Spirit as He leads us to honor Him.

The whole point of The Well is to give students a wide variety of opportunities to step out in worship leadership while partnering the Holy Spirit.  We wanted to do more than talk about worship in theory, but learn by actually doing worship.  The basic format was to talk about some principles together, lead worship, discuss what happened and how the Holy Spirit was moving, and then do it all again with another group of people in another venue.

We spent over five hours a week learning music theory, sound reinforcement, Pro Tools and other technical skills that equip us to be more effective.  We rehearsed together 10-20 hours per week. We had voice lessons and studied hymns. We spent an hour each day in the Psalms. All this to say, it was a JAM PACKED 12 weeks, and we feel richer because of it.

Surprisingly, after all that, we only wanted to worship more.  You would think that this routine might get a little old, but being in God’s presence has a way of increasing our hunger for Him.  We found that after the 12 weeks, not only had our skills and experience increased, but so had our passion.

We’d love to have you join us for  The Well next Spring! It’s a growing school with limited space so apply early!

Check out the playlist below to see four live songs from The Well (three originals and a cover). We’ll be posting three more songs later this summer.

How Can I Use My Talents For God?

“It is the task of youth not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word Of God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For many people in our generation there is a burning desire for adventure and success. We want to be creative and successful. We desire to leave a legacy and to have fun while doing it. In the church, in the work place, and in our schools – we desire to bring some kind of change and leave our mark on the world.  In order to reach our goals we need to learn how to use our skills and talents to their full potential.

I enrolled in YWAM Montana Lakeside’s “Summer Programs” in 2012. When I signed up for the program, I was mostly looking for a fun summer experience. To be quite honest, I wasn’t focused on growing in my faith. All I wanted to do was play music and tour around the world. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for my priorities to change.

On the first day of class I quickly realized that my desire to just show up and play music was shifting. During worship the next day, the Spirit of the Lord hit me so hard that I fell to my knees trembling in the presence of the Lord. At that moment I realized that Jesus knew everything I had done, every sin I had committed, every negative thought I ever had, and I was scared out of my mind. In that moment I expected condemnation and wrath, but what I got instead was the comfort of a Father showing me how he had been by my side through all of it.

I discovered that I was made for something greater than just playing music

The next six weeks took me on a radical journey. When I asked, “how can I use my talents for God?” I discovered that I was made for something greater than just playing music. I was built to use my gifts to reach unbelievers and lead people into worship of the Lord. This experience radically changed the way I live and God has never felt more real to me than he does today.

Our Summer Programs exist to show everyone that they can be used by God. We desire to give our students an experience that reaps lasting fruit in their lives. Our heart is evangelism and using our gifts to tell people about Jesus. We focus specifically on sports, dance, and music (with more focus areas coming in the near future).

We believe that artists and athletes who are equipped with the Word of God are incredible resources for the Kingdom

Our commitment, first and foremost, is giving our students a solid foundation in the Word of God. We spend our mornings in lectures learning about the character and nature of our Father. Then in the afternoons students break into their “tracks” to focus on honing their skills. Our talents, interests, and passions give us the ability to reach into the hearts of so many people who might not otherwise be open to hearing the good news. We believe that artists and athletes who are equipped with the Word of God are incredible resources for the Kingdom. So many times our students will get to see, for the first time, what is like when a person accepts Jesus. During the summer of 2014, we took three teams to Cambodia. We saw 50 people accept Christ and get connected to ministries that are eager to disciple these new believers.

You’d be amazed to see how God can use your life, and your talents, to impact another. If you are a dancer, athlete, or musician, I want to personally invite you to come and join with us in our mission to know God and make him known, together!

Please tell me more about Summer Programs!

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I Love Making Announcements

One of my favorite parts about being a Session Leader in the School of Biblical Studies is making announcements during the first first five minutes of each class… and if I’m being honest the announcements usually take me closer to 10 minutes because I’m having fun, probably more fun than a person should have while making announcements.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other aspects of staffing an SBS – teaching, studying the bible, and getting to know my students and staff  – but man, do I love giving those announcements! I think it’s because we always end up laughing for one reason or another. Usually it’s because I’ve said something dumb, or didn’t pronounce something correctly, or one of my students was snarky and I snarked back. It always ends with us all laughing though. I don’t know what comes over me. There’s just these moments during announcement time where I’ll end up dancing, fake crying, stumbling over a “big word” like “Thursday”, or being sassy with one of my more sarcastic students.

My students learn quickly that I really like to laugh, and have fun, and just be a total goofball. Life is too short to be serious all the time. God has blessed us too much for us to not laugh at the silly things in life. I give a lot of credit to this group of students. They are all really great. They’re totally chill, they make any environment super comfortable to be in, and they value laughter.

This group of students really exemplifies the personality of “Rocket Raccoon” from Guardians of the Galaxy. If you haven’t seen it, thats a bummer, because it’s a really great flick. We discovered this comparison when I had the students over to watch the movie, and the more Rocket did his thing in the movie, the more we realized that my fun loving, snarky group of students was embodied in that crazy, spit fire of a raccoon. The students have fully embraced this comparison, and they are very proud of it. Not all of them are that way, some are quiet but even the quiet ones laugh at the sarcasm and join in from time to time. I love my students. They are my snarky raccoons, every single one of them. They are going to do amazing things because they really love Jesus, the Bible and other people.

This is why I love what I do, we get to learn a lot about Jesus, the Bible, and people. We get to live life together – laughing at the goofy things, crying in the hard times, and loving each other in this shared nine months of SBS. For me giving announcements is so much more than a bland chunk of information at the beginning of class. It’s a time where I get to laugh and connect with this awesome group of students.

Endurance, Discipleship & The Great Outdoors

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a Wisconsin church’s outdoor family ministry banquet.  The banquet is a few months off, but as I started preparing for what I might share – perhaps some personal stories from the great outdoors, tying a life of outdoor pursuits into the life of a disciple of Christ, using outdoor skills for missions – I was compelled to start by writing this piece.

It seems appropriate to take pause for a minute and reflect.  All the more sweet is the fact that I’m writing it while I fly to Portland, OR to attend a friend’s wedding.  More than a friend’s wedding though, but a fellow adventurer who I “did life with” 10 years ago as we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Life with Jesus and outdoor life is pure adventure, joy, endurance and reliance on God!

It has been nearly 5 years since Betsy and I shared the initial vision for Endurance DTS with our colleagues and partners in ministry and this summer marks the 4th 22-week Endurance DTS that we have led at YWAM Montana – Lakeside.

We’ve learned a lot about outdoor ministry over the past years, adding to a foundation that we have always had for reaching out to those in the industry and those on a journey, along with our life-long enjoyment of camping, hiking and adventure.

What I think is most remarkable about the EDTS program are the outreaches that EDTS has been a part of in the past four years.  They are worth listing, and they communicate a dedication among the 45 EDTS students and 12 different staff through the years to know God and make Him known to the nations and the global outdoor community. 

2011 – Banner Elk, NC and Spain

2012 – Canmore, Canada and Cambodia

2013 – Nepal

2014 – Nepal and Cambodia

But we can’t talk about outreach without emphasizing all of the outreach, networking and Jesus-sharing that happens on a day-to-day basis as we run the EDTS program.  There are dozens of local, national and international partnerships with both Christian and non-Christian local businesses, churches, camps, permitting/regulatory agencies, ministries and outdoor professionals that we rub shoulders with year in and year out.

Furthermore, there are the amazing conversations, relationships and presentations of the gospel message that happen around a campfire at a campground in the states, in a 3-sided shelter along a trail, in a tea house in the mountains of the Himalayas, in a remote village in Cambodia, in a gear shop in a sea town in Northern Spain or on top of a mountain in Montana.

What has struck me most about our 5 years of focused outdoor ministry is God’s faithfulness.  When we started out we had a clear direction for EDTS.  First of all, we knew it would truly be first and foremost a YWAM Discipleship Training School where students come to know God and make Him known. On top of that we wanted to add in the outdoor elements and use them strategically in missions.  But we’ve come to realize that we aren’t just “adding in” outdoor components to a DTS but running a true outdoor school on top of a true DTS program.  Ask any of the staff or students… it’s a 2-in-1 experience!   (As a side note, my parents recently visited and asked, “When do you get some down time?”  I told them that that rest comes around Thanksgiving and Christmas and sticks around until Memorial Day. Outside of that, well, it’s all-in.)

EDTS is an all-out effort by both staff and students.  But the fruit of these efforts only comes to ripen by the grace of God and his commitment to reach all people, and particularly, those in the outdoor industry.

Some of you reading this may by EDTS alumni, or friends of the program, while for others this may be your introduction to what God is doing here at YWAM Montana – Lakeside through EDTS.  Either way, the vision that God gave us for outdoor ministry through EDTS is happening!  The following outlines our goals, focus and vision.  God has faithfully, and continues to be faithful to accomplish the work that he has given us.

  • Know God and make Him known in the outdoor industry.
  • Support, serve and encourage Christians within the outdoor industry and Christian outdoor ministries worldwide.
  • Teach backcountry skills with an eye for use as mission-field skills (i.e. “translatable skills”).
  • Teach, learn and execute excellent outdoor skills in such a way to build credibility with those we interact with within the outdoor industry.
  • Interact with as many people as we can within the outdoors and the industry by offering fellowship and hospitality to all we meet, from the family on vacation together to the elite athlete in competition.
  • Build relationships and communicate with integrity with parks, agencies, businesses and individuals.

Outdoor ministry and EDTS have been no easy task.  It has been fun, challenging, and, at times, stressful, but overall it is a privilege and huge responsibility we’re blessed to be a part of.

The 2014 EDTS is in its 11th week.  Two EDTS teams head out for Cambodia and Nepal, respectively, in less than two weeks (this is our first year with two smaller outreach teams vs. one larger team).  Applications and inquires are coming in for the 2015 EDTS.  The staff team for next summer is also taking shape.  We head to Glacier National Park for one last week of “summer camping” before outreach (the forecast is for highs in the 40’s and lows in the 30’s).  If you’re thinking that facilitating outdoor ministry is a lot of work, you’re right.  But the rewards are endless…

To see students grow in their relationship with Christ is a blessing.  To see students step out and share their faith with other outdoor enthusiasts is an honor.  To see staff walk with students and point them to Christ through discipleship is to see the same work that Christ did with his disciples.  To see a mountain top reached, a rock pitch overcome, a fear of public speaking conquered, a new skill learned, a gospel presentation in a village that has never heard the good news, a person healed physically, mentally and emotionally, a Jesus-following community along a journey with other journeyers, an outreach focused program doing outreach, a Russell family of 4 doing life and ministry together…  Well that is outdoor ministry and that is Endurance DTS.

Let the adventure continue…

Click the image below to learn more about EDTS!

Outdoor Discipleship

Gearing up for Endurance Discipleship Training School 2014

Preparing for an upcoming Endurance DTS is a lot like preparing for a mountain expedition. There is gear to purchase, logistics to plan, networking and support systems to build, permits to apply for, speakers and support staff to be invited and trained, and, most importantly, student participants to be recruited and accepted for the next EDTS adventure that begins five months from now (not to mention the shedding of those extra holiday pounds)!

Jonathan, Ladina and Tim on a post-EDTS hike on the Island Unit of the Swan
While the EDTS staff team enjoys the winter weather here in Montana, we’re also constantly focussed on the things to come this summer. Have you ever wondered what the EDTS crew does in the off-season to stay sharp and involved in missions, discipleship and the outdoor industry? Well, the answer is that the crew is up to a lot this winter in preparation for what’s to come.

Nathan and Betsy in GNP!
On any given day, you’ll find the team involved in continuing education for EMT and medical certifications, leading the ski/snowboard track for the WDTS, staffing the WDTS, training for the next marathon or nordic ski race, hunting or fishing, training with search and rescue, running youth outdoor camps and finding those sweet gear deals to continue to build up their gear stash. Foremost, however, our EDTS staff team is committed to allowing Christ to be Lord of their lives, walking with Him and proclaiming the kingdom of God as we serve the YWAM Montana community, reach out to the outdoor industry and go to the nations.

We can say with confidence that this summer will once again be full of adventure and challenging growth opportunities for staff and students alike. As of this post, three of our five off-base trips have been planned. We’ve invited all of our speakers. We’re working on the design and fabrication of a custom EDTS trailer that will help us create both ministry opportunities and a mobile classroom for integration of outdoor industry standards in education. But as I mentioned above, the most important thing we’re doing in this off-season focusses on the students that have been, and will be accepted, into EDTS.

We accepted a few students this fall and there are a few applications in progress in this new year. Our prayer is to continue to grow the program and so we’re anticipating to have a school of 15 men and women this summer. Would you please pray for this goal to be realized? Additionally, please partner with us in praying for the following:
Student/staff visas to be granted
Finalization of backcountry permits
Outreach opportunities and locations
Safety and health
Lives changed – students, staff and those we minister to

Do you know anyone who might be interested in participating in EDTS? Please send them our way. We would be happy to answer anyone’s questions. The best way to learn more about EDTS and get connected is to visit www.ywammontana.org/edts

EDTS 2014 is upon us!

Click the image below to learn more about EDTS!


Annapurna Base Camp Trek

The Annapurna Base Camp Trek – Epic, adventure, challenge, fruitful, new friendships, awe-inspiring, vast, grand, like nothing seen before! These are a few words to describe the three weeks I spent with the team as we trekked from 1000 meters (3510 feet) up to ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) at 4130 meters (13,549 feet).

Upon landing in Kathmandu, we headed out into the city for cultural orientation and exploration. We were blessed to stay at Apple Pie Expeditions’ guest house for a few days while we “acclimatized” to the new culture and then we set out for Pokhara, the starting point for the ABC trek.

While in Pokhara, we got to see all that this part of the Himalayas has to offer the outdoor adventure community. Paragliding, kayaking and rafting, trekking and the beautiful landscape draws thousands of people to this part of Nepal each year.

Pictures may best describe our 10 days on the trek so please be sure to look through the album on the right side of this post. The pics were taken with a trusty iPhone but we hope to update the blog with more shots once the team returns in November.

The best stories from the trek are the ones about other people. We were so blessed to meet so many different people from all over the world. English is the main language along the trek which made for quick community-building in the guest houses each night. Most of the conversations started off with highlights from the day, how many leeches each person found on their shins or in their socks, the tragedies of the day (someone getting injured or having to stay back at lower elevations) and of course, stories of the vistas and grandeur from base camp! But from there, the conversation naturally progressed to deeper, more personal things such as family, faith and challenges in life.

As we built relationships with fellow trekkers and travelers over those 10 days, we were blessed to hear their stories and honored that they would take a minute to hear about ours. We were encouraged in our pursuit to love and serve the outdoor industry and the people of Nepal by those that didn’t share the same values or beliefs and we were able to be ourselves and live out the kingdom community in a unique way. (By “ourselves” I mean that we are Jesus followers who love adventure and who care for adventurers in the industry and the people of Nepal alike!).

One highlight of the trek was meeting up with Ueli Steck’s expedition at ABC. Ueli is a world-famous Swiss climber that is also known as the “Swiss machine”. While we didn’t get to meet Ueli himself, we did have the chance to talk with his climbing partner and photography crew. Our Swiss students in particular enjoyed the opportunity to speak Swiss-German for a few hours! You can read about Ueli’s accomplishment here. More than talking, however, we were able to pray with Ueli’s crew and encourage them in their pursuits.

For some, 10 days of trekking felt like eternity, but for others we could have kept going over the next mountain pass, into the next valley and back up to the next base camp. Either way, after 10 days the whole team was exhausted and it was a blessing to rendezvous with friends and contacts in Pokhara for a day and two nights of R&R before heading out to the next location.

Click the image below to learn more about EDTS!