15 years ago, I completed my DTS in Arbroath, Scotland, convinced I knew what to do next. I went back home (to Florida) with every intention of returning to Europe as soon as possible and obeying what God had spoken to me during my outreach in Paris, France – that I would return to that city and “work.” For two long years, I tried to return to Paris in my effort to obey God, but he closed every door. I finally realized that it wasn’t time and accepted where I was. Three years later, seemingly out of the blue, God flung open the door back to Paris through YWAM. So, October 2010, I moved to Paris and joined the re-pioneering team in Belleville.
I had the privilege of experiencing every role in our location. I served and eventually lead ministries, schools, trainings, and the base. Our team weathered crises and challenges all the while retaining a genuine love and affection for each other. We celebrated a lot of victories and we grieved a lot of losses. My final year with YWAM Paris Belleville was bittersweet as God released each of us into other areas and locations and we closed our base as an operating location. For me, it allowed me to join YWAM Greece last year to help develop member care for our staff here – a subject that has been on my heart and mind for years.
So far, I’ve given YWAM my 30s and have learned some key lessons along the way. I narrowed it down to a list of 10 principles in 10 years that I’ve learned (and re-learned, and re-learned, and probably will learn again…) :
- It’s All About Relationship: Romans 12:9-10. Beyond all our ministries, our schools and trainings, and visions and dreams, lies the foundation it’s all built on: relationship. Our first responsibility as followers of Christ is to love the Lord, then to love each other and ourselves. God stopped me in my tracks one day during a crowded conference to gently rebuke me that I had been avoiding some hard-to-love people that he had put in my path. It reminded me again that our success isn’t measured by how big our ministry is, but how well we love the ones in front of us. Love that is bold and humble and urgent and patient and goes down into the pit and up to the mountain top. Love that is seen from the outside. It is each of our responsibility to love in word and deed.
- Timing is Everything: Proverbs 3:5-8. Granted, I first learned this in the years leading up to my return to YWAM, but it’s one of those lessons that is so hard to remember! I find that in our eagerness to obey what we hear the Lord say, we tend to forget to wait for more insight. On my DTS outreach, I clearly heard God tell me that I was coming back to Paris. I had other ideas for my future and was a bit reluctant to accept moving to Paris, but my desire was to obey the Lord, so I was going to force my way even if my heart wasn’t really in it. In His wisdom and grace, He held me back until my heart was ready to follow and YWAM Paris Belleville was ready to grow. Even now, my strategic thinking runs miles ahead of God’s timing and I’ve had to learn a key ingredient for God’s will to be done well: active waiting.
- Communication is Key: Colossians 4:6. I love that we work in culturally and generationally diverse teams. It’s a beautiful reflection of the Body of Christ. But with diversity comes misunderstandings. Learning how to communicate, and especially how to listen, cross-culturally is one of the most useful skills we can develop. Some cultures value direct communication, other cultures see that as rude. Non-verbal communication and silence are often louder than words. When we come together cross-culturally, one of our bigger challenges is in hearing each other beyond our cultural parameters. Learning how to speak the truth in love, so that our words are full of grace and seasoned with salt, so that truth builds up and doesn’t destroy, is an essential part of healthy team dynamics (because it’s all about relationship). The kind of communication that builds trust, respects privacy, quickly affirms and humbly corrects, that preserves dignity – that’s my communication goal.
- Slow Down to the Pace of Love: Matthew 11:28-29. Our base in Paris was an urban base with our apartments scattered across our neighborhood. It required a certain level of independence in our staff and students. When worship singer/song-writer Brian Doerksen and his daughter visited our base as a potential location for his daughter to do a DTS, he said something that has impacted our staff ever since. His daughter has Fragile X-syndrome, and as we learned about the extra needs and precautions we would have to provide if she were to do a DTS with us, Doerksen shared a principle he and his wife have learned in raising six children, three of whom have this syndrome. He said it taught them to slow down to the pace of love. Years later, I am still unpacking the depths of this principle: is our base structure and pace loving? Is our schedule loving? Who is getting crushed and left behind in our eagerness to accomplish our vision? How can I keep pace with love?
- Jesus is Our Pain Bearer: Isaiah 53:3-4. Since focusing full-time on member care, I’ve spent a lot of time researching what makes us resilient and effective in the long term. One thing I’ve discovered as a key to resiliency is having time and permission to grieve. We are constantly faced with stressors and loss. If we fill our schedule (and free time) to the brim with no chance to let our emotions catch up, we will not last. In Isaiah 53, it talks about Jesus bearing our griefs and sorrows, our pain and traumas. Are we really allowing Jesus to enter into our grief and pain? Are we even allowing ourselves to acknowledge our pain? If not, then maybe we are missing out on the fullness of Jesus as Savior…
- Open-handed Ownership: Colossians 3:17. A well-known certainty in YWAM is that change is constant. For a whole year, a theme God kept bringing my team back to is the concept of open-handed ownership. While something is in your hands, steward it to the best of your ability; but there will come a time, like the falling of leaves in autumn, when it’s time to let go. To hold on would be to suffocate it or to crush you, whether it’s a ministry, a dream or vision, a role, burdens, a location, etc.
- Know Your Part: 1 Corinthians 3:6-9. If life is a tapestry, I am but one thread. I love this analogy because while my little thread plays a part in the big picture, it is still only one of many. I am not the savior of this world; however, the Savior of this world has chosen to let me be a part of his ultimate plan of salvation. This keeps me dependent on seeking the Lord about what are my responsibilities and what are not. This keeps my pride in check and my apathy at bay.
- You’re Not Finished: Psalm 51:6-19. Because life keeps moving and mistakes happen and sometimes people still sin (I know, shocking), it’s helpful to remember we are not finished. I am holy and I am being made holy. I am fully healed, and I am on a healing journey. I am a living sacrifice, and I am constantly being made new. I am a teacher and a student. Understanding our own work in progress has the ability to fuel our compassion for the works in progress around us. If we humbly retain our status as a learner, we will be slower to offend and quicker to listen.
- No Forbidden Questions: Psalm 44:23-26. Earlier this year I was talking to a missionary from another organization who was sharing about his experiences on the field and being discouraged to ask the hard and uncomfortable questions about God and suffering and justice. It left him feeling alone and like a failure. I was a bit shocked because I wouldn’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t been able to ask these questions when I was working with children who had been pulled from abusive homes, working with refugees who witnessed the murder of their families, or working with staff who’ve experienced trauma and assault. My experiences of God tell me He doesn’t shy away from these questions, but so often well-intentioned leaders do. Crises of faith happen even in the mission field. Let us not be afraid to discover the goodness of God in the murky fog of suffering.
- Laugh Every Day: Proverbs 17:22. To be fair, this principle comes from Tom Bloomer. It is simple but powerful. Sometimes we need to remember there is joy beyond our circumstances. Sometimes we need to give our brains a break to allow creativity and innovation to flow. Sometimes we need to laugh just because we need a laugh. It’s a reminder that life is beautiful, and that God has a sense of humor.
While we’re far from perfect, it is truly a privilege to serve God through YWAM. I hope my experiences and the principles I’ve learned serve to encourage you in your journey. I eagerly anticipate what will come in the next ten years. May we never stop growing and may we never stop believing that we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27).