“I’ve never heard a bad faith journey story!”

Uncomfortable flashbacks hit the few people from the previous DTS who were in the room. Then Trevor was handed the mic.

“Well, I’ve never heard a faith journey story that was bad in the end.” 

This is one such story.

It’s a YWAM Bethlehem DTS classic, based on Jesus’ command to his disciples in Luke 10:4. “Go with no money bag, no knapsack, no place to stay…” and see what God does. The disciples came back with incredible stories of God’s miracles of healing and deliverance, not to mention places to stay and eat. So in YWAM, a common part of DTS (though not all) is to send a small team out for a few nights and ask God for the rest. I always heard students come back in awe of the kindness of strangers, the miraculous provision of God, and how it’s an incredible team-building experience.

Even though I’d grown up in YWAM, I’d never actually been on a trip like that until last September. Missions trips, yes. Seen God provide houses and meals for me personally, yes. But I’d never had to rely on God so fully for housing and food so quickly, and on behalf for six other people. Yes, as a leader I would have my phone and card in case of emergency. But using them would be admitting defeat. So? Beforehand, I was nervous, but calmly confident that God would give us all that we needed. 

I just didn’t know what we really needed.

Even though it was September, which is only just coming out of winter (in the southern hemisphere), we had happy faith that God would provide a warm place to stay so we mostly just took the clothes on our backs. A sunny day in Tauranga, we didn’t expect any colder inland to Rotorua. However, upon arrival, I knew thin hoodies weren’t going to cut it. But we braved the wind, and split up and prayed for people on the streets of downtown Rotorua and helped out in a Salvation Army store. Some of our team got pizza, some of us didn’t. We got to bless some people, but no crazy miracles.

Meanwhile, I was getting concerned. Hungry, cold, tired… where were we going to stay? Driving down roads and highways, I followed where I felt God saying “turn here, turn there” until we pulled up to a church. I met some friends of friends and we ended up staying to help out with their youth group. However, after many hours and even explaining what we were doing, no one was able to take us in, even those that would have liked to. We left, dejected and exhausted.

Late at night, we just kept asking God what to do next. We kept praying. Somehow, we kept stepping out and asking people (special shout-out to Courtney for her legendary persistence!). We kept hoping for a warm place to stay with a big plate of food. We kept trusting even for things we wanted, beyond necessity. For me, I’d written down that I’d like all my fees for our upcoming outreach paid off– but in the face of my team huddled in the heated van without a proper dinner at midnight? Even when I got a text from someone saying they wanted to give, that seemed far off as the moon. So I drove out of town, to the only place with public bathrooms that I knew we could park unnoticed.

Lake Tikitapu sparkled under starlight, hedged in by dark, forest-covered hills and haunted by my own memories of ample food and warm beds. Personally, I couldn’t care less about not eating myself, or sleeping in a cold van. But I wanted to be a good leader and provide for my students– any human would. But I was crying because I wanted a good story. I wanted to tell the others how God provided– wouldn’t that be a testament that I did things right? As a YWAM kid but still first time DTS staff, I knew what would impress, and I wanted to impress. I wanted that perfect story that would let everyone know I did it right. 

Instead, my reputation was shoved towards the guillotine and thrown in the blender. 

“Can we just come home?” ​Outside the van, I cried on the phone to the DTS leader, Trevor, roundabout 3AM. The temperature was steadily dropping, and I didn’t know if it was okay to keep turning the van on for its heater. “I feel like I’ve lost faith in God at this point.”

“You haven’t lost faith, Kayla. You’re just hungry and tired, and God hasn’t provided in the way you thought He would.”

We were given permission to go back to Tauranga, as long as the team decided in together– if not, we were only a couple hours off from sunrise. We could make it to face another day and night. After lots of prayer, sharing our groggy hearts, and more reputations being chucked under a steamroller of this circumstance… we decided to stay. 

Before that night, I didn’t know how long sunrises actually take. The van was quiet, apart from the occasional holler to the boys in the front seats, “Can you turn on the heater again?”, and the subsequent moan from a half-asleep legend as he turned the van key. Yet when I thought it never would come, I opened my eyes and the sky above the lake was that little bit lighter. Steadily, steadily it transformed  deep black to grey, unveiling individual trees and a sandy lake shore. I noticed the pop-up cafe was open across the road, and John 21 kept repeating in my mind. I knew I had just enough money in my personal bank account to get everyone a hot drink and some food. I owed money on outreach, but I heard God’s nudging question: Do you trust me with your last? 

So I snuck out between the tangled, sleeping bodies and came back with steaming hot chocolate and toasted muffins. Somehow, I wasn’t admitting defeat by using my own money, but admitting trust instead. As the sun peeked above the hills, I learned surprising, deeper-than-the-lake lessons. Sometimes God doesn’t want to provide through strangers. Sometimes He wants to knit the hearts of leader to those they follow. Sometimes that’s by offering what’s rightfully theirs, even when others could have been generous. And sometimes, oh sometimes He wants to write a different story than the ones we’ve heard before and expected. 

What I didn’t know then is that other leaders were sleeping in vans that night, too, and I wasn’t alone in my steamrolled reputation. I didn’t know it until a week later, but the donation I’d received that night was enough to cover all that I needed for outreach. And despite hunger, cold, and a fitful sleep– that night every single person in that van got closer to each other and to Jesus.

“Come and have breakfast.”

-John 21:12

His stories are never bad in the end. 

(Stay tuned for Part 2 in the future)
Photos:    Lake Tikitapu, Rotorua. Our Faith Journey team, September 2016. Isabella Lopez.