I knew that path. It had no kinks, bends, or turns. No CAUTION signs with unexpected twists and hidden driveways. I always imagined myself heading in that particular direction. That path had every appearance of adventure, but no mystery for me. It was all pretty straightforward. That path? Oh, it was YWAM.

Now, before we get anywhere further, there are two things you must know. There is Youth With A Mission, the family. This is what I was born into, developed all my relationships in (cross-cultural and multinational), and now carry the inheritance of. The principles of global travel, radical generosity, and hearing the voice of God pulse through my pulmonary veins. I have family across the globe. It’s the essence of who I am. Then, there’s YWAM the institution.

Full-time jobs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. However, growing up as a YWAM kid, the only one I really cared about was being a full-time volunteer operating under relational-based support combined with God’s miraculous, constant provision. That is what my parents did before they met, and are still doing together now. The short label is “missionary”. Missionaries do lots of types of work and will have paid jobs, too. But overall, if you operate full-time in YWAM as a missionary “institution”, you will see missions as the six months of your Discipleship Training School, the years you spend staffing secondary schools, and flying on foreign airplanes to rough nations. You count your salary as “support” in dollars and cents, this is your job, and you do love it.

I knew that path. DTS students often come in all shy and nervous about committing to “living life on the edge” and being forever “ruined for the ordinary”. To them, YWAM is that crazy family you don’t understand and the most obscure job title you can ever imagine. To them, “missions” has kinks, bends, and turns, with no GPS devices to tell you where to go. Yet I always pictured myself on this path. It was adventure, it was home, it was normal.

This is what it looked like: You graduate high school. You rebel against the “norm” and don’t go to college, because God has called you to do a specific job, and he doesn’t want you to rely on society’s definition of success. You do DTS, you get smashed by the Holy Spirit in lecture phases, meet incredible people, and get your heart broken and called to the nations on outreach then go back and staff on that base. You do some awesome secondary schools and while you’re at it some cute guy comes and says he likes you. You’ve ministered together for awhile so you pray about it and then you get married. You go into missions. You move to another country. You serve there and have lots of hard times but the good always outweigh the bad and the Lord always provides. You start a ministry, a family, and write a book. Repeat.

If I sound like I’m being obnoxiously prescriptive of YWAM life, sounding pompous is not my intention. The amount of people in YWAM globally is beyond my count, therefore their stories will be far more diverse than what I have just described. I explain it in order to show you that is what I thought I always wanted, what I always expected my life to be like, and what I was devastated to lose when God said be a teacher, go to college, and don’t do DTS.

Can you just laugh with me at the irony of it for a second? It’s a sushi plateful of contradictions. I knew the common missions life, something usually deemed as “unpredictable”. Then Jesus called me to rebel against my society’s definition of success– doing a DTS. Yes, yes, getting a Bachelor of Education degree looks good to just about anyone, full-time YWAMer and your college advisor alike. But when you spend most of your childhood dreaming about which YWAM secondary school you would do first (School of Illustration or School of Photography?!) it is a bit of a shock to everyone involved when you choose a different path.

And so, for my first two years at university, I wrestled.

I wanted so desperately to obey. I’d heard Is that Really You, God? verbatim my whole life. I wanted to obey the call to be trained as a teacher. I knew God well enough that I longed to obey. Yet 29 New Zealand kids in a non-Christian classroom working hours from 7:30am to roughly 5:00pm, then late into the night, for six weeks straight? Not even to mention the scariest thought of applying for jobs to do that full-time?! God, this is not what I had in mind! I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but this?

What happened to Monday Morning Worship?

What happened to prayer requests before we start class?

What about being able love students by having conversations about you? 

What happened to my dreams? 

And so, for the past two and a half years at university, I have wrestled with disappointment.

To me, YWAM was the institution. I was separated from the day-to-day life of my friends at the YWAM Tauranga bases, I couldn’t go to Community Nights because I would be falling asleep without my work done, I couldn’t instantly let new DTS students know I actually did love God crazily a lot– because all I felt they saw first off was a girl doing a degree. For this, I secretly agonized because I separated my work from such a significant part of who I am.

It took a few significant people to show me what I always knew. Was YWAM just completing a DTS and being full-time volunteer? No, no it wasn’t. I knew this. I could go to YWAM Newcastle in Australia for Christmas break and be completely at home. I could rock up to complete strangers at any YWAM Tauranga staff housing and find someone who knew someone, endlessly discovering lifelong connections. Family, Kayla Norris, family! Ohana, whanau, say it in a dozen languages! Don’t you get it?! You are a youth with a mission, plain and simple, without having to do anything.

(Being family not workers sounds a bit like how Christianity is meant to be in general, if you ask me.)

The path is rough, kinky even. So rugged and winding, I wonder what Jesus was even referring to when he talked about the “straight and narrow”. I’ll make a guess that he meant the clear guidance he would give us, like me knowing that I’m supposed to be a teacher. As for the road itself? It disappears around the bend, and I have no idea what’s around the corner. It’s the same for all of us, isn’t it? I suspect a temptation for a full-time YWAMer is to think that they are the only one operating in the rebellious unknown. “If I wasn’t in missions I wouldn’t have all this uncertainty!” Well, it’s true. For the past two and a half years I’ve known exactly what house I’m going to live in, and where I’m going to school. But it’s my temptation to do the same: “If I was in missions I would know for certain that I’d get work that I enjoyed… community that I loved… people that understood me…” and so on, thinking the best lies on the expected road.

Don’t you see that it’s not about what occupation, institution, or organization we’re in? Regardless of those, we all have this common problem– an unfamiliar path. Common, it seems, to those who simply love Jesus. 

That’s where I remember Anne Shirley from my childhood books.

When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla.

-Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Let’s hold on for the fascination of that crazy, unpredictable, beautiful bend.

The best is indeed yet to come.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” –Romans 8:18, ESV

Photos: Paeroa, Matamata (credit: Liz Norris), Auckland, and Cathedral Cove; New Zealand– my beautiful homeland that Jesus has called me to. 🙂