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Youth snowboard toward mission

By Joanna Davis

The snow was thin on the ground at Mt Hutt this winter. But for 50 young people from around the world who came to the South Island to do a Christian snowboarding course, the season has been “fantastic”.

The students enrolled in a five-month Snowboarders Discipleship Training School with Oxford Youth With A Mission (YWAM). They spent three months in the classroom learning to know God, with weekends set aside for snowboarding. Last month, they left for a two-month outreach mission to various countries around the world.

Tamara Skubovius (19) from Canada says she chose the course because it features snowboarding, but stresses that that was not the sole focus for her or the other students. Tamara’s friend, Erica Hyslop (20), only travelled 45 minutes from her Christchurch home to attend. They agree that the course has changed their attitudes and those of all the students for the better.

“[We have learned here that] God is real. His spirit is in this place so heavily.”

Tamara and Erica were in a team which left last month for Thailand and Cambodia. Other teams headed to Argentina and Chile, India and Bangladesh, South Africa and Mozambique, or, closer to home, Otara, South Auckland.

This global programme is coordinated from a base in small-town Oxford, nestled under the foothills of the Southern Alps in North Canterbury.

While other YWAM missions throughout the world concentrate on mercy work and evangelical missions, the focus at Oxford is on training. Director Chris Donaldson, describes disciple training courses as “like the DNA” of the YWAM mission.

Chris (50) came to Oxford YWAM in 1998 after 12 years with the organisation in Venezuela. At that time the Oxford courses didn’t include snowboarding or backpacking as they do now, and their popularity was waning.

“When I came five years ago, the whole base had pretty much ground to a halt.”

Some advised Chris to move the base into the city but he prayed for direction. “The Lord said, ‘Lift your eyes to the hills. Have a look around. See the beauty of the place.’ So that’s why we combined snowboarding and backpacking with the basic Christian theory phase.”

Chris is in charge of 20 staff. They include course leaders, international lecturers who come for a week at a time, and the ever-changing core of live-in students. He is enthusiastic about the programme.

“It’s an experience that, for most, marks their life. It gives them a solid base of exposure, Biblical teaching, and knowing God better.”

YWAM has been operating for more than 40 years, and Chris says it is the biggest mission agency in the world other than the Catholic Church. It has 500 bases and 17,000 staff worldwide. Staff members are unpaid and must live by faith.

“All the workers in YWAM are volunteers, apart from the accountant and cook. On a spiritual level, God provides. On a practical level, it’s friends. Friends, family, and churches – people who believe in the work we’re doing.”

Shane Jette is an American tutor who came to Oxford via Townsville, Australia. He’s leading the September intake which is a Backpackers’ Discipline Training School.

Shane explains the challenge of living by faith; “It’s really kinda exciting in a lot of ways. God wants to teach you about his faithfulness and trust. It seems like most of the time he does wait until the last minute.”

“I love seeing the kids grow in God. YWAM courses give a platform to apply head learning in your life. It provides a chance to repent, to praise God, as well as being practical and solid theologically.”

Completion of a discipleship training course is also a prerequisite for enrolment in a degree at international YWAM universities. The degree requirement at these universities includes that students study on a minimum of three continents. “The whole idea is of a person becoming a global Christian. And, that way, their vision is open.”

Having beaten the threat of closure through innovation, Oxford YWAM is looking to relocate to be able to house more students even closer to the ski field action. They are looking at property in Methven which could accommodate approximately 100 students - double their current numbers.