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Sabbatical of rest, worship and service

An interview with Christy VanderVeen

In September 2015, Christy VanderVeen, 34, from Orangeville, Ont., took a sabbatical from her Grade 1/2 teaching position at Orangeville Christian School, where she had taught for 10 years after graduating from Redeemer University College with a Bachelor of Arts (Ancaster, Ont.) and from Queens University (Kingston, Ont.) with a Bachelor of Education. I caught up with Christy (who, by the way, is my niece) to learn why she took a sabbatical from teaching and why she chose to attend Discipleship Training School (DTS) run by Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in Tyler, Texas.

Christian Courier: Why did you take a sabbatical?
Christy VanderVeen
: I love teaching and cherish the opportunity to help shepherd God’s young children. However, I’ve had a growing restlessness the past few years and knew I was growing weary. Instead of pushing myself to keep going through the motions, I decided to take a sabbatical in order to take a step back from teaching, be refreshed and intentionally put myself in an environment where I could spend time with God.

How did God lead you to DTS? Did you have specific goals in mind when you enrolled?  
God led me to DTS through a series of experiences that only he could have orchestrated. A few years ago, I helped lead two short-term mission trips with a couple who were serving with YWAM. We stayed at YWAM bases. I got a real appreciation for what YWAM is about and how they operate.  When I prayed about what to do on my sabbatical, I knew I wanted to do three things: learn more about God’s Word and ways, grow in my relationship with him, and be able to serve his people. YWAM’s DTS encompassed all three. There are hundreds of YWAM bases around the world that offer training, but much to my surprise, God led this non-country girl to the Tyler, Texas base!  Yee-haw!

Your discipleship training included in-class instruction from October to December 2015 before you set out on an outreach trip.  What did the curriculum consist of?
Each week we had a different teacher speak to us about a different topic, such as the kingdom of God, relationships, spiritual warfare, evangelism, hearing from God and more. I’ve heard DTS described as putting you before God and leaving you there. I’ve also heard it described as God taking out all your junk and replacing it with himself and his truth. Both were accurate! We didn’t just go to class to take notes, but we worshipped, were ministered to, were prayed with and were drawn closer to God.
I also appreciated (and found challenging at times) that YWAM believes in community and that through living in community you get to daily work out what you’re learning in class. There I was, a 34 year old accustomed to living in my own house by myself, now living in a small room with four other ladies (all about 19 years old) in a dorm with 50 ladies!  A big adjustment, but an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world!

Who’s on your outreach team?
My team is made up of my DTS classmates and a number of YWAM Tyler staff.  About 50 of us piled into rental vans and drove to Washington, D.C., to start off our outreach. We then split up into two groups. Thirty people from the group went to the northeast coast of the United States and the rest of us went to the southeast coast. My team consists of 13 students and six staff ranging in age from 18 to 34 years, and hailing from numerous states, provinces and South Korea.  We made stops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana.
 
As part of your outreach, your team performed a drama for various groups. What is the drama about and what is its relevance for viewers?
The drama is about a missionary who was trained in YWAM and martyred in Africa. It includes five monologues of the missionary and those close to him conveying their experiences and what God has worked in them though the missionary’s death. There’s also a choreographed dance after the monologues. The overall message of the drama is a challenge: Are you dead yet? Are you living out of fear, or out of faith? What parts of your life are you holding on to that God is asking you to die to, believing that he is worth the sacrifice and surrender? At the end of each drama presentation, we offer prayer and discussion for the viewers as they process the drama’s message and challenge.

What else besides the drama does your outreach consist of?
At each stop, we have sought to partner with a church or ministries in that area.  Our goal has been to encourage, inspire, and serve them.  The name/vision of our school is “The School of His Awakening.” Through our drama, prayer, worship and service, we hope to spark the awakening of both churched and unchurched people to the light and love of God. We’ve volunteered at various ministries, offering to help in any way we can: cleaning, organizing, moving and painting.  We’ve also interacted with many people in each city, offering prayer and the gospel.

How have people responded as your team has reached out in Christ’s name?  Have you experienced opposition?
People have responded very well! It’s been awesome to see how God has arranged our visits at just the right time, sometimes to encourage the staff of a church, sometimes to fan into flame the faith of church members, sometimes to present the gospel.  
The greatest tangible impact that we’ve had was in Chester, South Carolina, a small, low socioeconomic town where racial segregation persists. It seemed like God was using our presence there to activate cooperation and the beginning of unity between black and white churches in particular. We were invited to perform our drama at a black church that wouldn’t normally invite a group like ours. Then we were invited to perform at a white church because someone who saw our drama at the black church wanted their church to see it, too. We worked with people in the community to help rejuvenate a run-down community centre so that it can once again be a safe and fun place for kids. Our presence at our host church was especially encouraging as we were able to encourage them to respond obediently to God’s call to go into the community to serve and unite.

Have specific encounters or situations had an impact on you?
There are numerous God-appointed interactions with people that will stay with me, especially praying with others: a six-year-old boy who was scared, a pregnant twenty-year-old woman unsure if she was still pleasing to God, a fifty-year-old woman whose son had been murdered, and a ninety-year-old man who’d just lost his wife of 66 years. A specific ministry that impacted me was praying with women at a rehabilitation centre. Being able to stand in the river of God’s love for each woman and speak his affirmation, acceptance and unconditional love to them was so powerful and a true honour.

How do you hope that what you’ve learned, experienced and seen will influence your relationship with God and others in the future?
I pray that everything God has worked in me and healed in me will be sealed. I pray that I’ll continue to make God my first love and walk with him through the changes and challenges of life.  And I pray that I’ll be a surrendered and available vessel of God’s love and grace to the people he brings along my path. God’s primary desire for each one of us is to be in relationship with us. To have this time to enjoy and nurture that relationship has been a true gift at this point in my life!

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