February 11, 2018
-By Abby Branch
This past Friday marked the end of my first two weeks of class here at the University of the Nations, and I’m struggling to find a way to catch you up on all that has happened in one short blog post. I wish I had hours to sit down with each one of you, to share story after story of how God has met me here and begun to reshape my heart.
It has only been a little over three weeks, but it feels like three years worth of growth and relationship has already taken place. I can only imagine what it will feel like 5 months from now when we graduate, and I already don’t want it to end!
To start off, the University of the Nations is an incredible place. This quarter, over 500 students from 37 different nations have gathered to grow in knowledge and character together. The University has multiple Discipleship Training Schools (DTS) going on at the same time, each with a different focus and dynamic. There are also second-level schools that go deeper into a certain topic or area of study – for example once you complete any DTS, you can continue on to a 9-month School of Biblical Studies program here in Kona. There are 785 YWAM bases across the world that host different ministries and schools.
The school I’m in, Crossroads DTS, is made up of about 60 students and staff members from multiple countries, and all generations and stages of life – all the way from 2 years old (the son of one of our families with kiddos), up to 70 years of age! We represent the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Jamaica, Nigeria, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Korea, the U.K., Indonesia, and Texas (just kidding about that last one). It’s so fun and beautiful to have such a diverse group of people all unified around the pursuit of growing in relationship with God, to know him and make him known. The founder of YWAM, Loren Cunningham, has pointed out more than once that “university” means unity and diversity, and the U of N represents this concept beautifully.
In addition to lots of bonding time, and growing closer together as an “ohana” (ohana means family in the Hawaiian language), sharing meals and pieces of our stories, the past three weeks were all about settling into our routine and new rhythm of life. We usually have class with our whole Crossroads track in the morning, and then outreach training, small group, or prayer time, followed by our work duties in the afternoon. For my work duty, I’ll be serving as a barista in the Banyan Tree Cafe on campus.
We’ve also been assigned to small groups who we meet with weekly to process what we’re learning in class, and we have a weekly one-to-one meeting with our small group leader (one of the Crossroads staff). Meeting with my small group leader for our one-to-one was one of the highlights of my week! She patiently sat through my entire life story and gave me so much encouragement for what the Lord has in store during the next 4 months.
The architecture of the campus and perfect weather allow almost all of our activities to take place outdoors. Praise, worship, and corporate teaching and events all happen in the outdoor “ohana” court, our dining hall is completely open air, and the dorm I’m in has louvered windows and patio doors that are open almost all the time. In fact, the only building with air conditioning on campus is the prayer room. That’s one good way to encourage a culture of prayer! God’s beauty, creativity, and goodness are so evident everywhere in Hawaii’s natural environment and landscape, and He uses his creation to speak to me in metaphors and pictures on a daily basis. I’m so thankful to live in such an incredible place during this season of life.
In case by now you have started to suspect that all I do is sit on the beach, drink fresh coconut water, and wander around picking plumeria flowers (though I have done all three of these activities!), I’d like to shift our conversation now to share more about how the Lord has been at work powerfully in my heart and mind since the day I arrived in Kona.
A few weeks ago, I started reading and praying Ephesians 1:17-18 on a daily basis:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”
Over the last two weeks, the Lord has been answering this prayer in wild ways. On our very first day of lecture, I heard the gospel as if for the first time. I’ve heard it many times and many ways, but this time it felt like the word, the truth, reached deep down into my heart and shook the roots of unbelief that have crept in over months and years of challenge that made me numb to the reality of Jesus.
…that everyone who believes may have life in Him. I am everyone, and Ican believe He did this for me. For me! For ME!
The following week, the focus of our studies was learning the biblical foundations for hearing God’s voice, and practical ways to do it. We had two guest speakers, Mark Virkler and his daughter Charity Virkler, who have devoted their lives and studies to researching and teaching on this topic all around the world.
Mark Virkler taught us 4 keys for quieting our minds and tuning into the voice of God in a method called two-way journaling. I’ve journaled daily for several years now, but most of my journaling has consisted of me doing all the talking, and asking the Lord occasional questions that I might hear a one-word or sentence-long answer to. I’ve always believed that God speaks to us, but simultaneously held the suspicion that he mainly speaks to special people at special times, not just … well, because he likes us! So when he has spoken in the past, I’ve often doubted what I’ve heard and wondered if it was just my imagination, and then not been able to receive his personal word and love for me in this way.
Mark’s teaching was really powerful for me, because it laid out the truth in scripture that it is God’s intention to speak to every one of us who will listen, and that he does so out of the flow of his spirit within us, through our hearts. The language of the heart is pictures and images, so the best way to engage with God is through the “eyes of our heart”, or imagination. God gave us our imagination so we could use it for godly purposes, like picturing a scene in our daily life, or a memory, and inviting the Lord to show us where he is and what he is doing in it. The 4 Keys you can use to do this are:
- Quieting yourself down.
- Fixing your eyes (your imagination) on Jesus.
- Tune into the spontaneous words/images that come up.
- Write it down.
The reason why you should write it down is so you can put doubt or questioning on the shelf while you’re writing, and stay in the flow of what you are hearing. Later on, you can go back and read what you’ve written, and even ask mentors or people you trust to look over it. Mark suggests asking someone the question “Does your heart bear witness that this came from God?” and looking to scripture to make sure what you hear is consistent with God’s character.
This type of prayer has become a part of my daily life over the past week or so, and the Lord keeps showing up in unexpected ways! It has built my faith and joy so much to really understand and believe in my heart that Jesus IS Immanuel, God with us, and that any picture or memory without him in it is simply a lie. This is a direct answer to my prayer above, as the Lord has literally “enlightened the eyes of my heart” to see him at work in my daily life and even to redeem memories of the past that I couldn’t see him in at the time.
There’s so much more I’d love to say, but I’ll leave you here for now.