Swapping a pay check for a backpack

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This January will mark 10 years since I gave up my career and took a bold step into full-time volunteer work with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). 

I was 28 and had been working for a cruise line for 4 years, traveling the world and running the youth programs. I had a great life but there was something missing. As I searched for it, I found it was a purpose, and I found it here in Australia, doing missions. 

There were many questions I had to wrestle through making this step, I’d like to share with you my top three 🙂 

Am I ‘youthy’ enough? 

YWAM is full of young people, lots of 18 and 19-year-olds taking a gap year to do their Discipleship Training School (DTS) which is a 5-6 month course that everyone who wants to get involved in YWAM does. I was 28, and while a traditional DTS allows for students up to the age of 35, I knew that I would probably be the oldest student by quite a few years. 

What I discovered though was that age is not an indicator of maturity or wisdom, I have met some 18-year-olds who are more mature and wise than some 50-year-olds. I have some amazing friends here who are 10+ years younger than me and I don’t realise it half the time. 

Age isn’t the factor, I believe youthfulness is an attitude of the heart, and I will be ‘youthy’ enough for many many years to come! 

What about the Money? 

This was a BIG one for me, prior to the cruise ship I had practiced as a Physiotherapist for 4 years, earning a decent pay check, but had been quite unwise with my money. I ended up in a lot of debt with credit cards, car payments, overdrafts, etc. I was not in a good place. My time on the cruise ship allowed for me to pull myself out of that and get to a financially stable position, it took 4 years of hard work, but I got there. 

The idea of giving up this pay check to live as a full-time volunteer was daunting. For me, the step into YWAM was not just a 5-6 month experience but I knew I wanted a change in my career and this was a long term decision. 

For those unfamiliar with YWAM, no one from the founder to the newest staff member earns a wage. We raise our own funds through our churches, friends, and family. This was an extremely foreign idea to me, talking about my financial situation was something I rarely did, asking someone if they would give me money was unheard of. But this was the world that I felt to step into, so with a deep breath and much courage, I did. 

I was, and still am, blown away by the generosity of others. To be able to say that I haven’t received a pay check for 10 years sounds crazy. It is such a testament to the faithfulness of God and the generosity of people. Whether it’s $10 a month or one off donations, the money is always there when it is needed. 

I have never gone without a meal, a roof over my head, or the things I need. I might not be able to indulge in all the things I did when I was working as a physiotherapist, but my life is rich and I don’t feel like I am missing out in any way. 

What about marriage and kids? 

I get asked this quite a bit. I am now 38 and single. People wonder what I would do if I did get married and had children “surely you would have to get a proper job to support them”. I smile to myself as even though I don’t have a family, I have the privilege of watching many of my friends and their families volunteer with YWAM full time. 

I’m hopeful that one day when the time is right, there will be marriage for me. But to be honest with you, I’m still not in a massive hurry. This year I celebrated my 38th birthday hiking through the mountains of Papua New Guinea (PNG) with my DTS outreach team. It was an experience like no other and I love giving my single years to go on adventures like this. 

I love that I can say ‘yes’ to things. I am so content with having the freedom that singleness brings. It allows me to say yes to amazing opportunities and adventures, see hope and life brought to others and put all my energies into what I do. I value this stage of my life and am not in a hurry to see it pass. 

Here’s to the next 10!

10 years ago I was looking for purpose and I have found that here. I lead our January DTS and my most favourite thing about it is seeing people get a true understanding of God, their faith, and their purpose. I love my life, the people I work with and that I get to got to PNG regularly to bring truth and hope to some of the most isolated and remote communities in the world. 

The first 10 years have been full of fun, adventure, challenges, victories, learning, connecting, and growing. Can’t wait to see what the next 10 years hold!

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Helen Middleton

Helen joined us on staff in 2009. She is Australia born but grew up in Jersey, Channel Islands in the UK. Helen is passionate about seeing people understand who they are, discovering their gifts, and finding their purpose. Being active, heading outdoors and enjoying a good read in a hammock are just a few of her favourite things. She enjoys leading DTS’s and has been involved in leading ten so far!

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