The Story of the Student Centre
by John Henry
The Student Centre was birthed in prayer over many years with many streams of involvement, including a personal exhortation to start the Centre from YWAM’s co-founder, Loren Cunningham. The prophet Habbakuk writes, “the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord like the waters cover the seas.” I heard Loren speak about the vision of the university, which is “…to bring the lordship of Christ into homes, businesses, government, education, arts, entertainment and sports, the media and local churches.”
Beginning with Internships
So in 1989 I accepted an invitation and my wife Mary and I were sent by our Florida team to lead the Field Ministry Internships program in Kona, HI. But these internships were not just for U of N students. Since we began, we have recruited students from over 100 colleges and universities, including Ivy League Schools, and we have placed them with YWAM partner organizations in over 40 countries. After nearly two years working in Kona, Mary and I returned to our YWAM pioneering team in South Florida.
After two years leading additional teams, mostly in Central America, I was invited back to Kona to the first University of the Nations International Leadership Team (ILT) meetings. The meetings were held in Loren and Darlene’s home in 1992. My purpose was to personally resign from leading Field Ministry Internships (FMI). In just a few years, I had led FMI teams to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, China, Germany, Hungary, and Poland with students from dozens of universities with several different major fields of studies. But I was becoming discouraged. I was in Florida with a pioneer YWAM team and their vision did not include student ministries.
YWAM is a diverse ministry with a unifying slogan, To Know God and To Make Him Known. We share several unifying Foundational Values, which keep us closely related around that vision and our three main ministry thrusts: Evangelism, Training, and Mercy Ministries. That said, we also have very different ministries in each location. YWAM operating locations are in many different cultures with many different ministry applications according to their context. Very few YWAM locations have any focus on university ministries.
The pioneer team in Florida had other priorities, which left me questioning if I was being loyal to them as I led student internships. So I traveled to Kona to present a letter of resignation to Loren. But Loren would not accept it. Instead, he reiterated what I had declared to be my calling to students and universities. Loren believed in me and what God had called me to do. So he challenged me to start a Centre for the U of N. But there were no U of N Centres at the time. He asked me to chair a subcommittee during the meetings at his home to bring some further definition to all Centres as they were formed. Sitting on the floor with various seasoned leaders of initiatives that were early expressions of Centres, I began to dream with God about what a Centre might look like for university student ministries in YWAM and in association with the U of N.
That is how the role and function of Centres work; we interface with people both inside the organizational structure of the U of N and out in the far flung universe of YWAM ministries and affiliated partner organizations to develop projects and programs around the world. The story of the SMC began with a word from the Lord, the encouragement of Loren. Howard Malmstadt, the U of N’s first Provost and co-founder also encouraged this new Centre, however beyond those two important supporters, I was very much alone.
I returned to our home in Miami, FL to a series of very challenging and costly tests. My wife had cardiac supervision during the birth of our second son and our health insurers went to jail for failure to payout claims, including ours. Then Hurricane Andrew destroyed our new home with the nursery that never got used. For three years we paid mortgage and taxes and HOA fees on a slab of cement, taking us deeper and deeper into debt. The condo association assessed every owner, because they only had 60% insurance. We found ourselves, not only alone, but without our home YWAM center in Hammonton, and without our new YWAM team in Florida. We were desperately alone with a big vision.
Without support from local YWAM leaders, I set out to do four things:
- To continue to lead Field Ministry Internships, mostly from my bedroom as an office;
- To prayer walk 100 university campuses on four continents;
- To convene seminars and consultations on university ministries; and
- To invite key people to join a network of ministry leaders who are engaging universities.
Mary and I were invited to join YWAM Richmond with the premise that their vision was to engage the universities. We bought a house and moved there. Then we attended the staff conference where the focus of the ministry was declared to be three major areas, none of which was the university. We were immediately disappointed and felt alone again. Still, we sought to be involved there as much as possible while carrying the vision for university ministries alone.
I was asked to attend the ILT meetings in Tyler, TX in 1995. There was some deliberation and prayer during that meeting as to whether God was calling the U of N to have a Centre for university ministries. With the encouragement of Dean Sherman, the International Dean of the College of Christian Ministries, and similar affirmations from other founding Deans, I was invited to form an international committee. We did not have a name for the Centre when I attended the intense prayer times at the ILT meetings in 1996 in Kona. Loren asked for a name. I said, “Student Mobilization,” somewhat timidly. Loren said, “Avec Courage;” say it with courage. So I did. And I began to invite a few leaders to help found the Centre.
We had our first international committee gathering in Tyler, TX later in 1996. Deonn McDowell, Warren Keapproth, and Al McBryan were the founding committee members. We fasted and asked the Lord what breaks His heart regarding universities and students. God gave us great revelation. That is how God gave us the founding purpose of the Centre.
Not a Rocket; a Little Boy's Lunch
At the U of N Workshop in Seoul, South Korea in 1997, we were commissioned as an official Centre of the U of N.
During that Workshop in Korea, Bob Moffitt, Darrow Miller, and Vishal Mangalwadi were speakers. A key theme at the Workshop was that we were each to bring our offering, like the little boy who brought his lunch to the disciples when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the five thousand. Each Dean and Director was given the opportunity to introduce the College or Centre and special videos were created to amplify the vision. My turn to introduce the new Student Mobilization Centre came on the final morning of the Workshop, after most of the video equipment had already been packed up and many participants were getting shuttled to the airport. I literally felt like David, the little brother who was forgotten when the Prophet Samuel visited his family.
The SMC video of a rocket blasting off was never shown. Instead, I appeared alone on the platform with a lunch wrapped in a handkerchief. I pretended to be David when he was assigned the errand to bring lunch to his brothers.
“Hello brothers, Father asked me to bring you lunch,” I said with translation to Korean.
“I’m excited to see what you’re doing in the fight to disciple nations. Wait, who’s that? I hear someone shouting from that other mountain over there. He’s saying he will disciple the nations, and not us. He’s a giant. He’s controlling the other universities. And he’s mocking us. I hear him saying foul things about us. He’s trying to intimidate us.”
That’s when I concluded,
“He comes at us with academic power that does not empower students. He comes to enslave the nations. But we come at him in the Name of the Lord of Hosts. It’s not by might, nor by power, but we come by the Spirit of God to fulfill his plan to make disciples of all nations.”
That was the day the SMC was borne.
The Centre's Foundation Course
The launching of the Centre’s foundational course, the School of University Ministries & Missions, was birthed in similar fashion, but only after a few years of failed attempts. In 1999, I was program director for the U of N Workshop in Colorado Springs. We were navigating a lot of change in YWAM, especially between Frontiers and the U of N. And my family was navigating a lot of change as well, including the adoption of our daughter from Mother’s Love in China. We moved to YWAM Madison where I had a friend in Warren Keapproth and they had a commitment to the universities. This is when we experienced greater momentum, especially to establish the Centre’s course.
The international committee had grown to nine seasoned YWAM leaders from Korea, China, Kenya, India, and the USA. After years of leading student internship teams and several seminars in Madison and around the world, the curriculum had become fully formed and I proposed to the Centre committee that I believe the time has come to start the school. Aldrin Bogi in Pune, India, said he had planned to start a school for university ministries too. I had seen the proliferation of very similar and often redundant schools in the U of N, and I didn’t want to launch our school with that kind of division. So I sent Aldrin the curriculum I had developed and he sent me his. They were almost exactly the same. So I asked Aldrin to co-lead our first school.
It was in Malaysia during the ILT meetings in 2002, I believe, that several of our international committee members gathered to pray about the school. We needed a location and a team. God directed our hearts to recognize that the school was to be every bit about missions to the ends of the earth and not just the formation of another campus ministry multiplying course. That’s when we read Floyd McClung’s letter about the city of Delhi, India where there were 600,000 students from many of the unreached nations of Asia.
God confirmed to us in prayer that Delhi would be where we launch the first school. Eight of our nine international committee members joined the staff of the school in Jan-Mar 2004. And to honor the pioneer of YWAM’s university ministries, the first speaker was YWAM Korea’s Sunggun Hong. We also invited Jangbin Hong, Korea’s Campus Ministries leader at that time. In all, there were 24 students from nine countries in that first school.
Sunggun Hong and I wrote a letter to the GLT to propose a new transnational ministry, Campus Ministries International, to be led by Jangbin Hong. That international ministry has mostly been a Korean expression of YWAM. And there was some confusion about my role as a Centre leader. So, at one of the early CMI meetings in Korea, I brought a hat and presented it to Jangbin in front of every other leader. I said to Jangbin, “You are the leader of YWAM’s ministries on university campuses. The Centre is the servant to CMI. We help develop courses for CMI staff.” That small act was very well received and it clarified our roles.
The UDTS in Korea needed to be registered in such a way that it could offer credit with the U of N. Patti Lee, Associate Director of the Discipleship Training School Centre, and I worked on that together. This was an important step toward building a bridge between YWAM Korea and the U of N. Then I approached Korean leadership about getting our Centre’s foundational school approved as an alternative to the Frontier Missions school, which they required for any Korean YWAMer who desired to be sent out as a missionary from Korea. The only requirement they asked of us is that we add the words “and Missions” to make a new name, the School of University Ministries and Missions. Our committee fully agreed.
Being Part of the Puzzle
In 2001, we intentionally brought our internship teams to the KnowFest gathering in Burtigny, Switzerland before going on to Nairobi, Kenya. Landa Cope, the founding Dean of the College of Communications and the convener of the KnowFest taught our student interns from Yale, Brown, U. of Virginia, CalPoly, and Rhode Island School of Design. She said “I’ve found my audience!” She loved working with the students. In addition to the Health Care internships that served Nairobi Chapel’s medical clinic in the Kibera slum, we conducted CallingQuest seminars for over 100 students from the University of Kenya and several dozen more in the President’s private high school.
The SMC has a vital connection to the other U of N Colleges and Centres. But that is not always apparent. We continue to look for ways to make connections with the Colleges and Centres of the U of N. When the ILT was preparing for the U of N Workshop in Singapore in 2003, the SMC responded to a call for content to share, especially content about projects and collaboration. We raised the funds to produce a film of our collaborative work through our internship teams in East Timor that summer. Our team of students from the U. of Chicago, Michigan, and Carnegie-Mellon worked with YWAM Dili-East Timor, YWAM ARMS (Australian Relief and Mercy Services), local churches in Australia, and the United Nations. Our interns included Water Resource Engineering, Medical, Nursing, Education, and Social Work students. We served a tribal group in a remote village in East Timor. The film was prepared, shared, and available for showing how internships can play a collaborative role with the University of the Nations, but for some reason the film was never shown at the Singapore Workshop. As I mentioned, we continue to seek ways to make connections with the U of N.
The SMC committee members have attended YWAM Go Conferences, U of N Think Tanks, Uniquip events, and Workshops, offering seminars and nonformal meetups, and we occasionally found someone who showed interest in university student ministries.
After 25 years as a member of the ILT, I stepped down and proposed to the leaders of the U of N that John Hwang should be the new International Centre Director. John’s international experience as a Korean born child of an international merchant raised in Brazil, who was educated in the USA, along with his fluid speaking in multiple languages, and his directive leadership style, made him a more effective SMC International Centre Director and member of the U of N Leadership Team.
During Covid, we pivoted. As an active member of the SMC’s international committee, I remotely trained 27 internship coordinators from 11 countries in 2021. The SMC staff and network members continued to train students through the University DTS in various locations, and we are working on a revised seminar style School of University Ministries broken down into modules.
In 2022, the Centre network launched Chile for Christ/Chile para Cristo, collaborating with several YWAM locations, national organizations, and churches in five cities, with multiple outreach teams and a Christ in the Spheres Conference in July.
Why a Student Centre?
The SMC is not always visible, mostly because we emphasize collaboration and we encourage students to remain in university to fulfill their calling in the spheres. We are a network of ministries with unity around a vision to make disciples of nations, beginning with university students.
SMC would not exist if not for internships. The Converge program is a revision of the former Field Ministry Internships. We moved from analog to digital in the delivery of content. Internships are vitally important to the task of the Great Commission.YWAM ministry locations and partner organizations are welcoming interns all over the world, even if they are not using the Converge program to facilitate their internship. Nonetheless, the SMC is making an impact through influence.
The SMC was founded by the word of the Lord. We’ve experienced seasons of rich blessing and success in past years. However, things have changed in the current population of university students. Today’s students are passionate to join a movement and they tend to need a strong body of believers to support them. However, interns are a different kind of student. Interns who walk into a sphere of influence as a sent ambassador carrying the light of Christ through the sometimes lonely work are few. Still, we prepare our “nets” as “fishers of men” for the day when the heart of a generation is ready to go into all the world as ambassadors of reconciliation in every sphere of society.
The U of N is an example to students in other universities as they discern God’s calling for them in typical careers as His witnesses. The U of N is poised to multiply short term engagement with the spheres, and that is best accomplished through internships. When Loren and Darlene Cunningham started YWAM, they pioneered more than a missions agency; they demonstrated the power of sending out young people as short term missionaries. Before that time, young people were not sent out by missions agencies, let alone local churches, without several years of training. Today, we believe it’s time to send out the more specialized short term missionaries who engage spheres of society.
Internships are an excellent short term experience to prepare for a long term calling into a sphere of influence. These are missional internships. So our interns start businesses & plant churches; they practice counseling & preach the gospel; they Install water pumps & distribute Bibles; they do medical work & pray for the sick; they create school curricula & teach forgiveness…
This vision requires a very broad network of like-minded mission mobilizers. This vision is not only for the U of N, but for students from every other university, for any student who is willing to go as an intern to learn how to serve within a sphere of influence with an organization that is different from church or ministry.
We have labored in the fields of universities for many years as representatives of the SMC and CMI. We have enjoyed the privilege of partnering with YWAM centers, transnational ministries, and partner organizations, mostly learning how to help place students with organizations. We have developed training courses to help students discern God’s calling and purpose for their lives as it relates to Christ’s call to make disciples of nations.
The Student Mobilization Centre exists to mobilize students and young professionals to devote their whole lives to God’s purposes by knowing Him and making Him known through their life’s work. We are fully committed to that vision. Now,we invite you to join us as we seek the Lord to hear God together for a new generation of missionaries to every sphere of influence.
With great gratitude and respect for all Jesus is doing,