Loren Cunningham (1935-2023) became the first missionary to go to every nation in the world with the last country visited being Libya in 1999. That is remarkable in itself. But much more so was Loren’s birthing of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), which, since it began in 1960, has raised up missionaries who also have reached into every nation on earth through evangelism, training, and mercy ministries.
Millions have served in YWAM programmes as students, short-term volunteers, and full-time staff. Tens of thousands of full-time staff participate from 200+ countries and various denominations and Christian traditions, serving at over 2,000 YWAM locations in nearly 200 nations.
Loren Cunningham de-regulated missions by creating opportunities for young people to serve short-term all over the globe so that millions could come from anywhere and go anywhere as missionaries.
Loren's call to create YWAM came through a vision in 1956. As he was praying, "suddenly, I was looking at a map of the world, only the map was alive and moving! I could see all the continents, and waves were crashing onto their shores. Each wave went on to a continent, then receded, then came up further until it covered the continent completely. The waves became young people who covered all the continents of the globe. They were talking to people on street corners and outside bars. They were going from house to house and preaching the Gospel. They came from everywhere and went everywhere, caring for people.”
Cunningham as a young man had studied the work of 72 Bible school-type institutions around the world and found that the majority of graduates were not even going into ministry - much less becoming the kind of missionaries who would carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. He also argued that young believers had no challenges. “That’s what we all long for, especially in our teens and early 20s. The big challenge.” But there was nothing for them to do. Or they would need to get about seven years of education and training to become missionaries.
So Cunningham planned short-term trips where young people would get fired up, paying their own way or raising their own funds and telling everyone in the world about Jesus. The YWAMers would learn “to trust God, pray, and figure it out”. So in 1962, he went to Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Scandinavia, and Great Britain to set up trips. But it was not easy. In the first few years, YWAM did not manage to get even ten young people per year to go on short-term missions. But after he married Darlene Scratch in 1963 they led YWAM together.
He was the apostolic visionary, she was the people/team developer and implementer. The vision began to grow.
His Christian Magna Carta defined his vision. Everyone on earth has the right to:
1. Hear and understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Have a Bible available in his/her own language.
3. Have a Christian fellowship available nearby to be able to meet for fellowship regularly each week and to have biblical teaching and worship with others in the body of Christ.
4. Have a Christian education available for their children.
5. Have the basic necessities of life: food, water, clothing, shelter, and health care.
6. Have the opportunity to lead a productive life of fulfilment spiritually, mentally, socially, emotionally, and physically.
The vision grew into different expressions of YWAM’s ministry including King’s Kids International, YWAM Ships (28 vessels currently serve the most isolated islands and coastlands), and myriads of other ministries birthed by leaders he inspired. The University of the Nations (UofN) was established in 1978 and has grown to offer more than 600 courses and seminars (some in nearly 100 languages) held at more than 800 locations/campuses in 160+ countries. Hundreds of thousands of students are registered within the global UofN system. They all begin with the Discipleship Training School (DTS), which serves as the entry-level course and pre-requisite for all other UofN courses and for becoming YWAM staff. They are the “wave machine” producing the waves of young people that Cunningham had seen in his vision. The schools offer evangelism training but also degrees in sports and fitness, science and technology, education, communication, and art.
Loren also carried a burden to make the Bible accessible to every person on earth. He reasoned that wherever the Scripture goes, the Spirit of God brings transformation. This passion became fine-tuned in his final years to focus on making oral translations of the Bible available in each of the 8000+ mother tongue languages on earth.
A final word: “It’s been a great life. I’d say to anyone … have a purpose. Have a call. Make sure that you are doing it for God and His purposes. He is love and you must show His love.”