Elesha Atwood was preparing for final exams at David Thompson Secondary School and a degree at Calgary’s Mount Royal University when she felt called to something different with her late teen years.
“In a time of prayer I felt God being like, ‘okay, you’re going to go do a missions trip.’ I just heard it then,” Atwood, now 19, recalls.
“It sounds silly, but then I started looking into it and it just seemed right.”
In January of 2011, she headed to Australia and then Thailand for a seven-month trip with Youth With a Mission. In February, the Radium-raised teen will head back again, this time for a full year.
Youth With a Mission — often referred to by its acronym YWAM (pronounced Y-wham) — is a Christian volunteer movement active in 180 countries.
Volunteers work on various aid projects, including home building, health care, and economic development for women and children who are at risk.
In addition to aid projects, YWAM participants also receive training in evangelizing while working in other cultures and with people of different faiths.
“Life was busy and hectic, we did a lot of studying and a lot of work during the day,” says Atwood of her last mission.
Each week during her training YWAM would bring in speakers on different subjects. On Saturdays, her group would run an all-day youth program.
“We have all the kids come, but we put a lot of our focus on the parents as well, involving them in programs,” she says. “But we do a lot of outreach just in the towns that we’re in.”
Atwood says the benefits of her first trip were twofold: she gained a better understanding of her faith and of herself.
“I learned a lot about God, and I learned a lot about myself in God and who I wanted to be,” she says.
“I became a lot more comfortable with who I am, and who I am around other people. I just learned a lot about how I want to be living.”
This time around, Atwood’s role will be somewhat different. Instead of going as a student, she’ll go as staff member.
“I’m kind of facilitating more,” she explains. “I’ll disciple to my students for the first bit, then disciple to other people through my students and myself for the second half.”
She may also visit two other countries besides Australia, and she’ll have a hand in choosing where her group goes.
Though she’ll be a member of YWAM’s staff, Atwood’s position is still voluntary.
Participants and staffers pay for their own food and living expenses while on their missions, as well as training fees and airfare. Atwood is still hoping to raise more funds for her monthly expenses before setting out next month.
“I’m willing to do almost anything — baby sit, do any kind of yard work — but if people feel led to donate they can contact me and that would be wonderful. It would make a world of a difference,” she says.
To make a donation or discuss fundraising options, contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.