It’s been seven years since I did my DTS (Discipleship Training School) with Youth With A Mission, and recently one of my friends was heading off to his DTS. It got me thinking. What kind of advice would I give to him, and all future DTS students?
Here are some of the things that would have been good for me to know before I left for my DTS. To clarify, my DTS was an excellent experience, and I grew a lot personally and in my relationship with Jesus. However, these are things I don’t hear discussed enough in YWAM, or tend to be overlooked, so that’s why I’m focusing on these specific points.
You don’t have to agree with the speakers or staff. It’s ok to disagree. In fact, it’s a good thing if you disagree with some of what the staff or speakers are saying, because it means you’re thinking critically about what you’re learning and there is room for growth. If you agreed 100% with the speakers, why would you need DTS? It’s ok to speak up, ask questions, and even respectfully disagree with things that your staff or speakers are saying. Just don’t be obnoxious or rude about it (I don’t recommend disagreeing in a public setting unless debate has been specifically invited). You can change your mind after a discussion, or not. Either way, you’re thinking and learning from people who are different than you, and that’s a good thing.
Pay attention to when you’re uncomfortable. Just notice it and sit with it at first. Feeling uncomfortable doesn’t always mean you have to change, do something dramatic, or pray harder. Sometimes there’s a temptation in DTS to feel like any uncomfortable feeling is a challenge from God to sacrifice more, give up your rights or be a more committed Christian. That’s not necessarily the case.
Sometimes, being uncomfortable might mean another person has to change, or there’s something wrong with a larger system, or life just sucks for the time being, or it’s a different-but-not-wrong thing, or you’re witnessing injustice. Sometimes being uncomfortable has nothing to do with YOU or anything you personally need to change. The only way to know is to sit with the discomfort. Examine the roots of that discomfort, and pray and consider what your response should be. Oh, and if someone else insists you HAVE to change, that can be a red flag for spiritual abuse. God honours our autonomy and choice, and change should come from a freely given decision on your part, which leads to my next point. . .
Make sure consent is honoured. Ensure your consent is honoured, and that you honour other people’s consent. I could write a whole other blog post on consent, and I may in the future. For now, I’ll write some points that are important to remember.
- Consent doesn’t just apply to things related to sex, it applies to anything that impacts your bodily autonomy.
- You can only truly say yes to something (consent) if you have the genuine ability to also freely say no. If your ability to say no is continuously overridden, that’s a red flag for an abusive situation, and you may need to remove yourself from that situation.
- Remember the FRIES model of consent. Consent must be Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific. You can read more about this online by searching “FRIES model of consent” (note that most online examples will discuss sex as the practical example, but many principles can be transferred to other activities and situations).
Practically this would mean asking people if you can give them a hug or put a hand on them if you’re praying for them (and respecting their answer). It means not bugging someone to do an activity with you if they’ve already said no. It means stopping wrestling someone when they protest or say they’re done, even if they agreed to wrestle earlier. It means not pressing someone to share something they’re not comfortable sharing. And so on.
Learn a bit about different cultures before DTS. Having a basic knowledge of different kinds of cultures can be really helpful when you interact with your roommates, fellow DTS students, and other people on base. You’ll probably get some training about other cultures before outreach, but you’ll want to know some things before then, as it could help ease a lot of conflicts on DTS. How do different cultures see time? How do they see “goodness and badness”, guilt/innocence, honour/shame, power/fear? Does a culture pay a lot of attention to context, or not much attention to context? Are people expected to say things directly, or to use more indirect and polite ways of communicating? Is the culture a Hot culture or a Cold culture? Learning about this will increase your cultural intelligence (CQ) and help you better communicate and walk through conflict with people from different cultures. Again, an internet search is your friend for a starting point to learn more.
Just because it’s different, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. This is a blend between two points I made above, pay attention to when you’re uncomfortable, and learn about different cultures. Approach something that’s different with curiosity. Why is it like this? Seek to understand it, and look at the fruit of this different thing or different way of doing something. Wait. Don’t immediately jump to conclusions, take a few moments or minutes to ask some questions about the function of whatever it you’ve encountered that’s making you uncomfortable. Let’s say you’re used to standing in worship, but everyone sits. That’s weird and different, but it’s not wrong; we’re still praising God. Maybe you’re used to supper at 5:30pm but everyone eats supper at 8pm. That’s different, but not wrong; everyone still gets fed. Some people believe in infant baptism, others only baptism after a profession of faith, again, different but not necessarily wrong.
Something being different and something being harmful are two separate things that might sometimes overlap. Learning about the difference would again be whole blog post. But for now, the important thing to remember is different doesn’t automatically equal wrong.
DTS is not a substitute for therapy. DTS is a place for you to grow in your relationship with God, and grow in community. It’s not a place to fix deep childhood wounds or trauma or damaged relationships. There’s a good chance you will experience emotional healing in DTS, but that shouldn’t be the aim.
To use an analogy, DTS is like working out to build muscles to help you with what you want to do in your life. However, strengthening muscles works best if you’re already relatively healthy. If you have an injury or disease, it’s best to see a doctor or physiotherapist to heal your body before you start working out. In the same way, if you have major trauma, mental health issues, or relationship issues, it’s best to see a trained therapist to work through them. A professional therapist will have more education, training and tools to help you than the average staff member or base leader. God is just as present in a therapist’s office as He is on a YWAM base; wait and do some work to heal before you dive into DTS.
Some things need professional help. If someone discloses addiction, abuse, suicidal thoughts, or an eating disorder (or if you deal with any of these), PURSUE PROFESSIONAL HELP IMMEDIATELY. These can be actually life-threatening, and require professional help. Your staff are not therapists or doctors. Prayer alone is not enough for these things.
(Suspected or confirmed ADHD, Bipolar, Depression, Anxiety, OCD, etc., should also get professional help sooner rather than later, though it’s not urgent like items I listed above.)
To get urgent help, call a local mental health or suicide prevention hotline, or contact a local health centre. Check provincial or state health department websites for information too.
When looking for counselling or less urgent professional help, check out Psychology Today for a list of psychologists, counsellors and therapists in your area.
Struggle Care has lots of helpful tips on finding a counsellor, figuring out what you’re looking for, setting up an appointment, and questions to ask in order to get the most out of therapy.
Again, don’t be tempted to think you can deal with these things on your own. God can perform miracles but the vast majority of the time He works through the slow miracle of healthcare and help from other human beings.
And because these are pretty serious topics, I’ll end on a lighter note. If you’re going on outreach to a hot country, bring flip flops. My biggest regret from DTS was not having flip flops, so I spent my outreach in Mauritius, in late summer, wearing leather flats and it was not cool. Flip flops would have been amazing.
Now go, and have an awesome time on your DTS! (Unless you need therapy. Then go get therapy and THEN have an awesome time on DTS!)