Our Feb 2020 DTS leader Sam had the unimaginable task of navigating the unforeseen task of leading a school through a global pandemic with a myriad of implications that no one has ever had to think of before. Always ready to learn and pass on experiences, maybe you can learn from his (slightly tongue in cheek) reflection on this turbulent season.
If indeed you read this blog because you are about to lead a DTS where a pandemic will hit the whole world after around six weeks of your school and you are forced to send your trainees home and are given the opportunity to finish the lecture phase all online, well then, you are very welcome! You will find all you need in this elaborate piece of advice, make sure you follow all that I recommend here.
And if not – if you just read this because it exists or because the title sounds appealing, well then, you are welcome!
In any case, I hope you are indeed interested in stories that spill the wonders of God. I certainly hope that you won’t be disappointed in this following story. I – undoubtedly– was not.
It is the story of the last DTS from my perspective. Can I say that what happened was successful or even fruitful? Or maybe the whole thing was a mistake? I think it would be more beneficial if I don’t comment personally on this, but if you do know someone who participated in the school, you might want to ask them those questions. But I do feel confident enough about what happened that I am writing about it… maybe that will spark your interest.
Ok let’s get started and let me share my “wisdom”.
1. Go on Holiday before you cancel
First things first: You need to plan a holiday (aka a long weekend – I mean, it’s a DTS so nobody really has time for an actual holiday) right before the ominous day comes when you will cancel the DTS. Yes, rent a car, go up to the Scottish Highlands with good friends and spend four wonderful, restful days in a cottage next to a stunning loch while your trainees are you having some nice(ish) days far away from you, trusting them to get ready for the coming weeks and months after the ‘intense’ first six weeks of the school.
And then while you’re there sitting on a couch enjoying some peace and quiet, mentally prepare for how in the coming 72 hours your whole world will get turned around and history will be written. While you’re at it, get your pun-repertoire out and joke with your friends about how ridiculous it would be if the government would announce a nationwide lockdown… haha! How crazy would that be!
Anyway let’s take a small step back from hypotheticals and reconsider the title of step #1. Maybe we should call it ‘the Grace of God’ for what a gracious gift He gave you to spend four days relaxing & enjoying, reflecting & weeping with God before jumping into weeks and actually hours nobody really prepared you for. Yes, even with the best base leadership you have, you will feel unprepared for the coming beast.
2. Plan only local guest speakers for the online phase
Oh yes, while you so strategically plan your DTS and invite all these amazing speakers, place the ones who don’t need much travelling or organizing after that well-planned long weekend. It should be common knowledge, I guess, that it wouldn’t be the wisest thing to book speakers who have complicated travels or flights for the online part of the school because you would need to cancel all of that and so forth. Instead, for the weeks where you will be online, you could plan speakers who are local anyway, and then once it’s their week you just give them a few phone calls on how to best do the week. Easy-peasy, you don’t need to worry about getting them to and from places anyway.
I guess I don’t think the title to step #2 is accurate any more. Since no one has the foresight, wisdom and kindness to plan the speakers for you in such a humble way, the credit must be to God. Let’s call it, ‘the Grace of God’!
3. Make sure your speakers are still available after transitioning to online
Since you so masterfully placed these local speakers in your online DTS, make sure that the pandemic also impacts the speakers’ calendars so that they will still be available for their online teaching week (which will be a week later than originally planned). Trust me: the week you are cancelling the DTS, you will be quite busy anyway. Praying and discussing the decision to cancel (that was indeed a long night…), talking with your trainees about it, doing a spontaneous graduation/goodbye evening, sending your trainees home, planning an online lecture phase and more praying will take you a few days, so now the week you originally wanted to do must be postponed for a week.
So yes, you’re right this title must also be changed to ‘the Grace of God‘ after considering the absurdity of all this and how faithful God still is and how He always provides enough!!
4. Take everything with a smile
Yes, my friend, take everything with a smile! Even when your base leader sends you a message during your long weekend saying another YWAM Base in the UK has closed to all outsiders. Even when you come back from your lovely weekend away and another good friend meets you at the front door with hand sanitizer and laughs about how your country’s minister announced a “catastrophe”-level for your home nation – haha! Even when a staff member comes over after dinner and asks if you heard that one of your trainees is in tears in her room because her prime minister has just asked all traveling residents to come back immediately. Yes, take it with a smile when you and one of your staff remember the prophetic words God gave you and your staff team about the school. You had no clue what they meant but now it dawns on you!
Even after talking with that trainee and you begin realizing it is going to be a loooong night.
Yes, take it with a smile when you call your base leader to ask what the heck is going on in the world and he tells you more details about the extent of the lockdown that you had no idea about – and now your school has changed dramatically and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Yes my good friend, take it with a big smile when you sit in that room and have absolutely no idea what is happening or what to do and the staff member that sits with you laughs and cries hysterically because well… Indeed, good times! For God Is All You Need and He’s surely there and enough!
The Grace of God! The Grace of God! The Grace of God! – that must also be the title of step #4 because how else can you have joy in such a season where all understanding, securities or safeties like money, programs, politics, sports, media get thrown out the window. Yes ‘the Grace of God’ is the reason you can have a smile on your face, knowing His character and will.
5. Know when to be serious
Rejoice in every season but don’t despise the pain that comes with such a disturbing turn of events. Remember that people are individuals who will experience in these hours and days shock and wounds that you truly don’t wish anyone ever experiences. Be with them in silence, in understanding, in patience, in grace and lightness!
Please understand why I need to change this title to ‘the Grace of God’ because how in the world can you be sensitive and honouring when you stand before your class first thing in the morning after having not seen them for four days and tell them that the thing that brought you all together, that has changed lives and formed true friendships, is ended – with immediate effects.
How in the world can you have a worship time filled with sincerity, honour and gratitude after your trainees have called their families and booked flights home? Yes, unashamedly I will also call this step ‘the Grace of God’!
6. Surrender to God
I guess I need to apologize to you at this point for not telling you this earlier. From the first day you committed to staffing or leading the DTS, may it never be your school! You just be God’s gofer. Let God be the leader – you just serve Him and go where He leads, lest on the day you realize you need to cancel, you freak out because your school has failed. No, not so. Rather, you have already surrendered your position and relationship to the DTS totally for Him to start and Him to end, for Him to build and Him to break down. May you not stand between His plans and His school. But you my friend, rest in Him, for He gives and He takes away but He surely finishes what He starts!
Yes, it is not as easy as said, but it is possible! Remember? The grace of God? Because when you spend energy, life, emotion, money and work an average of twelve hours per day in this school, it won’t be easy to hear that, because of government guidelines, you need to make the decision to cancel the DTS. But hey, remember? The Grace of God?
As said earlier, you simply follow God. And by the way, when the time approaches to make that infamous decision that no one warned you to do – ever – you will have no wisdom and experience to know what to do anyway! You cannot be prepared for this. So relax! One step after the other. You were never alone in this, so why should God let you do this part by yourself? Nonono! He knows, He sees the end from the beginning! And you? You can get yourself a cup of tea and realize that by doing those small steps the decision has already been made and you come to peace with it, embrace it and move on with it. But don’t be too hard on yourself, for yes, it will hurt and you will always remember that moment because you didn’t want to do it but, my goodness, the grace of God will carry you!
I forgot to change the last title, even though it is so clear and appropriate to do so. Let me do so here: The Grace of God!
8. Give your Yes to God
You remember the long weekend I talked about earlier? You need to plan and do it before you cancel a DTS! And when you drive back from the most relaxing days you’ve had in a long time, you might want to sit in silence and ponder the literal and proverbial mountain that is in front of you. You might think the mountain is five more lecture weeks and an outreach, still feeling the weight of the last mountain climb which was intense weeks of preparation and starting lecture weeks.
And suddenly, your base is no longer three hours away from you but only one minute, and no matter if you feel ready or not, no matter if you know what is waiting for you or not – there’s only one minute before you arrive. You sit there, in the car, driving up that famous hill to your base. And in the most real and vulnerable way, you give your yes to God again, knowing that He called you for this DTS. You give your yes, not because you know what is awaiting you, but because somehow you trust Him and that His grace has and is always enough!
Okay, you feeling like you’re getting more equipped for how to successfully cancel a DTS and transition it into an Online lecture phase??
9. The grace of God
I guess this title is not that descriptive or insightful, but I struggled to find a title that best describes the following content. What better title is there for the ability to create an online DTS (that has never ever existed) like that in just two days, other than ‘the abundant grace of God’?!? Especially since on the first day of constructing the online school you end up having to spend all your time solely in prayer, even though having every intention of spending time on the practical side of things. But you didn’t realize how much this is on God’s heart until you had prayed.
Yes, this God of yours will even go so far to give a Norwegian lady a dream about your tiny insignificant school. She happens to be a friend of your previous Father heart of God Irish teacher, who happens to send you an email expressing his heart and urge to continue with the DTS (you haven’t even told him about any of this) just in time for you to read, when you finished your prayer meeting and the email says the same concerns and message you just heard from God in your prayer meeting!
At this point, you maybe want to stop reading this and consider this Almighty and Awesome God and bow down and worship Him!
Even though the Grace of God is 100% the right title for this step, one hugely important part of God’s grace towards the school and this particular step is your staff team. I will now come to address them with insufficient words…
10. Get the best staff team
My friend, you will need to realize as you read this, or if you go through this kind of situation, that you need to humbly confess God’s generous grace for giving you an amazing staff team. You will even often say to them that you wouldn’t mind going through such a crisis again with this team. You will joyfully acknowledge that you are not the star at all; but rather the Creator of the world who gives you humble, hard-working and mature staff alongside you. Yes, let’s give Jesus Christ the honour and thanksgiving that is due to Him again and again!
Laugh, weep, celebrate, repent, pray, worship, plan, hang out, pray more – you will need all of it – a lot – and yes, enjoy every single moment together.
Nothing will work without the actual presence of God – or are you just there to run your nice Christian program? Isn’t it God’s school? – maybe He knows what is best for it and what to do. Yes, with the presence and power of God – much is possible – sehr viel, mucho, veel, beaucoup, muito de. Plead with God, repent often, pray your trainees through the battle, share God’s heart. My friend – if you believe, then God will answer your prayers! Fight any trace of unbelief that would stop you from even attempting to obtain God’s promises through prayer! Don’t you remember what the Lord Himself said? Pray and keep praying! Pray often! Pray much! Pray about everything and anyone! If a thing is not reality yet, your assignment to pray isn’t finished yet!
Okay, sermon over. Let’s just call this ‘the grace of God’ too, for everyone who truly prays knows that there is absolutely no credit to the man in prayer but rather to the divine in action!
12. Bonus: Extra Grace of God
We slowly come to the end of my “wisdom” in cancelling a DTS because of a global pandemic and continuing it online: it’s actually nothing new. If you have taken careful notes and you wrote at any point ‘the grace of God’, then this will not necessarily make you much wiser, for God will give you His detailed and humble graces that sustain, help and equip you to prosper in all of God’s will.
In my case, the extra grace of God was a bold Irish man of God who spoke on the DTS in week 5 and then totally out of the blue committed to continuing with the school because God spoke to him about it. (He’s the guy whose email I mentioned earlier. In that same email he offers himself to you to support what God shared with him (do you see how God doesn’t say something without offering the resources to do it?)). He ended up doing two small groups over Zoom, taking one trainee into his own home for two weeks, and praying together with your team for up to four hours per week.
I tell you – you can’t make this stuff up! It was mysterious, exciting, nerve-wracking and worth it. Praise God! Forever and ever! He has done all things well. (Mark 7:37)
And you? You’re a drop in the bucket – may you be a salty one.