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Worth It? REACH as a Gap Year

By Hans Shenk – From the January 2016 Beacon

“Gap Year” is a term born in the 1960’s to describe the practice of young people taking a year away from their studies to develop in ways that lie outside the realm of traditional education. A typical gap year is spent abroad, experiencing other cultures. Students also often spend their gap year serving—developing attitudes and habits of compassion.

RMM’s REACH program includes many of the best aspects of a gap year: REACHers spend the nine months of a school year away from home: three months in intense discipleship training school and six months serving God’s kingdom abroad.

For some students, taking a gap year and even using REACH as a gap year, may be an easy decision. For others, objections abound: it doesn’t seem worth it to spend nine months and considerable money broadening their horizons and changing their perspectives when those resources could be spent starting a career. They worry that it will be unpleasant and uncomfortable, or that they’ll return home too changed—unrecognizable to themselves.

To learn more about doing REACH as a gap year, we spoke (by email) with five REACH alumni who did REACH between high school and college, or between Rosedale Bible College and a four-year university.

“I learned so much about the heart of God. I learned how to surrender and trust in his control.”For Jeremiah* (North Africa, 2012-13) REACH changed almost everything: what he wanted to study and what he wanted to do as a career. But according to Jeremiah, “What changed the most was my perception and [my] ideas about what was important. God showed me that so many things that I hold on to are not what really has eternal value…I learned so much about the heart of God. I learned how to surrender and trust in his control.”

Beyond spiritual changes, Jeremiah also made practical discoveries about his own aptitudes: “In North Africa, I discovered that I have a passion and love for languages and linguistics. I recognize how important language is and how it can be a real barrier and burden for someone. I decided to study English and then pursue a career in teaching English as a second language.”

“It also taught me that I could live [or] do pretty much anything if that’s what Jesus asked of me.”Rachel Yutzy (Thailand, 2010-11) had an experience that was different from Jeremiah’s; she never wanted to do REACH in the first place. “I didn’t want anything to do with REACH. I wanted to get my life started. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I wanted to go to college for a degree in social work. However, Jesus made it incredibly clear to me that I was going on REACH.”

The experience was challenging, but Rachel says it taught her an important lesson: “I’ve always had a plan and REACH didn’t fit my plan. Because of these things, I had to learn to trust Jesus in ways I never imagined…. It also taught me that I could live [or] do pretty much anything if that’s what Jesus asked of me.”

Another way Rachel’s experience differed from Jeremiah’s is that REACH didn’t change her goals, it helped her reach them: “I think REACH helped me form some passions and also dispel some others. Like I’ve said, I always knew I wanted to go into social work. I had the opportunity to work with women who were exploited and trafficked. I think this experience was key in my pursuit to work in trauma. I’m currently a sexual trauma therapist in Philadelphia, and I know I ‘stood out’ because I had international experience in this field.”

“I gained more of a perspective of how other people live and how complex and beautiful our world is.”Like his teammate Jeremiah, Caleb (North Africa 2012-13) told us that his educational and career goals shifted as a result of his time in REACH, but that the most important change was one of worldview: “I think the biggest thing that changed in me was how I viewed the world…. I gained more of a perspective of how other people live and how complex and beautiful our world is.”

For Caleb, watching God provide for his team prepared him to face life with confidence. He said, “I learned a lot about our world, which I think is important for anyone, even if they plan on living in the same town all their life. I had experiences that made my relationship with God more real, and now I can remember and be encouraged by the times when I saw God provide for me and my team when we were in need.”

“REACH made me more comfortable in my own skin... I find myself stepping out in ways that I doubt I would've done before.”REACH didn’t change much about Latasha Yoder‘s (Spain, 2013-14) college plans, but it had a deep impact on her approach to life: “REACH made me more comfortable in my own skin. It's amazing how much difference a little confidence makes. I find myself stepping out in ways that I doubt I would've done before.”

She told us that now, “I absolutely cannot imagine coming to college without having gone through REACH first. For one, it made me view college as a mission field, not just a school. That challenges me to be more intentional…. It made me much more aware of what I want in my own life and not settling for less than that. It also made me a lot less content, in a good way. I'm more conscious of where I am in my walk, in that I don't want to just be where I am but continually growing in different ways rather than just going through the motions.”

“It will never be a wasted year if you are open to God's leading.”Unlike the other former REACHers we spoke to, Rachel Fisher (South Asia/Himalayas 2010-11) entered the program with no intention of pursuing higher education. She said, “While in REACH my team did a lot of teaching…. I had thought about teaching or some job working with children, but was always too scared to actually go to college and get a degree. While in REACH I became more open to the idea of being a teacher and finally realized that God was calling me to go to college and get a degree in teaching. I realized that if God wanted me to be a teacher, he would take care of all the things I feared or didn't have. He had a plan and as long as I trusted him, he would see it fulfilled and he has.”

Now, Rachel said, she would not only recommend REACH to young people who aren’t sure what they want to do in life, but also to those who have a plan in place: “…even if you think you have a course set and know exactly what you want to do, REACH may completely change your goals and perspective in life. Just getting away from what you are comfortable with can really open your eyes…. Maybe God will completely change your heart and show you something amazing that you never even thought of, or maybe he will just confirm to you that you are on the right path and give you the confidence to keep going. Either way, it will never be a wasted year if you are open to God's leading. It is so much easier to get away and participate in a program like this before you get bogged down in studies or a job. You will never regret spending a year learning about God and experiencing another culture.”

To find out more about REACH, or to start your own gap year journey, visit www.send-me.org.

*Names changed or omitted for security reasons.