I would consider myself to have had a typical upbringing. I went to school, hung out with
friends, spent time with my family and went to church on Sundays. Life seemed to continue as
expected when I turned 18 and began to think about what to do with my life. Like many people,
my plan was to go to University, get a job, buy a house, get married and have kids. I loved God,
so my plan also included going to church and learning more about Him as I was able.

I put my plan into motion and began University in the fall. By the 2nd week of school I was
miserable. “What is wrong with me?,” I thought. My plan is good, stable, responsible. I should
be proud of myself for what I’m accomplishing. The problem was, even though it was a great
plan, it wasn’t the plan for me. I allowed myself to consider something that I hadn’t before in my
previous plans. “If I could do anything, what would I do?” No longer being suppressed, a desire
from the depths of my heart came to the surface. “I want to know God more and go to Africa.”

This would be my new plan.

Through a process of searching, I decided to enroll in a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with
Youth With a Mission (YWAM). I would spend 3 months in the classroom getting to know God
more and then 3 months in Africa making God known. This was going to be the best 6 months
of my life.

Those 6 months were the best, at least up to that point in life. I’m writing this now, 9 years after
doing my DTS, and can see how those 6 months were the catalyst for a completely new and
better plan for my life. DTS not only changed my plans, it changed WHO I AM. These are some
of the ways DTS changed everything:

1. I met with Jesus. I didn’t just read about Him, sing about Him or hear others talk about
Him. I met with Him, myself. I experienced for myself that He is real, He is alive, and He
has so much that He wants to talk to me about. DTS was like a greenhouse, providing
me an environment to grow in my relationship with Jesus. I got to know Him through
teaching, worship, prayer, practical work, journaling, being outside, etc. Every aspect of
DTS is designed to create a culture of pursuing Jesus and finding Him.

2. I (began) learning who I am. There are countless voices telling us who we are–our
family, friends, media, etc. Some of those voices are kind and encouraging and some
are not. Unfortunately, it’s often easier to believe the bad more than the good. “You’re
ugly, stupid, a failure, not good enough, etc.” During DTS, God began showing me the
negative things I’d been believing about myself that simply aren’t true. He replaced those
lies with truth and began showing me my real identity.

3. I truly gave my life to Jesus. I’d been a believer my entire life, however, I didn’t
understand the difference between accepting forgiveness for my sins and truly being a
disciple of Jesus. Jesus is my Savior but He is also my Lord. This means that I live my
life for Him and not myself. My previous plans had been about making a life for myself.
Now I want to give my life to Jesus because He gave His life for me. So I ask Him how to
use my time, how to spend my money, how I can serve Him and others.

4. He changed my worldview. Prior to DTS, I had never left the USA. I knew very little
about the rest of the world and honestly was afraid of what was out there. Going to
Africa on my DTS (and other countries since then) I’ve learned that people are people
everywhere. Whether I’m in Asia, the Middle East or the USA, people are doing their
best to raise their children, go to work/school, playing sports and scrolling Facebook.
They’re just like me–trying to figure out who they are and what to do with their lives. God
loves them and wants to change their lives, just like He changed mine.

There are so many more details of how God used DTS to change my life forever, too many to
write here. I’m just so thankful that I let go of my own plans and said yes to spending those 6
months getting to know God and making Him known!

Written by Stephanie Thomas