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May 07 - Church Army

Phil Clark gives the low-down on Xplore, Church Army’s exciting new training programme for young people

By the time I left school at 17, I had my life sorted. A degree in accounting and economics would be followed by a lucrative career as a chartered accountant.

Nine months later I had dropped out of university and set out on a very different path. It has led to an exhilarating, personally costly and at times frightening journey of Christian discipleship. So what happened?

I was brought up in a Christian family, went to a good village Methodist church, and even attended a Christian school. Faith, Jesus, prayer and church were a normal part of my life. My career decisions were based on what I thought I could manage which would reward me well financially, and my choice of Hull University was mainly based on the fact that I could live at home. God – well he was only really bothered by what I got up to on Sunday!

Towards the end of my first term at university, I was invited to visit a ‘missionary boat’, the MV Logos, which was docked in Hull. On board I met a very different type of Christian – they lived and breathed faith, and I discovered that radical 24/7 discipleship was alive and well.

The life of suits, accounts and comfort, which I had lined up, somehow lost its appeal. I wanted to give my life for something much greater. The days I spent on that boat changed the whole direction of my life.

Twenty-five years later I find myself taking another step of faith – in a new post as Programme Leader of Church Army’s brand new Xplore scheme. It’s much more than just another Gap Year programme; if all we do is fill a year before young people move on to the real stuff of life, then we have failed. Xplore won’t just prepare the young for the rest of their lives - it will help determine the rest of their lives!

Xplore is for young adults aged 18-25 who want to be motivated, trained and equipped for relevant 21st century mission, and are prepared to set aside personal ambition, career success and financial security for the sake of the Gospel.

In return, we will provide them with 14 weeks of quality training in a UK mission base before they set off for six months working alongside an experienced Church Army Evangelist, making disciples in places across the world where traditional Church has failed to make an impact – with the lost, the last and the least.

We don’t apologise for suggesting that they will find it hard to settle back into a typical 9 to 5 job, increasing material possessions if things work out well. Neither will they easily drop back into ‘going to church’ as if that were the extent of Christian discipleship. We hope these young people will be permanently infected with a mission virus that will compel them to seek out those who live without God’s love, and to invite them into God’s kingdom.

Church Army’s new Chief Executive, Mark Russell who spent 10 years in youth work adds: "I am very excited about Xplore, and see this project as central to our aim to get more younger people interested in Church Army's work. As a youth leader I was always looking for exciting gap year programmes that would transform young people for mission. Xplore is one such programme, and I can't wait to see how it grows under Phil's leadership."
Training is based in Liverpool, and ‘classroom’ time will be mixed with ongoing mission – walking the streets of Huyton, being involved in local primary and secondary schools, and joining in community based evangelism.

During the training we begin to look at the Big Bible Story and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and develop personal disciplines and self-awareness. We also examine what it means to live in community and in a broken world. We learn how to observe, read, interpret and reach a different culture, and discover what it means to consistently make disciples of Jesus.

Six-month placements will be in countries where Church Army already has a presence – Australia, Barbados, Canada, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand and USA, but there will also be opportunities to serve within the UK and Ireland. In frontline mission communities, participants will be well supported as they push the boundaries of their own experience of following Jesus.

This approach is working for young people from Australia, Kenya and the USA who are already part of Xplore sister programmes. People like Anna who said: “This has been a year of real growth for me. I have been pushed beyond my comfort zones and seen God working as a result."

Ngata adds: "One of the big things I have learnt is to depend fully on God, to depend less on material possessions and focus more on things of relational value." Kelly says:  "It has been great to work with such an awesome team of people in a God-fearing environment. I have learnt so much and gained so much out of my experiences here. It has been a blessing to come and be part of the programme."

Xplore finishes with two weeks back in Liverpool sharing stories, joys and disappointments, and together we ask: where now? Back to the accounting ledger? Perhaps – but maybe not.

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