A gap year to heal and empower

Sunday 20 September 2015

German student Michael Widderich, 22, benefited so much from a gap year run by Ellel Ministries that he now coordinates it full-time with his wife.

“I intended to spend half the year volunteering and half the year travelling, but I ended up staying in the ministry for the whole year because I found it completely life transforming,” says Michael of Ellel’s Year of Discipleship and Training (YDT), which focuses on healing and personal growth.

“When I first came I had low self-esteem and no idea how much fear was actually controlling my life. It affected everything, especially the way I made decisions. Although I had good parents, I was never really modelled how to connect with my heart or how to express my emotions properly. My dad never sat down with me to talk about godly sexuality, how women think differently to men and how I can engage their hearts. That left me pretty clueless and I often ended up looking for comfort in wrong areas.”

Michael was able to discover the roots of his issues during regular catch-up sessions with his mentors, called Heart to Heart sessions, and by participating in many weekend seminars that went to the core of these topics. As a result, God brought better understanding and complete healing, he says.

Unlike most Christian gap year programmes, which have an external focus on mission, YDT is an immersive experience designed to build character and deepen a student’s relationship with God.

Students live from mid-January to mid-December at Gilbulla, a rural property at Menangle, southwest of Sydney, with just two short breaks to rest and travel. It attracts students from many countries as well as Australia, who form close friendships as they spend time together.

With a twin focus on service and education, YDT students spend part of the week helping to run the centre – cleaning rooms, helping in the kitchen, fixing pipes or painting walls. They also gain a lot of practical life skills such as budgeting, conflict resolution and leadership training.

On weekends they either attend workshops or study independently for the 10433NAT Certificate IV in Ministry and Theology delivered in partnership with Unity College, Australia (RTO 6330), which can be useful in their future.

“A lot of the colleges that offer gap years are focused on mission. The YDT programme, however, is more about personal discipleship and character growth,” says Michael.

“At the end of the year we want them to be able to walk in the fruits of the Spirit, having grown in confidence and trust in God. For them to be able to hear him speak personally into their lives and to minister to those around them on a deeper level.”

The gap year experience takes its cue from Ellel’s ministry in more than 25 countries, which is dedicated to prayer ministry and personal discipleship aimed at bringing a deeper intimacy with God and a greater capacity to walk in his ways.

Ellel takes its cue from Luke 9:11: “[Jesus] welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.”

The Australian director Paul Ryan developed YDT because he saw the need to “equip the next generation of leaders to serve powerfully within the church and the wider community.”

“We do that by helping these young adults discover their true identity in Christ and help them envision what their kingdom destiny could look like.”

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Ellel was founded by British classic car enthusiast Peter Horrobin. After investing a lot of time and money into restoring an old sportscar, he discovered the chassis was bent and couldn’t be fixed. He then heard God say to him “You could restore this broken car, but I can restore broken lives. Which is more important?”

It so happened that he had been praying for 10 years for a vision of Christian service, so he teamed up with like-minded people to set up a Christian healing centre in a village called Ellel in the northwest of England.

The name Ellel in Hebrew means “Towards God”; in old English means “All hail” and in ancient Cantonese, “love flowing outwards”.

“My YDT year was both the hardest and greatest year of my life so far,” comments Ruth from England.

“My faith and my relationship with God were taken to new levels that I could never have imagined. With a team willing to teach you, help you grow and be there for you no matter what, the YDT is definitely a worthwhile experience. By the end you will look back and be changed.”

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