The YWAM Cambridge story thus far

In 2006, the founder of the largest missionary fellowship in the world was invited to come to England and speak. His reply was simple: ‘I will only come if God gives me a word for England’. Loren Cunningham prayed — and God gave him that word. It was a word about a coming wave of mission that would go forth from the British Isles to the ends of the earth. Loren came and proclaimed the word in five different cities on five consecutive nights: “I believe Britain is ready for a new surge in missions”. Loren reminded those listening of Britain’s missionary heritage and declared that this coming wave of mission would be even bigger than anything that had been seen in the past. YWAM England called it the Global Passion Tour.

It was more than just an inspirational message–it was a prophecy, from a man whose adventure in hearing God’s voice has led to millions of young people being trained as missionaries through the YWAM Discipleship Training School, and who prophesied that the Berlin Wall would come down years before it actually did. As a sign and seal of this ‘Next Wave’, God gave YWAM England a million-pound sailing yacht, which was purchased with the largest one-off gift ever received in the history of YWAM England.

Assisting with the organisation of Loren’s Tour was a reserved Englishman by the name of Andrew Taylor. He had done his DTS almost three decades previously, after the Church of England had responded to his sense of a call to the ministry with the advice that he ‘go and get some life experience’. He had stayed in YWAM, led the Operation Year (an attempt to restructure the classic five-month DTS into a full gap-year that would fuel YWAM’s pioneering efforts in English cities), married Connie–a fiery ginger-haired evangelist from California, pioneered (with his wife) the first ever YWAM school in Estonia, and had spent years contending in intercession for revival to break out in Scotland. But he was finding that his administrative abilities — of which YWAM has a continual shortage! — were causing him to be locked into a more limited set of roles than he might have liked, and was wondering whether he might finally have enough life experience (!) to be accepted into Anglican ministry.

Andrew was marked with a conviction that Loren’s word was true, and the promised next wave of mission would come — but that they couldn’t stand passively back waiting for something to happen, but must take this promise and pray it into fulfilment. The Taylor family was coming to the end of a chapter, having spent the previous couple of years in Kent seeing to the affairs of Andrew’s deceased parents. Where should they go? How could they best respond to this incredible word from the Lord? What place was there that had seen this sort of missionary movement in the past, that they could go and pray for that ‘well’ to be unblocked? How about Cambridge — birthplace of England’s Reformation, and the launchpad of the missionary Cambridge Seven –; might God open up the door for them to move to Cambridge?

….

Meanwhile in the summer of 2006, a missionary kid by the name of Peter Prescott had just discovered that he had been accepted into the Mathematics course at Cambridge University — despite failing to quite achieve the results for his Conditional Offer. (This kid would be me!) My parents had been Cambridge students twenty years before, and had met and married and moved to the Philippines to plant churches and reach Asia’s billions with the simple gospel of the love of Jesus. Now, having encountered the fiery power of the Holy Spirit in my final year of school, I was heading to university with a sense of being sent back from Asia as a missionary to England.

But upon reaching Cambridge, I soon found myself struggling: struggling with the workload, struggling to make the most of those fleeting student years which too many describe as ‘the best years of life’, struggling with personal discipline, struggling with pornography, struggling with the question of what all this study was for, struggling to achieve any sort of missionary impact. By the time that I hit second year it was clear that I had neither the motivation nor the mathematical brilliance necessary to thrive in my chosen degree.

In my second year, I was involved in a week of 24/7 Prayer in which I encountered the presence of God in a way that marked me with a burden to continue to pray for night-and-day prayer and worship to rise up in Cambridge, and to do whatever I could to convey the love of Jesus to those around me. Not long afterwards, Andrew and Connie Taylor arrived in Cambridge. I remember being introduced to them by a mutual friend in the very house that hosted that life-changing (at least for me!) week of prayer. We didn’t spend too long on formalities—within minutes we were crying out together in passionate prayer for the power of God to break through and bring a revival that would propel students out in mission to the nations.

….

Around that time, a number of people were beginning to talk about the possibility of a permanent ‘house of prayer’ being established in Cambridge. It was even suggested that a certain old Anglican church, inhabited by a very small congregation, might be converted and made available for such a vision. Andrew wrote an email to a couple of the key people involved, suggesting that there be a meeting to pray and discuss the possibilities that lay ahead. That email was forwarded on to a few others interested in the vision, who forwarded it on to a few others—and about a dozen people (rather than just the three or four initially invited) appeared at the appointed time and place (Inge and John Ruddock’s flat), eyes bright with hope for what might happen. As we started to pray, the Spirit fell – and by the time the meeting had to be brought to a finish, we all knew that God had just started something that must continue. Neil Prem (himself a former YWAMer who had just moved to Cambridge) summed it up in sharing a prophetic picture about the first of a series of flaming beacons being set alight, and we decided to continue meeting on subsequent Friday lunchtimes.

Over the next year or so, those Friday lunchtime prayer meetings continued (and in fact still continue at the time of writing) – occasionally, the strong sense of the Spirit’s anointing would dwindle somewhat, and someone would suggest whether perhaps we should cease to meet in this particular way. After all, we were all busy people and this particular meeting didn’t fit neatly under the remit of any one of the various ministries that we were involved with. But whenever this thought would surface, the next time of prayer would invariably witness a renewed outpouring of spiritual zeal—clearly God was committed to this thing that he was bringing to birth!

So two distinct yet interconnected ventures were beginning to take shape: YWAM Cambridge, and the Cambridge House of Prayer. Andrew had been accepted by the Church of England to begin training at Ridley Hall in Cambridge – the first step in his being ordained as a pioneer minister, and then appointed to lead the Cambridge House of Prayer. Connie was thus the de facto leader of YWAM Cambridge, whose ranks were joined by Andy and Collette Henman and their two daughters—almost a year after deciding that God was calling them to Cambridge, they had finally managed to sell their house in Derby and move. Neil and Esther Prem however had decided that they were not called to be involved full-time with YWAM Cambridge.

….

I graduated, was commissioned as an evangelist by a church in Cambridge, and given a small living allowance to release me to share the gospel and mobilise prayer and evangelism. Except that between graduating and starting work as an evangelist, I had married a beautiful Indian girl called Taryn – and her visa to join me in England was denied. We were forced to spent three of the first months of our married life estranged on opposite sides of the globe, in heartbroken bewilderment as the principalities and powers of international immigration bureaucracy prevented us from seeing each other. The situation could have left us broken and disillusioned. Instead, we pressed into the heart of God, and found that our experience was an echo of a spiritual reality. Just as I longed for my bride to come and join me in England, so Jesus longs for His Bride to come and abide with Him in the place of prayer. Taryn took the psalms of lament and poured out her heart before God (we would later record and release as ‘Songs of the Bride’). I took God’s word to Pharaoh and paraphrased it to synchronise my prayers for my personal situation and for revival in the nation: ‘Thus says the Lord, Let my Bride come to me!’

We appealed the decision and eventually it was overturned: Taryn arrived in England the night before Christmas. Then came the challenging task of learning how to serve together in the work God had called us to. This was my fifth year in Cambridge–this was Taryn’s first time in England. I was rushing around the city, doing whatever I could to connect with kingdom-minded Christians to pray and reach out. Taryn was rushing around behind me, doing whatever she could to work out to work out what was actually happening.

One morning Andy Henman drew us both to one side, and told us he’d been praying for us. ‘And I feel that God’s saying you need to step back for a season, to lay a foundation for your marriage and ministry’. He suggested that doing a YWAM Discipleship Training School could be an appropriate way of doing this. That evening as we talked and prayed about Andy’s advice, we agreed that he was right about us needing to step back for a season. After investigating several possibilities, we finally heard about a one-off ‘Wilberforce DTS’ that was starting that September at YWAM’s forty-acre Harpenden base. Wilberforce had been a Cambridge man, and his heritage of ambitious faith bringing reformation to every sphere of society (as well as battling the slave trade he had also founded dozens of other societies for social reform) had been something we had already spent a large amount of time praying into, and when we went to visit the YWAM Harpenden base everything seemed to fit into place.

We signed up for the DTS, and were then invited to stay on as staff, before returning to Cambridge to help start the first YWAM Cambridge DTS.

….

The first thing we were involved with as YWAM Harpenden staff was the School of the Circuit Rider. Inspired by the early Methodist revivalists, this was a two-week crash course in simple evangelism and fiery faith. On the YWAM Cambridge side of things, Connie had been leading ‘Call of the Wild’ summer mission trips from Cambridge to China each summer for the previous few years, but was persuaded to put those on hold and instead mobilise people to be part of this Circuit Rider school.

As well as staffing the school, myself and Taryn, were appointed leaders of the outreach team sent immediately afterward to London. We were hosted by the London Burn 24-7 team, who were doing non-stop worship during the Olympics in a north London church that had also made their vicarage available to host visiting teams. We began each day with a couple of hours of prayer and worship, and then from that place would scatter in pairs out to the streets of North London, ready to share the love of Jesus with whoever we encountered. And whenever we regrouped, there would be incredible testimonies of what God had done—souls saved, bodies healed, the kingdom advancing!

I woke up early on the final day of the two-week outreach, with a burning sense that this was the day I would see revival come. That evening we took our team to join a youth group in Brixton. The numbers were disappointing, the kids unruly, the meeting the antithesis of what I expected ‘revival’ to look like. But after it had finished, myself and another girl on our team had the chance to pray with two of the boys, that they would encounter Jesus. And – at first I thought they were making fun of us – as we prayed they began to describe what both of them were seeing: ‘I see a man in a white suit’ – ‘Yeah, and he’s got a gold scarf’ – ‘That’s right, and gold shoes!’ – ‘His hair is white’. They were describing Jesus, as he appears in the first chapter of the book of Revelation, but as only two kids who had never read that chapter of the Bible could.

It was our first experience of missionary leadership, and it felt like we had tasted something of the authentic glory of the presence of God. The outreach came to an end, and we returned to Harpenden longing to experience that again: ‘What if in Cambridge we had a house where we could live in worshipping community, and see revival break out from that place of intimacy with Jesus?’ But of course, even just a four bedroom house in Cambridge would cost perhaps half a million pounds—far more than we could even dream of being able to afford.

….

The next morning as I was reading my Bible, the seemingly impossible thought of such a house refused to go away. I was reading Romans, and tried to focus on the text. It was about Abraham, a man who received an apparently impossible promise from God, and who “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:20-21). What particularly caught my attention was that God sealed that promise to Abraham with a specific sign – circumcision. ‘What,’ I wondered, ‘might be the sign of God’s sealing this promise to me of a big community house in Cambridge?’ Immediately into my mind came ‘£100 – today’. And immediately unbelief rose in my heart – because it’s easy to belief vaguely that someday somehow it might be possible to have a big house. But it’s difficult to believe that by the end of today someone would give me £100.

Sometime that afternoon, no-one having yet given me any money (!), I decided to check my online bank account, just in case. And as I opened it I was astonished to see that the most recent gift was a gift for £100. I looked again – it was not £100 but £1000! I called up the generous giver to express my gratitude. They told me that they had given in response to a dream from the Lord: “God told me I should give it to you ‘for the baby’” – and they explained – “it’s not necessarily a physical ‘baby’, but some project that you’re beginning”.

A few months later, I was investigating possibilities for rented accommodation in Cambridge, when I came across a large guesthouse (with fifteen ensuite bedrooms) for sale for just under a million pounds. And as soon as I saw it, I felt God give me faith that to purchase it is possible. He gave me the verse from Revelation 5:11-12 (which immediately came to mind), “I looked and I heard… thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb…’” So I felt that we should be asking (in prayer and to whoever might want to partner with us) for a ‘thousand thousands’ – ie. one thousand donations of £1000 (which would make £1 million). And God had already given Taryn and me the first thousand pounds as a seal of a promise for a big community house in Cambridge.

As I started to share this story, several people immediately began to respond with their own thousand pound gifts. I was given an envelope stuffed with fifty twenty-pound notes; I received a cheque for a thousand pounds; I discovered another thousand-pound gift quietly transferred into my bank account. Within a few weeks there was about seventeen-thousand pounds sitting in YWAM Cambridge’s ‘House Fund’. It was an impressive release of supernatural finance – but it was nowhere near enough to purchase a property, and in spite of our attempts to tell the owner our story and invite him to become a part of our faith venture, we were unable to buy that particular property. In the meantime we continue to remind ourselves of God’s promise, and to steward the gifts that have been given towards the eventual purchase of a permanent property.

….

It was now five years since the Taylor family had moved to Cambridge, and YWAM Cambridge still had only two full-time staff: Connie Taylor, and Andy Henman. Growth was coming—but before God multiplied the numbers, He would first bring the breakthrough that would be imparted to those that would later come.

Global Outreach Day 2013 was the moment that breakthrough occurred. The vision for Global Outreach Day is that, on the Sunday after Pentecost, Christians all around the world should take the opportunity to share the gospel with those around them. Connie Taylor had invited whoever she could to join the Cambridge team in marking the Day with evangelistic outreach in Cambridge: Taryn and I were there coordinating the outreach for a team from Kona, Hawaii; there was a Wildfire team of Christian families from around the country; and several others—perhaps forty in total. In order to help this disparate collective connect with people and share the simple gospel, Connie had got hold of some elastic and six different colours of beads, and prepared an arsenal of Good News Bracelets.

We were still in a church hall for our initial time of worship and training, when there came the first testimony of someone giving their life to Jesus. Mario was a Portuguese man looking for a job, and had for some reason wandered in to the church building—when one of our team had used the opportunity to tell him about Jesus and invite him to put his trust in Him! And by the end of that day we had seen about forty people on the streets respond to the gospel by praying a simple salvation prayer.

….

We had decided that YWAM Cambridge’s first Discipleship Training School would begin in September 2013 – even if there were just three people signed up, better to get the ball rolling and see what might happen after that. We wanted to put a particular emphasis on prayer and worship, and to impart that breakthrough we had experienced in simple street evangelism. We didn’t want YWAM Cambridge to become just another training base, but we wanted to gather a team of faith-filled disciples of Jesus who could impact the city in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God! God had given us the words ‘Revival & Reformation’ with which to title our particular DTS – a tribute to Cambridge’s Christian heritage, and a declaration of faith that God would ‘do it again!’ – and we had agreed that if we were to have time to engage with life in Cambridge during the lecture phase, the DTS would need to be nine months long, rather than the typical five.

Taryn and I were still living in Harpenden, so Connie and Andy would drive over so that we could pray together about the DTS. Mike & Jane Askew had also been persuaded to help with this pioneering DTS: their three sons had all done the DTS and Mike’s retirement had given them the chance to theirs in Kona, where they had also subsequently staffed another school.

Also joining our DTS staff team was Bethany Breed. She had been to the city previously on a DTS outreach team that Taryn and I led from Harpenden to India, with a couple of week in Cambridge at the end. Our time in Cambridge was something of a challenge—it was the middle of the English winter, making any sort of outdoor ministry less appealing; and our accommodation had no shower, meaning we had to trudge across town in order to have a wash. But the outreach had the incredibly significant outcome of bringing Bethany onto the YWAM Cambridge team. She was an eighteen-year old American doing her DTS, and the day that we arrived in Cambridge, as we joined the Friday lunchtime prayer group (that I’ve already mentioned), she heard the voice of God telling her that this was where He was calling her.

….

As it turned out, the Revival & Reformation DTS didn’t turn out to be YWAM Cambridge’s first school. Cliff & Amaris Davis, from YWAM LA, were invited to consider coming to Cambridge by Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian apologist who was connected with Christian Heritage. As it happened, Vishal ended up not continuing in Cambridge, but Cliff & Amaris were persuaded by Connie to come and run their Chronological Bible Core Course (three months of intensive inductive bible study). So YWAM Cambridge was having twins!

The CBCC began in mid-September with five students and another staff member, Heather, who Cliff had recruited for the school from YWAM LA. The school was hosted by John and Inge Ruddock, in their newly renovated Oak Villa, thirty minutes to the west of Cambridge in the village of Madingley. Meanwhile, we were still searching for somewhere to host the DTS – which had six trainees arriving in a couple of weeks! Our dream of buying a property had been put on hold, and our attempts to rent a house kept meeting with landlords suspicious of the sort of group (A family? No; Professionals? No; Students? Not exactly…) we were. Finally we found someone willing to let their house to us. The contract was ready to be signed—but it needed to be ratified by the YWAM England board, who happened to be on retreat in the Lake District and seemed impossible to contact. It wasn’t until three days before the school was to begin that we had actually agreed terms and been given the keys—and the house was still unfurnished! But through some miracle of divine provision, various local Christians donated the necessary beds and tables, and the house was furnished literally as the students arrived. When our first student arrived, she was shown to a room with one bunk-bed and told that she would be sharing it with three others—the second bunk duly arrived a couple of hours later, just before her next roommate.

The DTS continued to experience the manifest power of God as we stepped out in faith beyond the boundaries of our own human strength. The impartation of evangelistic effectiveness we were hoping would take place happened within the very first week, and each week there were testimonies of people responding to the simple gospel. We felt the tangible glory of God within touching-distance as we worshipped for two hours each afternoon. We went to Hull for a weekend to do outreach with Wildfire; we went to Norway for a week to join the Circuit Riders. We absorbed into our number a seventh student: the son of a local pastor who had tragically died of a recent heart-attack, and he was filled to overflowing with the irrepressible joy of the Holy Spirit. But it wasn’t all miracles and glory-stories—in spite of our prayers, our friend Inge died of cancer, after a long and painful battle against it.

….

In January 2014, YWAM Cambridge was joined by Gary and Caroline Morgan, the leaders of the Year For God, who moved from Holmsted Manor to Cambridge. The Year For God places young people from the Western world in DTSes in developing nations – Uganda, Bolivia, India – where they then continue on staff for the rest of the year after the initial five- or six-months of DTS is completed, thus making for a fully cross-cultural missionary gap-year. It is bracketed by a week of cultural orientation at the start and a week of debrief at the end—the only parts that actually take place in Cambridge. There are two points of entry each year: in August, and in February.

….

We sent our first DTS Outreach team out from Cambridge on March 3?th 2014, to Kenya—to work with the YWAM Atthiriver base, and to serve among the tribal Pokot people.

Taryn and I were unable to go with the team, as she was pregnant – and had been for the precise duration of the DTS! She gave birth to Isaac on May 28th – and we remembered the word we’d been given: “It’s not necessarily a physical ‘baby’, but some project that you’re beginning”. Our first year with YWAM Cambridge had brought forth both.

Our second R&R DTS began in September 2014, this time with nine students (though one left prematurely a couple of months in). As well as all the staff from the first DTS, we had two of our students from the previous year, Hannah, and Lukas, and also Simon, who had done a nine-month DTS with YWAM Coventry. YWAM Cambridge was now renting two houses on the same road, and Taryn and I had rented another for ourselves just around the corner.

We had planned to run a second CBCC—but Amaris had also given birth to a baby, and so that had to be postponed till April. And then she found she was pregnant again, so that too was cancelled! Instead we are planning on starting a full nine-month Chronological School of Biblical Studies, which will begin in September 2016.

Rather than the CBCC, we therefore made plans to start a classic five-month DTS in April 2014. Two more of the students from our previous R&R DTS—Akira and Haley were recruited to join the staff team, as well as Teresa from Germany, and Brandon from the USA.

But all that YWAM Cambridge had begun to do could so easily have been brought to a standstill.

In September 2015, the UK Visa Authority came to inspect YWAM England and found that our record-keeping was not quite up to the new standards. This meant there were three possible consequences: at worst, we could completely lose our visa sponsorship licence (meaning everyone on YWAM visas would have to leave the country, and no more could be granted—and thus putting in jeopardy much of YWAM Cambridge’s work); or, we could be down-graded and have our licence suspended (meaning those already in the country could remain, but no new visas could be granted for six months); or at best (but this seemed almost too much to hope for!), we might be forgiven and our Grade-A status maintained.

Just days before Christmas, we were told that it was going to be the worst-case scenario. After an appeal and much united prayer, that decision was completely reversed – and we were given the best possible result! This meant we could go ahead with the April DTS. Within days of the nine-month R&R DTS heading out on outreach – this time to Albania – this other DTS was beginning, with six students from England, France, the USA, Zimbabwe, India, and Israel.

Before we joined YWAM Cambridge two years ago, there were just two full-time staff: Connie Taylor, and Andy Henman. This September, it looks like will have about twenty, not counting families.

Looking forward, Taryn and I are committing to be in Cambridge with YWAM Cambridge for at least the next five years. Last summer, I mentioned that I was considering Anglican ordination — I have decided that God’s call to us to see YWAM Cambridge established means that I am not to pursue this any time in the next few years. I have however been selected by the Lausanne Movement as one of their ‘Next Generation Young Leaders’, which means that for the next ten years I will be mentored and equipped for the task of mobilising and releasing ‘the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world’.

Two years ago, I tried to put into writing the vision God was giving us for YWAM Cambridge. I wrote that
By 2020 I hope to see, by the grace of God,

– non-stop 24/7 prayer and worship taking place across the city, involving a growing team of more than forty intercessors and musicians;

– daily evangelism taking place within the city;

– at least one hundred Revival & Reformation DTS graduates committed to serve at least two years in cross-cultural mission;

– at least twenty churches planted;

– summer outreaches taking at least forty students in international short-term mission each year;

– at least seven University of the Nations-accredited courses happening in Cambridge each year;

– seven other Revival & Reformation DTSs pioneered in other cities;

— and whatever else God might want to do.

We are making progress on some of these–on others there is still much work to be done.

Nevertheless, the vision remains the same. The vision is Jesus. The vision is an army of young people. The vision is night and day worship overflowing in mission to the ends of the earth. The vision is revival and reformation impacting every sphere of society and igniting Cambridge with whole-hearted love for God. The vision is an exponentially multiplying movement of discipleship that would fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. When I close my eyes, I can see it! And yet when I open my eyes, it still sometimes seems a long way off.

We cannot do this alone. We need your help. Will you join us in making this vision a reality?

You can contribute financially;
You can commit to pray for us;
You can come and join us.

Your partner in the gospel,
Peter

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