Three teams of University of Mobile students are on a European summer trip with life-changing potential through the Christian university’s annual Youth Hostel Missions program.
The 12 students and three university staff members are writing about their experiences at youthhostelmissions.com.
They are on a 21-day trip that will take each team to six or seven cities abroad for the purpose of deepening their own faith while intentionally developing relationships with other travelers while aiming to share the Gospel.
“This trip literally changed my life as a student,” said Courtney McGehee, a UMobile student who participated in a 2010 trip that took her team across Europe, from the Eiffel tower to the Coliseum.
McGehee is just one out of dozens of students, staff and faculty members from the Christian university in Mobile, Alabama, who have travelled across the globe to share the Gospel with people from all walks of life.
McGehee’s YHM experience took place almost four years ago, but the impact of her international journey is still clear today.
“My eyes were just opened up to a completely different way of life and how people do things,” she said. “This trip can change your life, but you have to be open to it. You have to just take it by each and every day.”
In 2012, McGehee was once again a part of the University of Mobile’s YHM program. Only, this time, she was a Campus Life staff leader.
McGehee said she experienced emotional, relational, and spiritual milestones on each of her Youth Hostel trips, and is equally excited for the students and leaders going to Europe this summer to experience the same changes.
“Even in your walk and in your ministry and what that looks like, you’re just completely changed,” she said.
What is YHM?
Youth Hostel Missions is organized by the University of Mobile Campus Life program to launch students into mission fields across the world. It is one of many programs throughout the university that offers missions opportunities with college credit while giving students practical, hands-on experience in sharing their faith in a variety of ways.
Each year, YHM sends three teams consisting of four students and a Campus Life staff leader to backpack through Europe during the summer. It’s a three-week tour via the European youth hostel network. UMobile students aim to share the Gospel with people they come in contact with on the roads, at famous landmarks, and within the hostels themselves.
The main demographic these teams are targeting is that of other college-aged travelers. Especially in Europe, students often take a year off before or during college, and many will be touring in the same areas the UMobile students visit.
Where did YHM come from?
While benchmarking other universities, UMobile Director of Campus Life Neal Ledbetter came across the story of Wheaton College student Lee Howard.
In 1970, Howard spent the summer as a missionary in Spain. Before returning to the United States, Howard spent time travelling via Europe’s youth hostel network. One night, while Howard was in Switzerland, he met a student from England who was travelling across the continent as well. Over the next 24 hours, Howard and his new acquaintance spent the day talking in friendly conversation. However, when his new friend left the next morning, Howard realized that he had neglected to share the Gospel with this man.
This made Howard realize that for someone to live out the Gospel as God calls His people to do, Christians must live missionally at all times, not just at the times that are convenient. The next summer, Howard returned to Europe with three of his peers and Wheaton College’s Youth Hostel Ministry began.
YHM at the University of Mobile
Ledbetter initiated the University of Mobile’s Youth Hostel Missions program in 2005 with the specific intention of getting students involved in real-world ministry.
“The world is not like UMobile. The world is very post-Christian. They’re very ‘over’ Christianity, so I want our students to go and be immersed in that so they get a glimpse of what’s coming later,” Ledbetter said.
Another goal of YHM at the University of Mobile was for students to gain a deeper understanding of the Gospel. Before students can effectively share and apply the Gospel to their lives, they must have a firm understanding of what it means for them personally. During Spring semester, YHM students enroll in a class that focuses on personal, intense Bible study in preparation for engaging with an international world in need of the Gospel.
The Development of YHM
When UMobile first started its YHM program in 2005, it was with one team of four students.
“After that year, it just sort of snowballed and everybody started signing up,” said Ledbetter. Dozens of students apply each year to be selected, and many participants return in later years to lead teams.
Ledbetter said there has been a steady flow of testimonies and accounts from participants that tell of how God has worked and changed lives through this amazing ministry opportunity and the students who make it happen.
“It’s a life-transforming opportunity. It’s transformative for the leaders, it’s transformative for the students,” Ledbetter said.
(By Stephen Tindal, senior, University of Mobile media relations writer)