My son just finished his ...

Sue asked:

My son just finished his freshman year in college. Over Christmas break he went to a Christian conference and came back to tell us God had told him to go to Thailand to minister to children involved in human trafficking.

My husband and I are struggling with this. We feel he should get his degree and then move into missions if the Lord directs it. He does not want to 'waste time' getting a degree he feels at this point to be useless. Is there an advantage to having a degree and if yes, what type of major would be best? Also, he want to do YWAM DTS in Thailand but as I look at the website, it does not appear to me to be the best avenue to prepare him for what he wants to do.

What are your thoughts?

Jack Answered:

Dear Sue,

Thank you for your letter.

I congratulate you for a son who is so burdened about the needs of children in a far off land that he is willing to leave behind the possibility of an education and throw himself into service. I congratulate a young man who has parents who are concerned about the wisdom of this decision to the extent of writing a stranger (me!).

It is a sign of youth and lack of understanding that prompts him to consider that securing a degree is both wasting time and useless. On the other hand, it is instructive to note some biblical patterns that underscore the importance, really the necessity, of adequate preparation for ministry.

  • Moses spent 40 years ingesting “all the learning of the Egyptians” and then 40 years learning how to be a shepherd in the desert before the Lord thought he was ready to lead His people into freedom. And what an incredible job he did, including writing of the first 5 books of the Bible.
  • Jesus, the Son of God, astounding the wise old rabbis when he was only 12, didn’t venture on His mission until he was about 30.
  • Paul, chosen by God for a special task, was not only trained in Greek classical studies but also absorbed the best rabbinic doctrines at the feet of Gamaliel, the most respected teacher of his day. In his letters Paul emphasizes both spiritual sensitivity as well as the understanding of sound doctrine, loving God with the mind.
  • One might argue that the Apostles were seen by their contemporaries as “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13), but they were not teenagers. They had been successful businessmen, with some level of maturity, and above all “they had been with Jesus”, the master teacher. Lack of education is never lauded in the Bible.
  • When one reads the history of Christian missions, one notes that those who have made the greatest impact over the long haul have been individuals who have adequate preparation.
  • Increasingly Third World countries are screening foreigners who come to work among them. More and more they want to see academic evidence that these individuals have “something to offer their people” beside “more religion”. A university degree in a respected secular field is not only helpful, but may be a requirement.
  • Hopefully your son has a long and full life ahead of him. A university degree in our world is not just a preparation for a specific job. It is a preparation for thinking, analysis, and expression, as well as an opportunity for an expanded understanding of the world in which we live.

Your son has the opportunity to receive an American university education, a great privilege. Working with children in Thailand will immerse him in an anthropological, psychological, theological, economic, and linguistic complexity beyond his capacity of understanding without some solid preparation.

If he were to go with YWAM, take the DTS, and then put into a team, he might be able to function, but my opinion is that his contribution would be limited. He may come to recognize, perhaps too late, the importance of an academic foundation. But by then it will be harder to achieve. I am corresponding with a young woman who began her ministry with YWAM. She is only now trying to get a university degree, on-line, while studying the language where she's ministering and trying to hold down a full time job. It is an exhausting endeavor.

I don’t know your son, nor do I know God’s will for him.  With these limitations, I would still “generically” recommend the following:

  • I think qit is important for you to thank God for his commitment to service, and take seriously his call. Many young people either don’t have a clue as to what they want to do or are thinking only in terms of themselves in a selfish way.
  • I would encourage him to see the importance of taking advantage of his great privilege to get a university degree under his belt while he has the opportunity. A recognized university (or college) degree in our day and age is fundamental for people in society to take anyone seriously.
  • The children in Thailand need for someone like your son to give them more than a smile, a willing spirit, and a living experience with Jesus, as essential and vital as these aspects are. Helping people in a balanced way is hard and complex work. Individuals and families are locked into poverty, injustice, drug abuse, prostitution, etc. God wants to bring spiritual, psychological, and physical healing, but it takes an appreciation of and understanding of the dynamics in which people live.
  • I don’t know what courses your son’s university offers, but speaking with his counselor, outlining the kind of work he would like to do should open opportunities of studying relevant subjects, including economics, social work, child psychology, etc. More and more universities are sensitive to those who want to help the poor.
  • I don’t know what kind of Christian groups are functioning on his campus, but I would strongly encourage him to get involved with one that has spiritual vitality and is reaching out to other students. He needs to learn how to share the Gospel with his contemporaries, how to develop a consistent devotional life, and how to live in fellowship with other Christians. Some campus Christian organizations, like InterVarsity, have “urban plunges” during the summer where students are taken into the inner city and learn what Christians are doing to help those in poverty.  It’s these kinds of practical experiences while learning theories, that will help him begin to see things from a developing perspective.
  • I would also strongly encourage him, perhaps in the summer, to take some on-line courses—say from Moody Bible Institute—on Bible, Theology, Missions, perhaps even anthropology.
  • I would urge your son to be faithful in his involvement in your church.  If he wants to be a missionary he will need to be financially and prayerfully supported by believers who know him and have confidence in his ability to make a difference where he goes because he has made a difference before their eyes and possibly in their lives. I would encourage him to get to know his pastor personally, share his vision, and ask for his prayers.

I know that Youth with a Mission (YWAM) has universities all over the world. I appreciate their pedagogical emphases on the practical and the spiritual. One of these actually may be an alternative for your son. However, I am personally concerned with the fact that their professors appear to be volunteers and, according to their literature, they have not “at present, applied for any one nation’s accreditation.” Since your son has already finished one year at his university, I think the wisest course would be to finish there. If he gets involved with YWAM, he can always take their Discipleship Training Course (DTS) when he graduates and if he is academically inclined can do a Master’s Degree with their university.

Today I am writing three friends of mine. One is the YWAMer working in Afganistan, one works with abandoned children in Thailand, and one work in a slum in Thailand. They each have several years of experience. I’ll ask them their recommendation on the basis of their own experience.

Once again, thanks for your confidence in writing me. I trust that my thoughts will be helpful to you and your son.


Jack Voelkel

P.S.  You might be interested in two personal articles written by Michael Kao, my friend who works in a slum in Thailand. You can find them at


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