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How My “Heavenly Father” Became My Dad

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IMG_2370When I first came to the 360 Experience I had a very limited idea of who my Father in Heaven was. My relationship with God had just begun to gain depth. This program was one of the greatest things that could have crossed my path during that time of my life. I had vague ideas of who I was as His daughter, and my foundation in Christ was just beginning to build. I came into this year with little expectations, and it was my goal to simply allow God to have His way. What I did not know is that He would take that invitation and run in such a beautiful way with it.

With an open heart God began to reshape my image of who He was as my Father. I knew deep within me that God is all-powerful, all knowing and all seeing but calling Him my Father never settled well with me.  This was an area in my heart that God wanted to reveal truth to, and to show me that He was first and foremost my Dad. He was a Dad that would never forsake me and would never withhold love and kindness from me. How could I know myself as a Daughter if I did not first recognize God as my Father?

Often times I would begin prayer with “Dear Heavenly Father”, but as the lecture phase progressed I realized those words I was saying had no heart behind them. The knowledge of Him being a Father was just resonating in my mind instead of where it belonged, which is in my heart. Apprehension filled my heart, because I was afraid of walking down that path of intimacy with God. It would open me up to be completely vulnerable and it would expose past wounds. Thankfully God had placed me in such a great environment that was geared towards my growth. As the lecture phase went on God began to peel away the lies that built themselves upon the name Father.  The truth started to surface within my heart, and the level of intimacy that God desired to have with me started to blossom.

God was pulling me closer, and He wanted so badly for me to know Him to be more than just this big God who created all things. He was my friend, and most of all He was my loving Father who wanted to place the pieces of my heart together. Slowly I learned how good of a Father He was, and that nothing on this earth could compare to the love He had for me. With that knowledge settling in my heart I could then begin to walk in my identity as His daughter.

Learning that I have a Father in Heaven who looks at me daily with joy and love is irreplaceable. Knowing that He is proud to call me His daughter, and He will never leave me is priceless. I could not put a price tag on the time I spent in the 360 Experience. I learned to walk in confidence with God, and my heart can now cry out “Abba Father”, and know with absolute assurance that He will hear me. Nothing can compare to whole heartedly knowing that I am a daughter of a King. I can fearlessly move forward knowing that an incredible God shields my days. If someone asked me if I would do these nine months over again, without hesitation I would say yes.

By: Natalie Gagnon

7 Reasons To Take a Gap-Year With Us

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Having been around for decades in Europe, Gap-Year is only now becoming a known term in the great old US of A. There is a reason it works and here are 7 of many reasons for you to do a gap-year with us.

 

1. Grow in Relationship with God
The 360 Experience is designed to provide a rich environment for you to be able to get to know God. This is accomplished through various teachings on the Christian life, consistent times of worship and prayer, personal mentorship, community discipleship, structured quiet times, Bible based assignments, and much more. This will be perhaps the only time in your life when you get to devote all of your time to simply growing in God and developing yourself through Him.

 

2. Know Who You Are
The Bible says we are made in the image of God. The more you get to know Him the more you will find out about yourself. During your time with The 360 Experience, you will have the ability to discover who God created you to be and find your identity in Him. We also place an emphasis on practical self-discovery and development. You will cultivate your passions and strengths as well as learn how to allow what you do flow from who you are.

  

3. Save Time & Money
The average college tuition costs roughly $30,000 a year. 80% of college students change their major at least once, and on average students change their major up to THREE times! That is an extra cost of $30-80,000! Less than half of college graduates say their college education was worth the time and money. Taking a gap year will allow you to discover who you are and develop your passion and identity in a safe environment. With a greater understanding of who you are and what your place is in the world, you will be more prepared to go to college and focus on what you want to do! 

 
 
4. Life Experience 
You will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set aside 9 months of your life simply to pursue God and explore life with Him. You will gain practical experience in evangelism, ministry, fitness, arts, cooking, humanitarian aid, running a home, leadership, and more. You will also gain deep lasting relationships, step out of your comfort zone, try new things, learn a lot, and see the world.
 
 

5. Develop Your Self
Self development seems to have become a rather popular undertaking these days. We value Biblical self development and are committed to helping you grow as a Christian and as a young adult. Above all, this is a dedicated time for God to reveal Himself to you and in turn, help you grow into who He created you to be. Using resources such as Gallups Strengthsfinder, DISC Profile, Meyers Briggs, and others, you will get to find out your personality traits, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how you interact with the world. This will help you to determine what you want to do with your life and how you can succeed.

 

6. Setup Your Future for Success
60% of young adult Christians fall away from the faith once they go to college. You don’t have to be part of this statistic. Devoting a year of your life to growing a stronger faith and relationship with God will equip you to successfully navigate through your college career and the rest of your life as a Christian. An alarming less than 1 in 5 young adults have any idea why the Bible is important and applicable to every day life. We believe the Bible is vital for the Christian life and have incorporated Biblical Worldview teaching into our curriculum. You will also gain practical teaching and training that will prepare you for the adult life, such as money management, marriage & family, work ethic, conflict resolution, communication, and more.

 

7. Help Change the World
During your time in The 360 Experience you will get to participate in various local relief and overseas outreach efforts. You will get to be part of helping to rebuild homes for Hurricane Sandy victims in NY, reach out to the local communities around Maine, and spend two months in a third-world nation. You will get to provide homes for those who lost them, bring hope to those who are hungry, fight human injustices, share the Gospel with those who have never heard the name of Jesus, and be equipped to fulfill the Great Commission wherever you go in life. 

 

Sources:
US NEWS – HUFFINGTON POST – LAVERNE UNIVERSITY – BARNA – AMERICAN GAP
NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATIONAL STATISTICS – INSTITUTE OF EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES
HARVARD EDUCATION

Looking Back // Moving Forward

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If I could choose to relive one significant part of my life, it would be to relive my time at The 360 Experience. It has impacted the way I see God, myself and others, and also the world. Before I decided to pack up and move to Maine for 9 months, I had no clue as to who I was as a person, or even knowing what talents I had. In high school, I was involved in many extracurricular activities. Being active in FFA, band, theater, and in the top quarter of my class; any one would think that I knew what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. This was not the truth, because graduating high school terrified me. I would stay up at night thinking about what would happen the next school year. I had doubts about myself, my talents, and my beliefs. Most of my questions involved; “What will I do now?” or “I don’t even know what my major will be, what will happen when I’m 25?” I was freaking out.  At one point in my pity party, I decided to do what everyone had expected from me and I was going to go to Texas Technical University in Lubbock Texas, and be an agriculture teacher. Even that scared me! I was scared to settle, but I had a recurring thought that would pass through my head, and it would ask me; “do you really want to do this?” This thought was never condemning; it would just always make me think more about the decision that was made.

One day, my older sister talked me into looking at YWAM as an option for post-graduation. There were many schools that sounded great, but I couldn’t find a Discipleship Training School (DTS) that sounded right for my situation. I ended up going down this long list of schools in the United States, in alphabetical order, and there was one school that seemed to know about my situation. The 360 Experience in Biddeford, Maine; I admit it, I wanted to keep scrolling through the rest of the list, and I was about to just give up in my search and let other people tell me what to do. Then I read their mission about knowing God for who He truly is, knowing who you are as a person, and discovering your calling in life. This hit me like a ton bricks, this seemed to be what I was supposed to do!

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When it came time for me to start this new chapter, I was so nervous, and I wanted to go home. You would be too if you flew hundreds of miles to meet people you didn’t know, and leaving your childhood home! But,  I was supposed to do this, and somehow I knew that this experience would change my life for the better. It was like a soft little voice giving me peace about my whole situation! Crazy right!?! When the first lecture week started, and all of us students got to know each other, I started to get comfortable around them. We were all in the same boat; we didn’t know our callings, and we also weren’t sure, or even knew of our identities in Christ, and I’m positive we all had different views of who God is. We came from different backgrounds, and yet there were similarities in our testimonies. I now have family all across the country, and they are people I know I can count in times of trouble. We grew alongside each other in a close knit community. We cried together and laughed together, we had serious talks and not so serious talks. There were movie nights, football games, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and a few kitchen fiascos, but those are times I won’t forget because they were spent with very special people.

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My time at The 360 Experience was not only special because of the community, but also the learning and spiritual growth. There were so many times I thought I had my mind blown about how good of God we serve. How much I thought I knew, was wrong, and He actually loves and cherishes us, and that He gave us all unique abilities to use for His glory. All of this was presented in such a way that I understood it, and I loved learning about who God is, and why He loves us. He really is a wonderful God!  There were so many quiet times that I didn’t want to end, and I would have another one in the afternoon just to meet with God again, and church began to get exciting. I never thought I could experience God in that way!

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When the school was finally over and all the goodbyes were said; it was time to finally go back to Texas. I found myself not wanting to go. I wanted to stay in Maine for the rest of my life, and stay somewhere that I thought God would be. It was natural, I think, because Maine is the first place where I had the most intimate times with Him, and where I experienced Him like I never had before. Yet, He wanted me to be back in Texas. Being at home, I realized it’s pretty hard in the world to stay the way I was in YWAM. Is it possible? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Because you get so involved in a Christ-like community and encouragement every day from other people, but when you see others that have not had the experiences you’ve had, you can easily fall right back into where you started. This is when I realized why I had to leave and come back, and I figured out why Jesus said this was not going to be an easy life if you choose to follow Him. You are going to be different, we are meant to be a light in the darkness, and show others the love of God no matter who it is, or what your past looked like. Even when we mess up, He has new mercies every day, and we can keep on walking and knowing God for who He truly is, because He is that good! He wants to be with us, just as much as we want to be with Him. I really do recommend this school to anyone I meet because it’s so Christ centered, and completely true to its mission statement. The 360 Experience is something I will never forget, and it is not just some time that I look back on and reminisce about, but it is something really special that has changed my life.

Caitlyn Bennett, 19
Cleburne, Texas
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A Boring Christianity

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As a YWAMer, it’s easy to get caught up in the adventures of life. Spend any amount of time with someone in, or who has been in, Youth With A Mission, and you’ll hear incredible stories. You may hear of a time a group hiked into a village in Nepal where no one had ever heard the name of Jesus, or a story about how they needed a certain amount for their missions trip and the money came in within hours of the deadline. It’s true that everyone loves to hear and  tell a good story. Perhaps this runs even deeper with my generation, the Millennials.

Each generation has a distinctive characteristic about it. It has been said that the Millennials can also be referred to as the Hero Generation. That is why I think the need for adventure is more prevalent in young people in general. Speaking from experience, I can say that there’s this passion ingrained in us to do something with our lives that makes a difference in the world, to live for something bigger than ourselves. That may be why it’s more common to see twenty-somethings nowadays wandering about. Older generations may look it and think it’s laziness or lack of ambition. Yet it is most likely a search for that one thing that will satisfy the hunger for greatness. The danger is that the hunger is insatiable.

Everyone was created for something bigger. We were all created to live for God’s narrative of redemption, to be a part of bringing about God’s kingdom to this earth. Since this story won’t see its end until the coming of Jesus, we will never be completely fulfilled until we are living on the new earth (Rev 21:1). It is detrimental to try to fill that desire while living on this earth. We end up living from adventure story to adventure story, forgetting the importance of how we live day to day.

As Christians, there is no moment when we cease to live inside God’s story of redemption. Whether we play an active role or not is up to us, and it doesn’t have to only be the times we are  partaking in a hobbit-like adventure. Our choice to live for something bigger is made every single day. The choice is made when we speak out of love and not anger, when we act kindly towards someone who belittles us, or when we withhold judgment from a person who is sinning. Each and every one of these seemingly small decisions are ways we represent Christ in a world that does not know Him. Somewhere along the way, the everyday walking out of a Christian’s faith has become apparently less valuable. How foolish! Most people that come into the family of God don’t do so after hearing a story of someone being healed or those tales we get so excited about sharing; it is those that have a person walking with them day by day, being a living representation of Jesus, that become saved. They see that living for Christ makes a difference in a person’s life every single day.

No one tells you that Christianity is a 70 to 80 year grind in becoming more kind, more gentle, more giving, more joyful, more patient, more lovingBeing more and more like Jesus is a million boring little things. No one ever tells you that when youre young.Richard Beck

To some it may seem boring. No one would ever use that as a sales pitch for Christianity. Maybe that’s the issue; we’ve been looking to sell our faith rather than live it out in an authentic way. The adventures are great, and it’s awesome to have exciting stories. Still, those should never diminish all the other moments that make up our lives. Satisfaction comes when we realize that every little thing we do can a greater purpose, each small task has the ability to make a difference.

by Natalia Barroso
Staff of 360Maine

Is Your Child Ready for College?

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There are very few decisions in a young person’s life as important as choosing a college and subsequent career.  As graduation nears there is a rising pressure from parents and teachers for students to make a wise decision about their future.  Conventional wisdom says that a student graduating from high school should immediately head off to college and declare a major in the first year.  Yet looking at the landscape of the universities in this country there is a growing crisis beginning to overtake students and families alike.  With the rising cost of education, a poor choice as a freshman can cost families thousands of extra dollars; and with the rising options for education, many students are graduating with degrees that they cannot – or will not – use.  Among Christian households the more alarming reality comes when their children leave for college and return void of the faith they grew up with.  The spiritual dropout rate is as startling as it is predictable among young Christians attending college.

Most everyone agrees that higher education is necessary, but there is mounting uncertainty about the readiness of our high school graduates proceeding immediately to college. Many have not considered if there are any alternatives to the long accepted approach.  Perhaps students should consider taking a gap year – one year between high school and college to intentionally develop their personal identity and broaden their view of the world.  A practice that is common place in Europe and Australia, the idea of taking a gap year between high school and college is gaining popularity in the United States.  Gap year can provide many experiences for students such as the opportunity to travel, volunteer, or develop a better idea of who they are and what they want to pursue with their lives.

 

The Disturbing Reality.

Looking more closely at the problems facing families will help reveal the solutions that gap year can provide. The first area of concern is educational indecision and the accompanying results.

Educational Reality: Research shows that 50-70 percent of students will change their major at least one time, and many will change their mind three times before graduation. This generally means extending college by at least one semester. Tanya Mohn, a writer and gap year advocate, states in the New York Times, “Data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that only 35 percent of students graduate in four years. Many take as long as five or six.” The dropout rates are equally alarming distressing, and Mohn explains in the same article that 30 percent of freshman will not make it to their sophomore year. The latest research shows only a little more than half of those who begin college will come out on the other side with a bachelor’s degree.  These numbers can seem distant and meaningless – that is until parents realize that half of their children will leave college with debt and no degree. In many cases, the parents are left holding some of the fruitless debt as well.

Financial Reality:  This leads to the second area of concern facing our students— the financial burden of student loans is rapidly growing as the cost of higher education skyrockets. The average cost of a four-year university currently sits around $30,336 per year and the average student loan debt carried by families has risen 500 percent since 1999.  The price of education would be understandable if students were graduating with degrees, and subsequent jobs, and were able to pay back these loans.  But in a recent article, Newsweek maintains that “more than half of all recent graduates are unemployed or in jobs that do not require a degree.” These numbers reveal a variety of problems within our current society, but one must ask if students can continue making these risky choices that will affect the rest of their lives both vocationally and financially. Are students getting an education at the expense of their future?  Is there a way to better prepare students for making wise choices concerning college and their future careers? If so, would parents and educators consider leaving the conventional pattern in an effort to change these trends?

Spiritual Reality:  These questions ought to be front and center in the minds of all who are looking into the future of their children and students. However, for those in the Christian community, the financial and educational trends should not be nearly as alarming as the spiritual trends facing the next generation. Barna Research Group released a study  indicating that only “about three out of ten young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties.” These numbers are staggering. Nearly 70 percent of students depart for college and leave their faith at home with their parents, never looking back. A lack of personal identity, spiritual formation, and Biblical worldview is creating an unprecedented attrition rate of youth in our churches.

Much has been written concerning the spiritual dropout of college students from the Christian faith. The faith crisis among college students certainly has many facets, but at the core there seems to be a lack of spiritual foundation.  A limited Biblical worldview causes many students to be swayed by liberalism in their universities. A lack of moral depth causes them to abandon their faith as they chase after pleasure. To meet this problem, Christian parents could look for a gap year program that specifically addresses these issues and is intentional about discipleship among the next generation.

 

Gap Year?

All of these statistics and trends should cause parents and teachers to reflect on the process for sending students to college. What do these numbers mean? What are some possible ways to change the trends and get students on a track that will increase their chances of success?  Looking at other countries as a model, one must pause to consider the rising trend of gap year programs. By engaging in an intentional gap year program students have the opportunity to establish personal identity and spiritual maturity. By travelling internationally, which is part of many gap year programs, they will broaden their view of the world. Gap year advocates argue that this allows students to choose a career path with more certainty and could even save parents money in the long term. These real advantages can be better seen by looking at the concerns raised by parents and teachers.

 

Common Concerns

There are several common questions that arise in the minds of parents and teachers as they consider their students taking a year off between high school and college. The most common concerns are loss of educational momentum, cost, necessity, and loss of financial aid or scholarships.

 

Momentum: Harvard University, in an article written advocating gap year, highlights the concern of students losing educational momentum: “Parents worry that their sons and daughters will be sidetracked from college, and may never enroll. Both fear that taking time off can cause students to ‘fall behind’ or lose their study skills irrevocably.” Parents may wonder if taking a gap year would negatively impact their student’s grades when they enter college. An in-depth study done in Australia and the United Kingdom found,

 

that taking a gap year had a significant positive impact on students’ academic performance in college…In fact, in the United Kingdom, students who had taken a gap year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college…

 

Cost: Another concern from parents is the cost of a gap year program. The New York Times reports that the average cost of a gap year program is $10,000-$12,000. This seems like a high price to pay for a program if it does not guarantee a student’s advancement educationally or vocationally. Even with programs available for less than the average, the question remains as to whether or not they are worth the investment.  Tanya Mohn believes they are, and in an article written for the New York Times she explains, “it makes economic sense for students…freshmen who [attend a gap year] are less likely to party too much, fail courses or change majors repeatedly – all of which can result in more time needed to graduate, and more expense.” One might even say that gap year provides parents with a form of higher education insurance.  When students change their majors they increase the time spent at college and incur costs up to double the cost of the average gap year program. But by helping solidify a student’s identity and allowing them to make better choices in their education, gap year may actually save parents money in the long run.

Financial Aid: The fear that students will lose financial aid is quite understandable. However, in most cases students need not worry about losing scholarships or financial aid. Most universities, such as Middlebury College in Vermont, will simply allow students to defer enrollment for one year. When they return they will receive the same financial aid package they were offered upon high school graduation.

Being Sidetracked: There are many respected sources that show gap year can help prepare students for college and even put them at an advantage to those who go directly into higher education from high school.  Harvard has long been a proponent of students taking a gap year, and every student accepted into Harvard is encouraged in their acceptance letter to do so. While addressing the fear of becoming sidetracked or falling behind, Harvard admissions team points out, “That fear [of being sidetracked or never enrolling] is rarely justified. High school counselors, college administrators, and others who work with students taking time off can help with reassurance that the benefits far outweigh the risks.” Holly Bull, from The Center for Interim Programs, is quoted in an article in Forbes as saying, “not only do most students go back to college, students often arrive at college more focused and refreshed, more mature, and often do better academically.” Parents should take comfort when one of the most respected Ivy League schools in our country stands behind the idea of gap year and shows the advantages that students gain when participating.

Necessity: Some parents may feel that gap year is unnecessary since their child already knows exactly what career they want to pursue and the best college for that pursuit.  Even for these exceptional students, a gap year would add value to their college experience. The Center for Interim Programs, an organization that has spent more than three decades helping students make an effective transition from high school to college, points out that gap year can help “restore your enthusiasm after the pressure of K to 12…discover the relevance of classroom study to the world…build self-confidence and independence…[and even] improve chances for college acceptance.” Research backs up these claims. Much research has been conducted overseas, where gap years are more commonplace. An article by a high school in Massachusetts cites specific research from several countries. A study of Australian undergraduates found “that a gap year helped improve that academic motivation of students.” Another study of South African gap year students discovered “that the year away from school facilitated personal growth by allowing the young adults more time to explore and finalize future career plans.” And a study in the United Kingdom found that gap year “allowed the students go gain confidence, maturity, and independence that shaped their adult identity.” All these findings should encourage parents that gap year can deliver that which it promises for their teenagers. While gap year is probably not for every student, most could consider this as an option to help give students a foundation that will help them launch into their future.

 

The 360 Experience.

One can look in a variety of places to find examples of gap year programs.  Many universities and organizations have developed excellent options for students.  One organization that has been focused on discipleship of young people for over fifty years is Youth With A Mission (YWAM). They established Discipleship Training Schools (DTS) for Christian youth as a means to deepen their faith in God and help prepare them to share their faith with others around the world.  Students engage in three months of classroom training where they  learn more about their faith and the second three month phase is an “outreach” where they travel to another part of the globe.
In the United States, YWAM has recently launched a nine month gap year program called The 360 Experience. This program is specifically designed to be a gap year solution for Christian young adults. The 360 Experience is designed to bring personal discipleship while giving students a Biblical worldview, local church mindset, and a global perspective. These YWAM internships happen within a local church and provide Christian students with an opportunity for an intentional gap year that will help solidify the values they were raised with. Programs like these provide all the benefits of gap year that have been previously discussed while building Christian values and giving students an opportunity to travel and engage in evangelism.  The 360 Experience is priced lower than the average gap year and their 9 month program, which includes 2 months overseas, costs around $8500. 360 launched their first program in coastal Maine, and they are gearing up to launch several more locations in other states. There are few of these types of programs that currently exist in the United States, but as the popularity of gap year continues to expand more programs like these are sure to be raised up around the country.

Daniel is a recent graduate of The 360 Experience in Maine, and his story typifies the benefits of gap year. Before attending the program he was like most high school graduates: unsure of what to do with his life. He recalls, “I thought I was going to be an engineer. I didn’t really have a plan as to how to get there…but I thought, ‘This is a good choice for me.’” With no particular drive toward engineering other than a decent living, it is hard to know whether or not he would have made it through college and on to a career. Since 360 he has developed a passion for helping others. He feels God’s calling toward counseling for men with addiction and creating homes for women and children who have been rescued from human trafficking. That passion is propelling him forward to more training with YWAM in order to achieve the deep sense of purpose God deposited in his heart during 360 Maine. Taking a year between high school and college gave him the opportunity to figure out who he was and what he was truly passionate about.

 

Every parent desires to see their students succeed in life and accomplish all they are capable of.  While some may still contend that students should go immediately from high school to college, it is difficult to ignore the apparent advantages that exist for students attending a gap year program.  Educationally, the United States is losing its place as a leader among developing nations and currently ranks number twelve in higher-education attainment. In his book College (Un)Bound Jeffery Selingo writes, “As the baby boomer generation leaves the workforce, the country risks having successive generations less educated than the ones that preceded them for the first time.” Financially, parents should begin to look at the current trends in our higher education system and realize they cannot afford to keep sending their indecisive children to incur crushing debt for degrees they are not likely to use. Spiritually, churches and Christian families ought to grow tired of watching their young people being shipped off to universities only to return without their faith intact. When the price finally exceeds the desire for status quo, gap year will remain as one proven alternative for parents and leaders to prepare their students for college and bring change to the next generation.

by Matthew Osgood,
National Director of Development for 360

I Want Them!

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