Welcome to Ozark
Recently I spent a month at the YWAM base in the tiny town of Ozark, Arkansas. I was there to help out with an SBS that was being re-pioneered after 5 years. Jim Nizza had originally pioneered SBS and ran it for 4 years. When he passed away in August of 2010 SBS became a school they used to run and hoped to one day run again. I felt honored to be there to help when Torsten and Corrie Radke restarted the school this year. It was an amazing experience for me personally on so many levels. I could tell you about the things I learned about running a small school vs. a big one. Or the different charting styles that I saw and what it looked like grading them. I could talk about paper charting vs. charting on the computer. All of these things were part of the learning experience for me.
However what I really want to share with you is how two seemingly small things taught me the importance of relationship and fellowship in ministry: Eating and Internet.
The Ozark base, without even trying, had created the perfect atmosphere for one of the most relational SBS classes I’ve ever been a part of and I think it was highly influenced by meals and an appalling lack of internet access compared to almost every other location in the world.
Meal times at the base were a base wide event. Everyone ate together. Staff, students, whole families were there with very few exceptions. At lunch or dinner every day I had a conversation, a real conversation, with a staff or student on the base. Of course, this is a lot easier to accomplish on a base with 20 or 30 people than 200 and I understand that, but it doesn’t take away the impact of what that kind of fellowship does for the community. Not only did we all eat together every day, there was a pretty firm , “leave your cell-phone out of the conversation” culture. Using cell phones was highly discouraged at meals and was actually banned from class. We had a cell phone basket at the door and everyone had to leave their phones outside of the class room, including the staff.
I was amazed at the difference that something like an emphasis on eating together could have on the culture of a base. In the month that I was there, I knew the community of YWAM Ozark much better than I do my own base. From the base leader to the DTS students, I felt so much more connected than I have in years. I don’t blame my base for that, I blame myself. Understanding how important it is to spend time with my students and fellow staff has changed my priorities coming back to my own base. It’s easy to get so busy doing all the business of SBS and never sit down and share a meal with the ones we are trying to teach.
Meals weren’t the only thing that made this culture possible. I mentioned internet earlier and I have to admit that I love the internet. I’m a huge fan of both the information and entertainment to be found there. However, Arkansas (as in the state) apparently isn’t such a great fan. The base in Ozark had 1 building that had internet access, and that was spotty at best. There was no internet in the dorm where all the students and single staff lived which brought about 2 huge revelations in my life. 1. when I open my computer I automatically click on the internet icon even when I know there is no internet access. This tells me a lot about my own default when it comes to free time and how much of it I waste online. 2. When there is no longer internet I found myself actually closing my computer, walking out my front door and finding people to hang out with.
Now none of this may be revolutionary to the rest of you and I don’t actually think we need to ban internet from all YWAM bases or make a rule about people eating together. But maybe there are a few of you out there like me who could use a little bit of a wake up from the routine we’ve allowed ourselves to get into. We can’t shut ourselves off from this culture that is becoming less and less relational and more dependent on technology to fill its time. But we can be the ones that invite others to sit down and have a real conversation. SBS is the perfect place to start this kind of movement toward fellowship and I hope that we will continue in that direction.