By 1980, YWAM had 1,800 full-time staff. Two of them, Steve and Marie Goode, heard about the refugee crisis in Thailand, and decided to go there for three months to help. They stayed longer, and ended up directing YWAM's refugee camp ministry.
Faced with massive need, YWAM's refugee ministry in Thailand became a huge effort. The YWAM response grew throughout the 80s. In 1992 alone, the 90 YWAMers and 4,000 refugee staff clothed 53,500 people, immunized 11,000 children per month, trained 109 agricultural students, distributed 44,000 letters monthly, and gave 26 pastors a year's Bible training.
The pressure to provide professional care on such a large scale forced YWAM's mercy ministries to grow up. "The understanding that YWAM would operate in three major categories--evangelism, training and mercy ministries--was developed with the beginning of the Cambodian refugee crisis," said Don Stephens.
In 1984, Steve Goode, who is now YWAM's international director of Mercy Ministries, wrote: "Where we work there are things that are not very pretty, not very conducive to praising God. Like boat people where all the women have been raped; like abandoned children wailing in their anguish; like people who rip you off; like people whose blank, staring eyes tell you they have nothing left to hope in. In the midst of all the heartache we are able to reveal the heart of God through worship, to show people that our great and loving God is present in the ugliness of a refugee camp to heal, restore and give hope to the hopeless."
Meanwhile, another part of YWAM's mercy ministry was launched. In 1982, the refurbished Anastasis sailed from Greece . The ministry of Mercy Ships--to provide medical care, relief and development--had begun.
In the 1980s, as YWAM's mercy ministry grew, YWAM's international leadership was growing as well. There were several international strategy conferences. At one, YWAM embraced the idea of church planting. At another, a commitment statement was drafted, called the Manila Covenant. At the same time, other foundational documents were developed, one of which expressed YWAM's core values. In 1985, Loren Cunningham passed on the role of international director to Floyd McClung.
YWAM also set international goals: Project 223, which aimed to start ministry in every country; and Target 2000, which focused attention on the needs of unreached peoples.
At the end of the decade, YWAM changed the name of its university to University of the Nations (U of N). The concept of a YWAM university that would encompass training programs in hundreds of YWAM locations was developed both by Loren Cunningham and by a scientist and professor, Howard Malmstadt. A man of such renown that he was offered the presidency of a large USA university, Howard, at the age of 55, left his position at the University of Illinois to join YWAM. Although many of his friends, and even his wife, thought he was "delirious," Howard became the main architect of the YWAM university.