It all began with a vision. In June of 1956, Loren Cunningham, a 20-year-old student at the Assemblies of God College in Springfield, USA, spent a part of his summer break in Nassau, Bahamas, as a participant in a gospel quartet. While there, Loren had an experience that would change his life.
"That night after our singing engagement, I returned to the missionary's guest room with its white walls, unadorned except for an island scene in a cheap wooden frame. I lay down on the bed, doubled the pillow under my head and opened my Bible, routinely asking God to speak into my mind. What happened next was far from routine. Suddenly, I was looking up at a map of the world. Only the map was alive, moving! I sat up. I shook my head, rubbed my eyes. It was a mental movie. I could see all the continents. Waves were crashing onto the shores. Each went onto a continent, then receded, then came up further until it covered the continent completely. I caught my breath. Then, as I watched, the scene changed. The waves became young people--kids my age and even younger--covering the continents. They were talking to people on the street corners and outside bars. They were going house to house. They were preaching. "Was that really you, Lord?" I wondered, still staring at the wall, amazed. Young people--kids really--going out as missionaries! What an idea! And I thought "Why did God give me this vision?"
By the summer of 1960, Loren had graduated from college. With experience in leadership, and a vision on his mind, Loren became an Assemblies of God minister and a leader of youth activities in Los Angeles. In remembrance of his vision, Loren took his youth to Hawaii, and learned as he went along.
The results were mixed. Only a minority of the group was focused on service. The rest were focused on the sightseeing. After some consideration, Loren developed two rules. The first rule came to him when he heard of a missions trip that went sour after the missionaries dated some of the locals. The second rule was formed after the Hawaii trip.
1. No dating.
2. The missions were for service only.
After Hawaii, Loren felt that he needed to become more focused on his vision. He needed clarity and guidance. He needed to experience the cultures that he wanted to reach. Loren got a great deal on a round-the-world airline package and began to step out and find his vision. He visited a village in India where a boy had died in a fight. Loren witnessed the boy's burning in a funeral ritual.
"The wailing reached a feverish pitch and I stood there with the people in the firelight, overcome with the realization that this boy had gone out into the void. There was a heavy, unrelieved despair hanging in the air...I couldn't forget the hopelessness in that group around the pyre. I was left with an overwhelming wish. I wanted to be able to say to those who were still alive: there is hope and His name is Jesus."
When Loren returned from his travels, he knew that something needed to be done. When Loren was driving down Pacific Coast Hwy with Bob and Lorraine Theetge, a couple from the church where Loren had worked, the conversation drifted to Loren's vision. Loren quickly received encouragement, support, and the first two staff members that YWAM ever had. During that conversation, Loren's vision for YWAM grew. It would be an organization that sent kids out after high school to gain a sense of purpose when going to college, and that welcomed all Christians no matter what the denomination. It was a vision that came to life in the year 1960.