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Months in a country

24 May 2007

Looking for adventure? Some gap-year volunteer schemes now cater for students, those wanting career breaks, and the retired, discovers Huw Spanner

Gap-year volunteers undertake their preparation for service training before their placements with Time for God

Gap-year volunteers undertake their preparation for service training before their placements with Time for God

Latin Link

On offer: A placement from three weeks to two years in Latin America, working with a local Evangelical church.

This means: There are two programmes: one is Step, where you’ll be part of a team of about 12 working alongside local people on practical projects such as building, decorating, or gardening. The other is Stride: tell Latin Link what you’re interested in doing, as an individual or as a family, and they’ll do their best to place you. They are “pretty much open to anything”.

When: Step: July-August (three to seven weeks); March-July (four months). Striders: go out any time, from six months to two years. Some do a term at Bible college first, and then go in January.

Age: Generally 18-30, but they are hoping to recruit people of all ages, on medical or engineering electives, sabbaticals, career breaks, or newly retired.

Cost: Step: £2000-£3000.

Stride: £1250-£1700, plus about £450 a month.

Booking: Enquiries are welcome at any time. See www.latinlink.org, email info@latinlink.org, or phone 0118 957 7100.

Someone who did: Niki Clarke, aged 25, spent just under a year as a Strider in Cochambamba in Bolivia. She has a degree in textile design, so Latin Link set her to work helping women in prison to earn their keep making crafts, which were sold both through a local shop and to British supporters through a website. She also taught English in her church, and art in a nearby international school.

“I had to raise £7000, but that wasn’t a problem. If God wants it to happen, nothing is difficult, really — though it was hard to leave behind the people I love. I had a fantastic time. Apart from learning Spanish, I’ve developed a heart for people in marginalised communities, and I’ve also seen what God’s heart is for the world.

“Since I got back, I’ve done another year and a half with Latin Link, and now I’ve got a job with EcoCentric.”

Church Army

Church Army

On offer: A brand new initiative called XPlore.

This means: Fourteen weeks’ training in Liverpool, followed by up to six months’ doing mission work “on the edge” with a non-uniformed Church Army mentor in Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, or Barbados, plus a few weeks’ debriefing back at base. No specific skills are required — “the tools will be provided.”

When: Training starts in September; so apply soon.

Age: 18–25, although older people may be welcome in future.

Cost: You are asked to contribute £1000 to the costs, together with your airfares to and from the front line.

Booking: Download an application form from www.xploreglobal.org.uk, email xplore@churcharmy.org.uk, or phone Phil Clark on 08445 853575.


On offer: From six months to two years on a placement with Christian partners in Britain or around the world.

This means: You could be doing community work in inner-city Manchester, offering IT support in a hospital in Mumbai, or doing administrative work at the Anglican cathedral in Cairo. It all depends on age and experience. “There’s no shortage of person power in most parts of the world — it’s specific skills that really count.”

When: Pretty much any time.

Age: 18-70 (21+ for overseas work).

Cost: £3000 or more a year.

Booking: Take a look at www.cms-uk.org/opportunities.htm, email vro@cms-uk.org, or phone Bex Metcalfe on 020 7803 3357 or (after June 13) 0845 620 1799.

Someone who did: Ian and Sheena Whiteford, a couple in their fifties, who work in a remote corner of Rwanda. Read about a typical day at www.cms-uk.org/news/2006/all_in_ a_days_work_271006.htm; and read their blog at www.ianwk.blogspotcom.



On offer: A “Discipleship Training School” (DTS) at home and abroad.

This means: Twelve weeks’ basic training, usually in Britain, involving both teaching and practice, followed by eight to 12 weeks of cross-cultural outreach, usually overseas, combining evangelism and simple “mercy ministry” anywhere from France to Thailand to Argentina. A few courses stretch to ten months. All that is needed is “a desire to get to know God and to serve him”. In addition, there are always short-term openings in YWAM for people who have specific skills, from maintenance to cooking to doing accounts.

When: DTS courses start in January, April, July, and September.

Age: Generally 18 to 30, but the Crossroads DTS is 30+, and a few are all ages.

Cost: From £1250.

Booking: Pay a visit to www.ywam-england.com, email info@oval.com, or phone 01582 463216.


On offer: Opportunities to make a difference in Britain and around the world, working in marginalised communities as part of a Frontline team, or as an individual on “international placement”.

This means: If you’re 18-25 and wondering what to do next, or a little older and thinking about a change of direction, you could do 11 months in Britain, or anything from two weeks to six months in southern Africa, Uganda, the United States, India, or Brazil. Training is provided, no skills are required, and “the one essential is a willing heart.”

If you’re a professional wanting to take a break from your career, Oasis can use your experience on a placement overseas for anything from five months to two years.

When: Frontline teams go out in March, August, or September. Placements can begin at any time.

Cost: From £1500 to £3800 inclusive. People on placements have to be self-financing.

Booking: Visit www.oasisuk.org, or, for Frontline teams, email lisa. harrison@oasisuk.org or phone 020 7921 4231. For international placements, email http://benjamin.downing @oasisuk.org or phone 020 7921 4302.

Someone who did: The Revd Gaynor Daniel, aged 60 who previously worked as a nursery nurse and a social-work assistant, recently returned from a five-month placement working with street children in Harare.

“The orientation training was fantastic: I wouldn’t have survived in Zimbabwe without it. I learned about the culture, the poverty, and the sickness I would encounter, and the beauty of the country and its people.

“I spent much of my time there teaching the girls English. But I could see, too, that they needed to be loved, and to have the opportunity just to be children, and it was so exciting to be able to share in that.

“The whole experience has changed my outlook on life for ever. I’ve lost the innocent and unrealistic ideas I used to have about how things are in the world.”



On offer: An opportunity to spend a year as a regional support worker in Britain — ideally, but not necessarily, full-time.

This means: They’re looking for good communicators, and people with pastoral gifts or experience in campaigning. You’ll travel the country in support of Speak’s network of young people as they campaign and pray about issues of global justice, and you could give talks, facilitate workshops, or plan events such as Soundcheck. You need a knowledge of the Bible, a reasonable awareness of what’s going on in the world, and “a servant heart”.

When: Starting in September.

Age: Usually people aged 21+ who have finished university.

Cost: You cover your own costs (including the minimum wage) by finding sponsors to pay you through Speak.

Booking: Email tamara@speak.org.uk before the end of June, or phone 020 7249 4309. For more information, go to www.speak.org.uk/node/128.

Someone who did: Becca Hancock, 24, is working full-time for Speak after completing a Master’s degree in tropical coastal management at Newcastle. She now looks after groups of students and young adults throughout the east of England. “My studies had focused quite a lot on what is wrong with the world, and I wanted to recover my sense of hope and my belief that we can make a difference.

“It has been an amazing experience, and a lot of fun. You meet so many inspiring people who really put their faith into action, and I’ve seen my own faith grow. I’ve also developed skills in advocacy and campaigning, which will be useful if I go on to work with someone like Tearfund.

“I could have done something overseas, but actually, you can have more impact if you stay at home and use the freedoms we have in this country to talk to decision makers and lobby MPs.”

Time for God

On offer: “Quality volunteering opportunities through which God changes lives”. The aim is to encourage people in their journey of faith, whether they are taking their first steps or have been long on the road.

This means: Ten to 12 months working in a full-time placement on anything from drug rehabilitation to church youth-work, mostly in Britain but also across Europe (as part of the European Voluntary Service) as well as in Kenya, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the US. Some volunteers work in teams, but not all. All receive training and have a field officer to support them. “Everybody has their own personal skills; so, regardless of who they are, if they want to try something, we’ve generally got something that will suit them.’

When: There are two intakes, in September and January. Russia and Kenya are more flexible.

Age: Mostly 18-30, but they are taking more and more people on career breaks.

Cost: Varies from nothing at all for some projects in Europe to £1300 for Britain, and £1950 for three months in Russia or Kenya (plus £350 per month thereafter).

Booking: You can apply any time. Visit www.timeforgod.org, email office@timeforgod.org, or phone 020 8883 1504.

Operation Mobilisation

On offer: “Endless opportunities” for cross-cultural mission (from six days to two years) in more than 100 countries — plus OM’s two ships, Logos II and Doulos.

This means: Anything from helping to start a new church in France to painting murals in a Romanian orphanage to “evangelistic trekking” in Nepal to working in an engine-room on the high seas. Professional people taking a break are very welcome — whatever talents or skills people have, OM will find a way to use them. “There is no such thing as a typical mission with OM, it really depends what you want to do.”

When: Any time — the programme never stops rolling.

Age: From 16 (in a few cases) to 70 (depending on fitness).

Cost: From £150 a week plus travel costs.

Booking: Go to www.uk.om.org, email join.us@uk.om.org, or phone Anna Smith on 01691 773388.

Someone who did: Joanna Glossop, 28, is an occupational therapist. Last year, she worked with OM in India, supporting the nurses at a clinic and assessing people with disabilities.

“Travelling allows you to see the sights of another country, but it’s a much richer experience actually to live there and learn the language. With OM you can do something that makes a difference to local people.

“This has been a life-changing experience, which has blessed me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have learned so much about myself and my own culture. Most of all, I have grown in my faith and learned more about God — not least that he always provides, and is there to talk to, even when you can’t speak the local language.

“It is definitely worth getting out of your comfort zone and doing something you have dreamed about, but didn’t think possible.”

Christian Aid

On offer: A gap-year placement, kicking off at the Greenbelt arts festival at the end of August.

This means: You’ll go on a two-week “exposure trip” visiting a partner of Christian Aid somewhere in the developing world, and then get stuck in back in Britain, working around the country, mainly with students and young people, raising awareness and a bit of money. You’ll be given quite a lot of freedom — you could set up a roadshow or put on a fair-trade fashion show or a gig. No experience needed, just “creativity and lots of energy”. Christian Aid offers plenty of training and support and “has loads of resources and expertise”. If you stay on into the following summer, you can visit more festivals, including Greenbelt again.

Age: 18+, but aimed at young people.

Cost: £800. But they pay all your expenses and give you £28 a week pocket money.

Booking: There are very few places left for this year, but it’s not too early to apply for 2008/09.

Further information is at www.pressureworks.org/gap, or email gapyear@christian-aid.org, or telephone 01202 840764.

Further information is at www.pressureworks.org/gap, or email gapyear@christian-aid.org, or telephone 01202 840764.

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