DESPITE the recession, and the rising cost of university, many
organisations that offer gap years are still attracting plenty of
Tearfund, for example, has just reported a record-breaking year,
and the Church Mission Society (CMS) says that "more people than
ever" are applying for its programmes.
Others, however, are seeing a drop in demand. The gap-year
programme manager for Us. (formerly USPG), Habib Nader, says:
"Young people are so concerned about the cost of university now.
Things have changed since the boom time in the '80s. Numbers have
halved since then, but there are signs that the market is picking
In response to the challenges, the Church Army's Xplore
programme-leader, Neville Barnes, says: "We've been thinking about
how we can make evangelism training for young adults more
accessible, bearing in mind the financial difficulties that many of
them face, whether it's because of student fees or
"We came up with the idea of a 'year in' as an alternative to
the traditional gap year, where you remain in your community and
shape your evangelism around your own context."
Other organisations are speaking of a change in applicant
demographics. "Previously, we had a lot of applications from people
wanting a gap year before university. Now, we mostly hear from
people who've been to university already," the director of the
Christian theatre company Oddments, Barry Boyton, says.
Us., meanwhile, has noticed that the age-range of applicants for
its gap year is widening: the oldest person currently on its
gap-year programme is 74. Jeremy Weightman, of Latin Link, says
that there are now "far fewer young men applying".
Owing, perhaps, to the increased pressure on finances, those
making the commitment display a greater level of engagement. Lucy
Pieterse, of Tearfund, says: "We've been encouraged to see just how
many more volunteers are returning from their placements with a new
awareness that starts to shape their everyday decisions."
But Jeremy Woodham, of CMS, says: "We have noticed that the
young people coming forward today are much more theologically
switched on. They understand that mission has changed; that it's
not so much about going to 'help' people as to learn from
This focus on personal learning and development, however, as
opposed to "helping others", could be interpreted differently. "We
see an increasing number of applicants who, understandably, are
looking for 'What's in it for me?'" the director of Time For God,
Paul Webster, says.
"Many people see a period of volunteering as an invaluable
inclusion on their CV, which is very true and important. However,
as a Christian organisation, we also want to promote a mindset of
service, instead of the sense of entitlement which our Western
educational system can sometimes instill."
LATIN LINK works in partnership with churches to send and
receive individuals, families, and teams to or from Latin American
Its "Step" programme lasts up to 16 weeks, and, typically,
involves community-based projects such as construction, evangelism,
and youth work.
"Stride" placements are six months to two years long, and focus
on developing the person's skills in response to local needs,
providing an opportunity to test an individual's calling to mission
work. Stride projects range from teaching literacy to working with
prisoners and ex-offenders.
Step 17+, Stride 18+
Step: March-July (apply by November), or July-August (apply by
April). Stride: start January/February or September, apply six
months before departure.
Step: £1875-£3300 including flights. Stride: £2000 and approx.
£500 per month living expenses.
0118 957 7100; latinlink.org.uk
CHURCH ARMY offers two gap-year programmes. The "Xplore Year In"
enables volunteers to shape evangelism around where they live, and
receive weekly online training and support. There are also regular
residential weekends, as well as opportunities to take part in
mis-sion placements in Romania and Ireland.
The "Xplore Year Out" is run in partnership with Summer Madness,
the Christian festival in Northern Ireland, and involves practical
mission-placements in Northern Ireland and Romania, as well as
regular Bible teaching and training.
18-25-year-olds with a passion for evangelism
September 2014 to July 2015. Apply by 1 August 2014.
Xplore Year In: free, apart from an optional week in Romania,
£350; and two training weekends, £100 each. Xplore Year Out: £2000
0844 585 3575; xplore.org.uk
THE mission and development charity Us. (formerly USPG) works in
partnership with Anglican Churches around the world. Over the past
50-odd years, it has sent more than 600 people on its short-term
mission programmes, now called "Journey With Us", including many
clergy and ordinands.
Its self-funding volunteer scheme offers the opportunity to
experience the life and mission of the Church in another culture
for up to 12 months - in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the
Caribbean. The emphasis is on participation and shared learning,
and, as guests of a host church, participants are offered
fellowship and pastoral care.
18+, including clergy on sabbaticals and study breaks.
to suit each individual.
depends on location and length, but for a 12-month placement,
approx. £4000. A small grant is available from Us.
020 7921 2215; weareus.org.uk
CROSSLINKS recruits committed Christians for its SMILE gap-year
programme, which combines service, evangelism, and discipleship
work in a cross-cultural setting.
In 2015, there will be Gap teams of ten people sent to the
Gambia, Ethiopia, and Thailand, for placements lasting four months.
Project work includes helping in local schools and churches, as
well as teaching and leading Bible studies.
Teams are given time to study the Bible themselves, too, to
equip them for a lifetime of ministry.
18+ (leaders must be over 21)
January-May 2015; apply by 16 March 2014.
020 8691 6111; crosslinks.org/smile/opportunities
THIS Christian theatre company seeks to take thought-provoking
drama to schools, prisons, churches, and festivals across southern
England. Gap-year volunteers have the opportunity to use
theirperforming-arts gifts on placements lasting between seven and
Volunteers also get involved in the day-to-day running of the
company, including organising events, general administration, and
other stage-management tasks, gaining valuable insight into how a
theatre company operates.
18-35-year-olds with a performing-arts qualification or good
experience at an amateur level.
mid-September to August, or January to August. Apply by 31 May
seven months, £1500; ten months, £2000.
THIS development, disaster-relief, and advocacy charity offers
two short-term mission schemes.
Those with ten weeks to spare can sign up to the new
government-funded ICS (International Citizen Service) through
Tearfund, to South Africa, Bolivia, or Rwanda, which involves
volunteering alongside other in-country volunteers.
For those with more time, Tearfund's "Gap Year Adventure" offers
six months in South Africa, Cambodia, Malawi, or Peru, and involves
a wide range of development projects, such as improving access to
water and sanitation, supporting people with HIV/AIDS, and youth
ICS 18-25-year olds (leaders must be over 23). Gap Year
Adventures are open to anyone aged 18+, with no upper age
ICS: depart in January, April, July or September. Apply three
months before. Gap Year Adventure: 1 February-mid July 2015. Apply
by 28 September 2014.
ICS: funded but with £800 fundraising target. Gap Year
020 8943 7777; tearfund.org/go
TIME FOR GOD has been connecting volunteers with opportunities
for service and personal growth overseas for more than 45
Each volunteer is given on- arrival, mid-service, and year-end
training, and is allocated a "field officer" to mentor him or her
on a "growth journey".
Projects can include workingwith churches, the YMCA, activity
centres, residential care homes,drug and alcohol rehabilitation
programmes, or homeless projects. Opportunities for next year
involve ten-to-12-month placements in Hong Kong and the United
all adults, although typically 18-25-year-olds.
start August/September or January.
£1750 (some limited grant-funded options available).
01423 536248; timeforgod.org/
THE Church Mission Society offers placements, lasting four
months to two years, to anyone who feels called to overseas mission
in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, or Latin America.
The projects involve working alongside CMS partners -individuals
and organisations - and can range from caring for children in an
orphanage in Argentina to working with disabled people in Ecuador,
youth work in Uganda, or teaching English in Egypt.
CMS seeks to make use of the skills and interests of each
applicant to create individually tailored placements, and the
opportunities are open to everyone, from young people taking a
pre-university gap year to those seeking a career break.
organised to suit the individual. Pre-travel training weeks are
held in January or July.
£4000-8000, depending on destination.
01865 787415; cms-uk.org
THIS Christian development charity, Smile International, has
centres in Kosova, India, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, and
accepts volunteers for placements lasting from three to nine
Outreach activities include building work, teaching English and
IT, sports coaching, performing-arts projects, youth and children's
work, running holiday clubs, evangelism, and working with people
affected by HIV/AIDS.
There is particular emphasis on candidates' developing
cross-cultural understanding, and forging relationships with local
start April or October.
voluntary donation ofapprox. £3350 to £4995 depending on
destination. Flights and visa extra.
01689 883322; www.smileinternational.org/
CHRISTIAN AID works through partner organisations aroundthe
world to help communitiesin developing countries tolift themselves
out of poverty.
The "Christian Aid Collective" - a movement of young people
seeking to inspire their generation to act on injustice - offers a
ten-month internship scheme, which begins with a two-week trip to
see the work of Christian Aid partners overseas.
Interns are then based at the central offices in London, or at
regional offices around the UK, running workshops for youth groups
and schools, preaching in churches, and hosting events.
runs mid-August to June. Apply early in 2014.
free. Christian Aid covers all expenses, including rent and
bills, plus a weekly allowance.
020 7523 2165;
Hannah Silcock's seven months in South Africa with Us. have led to
HANNAH SILCOCK's "Journey
with Us." gap year, in 2012, had such an impact on her that she
decided to study for a Masters in Global Ethics and Human Values.
"It completely opened my eyes, and gave me a different perspective
on life," she says.
The programme started with a
week's training, which, Hannah felt, prepared her for any potential
culture shock. "We talked a lot about keeping safe, and about
engaging with people who are different to you. [But] I found coming
home the hardest part: I had reverse culture-shock."
Us. participants are placed
within a host-church context. Hannah's placement was a reasonably
affluent white-majority church, which ran an outreach programme to
a nearby township. Most of her time was spent working with
"I volunteered in the
school, taking able children out of the classroom so the teacher
could focus attention on the struggling ones, and I set up a girls'
club, doing activities like sports and cookery.
"A lot of effort also went
into organising a holiday club, which happened at the very end of
my trip. We had 100 kids turn up for a three-week programme."
Gap-year students are housed
individually, with church families or in church accommodation. "A
journey with Us. is different from some other programmes, because
you're sent completely on your own; there's no British team around
you. It was a total-immersion experience, and I had to make friends
with local people. This was pretty scary, but 100 per cent worth it
in the end."
Hannah feels that any
potential loneliness she felt initially was compensated for by the
fact that the programme was tailor-made for her. "Us. looked at me
personally, and put me in a setting that I felt really comfortable
in. As a result, I felt I was in exactly the right place for
Did this mean that the
experience was more about Hannah than about the people she was
there to help? "As only one person, you're always going to take
away more than you can give. But the ethos of the charity is that
it's a two-way thing. That's what attracted me: it's a view of
mission that isn't about saving the world, but coming alongside
Kate Coulter, aged
22, embarked on a Tearfund gap year before going on to
KATE COULTER's gap year with
Tearfund placed her in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, working
with a non-governmental organisation, COBAP (Community Based AIDS
"They were a local
organisation which mainly provided counselling and support for
individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. They ran several
projects, including an income-generating scheme for mothers with
HIV, and a drug-rehabilitation and skills-development centre. They
also did a lot of schools work, and kids' clubs, focusing on HIV
awareness and prevention."
Kate was part of a group of
ten young women, all of pre-university age, who lived together in
the same house and volunteered as a team. As part of such a large
team, she says, it was at first hard to feel useful at any of the
"I think we went with a
Western mindset of: 'I'm going to save the world and get loads
done,' but it was more about encouraging the people we met, in the
work that's already happening. It's important not to underestimate
the value of simply bringing energy and enthusiasm to boost the
confidence of those already doing good work."
A big part of her personal
development was learning to be flexible when working as part of a
team. "You're literally with your group the entire time; this was a
really maturing experience, which shaped me as a person. But it
wasn't just with my British team; the way Tearfund works is to
partner you with a local organisation. After that, they have a
fairly hands-off approach. It meant I had to really invest in these
relationships, and be resourceful."
Kate stayed in Uganda for
several months after the placement had finished, and she would
recommend that others do the same. "I found the Tearfund project to
be a great foundation, like a springboard into other mission work.
Don't just come back and go straight to uni, but stay out there and
build on the relationships you've started."
A number of her team members
have also continued to fund-raise for COBAP, as testament to the
lasting impact that the project has had on their lives.
aged 30, has been volunteering with Latin Link for more than a
BEFORE starting university,
Hannah Wilkinson went to Brazil on the short-term "Step"
programme. The project involved several months working in a
street-boys' home, where she would help with homework classes and
running other youth activities.
"It was tough at times. I
was only 18, and hearing the boys' stories broke my heart. But it
opened my eyes to the reality of poverty."
After graduating from
university, Hannah embarked on a second "Step" programme, to
Argentina. "The team's main task was building work. We were based
with a local church, which ran a Bible college, but their teaching
facility was so small that the students had to sleep on the kitchen
floor at night. So, our task was to help build a second storey, to
create proper bedrooms."
A few years later, after
several years working as a teacher, she decided to join up with
Latin Link again, but this time she felt ready for its longer-term
"Stride" programme. She has just returned from a two-year placement
in Peru, working with the Christian environmental charity A
"I was helping with a
reforestation programme, planting trees but also working
with communities living [near] where the reforestation was
happening. I led a nature club for kids, doing activities that
were all about taking care of creation."
The experience of being on
her own rather than part of a team, as on previous trips, was one
of the greatest challenges. "It was just me and the Peruvian
workers. Even though I'd done a four-month intensive language
school, there was inevitably still a language barrier, not to
mention the cross-cultural challenges: it's sometimes hard to
always see eye-to-eye when people have such different ways of doing
Latin Links' support
structures helped her to work through the initial difficulties.
"Everyone who travels with Latin Link has a mentor whom they see
once a week - someone you know you can always go to. It's this
support that makes Latin Link worth the money."
Although she did not realise
it at the time, looking back, Hannah believes that going to Peru
was mostly about testing the water for future mission. "I'm now at
Redcliffe Bible College, studying cross-cultural mission. So the
trip has completely changed my life."