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Short-term service for God while Covid persists

14 January 2022

Anxious about a gap year or short-term mission trip abroad because of Covid? Huw Spanner investigates the opportunities for placements in the UK

A Rocha

Volunteers repair a river bank at A’Rocha’s Foxearth Meadows, in Essex

Volunteers repair a river bank at A’Rocha’s Foxearth Meadows, in Essex


A Rocha UK is a Christian charity working for the protection and restoration of the natural world. It currently has a non-residential internship of up to a year available at Foxearth Meadows, in Essex. Both Foxearth and its other nature reserve, Wolf Fields, in west London, are also looking for local volunteers to get their hands dirty.

A Rocha’s website gives details of other conservation-based gap experiences offered by its 25 registered “partners in action”, which range from Hilfield Friary to Adventure Plus, and from Monkton Combe School to Southwell Minster. Volunteer opportunities include internships of six months to one year, as well as shorter options.

More details: arocha.org.uk/get-involved/volunteers



Lee Abbey stands in 280 acres on the coast of North Devon. Its “vibrant” community has vacancies for a year or more in its estate, house, kitchen, and bookings teams. There are no costs involved, and all members of the community are fed and given a room (not necessarily of their own), a small allowance, and discipleship training.

Declan Beales, who works at Lee Abbey as a personnel assistant, emphasises that they are “looking primarily for individuals who are called by God to serve in this place”.

Cost: Free. Members receive free accommodation, food, and a small allowance.

More details: leeabbeydevon.org.uk/community/current-vacancies



The Scargill Movement occupies a house set in 90 acres of woodland in the Yorkshire Dales. Members of the community receive a room of their own, all meals, and a small allowance. Shaun Lambert, who is a member of the community, explains that their number has shrunk to “about 25 people, because of lockdown and Brexit”, but they are now seeking to recruit another ten people or so.

They are looking for people who feel that they have some sort of calling to community, he says, but they recognise that people have different motivations: “They may be looking to do something different, to have an adventure, or even to learn some new skills.”

Currently, there are opportunities to work in the kitchen and in housekeeping, administration, estate work, and maintenance.

Cost: Free. Members receive free accommodation, food, and a small allowance.

More details: scargillmovement.org/join-community

L’ArcheDerek and JB enjoy a jam at one of L’Arche’s UK centresL’ARCHE

L’Arche is a worldwide movement creating communities “of all faiths and none” in which people with and without learning disabilities live together. In the UK, L’Arche has 11 centres, and, each year, recruits about 100 assistants for year-long, live-in positions in the community. Comprehensive training is provided.

“We are looking for idealistic people who want to change the world,” L’Arche’s head of partnerships and communications, Chris Asprey, says. “You also need to be quite resilient and resourceful, because it’s going to be a year full of fun, but also of challenge.”

The recent impact of Covid has been “a mixed bag”, he says. “Locking down has put a renewed emphasis on the life of the home, and some have really appreciated that. For others, it has been very intense. However, whatever your experience as an assistant, I’m confident that it will be something that will shape you for the rest of your life.”

Cost: Those on a gap year receive free accommodation and food, as well as a small annual salary of £3571.

More details: larche.org.uk/assistants



Youth For Christ (YFC) has a gap-year programme, the Year Out. It runs from 1 September to 31 July 2023, and is open to anyone aged 17 to 25.

Beth Duder, who oversees it, says that she is looking for people who have an active faith and a passion to serve young people, and who want to grow and develop themselves.

“Year Outs” can choose to be based at either their own church, or one of YFC’s 60-plus centres in the UK, in which case they are placed with a host family. A third option is to join YFC’s digital-media team, or its touring band, the Sense.

YFCYouth for Christ “Year Out” candidates

Ten days of “quite intensive” training and team bonding at the start, usually in Kidderminster, are supplemented by further training each month thereafter.

This year, there are 18 Year Outs, Ms Duder says, after Covid “threw a spanner in the works” in 2020/1. “We’re trying as much as we can to give them a quality experience, but in the safest possible way.”

Cost: The all-inclusive cost is from £1495 to £3100. Year Outs are asked to raise this themselves with the active help of their families, friends, and churches; but there are bursaries available for those who simply cannot.

More details: yfc.co.uk/theyearout



The Pais Movement is a non-denominational mission organisation working on six continents. It offers a free mission year, in partnership with churches, to anyone aged 18 to 30, providing training in evangelism, discipleship, and Bible study. It seeks “to advance the Kingdom of God”.

All mission-year “apprentices” are placed in a host church in a team of two, three, or four. They live with host families, and their accommodation, meals, and travel costs are covered by that church.

Covid has created “a bit of a different climate”, the recruitment director for Pais British Isles, Anna Dawson, says. “Last year, we were flying by the seat of our pants, but not a single one of our apprentices dropped out, and I think that speaks volumes. Now we know that, if things go into lockdown again, we can still make an impact.”

Until recently, Pais had 60-70 apprentices worldwide each year. Currently, it has 22, but the aim is to expand to 30 or more this year. Intakes take place every January and August.

Cost: Free. But if applying to go overseas, apprentices are required to pay for their visa and travel to the country they choose to serve in.

More details: paismovement.com/mission-year-options

SWYMA session with South West Youth Ministries’ Be Transformed traineesSOUTH WEST YOUTH MINISTRIES

South West Youth Ministries (SWYM) is a youth ministry working with the diocese of Exeter and churches in the south-west of England. SWYM offers a one-year course, “Be Transformed”, which is designed to help young people aged 18 or over to develop practical ministry skills.

For ten months or so, starting every September, trainees are placed with churches and chapels in south-west England. “We work with each person to find them a placement we think will suit them and their personality, experience, and skills,” SWYM’s marketing co-ordinator, Tim Cadoux, says.

Trainees study for four to six hours a week towards Moorlands College’s course Engaging with Applied Theology. “The academic side is really to support what they’re doing on the ground,” Mr Cadoux says. And trainees attend six four-day conferences at Lee Abbey over the year.

Covid has been a challenge, Mr Cadoux admits, “but we’ve been really impressed by how creative the trainees have been. Even in the depths of lockdown, they have still actively engaged with children and young people.”

Cost: Each trainee is asked to contribute £250 towards the cost of the course. Host churches contribute a further £5000 towards the course, and provide accommodation for their trainee(s).

More details: swym.org.uk/training/be-transformed



Rock UK is a Christian charity with “a passion to invest in young people” through outdoor adventures. Its training programme for instructors is normally two years, but a limited number of one-year places are available. Previous experience is not required, but “you’ll need to have a servant heart and be prepared to put in hard work and devotion,” the website says.

The course is residential, and starts in September with three months’ intensive training in the Scottish Borders. The rest of the year is based at one of the charity’s four activity centres: in the Borders, Northamptonshire, Kent, or south Wales.

The past two years have felt the impact of the pandemic, Rock UK’s human-resources manager, Rachel Duggan, says, “but, hopefully, the 2022 cohort will have a much more normal experience.” In the past, second-years have gone on a mission trip to Lesotho, but currently this has been replaced by one in the UK, and some skiing in France.

Cost: There is no course fee. Rock UK provides accommodation (often shared), kit, and food, but does not cover personal expenses.

More details: rockuk.org/contact-us/careers/become-an-instructor



The Ministry Experience Scheme (MES) is the umbrella under which the Church of England offers young adults, aged 18 to 30, the opportunity to spend the best part of a year exploring God’s calling. The standard duration is from September to July, but there is usually some flexibility.

The majority of placements are in parish churches around the country, getting involved in the ministry of the churches, ranging from pastoral visiting to community outreach, children’s work, and foodbanks. There are also some chaplaincy places in schools or hospitals, and even in charities such as homeless shelters.

MES’s manager, Vic Wilson, describes the scheme as “a gracious space, with no defined outcome” (although something like one in three of the 100-odd participants each year eventually end up in ordained ministry).

The pandemic has affected take-up recently, he says, but the last year “was still a very successful year — just not quite the year people expected”.

Cost: The scheme is free: accommodation and living expenses are covered.

More details: cofe.io/mes


‘I fell in love with theology’

Aimée Campbell, aged 18, is currently on a gap year with South West Youth Ministries

Aimée Campbell

I FINISHED school in Antrim, Northern Ireland, in May. I have an offer from Plymouth University to study primary education, but someone encouraged me to do a gap year with [SWYM]; so I applied for their internship, which they call Be Transformed.

It was going to be a year when I could grow in my faith and learn more about God, and also make my mind up whether I wanted to become a primary-school teacher or a youth worker.

They give you a few different options of churches you can go to, and list the roles that are available in each one. At my interview, I said: “I was thinking Godfirst Church in Cheltenham,” and the lady said, “That’s crazy — we were thinking of that for you as well.” I asked whether I could do both youth and children’s work, and they allowed that.

I meet the other trainees who are close to me in Gloucester each Monday, and every six weeks or so SWYM has a four-day conference at Lee Abbey, where we all get teaching.

It was at the very first conference, just two weeks in, that I fell in love with theology. It completely changed my mind. I have such a thirst to know more I can’t imagine going to uni to study primary education instead, and so I’m going to turn Plymouth down.

I’m hoping now that, after this year is over, I can stay on in Godfirst to do a three-year degree in applied theology, delivered by Moorlands College. For so many years, I had been wanting to go to uni, but I feel so at peace about this.

Going to SWYM is honestly the best decision I’ve ever made. You don’t have to have a particular personality to fit in: everyone is so different, but we all love each other so much.

It was really scary to move from Northern Ireland to England, but the support that you get is just phenomenal. I really feel part of the family at Godfirst. I have a line manager in the church; I have our course tutor, who is always available; then we have our cluster leader. There are so many people you can go to, that you never feel alone.

‘I have not been wasting my brain’

Jacob Harpa, 22, is currently spending a year as part of the community at Scargill House

Jacob Harpa

I GRADUATED in May 2020. I did biomedical science at Teesside University, and had been thinking of going to work in an NHS hospital. I spent a while applying for jobs, and found that I wasn’t feeling as enthused by them as I had expected.

I felt I needed a bit more time to think, to deepen my connection to God and find out where he might want me to be.

I’ve known about Scargill House for many years — I’d been a few times as a child. I knew that it enriches people’s lives when they come as guests, and I’d heard stories of how much fun the community seems to have.

I applied simply to join the community for a year, and they decided where they felt I would fit in best. I’m on the kitchen team mostly, and every so often I help with the house team when they need an extra pair of hands. I enjoy cooking, and I’d done some catering for larger groups before with my mum.

There’s quite a lot of manual work, but I’ve not been wasting my brain. I’ve been trained up to lead kitchen shifts; so I’m in charge of a team of two to four people, and there’s a problem-solving element as well.

There are definitely opportunities here to take responsibility, learn new skills, have a go at things you might not do in a regular lifestyle. All the community take turns to plan and lead morning prayers, which is one of the things I enjoy most.

I have a contract, and I receive a monthly allowance. I have a room of my own, and we share communal areas.

Community life is not without challenge. Scargill is more isolated than I had realised, and the rhythm of life is very different from anything I had experienced before. But I really do enjoy it. It’s like having lots of uncles and aunts and older brothers and sisters, because most of them are that bit further on in life than I am.

I don’t yet know what I want to do next. My hope is that either through exploring my skills and talents I might come across something I want to pursue further, or I might meet a guest here who has an interesting career, and I’ll go: “Oh, maybe I should consider doing that.”

I think I will miss it when my year here ends.


Itching to go abroad?

Huw Spanner finds out how Covid has affected overseas gap-year plans


Church Mission Society (CMS) works in more than 40 countries on four continents, and offers opportunities both for gap years and for short-term mission, ranging from four months to two years.

CMS is not necessarily looking for people with a strong sense of calling, its vocational recruitment manager, Susann Haehnel, says, but “an openness to find out more about themselves and about God, and to grow, is really important.”

The past two years have been “really impacted” by Covid, Ms Haehnel says. “Not many people are committing to overseas gap years at the moment,” and the number on short-term mission with CMS has probably halved.

The pandemic is still “a massive issue” in many parts of the world, but CMS has so many partners worldwide that it has “a lot of flexibility” over placements, as long as people are willing to change their plans at short notice.

Cost: Many placements provide accommodation, but you will need to pay for your travel, insurance, and living costs, including food and spending money. CMS asks for a contribution of £350 towards the necessary training and checks, though there may be some leeway if this is a problem.

More details: churchmissionsociety.org/mission-opportunities/wonder-unique-new-christian-gap-year


Crosslinks sends out short-term volunteers to serve alongside established mission partners in Bible-based ministry, either as part of a small team or on individual placements.

Gap-year teams of up to ten school-leavers and two leaders usually go out for about five months to the Gambia, Kenya, or South Africa. Applicants must be committed Christians, British or Irish residents, and aged at least 18.

“Our desire for them is that their faith is strengthened, so that they go to university really wanting to live for Christ,” Crosslinks’ director of mission personnel, Beth Buchanan, says.

Crosslinks also tailors short-term mission trips for individuals and couples in Africa, Asia, Europe, or South America. Placements can last anything from two weeks to two or three years.

Over the past year, the pandemic has obliged Crosslinks to recall all its gap-year teams. It is not sending any in 2022, but is accepting applications for 2023.

“We’ll be doing interviews in the spring,” Ms Buchanan says, “very much in the expectation that they’ll be able to go.”

Cost: Gap-team members are expected to raise £3000 plus the cost of their flights.

More details: crosslinks.org/get-involved/go


Arab World Ministry of Pioneers (AWM) promotes the gospel in North Africa and the Middle East, and among the Arab diaspora in Europe.

For those who want to broaden their experience of the Arab world, or maybe to test a sense of calling, AWM offers tailor-made placements of anything between a month and a year (under the banner of “Venture”). It also sends out “Edge” teams of up to ten people, typically for one to three weeks at Easter, or over the summer.

Over the past two years, many placements have had to be cancelled, AWM’s training co-ordinator and mission mobiliser says. Currently, they are accepting applications “in hope and in faith. We’re planning to send people out, but if it’s not possible we’ll have to rethink and see what else we can do.”

Cost: Varies, from £400 a month for a placement in the UK to about £1000 a month overseas. AWM can give advice on fund-raising, and there are trusts that can help with grants.

More details: awm-pioneers.org/go/go-short-term


People International serves the Church in Central Asia, which it identifies as the least-reached region of the world. The organisation is necessarily guarded about its work, but invites enquiries from Christians aged 18-plus who want to experience new cultures, friendships, and cross-cultural mission and training, learn from seasoned missionaries and local believers, and engage Muslim people with the gospel and support the local church.

Cost: Its website mentions two-week team trips, costing in the region of £1000, including travel, as well as longer, tailor-made trips. Owing to Covid, it did not send anyone last year.

More details: peopleintl.org.uk/go-on-christian-mission-in-central-asia


OM Ships International operates the ship Logos Hope, a floating Christian bookshop largely crewed by volunteers which travels the world.

“The majority of our crew are people who have just left school and are happy to serve wherever there is a need,” Julie Knox, who handles the ship’s media relations, says.

Vounteers could be allocated to Logos Hope’s huge book fair, the ship’s galley, or its international café. Some may join the cleaning crew, others may be deckhands, working towards certification as seafarers.

All crew are given one day a week to join various outreach and ministry projects on-shore. Crew members follow local Covid regulations and restrictions in each port, and careful protocols on social distancing, hygiene, and mask-wearing at the book fair. All must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Cost: Depends on country of origin. Currently, British short-termers need to raise £840 per month for living costs, and are responsible for their flights, country-specific inoculations, and insurance.

More details: om.org/ships/1-2years


TeachBeyond UK offers opportunities to spend anything from three weeks to two years teaching English in Eastern Europe, South America, South-East Asia, and elsewhere.

“It’s exciting to see how the Holy Spirit is using the desire to learn English to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ,” its website says. “God is working through teachers, camp counsellors, and interns who have answered the call to go and serve.”

The agency invites anyone who is interested in serving through “transformational education” to get in touch “to start the conversation”.

More details: teachbeyond.org.uk/go/shortterm


Owing to the pandemic, USPG has presently suspended its programme “Journey With Us”, which usually offers placements of up to a year with churches overseas, open to anyone resident in Britain or Ireland aged 18 or over.

If you are interested in travelling with USPG once restrictions have been lifted, you are invited on its website to get in touch via its online form.

More details: uspg.org.uk/engage/travel

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