Writer Jemimah Wright joined Youth with a Mission (YWAM) at the age of 18, here she pays tribute to its founder Loren Cunningham as he dies at the age of 88.


In the same year that George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation (OM) died, the announcement was posted last Friday that Loren Cunningham, Founder of Youth with a Mission (YWAM) went to be with Jesus on October 6, 2023, at the age of 88.

The official announcement of Loren’s death stated: "Loren was the first person in history to travel to every sovereign nation on earth, all dependent countries, and more than 100 territories and islands for the sake of Christ and the Great Commission (Mark 16:15). Now he has added one more “stamp” to his well-worn passport: HEAVEN!"

I am so grateful to Loren Cunningham, because being involved in YWAM changed my life. I went to do a Discipleship Training School (DTS) in Honolulu, Hawaii when I was eighteen. We had a three-month lecture phase, where I learned about the father heart of God and hearing his voice. Our group of young people then went on a three month outreach to the Philippines, where we worked with street children and in squatter villages. I saw a man with a withered leg, have his leg grow back in front of me in Jesus name. The Bible had come to life in front of me, it was as if we were living in the times of the Acts of the Apostles, and I didn’t want to do anything else!

Loren had a dream of waves of young people reaching every continent with the gospel.

I returned to England and university with a firm foundation in my faith, and a confidence in God and his goodness and power. All that was possible, because in Loren Cunningham said yes to the vision God had given him in 1956. YWAM was founded in 1960 after Loren had a dream of waves of young people reaching every continent with the gospel. What began as Loren, and his wife Darlene, has now become a global missionary organisation, training 25,000 short term mission volunteers annually, and 20,000 workers over 180 countries.

Loren has written many books, but it was Is that really you, God?: Hearing the Voice of God about his adventures hearing and obeying God, and the story of how YWAM started, that built my faith as I read of the faithfulness of God in impossible situations. One story was from 1967: Loren (who is from Southern California) felt God was saying they needed to have a "School of Evangelism" and it was to be in Switzerland. It seemed crazy, and Loren and Darlene asked God for confirmation. He wrote: "Two days before we were to leave [to Switzerland to scout for properties], I got an unexpected invitation to breakfast. Dad and his friend Willard Cantelon, a Bible teacher, had made a breakfast appointment. Willard called and insisted that Dad bring me along... "Loren, I have a message for you." Willard said: "The Lord has been planting the idea in my mind that someone should start a school in Switzerland. Last night He told me you are to be the one."


YWAM and the Cunningham’s had no money to buy a building in Switzerland, but they trusted the Lord would provide. They felt God was asking them to sell their "nest egg" house in California and give all the money to help purchase YWAM’s first property in Lausanne. They did, and as a result had no earthly "fall back" of a home and finances.

What I find so beautiful is that on the 25th anniversary of YWAM, thousands of YWAM staff from around the world, who had seen the Cunningham’s sacrificial lifestyle, took up an offering to help them purchase a home of their own. They bought a home next to the new YWAM base which was being built from a rundown abandoned hotel in Kona, Hawaii and is now YWAM’s University of the Nations.

On the 25th anniversary of YWAM, staff who had seen the Cunningham’s sacrificial lifestyle, took up an offering to help them purchase a home of their own.

I had lunch in that very home in 2018. Loren, was warm and generous, a visionary and captivating story-teller. His wife, Darlene, had had a health scare, and I remember his concern for her, they had a very close marriage, and seemed a perfect team. They were both humble and kind, focused on obeying what God had asked of them.

In his last years, Loren was passionate about Oral Mother Tongues (OMT). He said: "The biggest vision that I could ever imagine is to get the Bible and the message of Jesus in every language on earth."

There are still generations of young people realising what it means to lay down their lives for Jesus, through YWAM’s discipleship training school. Recently I met a 19-year-old girl who had been doing a DTS in Muizenberg, Cape Town. She was overflowing with excitement at hearing Gods voice, and seeing him move in miraculous ways in her life. 

Thank you Loren, for your life of service, and your obedience to God’s call.