By Katie Sobiech
Jennifer Patterson, Director of Youth with a Mission (YWAM) Akron, gave herself fully to the outreach after first experiencing it at age 16. Since then she has lived in Australia and Mexico and traveled to over 26 nations.
Her travels have taught her lessons worth more than gold, and left a legacy beyond what anyone can imagine.
“We saw hundreds of kids come to know the Lord while in Australia. And in Mexico we saw so many people either return to the Lord or come to the Lord,” Patterson said.
She also taught the teachings of Jesus to those in India, Malaysia and Taiwan where she had life-changing experiences.
“It was incredible because you have people that worship many, many, many gods. We would get up where there was a large crowd, or a just few people, and say ‘How many of you would like to know Jesus?’ And all of the hands would go up and we would have to say ‘But if you accept Jesus you have to deny all your other gods.’ And some hands would go down because that was foreign to them. They just wanted to add Jesus to the mix,” Patterson said.
“It’s interesting because even coming back to the United States, even on this missions field, we may not say we have these hundreds of gods, but we do,” Patterson continued.
Lessons from the World
Even in the “Christian world” Patterson challenges us to question ‘I’ve accepted Jesus as Lord, but is he really my Lord? Is He on the throne of my heart?’
Her words are thought provoking and deep.
“In all of the nations that I’ve traveled to, all over Asia, Europe and up into Siberia and some different places, when people connect to God, all of a sudden they realize that He is worth everything,” Patterson said.
“We talk about God so loved the world that He gave his only son (John 3:16), but the other leg of it is in Luke 9:23 where it talks about we need to pick up our cross and follow Him and deny ourselves daily. It’s receiving God’s love and yet it’s dying to self so that He can really live,” Patterson continued.
A person cannot stay the same after encountering what she did.
“I’ve experienced so many things overseas where you just see complete poverty. People don’t have anything and yet those that know God have joy like I’ve not seen. They’re so generous and so full of life,” Patterson said.
While in Japan, China, Korea and Hong Kong, Patterson’s heart was touched in a way that will never leave her memory.
“It was life changing because you realize that it’s illegal to be a Christian in some of those countries,” she said, thankful for the freedoms she has.
While there they traveled the streets as a performing arts team, singing and dancing all over, reaching many for Christ.
“There are thousands upon thousands of people coming to know Jesus in countries where doors are supposedly closed,” Patterson said of the effects of YWAM.
Bringing the Nations to Akron
All of this has inspired and put a fire within Patterson’s heart for missions in Akron. To bring the spiritual treasures she’s gleaned overseas, here.
Interestingly enough, they aren’t far from North Hill and the International Institute of Akron, where many local refugees are being placed. Most of them are Bhutanese from Nepal and Bhutan.
“Refugees don’t have a choice where they’re placed, but immigrants choose to come to the country. Refugees are usually from war-torn or impoverished countries,” Patterson said of their plight.
Much of her experience over the years abroad is now being used right here.
“We have over 1,000 refugees from Bhutan in Akron, plus more than 1,000 Burmese refugees in Akron. So we’re working closely with other organizations that are working with them,” she continued.
Reaching out to the local internationals has been strongly on their hearts.
“This past week I was in three different homes of refugees. We were able to just sit and talk. Some of them wanted prayer for healing, so we prayed for them, welcoming them and becoming their friends because they’ve been placed. So in a sense, it’s like God is bringing the nations to us as well,” Patterson said.
YWAM staff is helping teach English to the refugees, along with the International Institute of Akron, who is doing a tremendous job.
The refugees have even set up a small Bhutanese church in Akron that some of YWAM’s volunteers have been helping out with as well.
“It’s all about showing them love,” Patterson said.
“I’m a part of a lot of different networks,” Patterson shared, showing the importance of unity.
Some of these networks include Love Akron, ACTS and Harvest.
“It’s a bunch of us Christian leaders that get together and we mainly pray for the city and then find out what each other are doing so we can encourage one another,” Patterson said.
And it isn’t uncommon for the YWAM crew to see miracles during prayer as they minister throughout the city.
“A friend had sprained her ankle horribly and was on crutches. So I got down on my knees in the Student Union, laid hands on her ankle, and she was totally healed and walked out of there and somebody else carried her crutches,” Patterson shared.
“We want to see God’s power of release. We want to see people know God is real. We want people to come to Jesus, be healed and set free from addictions,” she continued.
And they refuse to be confined by four walls.
“(We want to) get out of the buildings and get where the people are. You’ll hardly find me here,” Patterson said of her office, “I’m out there, or I’m meeting with someone over a cup of coffee.”
Future Hopes and Dreams
In the future YWAM Akron hopes to have a discipleship training school in Akron, which is a 5-6 month training program for those that want to go deeper in their involvement.
“It’s the launching pad into YWAM, if you want to go further with the mission, or if you want to get a greater understanding of missions and really allow God to change your whole view on how He sees the world, and then find how you can impact the world through whatever sphere you’re involved in,” Patterson said.
They also hope to have a place of prayer, possibly called the Akron House of Prayer, with 24/7 prayer and worship.
“People will come and pray or be prayed for and then go on with their day,” Patterson said.
They are also currently seeking full-time staff.
For more info. on YWAM please call 330.328.5971, or visit http://www.ywam.org.