In the midst of hundreds of traditional gap year experiences, Church Army is offering a year out with a difference – in fact, it's so close to home they call it a 'year in'.
The Xplore initiative, for those aged between 18 and 25, has been designed with the aim of introducing young people to mission in a community context.
While many programmes send their participants abroad for months at a time, Xplore chooses to engage in missional activities on home turf.
Those who take part in the scheme continue to live in their home towns, but receive weekly online training and support from a centralised team and engage with other young people through a designated forum.
Though home mission is encouraged, Xplore also offers regular residential weekends, in addition to the opportunity to take part in short-term mission placements in Romania and across other parts of the UK away from where they live.
"The Xplore 'year in' seeks to shape itself around your circumstances and grow out of your heart for mission," says programme leader Neville Barnes.
"We are a community who deeply want to see our cities and towns transformed as people encounter Jesus."
Rosie Elwood, who graduated from the scheme last summer, shared experiences with Christian Today and how being part of Xplore helped her to grow in evangelism.
CT: Hi Rosie. Can you tell us why you decided to join the Xplore programme?
RE: I couldn't make up my mind about university, and started looking for an alternative. I knew someone who had done a year with Xplore, so I went for it.
CT: Where were you based and what were you involved in?
RE: I was based in south east London and involved with community coffee drop-ins and after school kids clubs. I spent some time with XLP on their bus project, and went on home visits. Most of the people I worked with were vulnerable adults and children.
CT: How did you learn and grow through it?
RE: I learnt that my opinion or solution to a dilemma might not be the best one, which is no bad thing. It helped me to see the importance of learning from others. I have learned some of the ways in which God speaks to my heart and how that affects how I interact with different people. I learnt and continue to learn the importance of listening: to God and to others.
CT: What has it taught you about mission?
RE: Mission is the Kingdom of God at work, which is happening all the time, and it's a decision of my heart to join in. I can ask the Lord "What work have you got for me today? Help me, Jesus, to live today for you and in your will. Help me to be aware of your Holy Spirit moving in my conversations with others." I have learned that mission is full of grace. I have received more grace than I can comprehend and I believe and desire for that to shape how I relate to others and understand myself.
CT: How have you learned of the importance of mission in the context of community?
RE: Mission in the context of community allows for accountability amongst Christians involved. It also allows for accountability in the words spoken and actions of those Christians amongst those who don't know God yet. Mission in community should mean that no one journeys through life knowing God alone.
CT: What are you doing now - how has the year prepared you for what comes next?
RE: I am currently living in my hometown of Nottingham, working as a waitress. I am also involved with the current Xplore programme that consists of doing mission work where I am, in my familiar environment, receiving weekly teaching and community online once a week. This is dotted with face-to-face meet ups with others across the UK who are also involved.
I am continuing to learn what it is to serve. My previous year with Xplore opened up many areas and ways to serve others. And I continue to learn even more about serving as a waitress. Slowly, bit by bit, my mindset continues to change into one that is intentionally aware and engaged knowing that God is at work continually and is asking me to join in.