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  • bwriley4

It's Story Time! How YWAM Oak Haven began....

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

At the beginning of 2019, I (Bryan) thought God told me that "Now is the season to take care of your parents." This was something I knew my family wouldn't be ready to hear, as we had lived for 9 years in Kona, Hawaii, training families for missions. A typical year for us was doing training September through May in Hawaii and leading families on outreaches overseas, from June through August. The ministry we led, Family Discipleship Training School at YWAM Kona, had grown to the point where things were going quite well. We had a robust staff team working with us, and our kids enjoyed their schools and activities. Taking care of parents would mean leaving Family DTS, YWAM Kona, Hawaii, the home we had known for 9 years, and moving back to Northwest Arkansas, facing the tough challenges of the daily care of parents who were nearing death.

After a couple of months of processing through this with my family, we all agreed that it was time to make that move in obedience to the Lord. So, in June of 2019 we began the journey home. After much prayer, God led us to the city of Siloam Springs, not a place we expected to live and not a place where we knew anyone.

We had three different temporary living situations - in a missionary apartment and in two other family's homes - before we could buy a home in December of 2019. During this time we were still traveling a lot, teaching and ministering, right up until COVID began shutting down the world. And, in March of 2020, my dad began needing 24-hour hospice care. So, one of my brothers and I began living with him to provide that care. From the end of March 2020 until my dad passed on this day one year ago, November 4, 2020, I would stay with my dad from Monday through Thursday, and my brother would be with him from Thursday through Monday morning.

This was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and, as the months grew long, I began wondering when the "season of caring for my parents" would end. I longed to get back out into the world. At the same time, COVID prevented travel generally, so I could focus completely on my dad's care.

After he died I began praying earnestly: "God, what's next?" In my mind we would be moving again, joining up with a YWAM base some where in the world. But my wife, Tara, kept telling me it wasn't time to make a major move. Our daughters (in high school), needed to stay connected and finish high school, said Tara. This frustrated me, and I was struggling a lot from caring for my dad and his death; I didn't want to hear this. It made me feel trapped, and I began to think Tara wasn't really listening to God.

One day in March 2021 I was jogging in Siloam Springs. I began complaining to God. I prayed this: "God, I don't know what's wrong with Tara, but she isn't listening. We said we would go wherever you lead, but she says we have to stay here. Please tell her where we are to go. She won't listen to me, but she will listen to you." As I prayed that prayer, and believe me, it wasn't prayed kindly, I heard God say, "Bryan, I have spoken to Tara, and you need to listen to her."

I was devastated. I ran home to tell Tara what happened, and I hoped she would have some great message from God. She had no clue what any of that meant; she simply knew we weren't supposed to run off anywhere. And, really, that was what I wanted to do. I was trying to make an escape from my problems a "God" solution, when God had much better plans.

The good news is that this word from God - to listen to Tara - drove us together and we began to seek God's direction together. From that place we began to see that God called us to Arkansas not only to care for our parents, but also to "redeem what was lost at Elm Springs."

YWAM had a large training base in Elm Springs, Arkansas, about 20 miles from us, from 1975-2002. It closed due to some very difficult circumstances. God was asking us to bring YWAM back to Northwest Arkansas and to see his purposes fulfilled here again. That began our journey of pioneering a new base here, something we weren't planning to do!

At first, we had no clue how we could do that. In fact, I felt a bit hopeless. I complained to God: "We've been doing YWAM for 15 years! We have no money or land!" But God was so faithful to his word. After I gave God my "Yes" on April 1, 2021, I began praying about where we should start the base. I didn't even know if it would be in Siloam Springs or if it would be located in Fayetteville or Bentonville or somewhere else. The first thing I heard from God was that it would be multiple locations and just to trust him.

After many more miles of running and much prayer, we were set up to meet Dave and Leola Leetch, the son and widow of one of the Co-Founders of DaySpring Greeting Cards, on April 30th. Af this meeting, they shared the story of Don Leetch and Dean Kerns, the founders of DaySpring. It's an amazing story that I will tell in another post soon. But, Don and Dean also founded Oak Haven, a non-profit dedicated to equipping the body of Christ to take the gospel of Jesus to the Nations. Before they passed away, they personally gave about 400 acres and what had been the buildings of DaySpring to Oak Haven, because they knew the land had been set apart by God for training, prayer, and to be a place of rest and refuge.

As a result, Leola looked at Tara and me across her dining table, full of delicious food, and said the following: "I've been praying for 42 years to see the fruit of my husband's vision for this land. God told me I would see it one day and that I would be the answer to someone's prayers and they would be the answer to mine. I believe that you and Tara are the answer to those prayers."

At that wonderful dinner, on April 30, 2021, YWAM Oak Haven was born. From the legacy of Don Leetch and Dean Kerns and DaySpring Greeting Cards, including decades of prayer and passion, we began journeying with the Leetches and many others to see YWAM Oak Haven created. We are overjoyed to partner with Oak Haven, Outreach Center Church, Kind At Heart, and Upward Fitness (and others who will come - more about this in another post) to bring God's Kingdom and authentic Christian community to life here in beautiful Northwest Arkansas.

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