Ben Cola first encountered YWAM (Youth with a Mission) through social media.
‘When I saw what my friend was doing, I thought—that’s me. I want to go and see what God’s doing in other countries. I was so inspired, I just had to apply,’ Ben says with a huge grin.
The 24-year-old Fijian-born son of Salvation Army officers says his time as a participant with YWAM’s Discipleship Training School (DTS) has been life-changing.
A Bigger Picture
‘Through my time with YWAM, I’ve seen a much bigger picture of mission,’ Ben reports. ‘Mission is so much more than preaching and sharing the good news. It is those things, of course, but it’s so much more. It’s building a chicken fence or a house for those who don’t have one. It’s getting water for children. It’s spending time with people and sharing the word of God with them.’
Ben comes from a strong salvationist family, and he is both grateful and proud of his roots.
‘I had a solid faith experience growing up—even though we moved around a lot. My story’s different to many young people because I never went out to parties or anything. My friends think I’m weird,’ Ben laughs. ‘They would ask: “What do you mean you’ve never drunk alcohol or smoked cigarettes?” But I enjoyed helping out at the corps. I saw my parents’ ministry up close and was drawn to service. When Dad was the divisional commander, I had the chance to go with him to many places. I was always excited to see what God was up to in other corps and centres. It was so good for me.’
Getting the Party Started
When Ben finished high school, he headed off to university to do a Bachelor of Education. However, he left suddenly in 2014 because Fiji was poised to have its first election in eight years, having been under military rule since 2006.
‘When the Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi (Paramount Chief of the Burebasaga Confederacy) decided to run for election, I was prompted to get involved. I really wanted to help with the campaign because this election was so significant for Fiji.’
Ben may not have been to any parties growing up, but he got involved in helping run a different kind of party when it really mattered to Fiji.
Ben’s party went on to make up the opposition party in parliament. And for Ben the party was just getting started, as he was offered a job as media/research officer—which he accepted. For the next two years Ben got up close and personal with a whole other world to the one he was used to.
‘It was a great experience as I got to meet members of parliament and see how politics works,’ Ben affirms.
However, it wasn’t an easy time as Ben also got to see the uglier side of human nature as well.
‘I left when some of the MPs from our party tried to remove our leader Ro Teimumu Kepa. It was just like the movies with people making false allegations, digging up dirt and releasing it to the media. It was very challenging to be part of. I became disillusioned, so it was time to leave. And that was when YWAM popped up.’
YWAM is based all over the world. Ben went through an application process and joined seven other international participants, including a couple from Brazil, two Austrians, and three other individuals from Sweden, Korea and the USA.
Falling in Love
Ben’s group spent three months in class, and then two months on overseas mission to Thailand, Cambodia and—wait for it—Kaitāia here in Aotearoa.
‘I fell in love in Kaitāia,’ Ben enthuses. ‘God has given me a love for Māori people. I will be a Fijian in Māori Ministries,’ he laughs. ‘I learnt so much about the problems faced by Māori and the history of what happened here in New Zealand. That interest grew in me as I learnt about the haka and the culture, and it grew into a deep love. I feel so drawn to work with and serve the Māori people of Aotearoa. I loved Congress this year—seeing Māori Ministries leading and all the cultural elements woven together. It was very special,’ says Ben.
Confirming a Calling
‘Being an officer’s kid, of course people think it’s good and right for me to become an officer. But I needed to hear from God through someone outside The Salvation Army.’
YWAM has been an important part of the journey of confirmation for Ben.
‘As part of the DTS classes, we had a series on the Holy Spirit. At the end of the course we had a speaker come in who had the gift of prophecy. She prayed over me and said: “Ben I see you as a pastor. You’re called to be a pastor and minister within the church”. That moment was the confirmation I needed because she didn’t know me or my family.’
Ben is now an accepted candidate for officer training.
A Word for Other Young Men and Women on a Mission…
To anyone out there thinking about their future and what service could look like, Ben strongly recommends YWAM.
‘So often God wants to take us out of our comfort zone to grow us spiritually and reveal things to us—that’s certainly what happened for me. So, while we may have our plans for the year ahead and even start making those plans, God will have the final say. Trust him. His plans are what matter the most.’