The year 2020 is a time of celebration for Loren Cunningham. It marks his 85th birthday and the 60th anniversary of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), which he and his wife Darlene founded. YWAM has since grown into one of the world’s largest Christian mission movements.
I have had the privilege of knowing and serving with Loren Cunningham for four decades, and he is still the humble and generous man who long ago opened the door for me to live a life of missions and service to the poor.
Loren himself grew up in a family that was poor, but one rich in good works. He was born June 30, 1935, in Taft, California. Taft was a dusty oil town when his parents Tom and Jewell Cunningham arrived there as itinerant pastors and church planters. They often used their own meager resources to pioneer the next new work. Loren watched his parents also give generously to foreign missions. Loren was deeply impacted by his parents’ lifestyle of generosity and he observed firsthand God’s miraculous provision for their family.
In the early years as YWAM began to grow, Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene made a critical operating decision based on God’s leading. They would not pay their missionaries. Everyone who was called to be a full-time YWAM missionary, including Loren and Darlene, would raise their own financial support, trusting God for their provision. That decision would impact the growth of YWAM all around the world for decades to come.
Through YWAM’s 60 years, Loren and Darlene Cunningham have received no salary. In 1991 Loren wrote a book entitled Daring to Live On The Edge which articulates through stories and Biblical principles how to live by faith. The book is written both for those called to full-time missions and for those who have a vocational call to work in other spheres of society. Every believer is to acknowledge that all the wealth in the world is God’s as He created it all (Psalm 50). We are simply stewarding whatever God has entrusted to us.
As a young man Loren Cunningham graduated from Central Bible College and went on to get a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California. A hard worker and a good steward of money, as a young man he bought a small home and rented it out to cover the mortgage. A few years later, directed by God, he sold the house and gave the money to help purchase YWAM’s first property in Lausanne, Switzerland.
When the mission purchased a rundown, abandoned hotel in Kona, Hawaii in 1978, the Cunninghams moved into a mouse and cockroach-infested building with the rest of the Kona staff. Seven years later, on the 25th anniversary of YWAM, thousands of YWAM staff from many nations who had observed the Cunninghams’ sacrificial lifestyle took up an offering to help them purchase a home of their own. That home has welcomed thousands of international visitors, including me.
Loren Cunningham is one of the most generous people I know. His first book Is That Really You God has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in more than 150 languages. You would think Loren Cunningham would be rich, however he declined to take any money from the book, rather he donated all the royalties and proceeds back to YWAM, so that more missionaries could be mobilized. Loren is an accomplished author and world-renowned public speaker and hetravels to remote parts of the world, often paying his own travel costs and he never requires a speaking fee or honorarium. He simply trusts God to provide like every other YWAMer around the world.
Are Loren and Darlene Cunningham wealthy? The world calculates net worth in financial terms, but the riches of the Cunninghams are of the spiritual and relational kind. Their lives of faith have produced kingdom fruitfulness that has been an example for millions of believers around the world. Loren and Darlene Cunningham have for decades consistently been generous and sacrificed their finances to see the Great Commission of Jesus Christ fulfilled.
What is the net worth of Loren and Darlene Cunningham? By any measure its very modest. Their true net worth has been in creating one of the world’s largest missions movements, while raising their own support to do it. Whatever finances Loren and Darlene Cunningham have has came from donors, who specifically designated those funds to them. Their financial support, like that of all the other YWAMers around the world, does not come from student fees or general donations to the work of YWAM. It comes from donors who give to a specific YWAM missionary.
Yes, the founders of one of the world’s largest mission movements live just like the newest 19-year-old recruit. Loren and Darlene Cunningham to this day are still trusting God to provide.
Join me in celebrating the 60th year of YWAM and the 85th birthday of Loren Cunningham, a remarkable, humble, faith-filled, trustworthy missionary, who has blessed the nations.
–by Sean Lambert, founder of YWAM’s Homes of Hope