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Many major universities are recommending that after high school, students take a “gap year” to pursue greater life experience and leadership training. According to Good Morning America, “Higher education experts say that giving students an opportunity to explore the real world helps them mature. And early research reveals that once they restart their academic studies, they actually perform better than those who go straight from high school to college.” We believe that students who choose to take a “gap year” at RDS will gain crucial life experience and become more focused in their vocational pursuit.


The Refuge Discipleship School is a unique Masters Commission program designed for college-age students seeking to discover God’s individual plan and purpose for their life. Our heart is for students to experience life-changing growth through intense discipleship, academics, and ministry training. At the Refuge Discipleship School, we believe that students can be equipped with vital life skills by taking a “gap year,” and committing one year of their life to maturing spiritually, relationally, and emotionally. The Refuge Discipleship School is a three-year program that is broken up into three nine-month periods: First Year Discipleship, Second Year Leadership Training, and Third Year Internship. RDS is dedicated to identifying and training next generation leaders; whether students feel called to venture out into full time ministry or to enter the business world. The Refuge Discipleship School aims to instill biblical principles, theological education, Christian character, and leadership training; which will equip them to effectively demonstrate the power and the love of Christ to everyone they encounter.

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Academics are a valued part of the Refuge Discipleship School. We believe that gaining knowledge is a vital part of discipleship, and we encourage students to become successful and God-honoring disciples by obtaining a biblically sound education. RDS has partnered with Ecclesia College, a Christian college located in Springdale, Arkansas, that provides RDS students with the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of college credit. All credits earned at RDS can be transferred to Ecclesia College, where students can continue to pursue their degree either online or on-site, in Arkansas.

Ecclesia College offers a range of ministry degrees and seeks to train leaders, seeking to go into full-time ministry and serve the Lord on the mission field. Below is a summary of the course study that is offered at RDS. For more information about Ecclesia College visit www.ecollege.edu.

Ecclesia College receives institutional accreditation for higher education with the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE). ABHE is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and Council for higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

(Bib 101.1) Bible Journal: Old Testament
(Bib 101.2) Bible Journal: New Testament
(Bib 102) Scripture Memory 1
(Bib 203) Bible Study Methodology

(Dis 100) Basic Evangelism/Soul Winning
(Dis 101) Prayer Habit: Lab
(Dis 103) Christian Interpersonal Relationship
(Dis 104) Principles of Spiritual Authority
(Dis 106) The Disciple and Health
(Dis 108) The Disciple and Money
(Dis 109) Christian Character

(The 101) Spiritual Warfare/Deliverance 1
(The 102) Theology of Discipleship
(The 104) World Religions/Cults

(Min 100) Public Presentation/Speech 1
(Min 101) Children’s Ministry 1
(Min 102) Youth Ministry 1
(Min 103) Eldercare 1
(Min 104) Urban Outreach 1
(Min 105) Programmed Outreach 1
(Min 107) Drama as Applied Ministry 1
(Min 108) Music as Applied Ministry 1
(Min 109) Media as Applied Ministry 1
(Min 111) School Mentoring

Ministry Training


We believe that true discipleship not only occurs in the classroom but also through hands-on ministry training. Using an apprenticeship method, RDS students will gain experience through Expeditions and RDS links. This allows students to be exposed to different cultures, various ministry methods, ministry etiquette, and how to build healthy relationships in the community. This exposure helps develop various giftings, talents and teaches students how to effectively engage the world with the Gospel, while gaining practical life experience.


At RDS, we believe in responding to the Great Commission: to GO into all the world and share the great news of Jesus and of His power to transform lives. At least twice a year RDS will travel to various locations in the US, sharing and performing in church services and at outreach opportunities. We will do training and hands on ministry with youth groups and serve other ministries in a variety of ways. Foreign mission trips will also be planned for our students in the future.


The purpose of RDS Links is to give each student the opportunity to partner with various ministries outside the classroom to equip them with real life experience while discovering new giftings they may have. RDS Links is designed to pull out the potential in each student and inspire them to dive deeper into their talents and the calling God has on their lives.

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Leadership Team

Abe Ortega grew up in Inglewood, California and moved to Birmingham, Alabama when he was 18 years old to attend Birmingham Metro Master’s Commission (BMMC). He worked with BMMC for 10 years and was the Assistant Director to Pastor Mark Sims. Abe has a deep love for the arts and an appreciation for all things creative. He is also gifted in pulling out the creativity in those around him. His passion is discipleship and he believes that while all believers are called to be fishers of men, some are called to “clean the fish.” Abe’s heart is to “help clean fish” by preparing disciples to go into all the world, being the salt and carrying His light. Abe received his bachelors degree in Christian Leadership from Ecclesia College. For fun, he enjoys being with people, growing relationships, and going to the movies!

Abe & Kourtney Ortega
RDS Directors


The Refuge

The Refuge is a thriving non-denominational community of believers in the greater Charlotte NC area. We embrace people of all economic, social and cultural backgrounds, and believe in being the church, not just doing church.  From its simple beginnings in 2004, The Refuge has grown into a multi-campus church that is impacting North Carolina, our Nation, and countries around the world. Visit www.TheRefuge.net for more information

Lead Pastors

With a strong desire to see people changed, connected, and challenged in terms of their faith. Jay and Melanie Stewart started The Refuge, a thriving non-denominational church in the greater Charlotte, North Carolina region. in the spring of 2004. They believe that a healthy local church is the hope of the world, which is why they have empowered and encouraged people to strive for greater health and not perfection. Jay’s uncompromising commitment to the Word of God, along with a creative teaching style, Kingdom mindset and vision, love for people, passion for God’s presence, and spirit-filled life and focus have helped build a multi-site church that preaches “being, not just doing church.” Jay carries an apostolic anointing, coaches other church planters and pastors, and serves in many leadership capacities. Explore the wide range of inspirational resources from Pastor Jay through his blog archives at www.JayStewart.tv .

Jay and Melanie have been married since 1983 and have four children and one grandson.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the schools hours and how many days is RDS per week?

RDS classes are in session Sunday – Thursday. Our days start at 9:00 am and end at 5:00 pm. RDS students will have a day off most Fridays and Saturdays. Off-days are subject to change depending on ministry and outreach events.

How much is tuition?

Tuition is $5,600

What does tuition cover?

Tuition covers housing, a food stipend, all stateside ministry trips, and program costs. International missions trips are not covered in tuition.

Do I have to have all my tuition upfront?

We understand that not all accepted students will have all of the required tuition upfront, so different payment plans are available.

For all students a $1,000 movie-in fee is due at the beginning of the year. After this, there are two other ways to finance the year. The total amount of tuition can be in two halves at the beginning and half-way point of the year, respectively. The third option is a monthly payment plan that is withdrawn automatically from an account that the student or person responsible provides.

Do I have to live in student housing if I live locally?

Yes. Our student housing will play a vital role in supporting our mission here at RDS by creating an atmosphere that encourages personal, social, and spiritual development.

Are students allowed to work during the year?

Yes. The RDS schedule has two off days built in, which are encouraged to be taken to work. It is important that students understand that some required ministry opportunities occur during off days, so we encourage students to communicate with their employers ahead of time. We ask that students plan their work schedule around their RDS schedule.

Are first year students allowed to date?

RDS is affiliated with Master’s Commission International Network. All groups that are affiliated with MCIN require that students fast dating during their first year. We don’t believe that dating is wrong, but we feel this is a year students should set aside dating relationships. In doing so, students are focused on making God the only object of their affection.

Can my family visit me during the year?

Yes. We welcome any RDS student’s family to visit throughout the year. We simply ask that family members call ahead to ensure that the RDS students are not out of town.

Are there any other requirements to join RDS?

Yes. Every RDS applicant must be at least 18 years old and must have a High School Diploma or GED.

What will a typical day look like?

RDS generally keeps a very active schedule. Every morning, students will spend time in prayer, devotion, and worship. Afterward, students will have a few hours of academic and college courses. After lunch, RDS students will participate in various Ministry Tracks such as Youth, Children, Theatre, Music, etc. or prep for different ministry opportunities.

When does the program begin and end? Are there any breaks?

RDS officially begins Labor Day weekend and ends on Memorial Day weekend. There will be breaks for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break.

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Jesus Culture Director

“I believe God’s heart is burning for cities to be saved and nations to be transformed and He is raising up a generation who will give themselves fully for the cause of Christ in the earth. Refuge Discipleship School is for those whose heart is to be trained as leaders and sent into cities and nations to see Jesus get His full reward. Set in the context of a thriving local church, RDS is strategically positioned to provide the training and equipping necessary for leaders to be raised up and sent into every realm of society to fulfill the call of God on their lives.”

MCIN Executive Board
BMMC Director 

“RDS is a Master’s Commission program that puts discipleship first. The ministry team and facilities of The Refuge provide an ideal environment for a young person’s spiritual development. Abe Ortega’s extensive training in leadership insures that RDS will lead the way in creativity, motivation, and excellence. I worked side by side with Abe for a decade. I highly recommend the discipleship experience at RDS!”

Speaker | Author

“There is nothing more awesome than seeing young people explode in their passion for God and grow in their God-given gifts. It’s that discipleship piece that Jesus, Himself, modeled while on the earth and gave us the same assignment to do. It’s one of the key reasons I love and support RDS. Not only do they have a plan for training leaders and growing disciples, but they facilitate the talents and gifts in each student to be used for the Kingdom. Abe Ortega and his team are among the finest leaders I know. I can’t recommend RDS more.”


“In three decades of ministry,  I’ve seen the fruit of good discipleship  and I’ve seen the lack thereof. One thing for sure, a vessel that has been honed and mentored properly is one equipped to write history. I believe in Abe and RDS, and have seen the fruit up close of the World Shakers that come through RDS. It’s no secret that radical revolutionary revivalists aren’t born that way, they are made and fashioned. To give one or two years of your life to your future and the Kingdom is a great investment and RDS is the place to do it”

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