Students Take a Stand Against Corruption

Africa is plagued by corruption and Ghana is no exception. No matter where you go it seems someone is expecting a pay-off, a favour, or ‘a little something’ just to do what they are paid to do. This problem is a hindrance to national development and a major blight on the character of a nation where more than 60% of the population claim to be Christian.

But what is the source of this corruption? Where there is fruit, we must examine the root, and one place where seeds of corrupt practices are sown is in the examination halls. Cheating, in one form or another, has become endemic on our campuses. Students from the IFES movement in Ghana (GHAFES) are however taking a stand.

Last year, GHAFES students at the University of Cape Coast decided to launch the project C.A.M.E. – Campaign Against Malpractice in Examination. This campaign focuses on Christian students, many of whom have bought into the growing culture of cheating while adopting an ‘everyone is doing it’ attitude to the issue. Its aim is to remind these students that cheating in examinations is a sin and challenge them to refrain from doing it, thus setting an example on the campus at large and raising the standard for integrity.

GHAFES students are using a variety of innovative and creative approaches to raise the issue on campus. These include a banner (see image), flyers, stickers and posters. A video documentary was broadcast in six different halls on campus to expose and highlight the issue. The campaign also included four interactive hall forums where these hidden bannercorruptiondeeds could be brought to light and steps taken to address them.

Some students reacted negatively to the campaign and asked GHAFES to stop it, believing it to be a hindrance to their progress on campus. Nonetheless, GHAFES students are continuing their efforts, trusting that “Better is the poor who walks in integrity than a rich man who walks in crooked ways” (Proverbs 28:6). What have been the results?

We have so far seen students making open pledges not to cheat in exams and we trust that such open confessions will guide us all and keep us in shape. A lot of the Christian students we interacted with did not see anything wrong with helping other students in the exams hall. Through the campaign they realized that both giving help and receiving help are wrong. (Elikem Aflakpui, GHAFES president at the University of Cape Coast)

We praise God for these students who are taking the initiative to change their campus and pray for their ongoing efforts to bear fruit – not just on the campus, but throughout Ghanaian society.

Victor Obeng (info(at)ghafes.org)
General Secretary of GHAFES

An Arts Festival for Justice communicates a Word of Hope

Whenever I now approach Scripture, I’m amazed at how much it has to say about justice. This awareness grew in me through our preparations for last year’s “Arts Festival for Justice.” As a local student group of GEU (the IFES movement in Guatemala), we organized this festival as a public one-day event at our university. We invited the student body to come and express their view of justice through the arts (literature, drama, music, photography, etc.), while ourselves preparing artistic presentations from a Christian worldview.

God led us in a learning process as we prepared for the festival. Corruption and injustice are the daily bread in our country. Some time ago, we invited students to ask God a question. Many responses were related to justice issues, e.g. ‘Doesn’t the lack of justice in our context speak of an indifferent or non-existent God?’ We were shocked to realize that even in the light of such a reality, we had a very shallow idea of biblical justice.

We plunged into the Word of God and in a very exciting journey found transforming truths and more hard questions. We found a just God, tremendously interested in justice. We found the whole human race and ourselves guilty, unjust, inclined to do wrong. We found hope for humanity in a unique sacrifice that justifies, redeems, restores and transforms us from serving injustice to becoming bearers of justice in our time today – whilst hoping for the day when justice will be complete.

As a part of our preparation, we also visited some of the injustices in our city. One image has stayed with me, from a visit to the Guatemala City dump: a single mother living with nine children in a four square meter house; scavengers searching in the trash for food or something they could sell. And in the midst of it, us having a Bible study on how God sees Hagar and has mercy on the downtrodden.

The insights we gained through Scripture inspired us to create a number of artistic artsfestival2presentations for the festival. One of these was a play based on Romans and the theme of justice which some staff from COMPA Mexico wrote and helped us prepare.

Around 650 students came to the festival and more than 100 students contributed with artistic presentations. We are so thankful that the university gathered enthusiastically around a theme on which the Bible has so much to say. Art was a great vehicle to communicate biblical truths and address questions about God, us, and the world. We praise God, for his Word brings true life and hope to our lives, to the university, to our societies.

Jhonny Corado (jhonnycorado(at)hotmail.com)
Art student – GEU Guatemala; coordinator of the Arts Festival

Loving God’s Word

The Bible in my hand is the proof that God loves me.
Bible study is like entering into a marriage.

These statements are from Klaingar Ngarial who serves on the IFES regional team in French-speaking Africa. When I heard Klaingar use this love language to speak of Scripture engagement, I wanted to know more.

Why do you see the Bible as proof of God’s love to you?
Without the Bible, it would be impossible to know God and that is the biggest tragedy imaginable. Knowing God is the aim of everything which exists. God has given us the possibility to know him. At any given moment, I have access to his word.

In which ways is Bible study like entering into a marriage?
Both are about being together with another person. That forms us. Both when marrying and when studying the Bible, we need to want the other person and accept that this person has an influence on us.
As we read in the Bible, our thoughts and feelings are increasingly conformed to God’s Word. This process leads to deeper community with God.

What motivates you to read in the Bible?
I want to live in obedience towards God. And so, I don’t make my Bible reading dependent on whether I feel like it or not. And then, I am motivated by the desire to know God, to discover more of him. I can be in conversation with the creator of everything which exists! I can speak to him and he answers me as I meditate on his Word. Scripture leads to relational experiences with God.

As you read this interview, what thoughts come to your mind? What motivates you to read in the Bible? What images would you use to describe Scripture engagement?

As I travel around the IFES world, I meet numerous students for whom Bible reading has become a burdensome duty. Many of them grew up hearing ‘As a good Christian you must read your Bible’ – but they never really understood or internalized why it is important.

How can we help students grasp what a precious gift Scripture is to us? If we want to see students who are passionate about God’s Word, it is not enough to teach them methods of Bible study! We need to find ways of growing their love for God’s Word.

Sabine Kalthoff

Uncover – Introducing your Friends to Jesus

They say that the best ideas are often the simplest ones. Uncover is a simple idea – an attractively designed Bible study resource with a series of six evangelistic studies in Luke’s gospel. This booklet can be used in small groups or more informally in one-to-one meetings.

Along with it, a special “Uncover” edition of Luke’s gospel was published. It encourages seekers to go beyond reading just the passages which are included in the Bible study booklet to discovering the whole story of Jesus. This gospel edition includes links to short online videos which speak to some of the questions which seekers might have as they read the gospel.

After an initial training phase, the IFES movement in Great Britain (UCCF) challenged all of their core student members to read Luke’s gospel with at least five of their non-Christian friends.

Sam Hardy dared to take up this challenge: ‘I shyly asked my flatmate to do the Uncover study with me and he thoroughly enjoyed it. He has since become a Christian.’

Ed was invited to an Uncover Bible study by his Christian friend Jonno. He shares: ‘I found it interesting to look at the gospel in depth with someone who knew more about it. The more I read, the more I wondered if it were true. Jesus was always able to answer people’s questions and loved them. He was an incredible character.’ As Ed continued to investigate, he was drawn to Jesus and became a Christian.

Many similar stories could be told. All of this is taking place in a post-Christian context which means that many students have little or no understanding of who Jesus is and what Christians believe. A negative attitude towards faith is common. Uncover invites these students to examine the evidence about the life and purpose of Jesus using Luke’s gospel – to uncover for themselves who he is. Instead of expecting the students to come to Christian meetings, the gospel is taken to them: in the coffee shop, in their flat or wherever.

The response to Uncover has been amazing. Students have grasped the vision like we have never seen with any past gospel project. They have found new confidence to invite their friends to meet Jesus in the gospel. Since we started this project in 2011, thousands of non-believers have been reading Luke with their Christian friends; hundreds have come to faith. God’s Word is still powerful to draw students to Jesus today – in any and every context!

It has been encouraging to see that a number of other IFES movements in Europe have been inspired by Uncover. Some have translated the material for use in their own context.

For more information on Uncover, see: http://www.uccf.org.uk/uncover/.

Pod Bhogal (PBhogal (at) uccf.org.uk)
Head of Communications, UCCF

What is Scripture Engagement?

This seemingly simple question is worth thinking about. Is Scripture engagement the same as reading my Bible?

IFES started to use the term “Scripture Engagement” in the Living Stones Vision 2020. I find this terminology helpful because it invites us to have a broad and relational view of the place of Scripture in our lives.

_Scripture engagement involves studying the Bible. But it is more than that: It is also loving, living, and sharing God’s Word.

_Scripture engagement needs specific times and places in which we interact with God’s Word. But it is more than that: Scripture engagement is not just an activity, it is a lifestyle.

_Scripture engagement helps us grow in our knowledge about God and this world. But it is more than that: It is entering into a transformative encounter with the living God.

At the heart of Scripture engagement lies a relationship. Scripture engagement is interacting with the Living God through his written word. The texts of Scripture are not just objects of study, but a room in which we enter to meet Jesus (See John 5:39-40). And so God’s Word draws us into the presence of God himself – inviting us to know and trust him, receive his grace, enjoy his fellowship, and renew our commitment to him.

Scripture engagement involves listening and responding to God. We know so much, yet struggle to translate it into life – many of us have big heads, but small feet. But a response is essential. God’s Word was not given to make smart students out of us, but lovers and disciples of Jesus who incarnate his Gospel in a lost and broken world.

So Scripture engagement is not finished until it is translated into life – into our words and deeds (See Matthew 7:24-27). This will only happen if we are willing to obey and able to engage Scripture in a way that is relevant to our context. Engaging with Scripture, with God, and with the world around us need to go hand in hand.

Who is the main actor in Scripture engagement? Is it we who pick up the Bible and study it? No. It is God. As we start to investigate Scripture, we soon discover that we are being investigated by the Word. God uses Scripture to connect with us through the work of the Holy Spirit. And so we come with the openness to listen, to be changed, and to be given our place as active participants in God’s story with this world.

The Bible mentions many ways of handling God’s Word: praising, honouring, hearing, meditating, taking to heart, remembering, eating, studying, understanding, accepting, receiving, trusting, doing, obeying, teaching, singing, proclaiming… and more. All of this is Scripture engagement. This video reflects on one of these verbs: eating God’s Word.

What is Scripture engagement? Why not take the time to talk about this question in your student groups and staff teams. It’s worth it!

Sabine Kalthoff

Entering into the Big Story

We tend to always turn to the same books of the Bible – those which are easily accessible and which we have grown to love. Could it be that some aspects of God’s character and purposes therefore remain hidden to us? God gave us 66 books, not 13 or 40!

Word UP is a project run by TSCF, the IFES movement in New Zealand. It encourages students to discover the whole Bible. I talked with Li Lian Lim, TSCF staff worker to find out more:

_Please describe the Word Up project.
Word Up is a Facebook forum for reading the Word individually and together. The Facebook page enables students to ask questions and to help others with their questions. We also use it to post resources and the daily reading plan.

In 2011, Word Up started with 99 days of reading Psalms in the summer. In 2012, we encouraged students to read the New Testament in 27 days. One book per day. Now we are challenging students to go zipping across the Old Testament in four months.

_What motivated you to run Word Up?
When I talked to some student leaders, I realized that they had never read the entire Bible. In Christian circles, Bible verses are often quoted out of context to support a variety of Christian positions. I hoped that after reading through the Bible, students would start to appreciate the big picture and see how individual passages fit into this context.

_How are students involved in setting up the project?
Last year, a group of student leaders tried out the material before the Facebook page was launched. They rejected what they felt would not connect with students and suggested alternatives. This year, a team of students has made a monthly commitment to blogging daily on the Bible passages being read.

Zane Norvill, one of the bloggers writes, “The accountability of needing to write something for others motivates me to spend more time meditating on a passage. When I am reading just for myself, I don’t always grasp or remember it as clearly.”

Create your own Word Up! Join the students in TSCF on facebook. Or let this project inspire you: How can you start to explore unfamiliar parts of the Bible? With whom could you share questions and thoughts from your personal Bible reading? Have you ever read through a Biblical book in one go? If not, give it a try!

Sabine Kalthoff

Further Information on Word Up:

Come and Meet Jesus!

Many students are not interested in reading the Bible. They think it is irrelevant, unreliable, or simply old-fashioned. Yet, it is through Scripture that we know Jesus Christ. How can we help students meet Jesus in and through the Bible?

The Mark Drama is one initiative towards this end. Students invite other students to come and see this 90-minute-drama on the life of Jesus. It is played in a round theatre (see picture). As a result, the spectators are drawn into what is happening instead of watching at a distance.

After the performance, a non-Christian student in Chile said: “It is hard not to cry. And it’s amazing to think that this might be true.” Students leave having heard the gospel in a way which is very real and inviting.

The Mark Drama is performed by 15 students who do not need to have any prior experience in acting. Using existing material, they learn the structure and basic content of the gospel of Mark. Then, together with the help of a trained director, they prepare the performance itself.

Many actors are touched deeply by this experience:

  • “I learned the gospel like never before. It brought me closer to Jesus because it was as if I lived with him during his days on earth.” (Latvian actress).
  • “During the past weeks, scenes from the drama have stayed with me and have shaped my life and thinking. I have rarely experienced a text so intensely.”(German actor)

Liene Lice, who has been directing the Mark Drama in Latvia comments: “No-one can stay indifferent after watching it – some people laugh, some cry, some are lost in thoughts, all have experienced the gospel.”

IFES movements in more than ten countries have been working with the Mark Drama. The movement in Chile, for example, put on its first performance in 2011. Since then, they have had more than 25 performances with over 1500 people hearing the words of Jesus through Mark’s gospel. In Germany, many performances take place within the university – a great way of making Jesus a topic of conversation in the student world. Afterwards, the script to the play is handed out: a copy of Mark’s gospel.

For more information, visit the Mark Drama website. If you would like to investigate whether this might be interesting for your context, feel free to contact Andrew Page who developed the Mark Drama: andrew (at) themarkdrama.com.

“Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). Let’s help others discover Jesus and by doing so discover him more deeply ourselves.

Sabine Kalthoff

Further Links:
GBU Chile’s Mark Drama on facebook (in Spanish)
GBU France’s Mark Drama blog (in French)
SMD Germany’s Mark Drama blog (in German)
Video Clip of Jesus healing a paralytic (in English)

The Unexpected Result of Reading Scripture. A Testimony.

Although my parents were atheists they still considered themselves Muslims. I became a Muslim after the Soviet Union collapsed and religion was allowed. Some relatives told me that I was becoming more and more like a fanatic.

But then my sister accepted Jesus as her Savior. When she told us about her decision we all stood against her. It was such a shame for our Muslim family! We put pressure on her and once I even hit her. While I was away in the army, my sister became more mature and bold in her faith. When I came back, I was surprised at how confidently my sister shared about Jesus, but her words meant nothing to me. For me she was a betrayer.

One day my sister invited me to free English courses. I understood immediately that the people offering these courses were probably missionaries, but I didn’t care. I wanted to learn English so that I could find a good job or immigrate for a better life in the West. After the English lessons, we were invited to stay on for Bible studies. After a while, I started staying and we would often argue: I argued that Jesus is only a prophet; they were convinced he is God. One thing that shocked me was their love. Sometimes I would behave very rudely, but I always felt accepted.

A year after visiting this group regularly, I decided to read the gospel. I wanted to prove to those “lost and deceived Christians” that Jesus is not a God, but only a prophet. So I started reading and could not help enjoying it. Every day I would run back home after work to continue reading. Everything was great until I read John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” I was shocked by this statement: “nobody”??? What about Muslims? What should I then do? I wished Jesus would not say that…

I understood that I needed to make a decision. My first prayer to Jesus was, “Jesus, if you are really a God, let me know that and I will follow you.” Some time passed and I felt unusual peace like never before. I accepted Jesus as my Savior. I didn’t tell anyone for about two months. When I shared this news with my sister, she happily said, “I knew it would happen, I was praying for you all these years!” This happened in 2001 and since then I have walked with the Lord.

The author is involved in IFES ministry as a volunteer

Don’t Just Keep on Running

We all agree that it is important. We keep our programmes running. But we rarely stop to reflect, evaluate and renew. Scripture engagement is usually not put on our agenda – the topic is not urgent enough.

But maybe it is urgent. Scripture engagement will not automatically remain strong in IFES if we just keep doing what we have always been doing. We need to identify and address the challenges of today if we want this generation of students to love, study, live and share God’s Word.

The Mexican movement stopped to do a mini-consultation in 2012. This one-day consultation brought together 27 staff, students and volunteers. The programme consisted of four sessions:

_Living in the Word. How can we integrate listening and responding to God’s Word in our own lives? If we want to strengthen Scripture engagement in our movements, we need to start with ourselves.

_Building up Convictions. We often assume that our students have certain convictions, but experience tells us otherwise.  What do they think about the Bible and how strong is its impact on their lives? Do students go to the Bible when reflecting on current issues such as sexuality, values, injustice? How can we strengthen this?

_Discovering Opportunities. In this creative and interesting session, each participant shared one experience or idea that worked well in their group.

_The Way Forward. Concrete steps were identified for after the consultation.

Each session lasted two hours and involved both time to work in small groups and time to share and discuss the results in the plenary. The participants prepared for the consultation by reflecting on the report of the global IFES Scripture Engagement consultation and by bringing one idea to share.

Through the consultation, challenges were identified, new ideas shared and many staff decided to put a focus on Scripture engagement in their ministry. Some plans for the future are:

  • to address global issues based on Scripture;
  • to  promote public and creative ways of engaging Scripture at university;
  • to study (whole) books of the Bible at all conferences – from different parts of Scripture;
  • to develop a national network which continues to work on strengthening Scripture engagement.

For more details, you can contact Ana Miriam Peralta, regional staff with COMPA Mexico and co-leader of the consultation: anamiriam (at) compa.mx.

There are other ways to stop and reflect. Last year, the IFES movements in East Asia ran a six-day regional conference on Scripture engagement. Other movements included reflection sessions on different aspects of Scripture engagement in their regular programmes.

Don’t just keep on running. It might not bring you where you want to go.

Sabine Kalthoff

Life-Giving Water in Difficult Circumstances

My summer holidays in 2012 turned into a bicycle accident, followed by emergency surgery, a two-month recovery period and a further surgery. I found it very hard to find peace about this situation, especially since I was still suffering from the consequences of a more severe accident which happened three years ago.

I said to the Lord, “I know you are good, you are good to everyone, but not to me. I don’t see your goodness in my life. I am following you and serving you, but my body is broken and my heart is broken. Where is your goodness?”

Sadness, confusion and apathy surrounded me as I walked through this spiritual desert. I could not “fix” myself, nor could other people help me – their words went into my ears, but did not reach my heart.

During these months, it was only through the Bible that I could hear the Lord speaking to me. The Holy Spirit used my decision to read the Bible no matter how I felt or what I thought about myself and God. In my dryness, the Holy Spirit gave me a tiny bit of water to survive each day. I was living only by that water – the Word of God – drinking it little by little.

I read the book of Job. He understood me. He called out to the Lord in his misery and bitterness of soul: “I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest but only turmoil” (Job 3:26). My anguish and distress were there in the middle of the Bible!

The Lord spoke to me through Psalm 145: I am gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love (v8). I am good to all (v9). I uphold all who fall and lift up all who are bowed down (v14). I am near to all who call on me, I am near to you. I fulfil the desires of those who fear me; I hear their cry and save them. I watch over all who love me (v18-20).

The Holy Spirit let these words drop deep into my heart: “I am watching over you, I hear your cry and will save you…” Through Scripture I was able to believe again that the Lord is good, he is always good, he is good to everyone, even to me!

Lilit Avayan, IFES General Secretary Armenia
lilitavayan (at) yahoo.co.uk