Weekly staff meetings to study the Word

Almost ten years ago, our staff team decided that it was important to hold weekly meetings to study the Word together. This may not seem like something special in itself, but it becomes more interesting if we say we’re in Chile, a very long country with nearly 4,000 km from one end of the country to the other. Fortunately, this distance can be reduced thanks to the internet.

Over the past ten years, the staff team of GBU Chile has met every Monday afternoon for a couple of hours. We study the Bible together, pray for each other and the movement, and plan our weekly activities. The staff in Santiago (the capital, located in the centre of the country) meet in the national office, while the workers from other cities connect with us through the internet. This meeting is our weekly priority.

The meeting consists of three parts: The first part is dedicated to an inductive Bible study, which lasts about 45 minutes. We successively study complete books of the Bible. At the beginning of each semester, I send our calendar to the staff with the meeting dates and the people responsible for directing each weekly study. In this way, we have advanced a lot in our Bible studies over the past ten years: we have studied the Minor Prophets (they took us about a year and a half!), John and the epistles of John, Genesis, Revelation, Acts and we are currently studying Luke. The second part of our meeting contributes to the intimacy of our staff team. It is a time of mutual prayer and intercession. Each one of us shares their blessings and current struggles and is prayed for by the others. We also take time to pray for specific situations the movement is facing. Lastly, each one of us answers the question: What are you doing this week? This helps us organise our work and know what the other staff will be doing, even if they are 1,000 km away!

I personally believe that these weekly meetings have been key to the operation and growth of the Chilean student movement during the past years. On the one hand, they help staff workers from distant cities feel part of a body which encourages and exhorts them. Pedro Valenzuela, Santiago advisor, shared: ‘It is good to feel like a work team, no matter where we are located.’ On the other hand, I believe that these meetings help us to identify with our students, given that the main strategy of our movement is small group Bible studies. This time together helps us model these small group studies for the students we are pastoring, while also making us aware of the difficulties involved in finding and setting aside space for studying the Bible in our current world. Last of all, these meetings help us to understand that this is the Lord’s work, that we are the ‘channel and not the source’ of living water, and that the agenda of our life is directed by the Lord.

Gustavo Sobarzo, General Secretary of GBU Chile
gsobarzo (at) gbuch.cl

The Joy of Studying the Bible with Seekers

I believe that seeker Bible studies are the single most effective way to show Jesus to a friend. God is not a message or a theory, but a person. And this person is made known to us by the gospel stories.

The Italian context in which I live is characterized by suspicion and skepticism. It surprises me that in this context more seekers than I would have expected are curious to study Bible passages in a safe place with other fellow seekers. And when they come, oh, it is fascinating to see their reactions: “My first impression was shocking: I discovered in the Bible a marvelous figure, so human when angry and indignant in the face of unbelief and hypocrisy, and so divine in speaking with an authority never seen before… and even able to forgive his persecutors!’” says Gianluca, a medicine student.

Over and over again, I’ve witnessed how in studies like these, people get so much into the story that Jesus himself seems to jump out of the pages. They see Jesus, they see God. They are so shocked by his actions and struck by his words that they become hungry for more. As the weeks go by, and as they discover different aspects of this fascinating Nazarene, some cannot respond otherwise than with a decision to follow him.

When the first person in the group decides to do so, it’s amazing. The others see the life of someone who was sitting next to them in the previous weeks (‘one of their own’) transformed – just like the people they have been reading about in the gospels. The new believer becomes the most powerful witness within the Bible study group.

“It is real. It is not a fairy tale. Something happened to me that I still cannot fully understand, but I know that it is real” says Viviana, a business student. This is so intriguing that sometimes others in the group will want to experience the same thing. I had the joy of seeing almost entire groups of seekers become followers of Christ.

This is the power of God working through people who have met him in his Word. The Word did become flesh, and he is living among us today. He is waiting for our faithfulness and boldness in inviting our friends to find the living God through the gospel stories.

Sarah Breuel, GBU staff in Italy
sarahbreuel (at) gbu.it

Scripture in evangelistic talks

When speaking evangelistically in a university context, I want to deal with issues that are relevant to students while also showing that the Bible speaks relevantly into these issues. Questionnaires helped identify some themes which connect with students, e.g. identity, achievement and self-esteem, relationships, meaning of life, death.

I start my talks with the deeper questions which lie behind the theme: How do we build identity and self-esteem? What does it mean to live in a society which builds identity on achievement: I achieve, therefore I am? What does this do to our society, to our relationships, to our self? So I raise questions, give an analysis, and look at the answers given to us by current trends in our society. Then I relate the issue to a passage from Scripture explaining how God comes into the picture and why together we will look at a biblical text.

My reasons for opening up the Bible with students in this context are:

  • I want students to start exploring the Bible by themselves – often we distribute gospel copies in the lecture hall and read the passage together;
  • I do not just want to talk about ‘God’, but want people to encounter Jesus. God revealed himself in a person and I want people to meet this person by inviting them to look at the reports about his life;
  • I am convinced that the Holy Spirit wants to make the words of the Bible come alive in people’s hearts.

I achieve, therefore I am. What would be a good gospel passage to help people understand that God is different and treats us differently from our society? In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells a story that reveals the character of God. It comes as quite a surprise, if not as a shock: He treats us according to his goodness and not according to our achievements. But his goodness also reveals our evil heart: Are you envious because I am generous?

By relating a gospel story to the theme, I want students to understand that Jesus is relevant to their lives. Here are some other examples of how I have linked themes with Bible passages:

  • Relationships (just being used by others; healing and forgiveness); Luke 7:36-50.
  • Die happy: Let us eat and drink because tomorrow we are dead: Luke 12:16-19.
  • Religion (contrasted with the reality of Jesus): Philippians 2:5-11. 

Encountering Jesus in these stories has led many students to read one of the gospels by themselves. In this way, God’s Word itself becomes the evangelist.

Martin Haizmann
IFES Associate General Secretary


Standing at attention. Pause. Stop and listen. Underlining what has just been spoken. In the psalms, “selah” is a break between different parts of the psalm. While its meaning is unclear, it could come from the Hebrew root “salah” which means “to hang” or “to weigh”. In the context of our hearing of the Word, it means the space we allow for the Word to study us! We use selah to mean 10-15 minutes of standing in God’s presence, embracing his Word, and allowing his Word to scrutinize our living.

Every time we have East Asia student conferences, we intentionally begin our day with selah. We remember the key phrases spoken (either in silence or as a spiritual director holds up these phrases). With these phrases in mind, we linger in God’s presence – creating space for God to impress his Word upon us and for us to weigh our response to him. Sometimes, a soul-searching question is added to this time of selah.

Amazing how silence and solitude begin to do their work! It is moving to see how the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts with the Word just heard and calls forth a response. The students find that this pause calls their attention to what God is doing in their lives – something which easily gets lost in the busyness of their daily lives.

Over the years, this practice has caught on across the region. At the student leaders’ retreat in Singapore (2014), God used this time of selah to break into their hearts. It was a time of being convicted together and listening to what God really wanted to do through their fellowship.

In a campus group in Malaysia, the prayer coordinator starts the weekly prayer meeting with selah. She invites students to weigh what God has been speaking into their lives throughout the week – giving time for individuals to be searched by God and his Word. This has made many students much more intentional in their living.

Many campus fellowships end their time of Scripture Engagement with a few minutes of solitude for God’s word to be embraced.

These are some of the subsequent ripples which can be seen across our movements in East Asia: “The Word and its demand became clearer to me“; “God’s Word convicted me“; “I gave up to God the things I was holding back“; “I felt comforted and released from the burden of guilt and shame I had hung onto“; “I kept the commitment made five years ago in selah and am now changing jobs because that is where God is leading me“.

Come, let the Word study us!

Annette Arulrajah (anet195(at)yahoo.com)
Associate Regional Secretary for East Asia

Surprised by Jesus

I used to believe that the Bible is an old book that nobody reads. But then in October 2012, I met José, a Christian graduate who became a good friend. One day we started talking about the Bible. For me, this was a very sensitive topic. I thought that you had to avoid talking about politics and religion if you want to have a good relationship with others.

Then José invited me to a COMPA Bible study. I came away with more questions and doubts than before. José had given me a Bible, but I did not know how to read it. So, I asked him to teach me. He agreed and in the following week, we had our first official Bible study.

The approach which COMPA Mexico used to study the Bible was similar to the study technique which I used in science. This attracted me. I was surprised to realize that it is possible to take a rational approach to the Bible.

I was even more surprised by the person of Jesus. I discovered a new face of Jesus; I met a different Jesus. Previously, I thought that Jesus was one of many smart people in the history of our world – the smartest in his time. But I did not know that he has a big heart full of love. I used to think that Jesus was just a human being, but discovered that he is God.

BiblestudyMexicoReading John 1 was particularly significant for me. When I first read this passage, I was very confused: How can Jesus be God? How can he be both a person like me and fully God? These questions made me want to investigate more.

As I got to know Jesus better through other biblical stories, I started to understand. My vision of the world changed and I started to believe in a personal God. I became aware of my sin and the darkness in me. And what is most important: I met the love of God through the grace and hope which he gives us in Jesus.

I’m a scientific person. I want to be sure of something before I believe in it. If somebody had shown me a miracle, I don’t think that I would have believed. But I love to read; I love words. Jesus came into my life through his Word. I discovered that all the evidence necessary to believe in Jesus is there in the Bible, the Word of God. Early 2014, I started a Bible study group in my own school (see picture).

Sara Medina, student of chemistry and physics in Mexico
(sara.medinagom (at) gmail.com)

Blessing the Church

What can IFES give to the church? This is a question worth asking. We need the church to support student ministry, but we also want to be serving the church. Last year, EFES Egypt gave a valuable gift to the church in Cairo by inviting leaders and pastors to a Bible study training.

In December 2013, we offered three days of training for church leaders from Cairo. The idea was to train a small number of pastors and leaders in order to improve their skills and establish the idea of Bible study in the churches. By bringing these leaders together, we also wanted to increase the level of cooperation between them. Furthermore, we hoped that this training would help church leaders understand student ministry and support the start of Bible study groups in their churches.

The content of the program included:

  • The importance of the Bible
  • Reading the Bible correctly
  • The concept of inspiration
  • The Biblical canon
  • Old Testament background
  • An inductive approach to Bible study
  • New approaches to Bible study
  • How to lead a Bible study group

To our joy, 70 participants from 17 different churches came. It was a great experience to see leaders and older people still wanting to learn and improve their skills in studying the Bible. One pastor said afterwards: ‘Many aspects of this program were new to me. I now understand why students run away from our Bible study meetings in church. But now we can make them more attractive.’

The participants decided to have a follow-up meeting every six weeks. They plan to study the Bible together using the new approaches which they learned. As EFES, we plan to offer two further days of training for this group.

Running this training has also been a blessing for EFES. We have gained new relationships and friends for our ministry. This has opened doors and pastors are giving more support to student groups in their churches. Since our students cannot meet on campus, this is crucial for our ministry. In November 2014, we repeated a similar training for over 50 participants in another part of Egypt.

Shaher, EFES Egypt

Bible Marathon: Brilliantly Simple

Reading the Bible in groups is something we deeply care about and actively encourage in VBG (IFES in German-speaking Switzerland). And so, we are always open to ideas which can inspire our communal Bible study. One year ago, we discovered the Bible marathon. Today we are enthusiastic about this method of reading Scripture.

In a Bible marathon, you read through one whole book of the Bible in a group setting. Reading out loud helps the participants enter into the passage.

This approach does not focus on individual verses, but on seeing connections and beingphotoBibelmarathonklein impacted by the text as a whole. Especially with a long reading such as Genesis, it is obviously not possible to remember everything. That is not a problem since the Bible marathon does not aim at a detailed understanding of the text. And yet, it is always amazing to see how through this approach, new insights from individual Bible passages emerge.

This simple form of reading and hearing Scripture helps participants experience biblical books in a new and meaningful way.

Leading a Bible Marathon in Your Group
We have done marathons with very different biblical books such as Genesis, Isaiah, Mark, Luke, and Corinthians. The time needed depends on the book and the speed of reading; e.g. for Genesis, the reading time is around 5.5 hours.

It is important to create a quiet and simple setting for the communal reading. This helps make space for God’s Word. Those participating should stay for the whole reading. A good size for such a meeting is 7 to 15 people.

The reading should be based on a translation which is easy to understand. It is advisable to use only one translation. The participants take turns in reading one chapter out loud. Chapters with more than 35 to 40 verses are divided into two parts. After every six chapters, the next chapter is read verse by verse in turns with everyone standing up.

After every full hour, there is a five to ten minute break. This break can be used for some participants to briefly share which verse or section spoke to them – without entering into any discussion. This break is also an opportunity to stretch one’s legs or get a drink.

After reading through the whole biblical book, it is very valuable to have at least 15 minutes for the participants to talk about what they heard. This time is often a real highlight!

The Bible marathon approach is very straightforward without high demands on those leading or participating in it. Why not try it out?

Benedikt Walker (benedikt.walker (at) VBG.net)
General Secretary of VBG

God’s Word in My Life

This is a very concrete and practical suggestion, encouraging you to reflect on your story with God’s Word.

Draw the story of the Bible’s role in your life
The following questions can help you decide what to include in a drawing. Focus on those things which are most relevant to your story. Your drawing can be a simple timeline with comments written on it or something much more creative.

  • With what view of the Bible did you grow up? (This may well be related to the image of God with which you grew up.)
  • How did your relationship to the Bible change over the course of your life?
    • How did love for God’s Word grow in your life?
    • How did you learn to study and obey God’s Word?
  • Which people and/or experiences had a significant influence on the way you see and handle God’s Word?
  • Which Bible passages had a strong impact on your life?

You can do this on your own. You will benefit from it more if you then meet in a small group to share some aspects of your story with one another.

What is the value of doing this?

Remembering is one way of cultivating thankfulness. We can praise God for his revelation and its impact on our life. We can also praise God for the people who invested into us, helping us to love, understand, and live God’s Word.

The positive example of those who shaped our approach to God’s Word can inspire us to look for people in whom we can now invest. How can we pass on to others what we received?

Remembering can also be painful. Maybe you need to relook at some negative thoughts and feelings towards God’s Word which shape your story until today. Maybe you will realize that you hardly know the content of the Bible or never learned to trust God’s Word. With whom can you talk and pray about these things? Honestly looking at our struggles and weaknesses can help us see the next step of growth more clearly.

As we remember specific Bible passages which had a strong impact on our lives, we are encouraged to keep going in our walk with Jesus. Maybe we are reminded of certain gospel truths, promises or commands which were meaningful for our journey. Reflecting on how God met us in the past through Scripture strengthens our motivation to keep engaging with him through his Word.

Sabine Kalthoff

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