Where Scripture and Life Connect

This was the theme of a very memorable Scripture engagement consultation for which over 100 NIFES student leaders, staff and associates gathered in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. Our time together started with a pre-consultation to train the small group facilitators on how to lead their groups. This was important since work in small groups played a significant role during the consultation.

One of the high points of this consultation was a small group project, in which we worked together on the way in which God’s Word connects to the realities of our context. One aim of this exercise was to renew the good practice of coming back to the Scriptures when dealing with the challenges of our context thereby strengthening our conviction that Scripture is relevant to all of life.

The contextual issues which were identified for consideration during the small group project were:

  • examination malpractice/academic corruption
  • corruption and governance
  • sexuality
  • poverty and violence
  • cultural practices
  • persecution

Each small group worked on one contextual issue in four steps. First, we identified the main challenges about this issue: what provokes us to seek a Christian response? Secondly, we brainstormed biblical passages which could help address this issue. Thirdly, we chose one biblical passage to look at in more detail and see how it speaks to the contextual issue. Lastly, we thought about creative approaches/relevant ways of sharing this passage and its perspective in our context.

Each group presented their work on a cardboard paper and displayed it for the other participants to go through. This was really educating!

Personally, working on the small group project was very transforming. Going through the Scriptures to see what God’s Word says about every form of malpractice and corruption was not only hard work but also engaging. The big question became: How will we as a national movement address the issue of examination malpractice/academic corruption in our country?

When I now hear of Scripture engagement, I do not only think of studying my Bible, but of much more. I think of LSLS: I think of Loving, Studying, Living and Sharing God’s Word. For me, Scripture engagement has shifted from being a mere activity to a lifestyle. I have resolved to live out the Word of God and to share it with my friends and siblings. My conviction about Scripture has deepened and I desire the fruitful change which God’s Word brings.

Jesus the host, who invites us to his Word, is the reality that changes everything.

David Ndubuaku, student president of NIFES

Cultivating a Clear Vision of Scripture Engagement

IFES_Word_amoung_S8.inddA clear vision of Scripture engagement is essential if we are going to strengthen the place of God’s Word in our student movements. The first part of the booklet The Word Among Us is designed to help broaden and deepen our overall understanding of Scripture engagement. It focuses on the following six core aspects:


  • deepening our convictions about the nature and purpose of Scripture;
  • cultivating an attitude of love, expectant listening and obedience to God’s Word;
  • modelling a lifestyle of Scripture engagement;
  • trusting the impact of God’s Word in evangelism;
  • nurturing good practices in Scripture engagement;
  • addressing the challenges of our world biblically.

Let us take a moment to look at the first core aspect:
Deepening Our Convictions about the Nature and Purpose of Scripture
What are the essential character and purpose of the Bible? Our answer to this question lays the foundation for our interaction with God’s Word. We need to make sure that our basic beliefs about Scripture are not just abstract theological statements but are filled with meaning. Our desire is that students should have full confidence in this Word, rejoice in its good news and trust its authoritative voice in every situation and issue they face.

Central to our understanding of the Bible is the conviction that God’s Word is not primarily a book but a person. God revealed himself to us not by shouting from heaven but by coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and Scripture leads us to him. That is why it is so incredibly valuable. We must not reduce the Bible to an object of study – it is more like a room which we enter to meet Jesus. It is this encounter that transforms us into lovers and followers of Jesus who are able to serve him in the world.

It is worth taking some time on your own or together with others to ask: Why are our convictions about the nature and purpose of Scripture important? What convictions do we hold about Scripture? How are these being challenged in our context? How can we grow in our convictions regarding God’s Word?

The Word Among Us includes a suggestion for a group session which focuses on our convictions about God’s Word (on page 15). You can download the booklet here. In it you will find descriptions of all six core aspects and further material which can help renew our vision and practise of Scripture engagement.

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