The Caleb Spirit!

(written by Nick Addo, IFES Chief Financial Officer)

“Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” (Joshua 14: 10-11)

In the 70s, one big challenge for the Ghanaian student movement (UCF as it was then) was how to respond to a disturbing trend: Christian graduates losing their faith soon after leaving university.  One way in which they addressed this was to promote the example of Caleb – who at 85 was just as fervent about his faith as he was 40 years earlier when he took a clear stand against the majority view (Numbers 14). At that time, as a first-year student, I embraced what became known as the “Caleb spirit” – the desire to be as passionate and fervent about my faith 40 years later.

Looking back, I can see the awesomeness of God’s grace extended towards me; I can identify countless times when at critical moments in my life, I unknowingly made the right choice. Note the word, “unknowingly” – these choices did not reflect my preferences at that time. On joining UCF, for example, I became a part of the Prayer Warriors Group in spite of the group leader’s repeated comments that this group was not for me since I was not a prayer giant. At that time, prayer was one area in which I really struggled. As if that was not enough, in my second year, I was paired to the new group leader as roommate. Now I had no choice. I had to pray not just at group meetings and retreats but regularly with my new roommate. How does one explain this if not grace?

As I went on to experience God’s guiding hand in my professional life, the Caleb spirit in me was strengthened. For over 15 years I have been working in a finance role in Christian organisations. I remember one director calling me into his office to show me an expense claim and to ask why he should not be making similar claims himself. Using the example of Caleb in Numbers 14, I explained that the majority are not necessarily right.  Why did he ask me? I was not even the head of finance, but he had observed a little of the Caleb spirit in me. This director has now retired and recently accepted the invitation to pastor a major evangelical church. As he told me this, he reminded me of our conversation many years earlier over that expense claim and the challenge to live the Caleb spirit.

Oh how I pray that I will be just as fervent about my faith in my 70s and 80s! Praying that will be your prayer too.

b5468f5c-9a62-4a93-af86-1f9b7e94aabaNick Addo
nick.addo (at) ifesworld.org

Thinking Biblically About Prosperity

(written by Mukululi Ncube, staff member of FOCUS Zimbabwe)

“Your father has a thousand cattle on the hill; you can’t be poor! You are not cursed but blessed. The blessings of Abraham are yours. Poverty is a curse; so is sickness and all forms of disease. Come to Jesus and today receive your blessings.”

Such statements dominate church preaching in Zimbabwe. This “prosperity gospel” has affected us strongly. Churches have lost significant membership to those churches that preach the prosperity gospel. In FOCUS, we also have seen a large number of students drawn to these churches.

Why are our students so attracted to this preaching? One of the main reasons is that Zimbabwe has gone through unprecedented economic meltdown in the past two decades, leaving a lot of people with desperate financial problems. Job prospects are bleak. And so this brand of gospel which promises employment and instant success draws our students into a false sense of security. A lack of good teaching makes our students gullible to these attractively packaged, yet false teachings.

What has been our response to this reality? Our initial response was to engage in outright confrontation. But this tended to chase away those who would have benefited from such expositions.

Having noticed the limitations of our first response, we decided to engage the students in Bible study. A study encourages them to discover the answers in God’s Word as opposed to those truths being forced down their throats! It invites them to ask their questions about poverty, about blessings and curses, about hunger and starvation, disease and joblessness, etc. In order to engage the students, we needed to affirm that the Bible teaches about prosperity. And so we decided to develop a Bible study guide on the topic.

We started by asking each student group to note the passages which speakers used to teach on prosperity. As expected, most of them were Old Testament passages into which the speakers read their own thoughts. As a staff team, we went through the list and selected one passage from each of the following sections of Scripture: Law, Old Testament narrative, Wisdom literature, Prophets, Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation.

ffa4e808-cd80-468e-b968-2a643733294fEach staff member committed to studying one of the passages together with others. We then met for a weekend with selected Bible study leaders and trained them on how to write a Bible study guide. Another month was devoted to more study before we set aside a week to sharpen our Bible studies. The result was our Bible study guide: Thinking Biblically About Prosperity.

This study guide has made space for the Bible to speak for itself on the subject of prosperity. We hope that once the Bible is given center stage, then God will reveal his message on how we are to view material wealth and physical well-being.

Mukululi Ncube
mukululi (at) yahoo.co.uk

A Word of Encouragement

(Written by Martin Haizmann, IFES Associate General Secretary)

 “…  but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

A word from God to his people in history
For around 50 years, the Israelites have been in Babylonian exile. They were conquered and deported, losing everything: the land, the temple…. And now God announces through his prophet: I will take action and lead you out of captivity! But the message earns skepticism: Is our God able to rescue us – have not the Babylonian gods proved to be more powerful? And if he can, is he even interested in helping us? Why did he not intervene when the Babylonians conquered us? After everything we have experienced, does he truly care about us (see v. 27!)?

Isaiah 40 is a powerful plea for God: Yes, HE can! And – equally important, Yes, HE deeply and truly cares about his people. God invites them to persevere and keep trusting. As he cares for their daily bread, he promises to provide them with the daily portion of strength which they need to face life – so that they do not lose hope and do not lose heart.

A word from God for my personal journey
Throughout my life, God has spoken to me again and again through this word from Isa 40:31 – often in unexpected ways. I was given this verse at my confirmation when I was 14. From then on, this verse has been like a red thread which God has woven into my life – showing me that my life does not just depend on my own plans and decisions, on my achievements and failures. There is a God who is bigger than me. There is a story line which he writes into my life!

Just two examples:
_I submitted my final thesis in engineering after working on it for a full year. I was about to marry and then start working with SMD Germany a few weeks later. But my supervisor wrote to say: “You made a mistake… you will have to re-write huge parts of the thesis.” I was devastated. That night I attended the meeting of our student group. It closed with a devotion on Isa 40:31. I heard it as God’s personal word to me, as his invitation to keep trusting. His word assured me: I will not let you down.  A few days later I was able to prove that I had not made a mistake – my supervisor had. So I was happily able to celebrate my wedding and start serving with SMD.

_After five years on staff, I was asked to become the national coordinator for SMD student ministries. A daunting challenge! I was the youngest in the staff team, it would mean moving my family to an unfamiliar part of Germany, often leaving the family in order to travel, and taking the risk of never being able to enter into my job as an engineer. There were so many questions and concerns; it was difficult to find out if this was God’s plan and calling for us. With “fear and trembling,” we said yes. Right after being interviewed by the board of SMD, I was offered a five-year contract – and then a Bible exposition followed: on Isaiah 40:31. Again God was assuring me that above and beyond all of my own thoughts, HE is leading me in HIS ways.

Martin Haizmann, Martin.haizmann(at)ifesworld.org

Multiplication Efforts

(written by Josue Alanis, Cinthya Ocón, Fausto Romero staff of MUC El Salvador)

We are grateful to God for awakening our interest in his Word through IFES consultations on Scripture engagement. Now our desire is to pass on this interest to others in El Salvador. We have been doing so in different ways.

Over the past two years, we have been teaching a session on Scripture Engagement at our national training event for students. Each time, I (Cinthya) teach this session, I fall deeper in love with the Word. Repeatedly, I am amazed at what God is doing in the lives of students through his Word. And have come to realize just how important Scripture is for the Christian life.

During these past months, we also had the privilege of teaching young people from different churches about Scripture engagement. It was a joy to see their perspective on God’s Word change completely. One of the results is that they have become interested in the work of MUC at university. These sessions have opened a door for us to collaborate with young people from different churches.

The topic which sparks the most interest is reflecting on what it means to love, study, live and share the Word. We encourage young people to foster a real love for God and his Word. Studying, living and sharing the Word flow out of this love.

In an attempt to grow in how we address the challenges of our world biblically, one activity has been very enriching. We start by reading the reality of the country we live in. We ask the participants to create a collage from newspapers with the challenges, desires and fears of their fellow students. Then we ask them to find answers to these issues in the Bible. Many reply with individual Bible verses that give a superficial answer. We question these answers so that they realize how important it is to have a deeper biblical knowledge than just a few memorized verses that are known by almost the entire population of El Salvador. We finish this exercise with a small study on Habakkuk and how God’s answer to this prophet might relate to questions in our context. Our purpose is to see how we can hold the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.

We have been able to touch the lives of over 150 students from MUC and over 50 young people from churches with sessions on Scripture engagement. God has been good and we have seen some young people commit to studying and loving God’s Word. Our church in El Salvador needs to abandon religiousness and have its love for Scripture rekindled.

BEST-P: Students Learn to Teach the Bible

logoFOCUSSince 1989, FOCUS Kenya has run Best-P (Bible Exposition Self-Training Program). This program trains students in Bible study and expository preaching skills. At its heart are small groups of students studying books of the Bible – with each person preparing short expositions, presenting them to the others and receiving feedback. The students participating in this program receive some initial training in Bible study. Below you can read about one students’ experience of BEST-P. You will find a description of the BEST-P concept by following this link.

I first heard about BEST-P in 1998 in my second year at university. During this time, I struggled with low self-worth and uncertainties in my Christian walk. Even though I was raised in a Christian family, I had not gotten much discipleship training. When I heard about this group of 40-50 Christian students who met each week to learn how to study the Bible, I got interested. From then on, I never missed a BEST-P meeting until I left campus! In the group meetings, biblical books were exposited. The group was divided into smaller groups of 4-6 students; each group was allocated a portion of the biblical book to study. A week later they presented a short exposition of this passage to the big group. After each presentation, there would be a plenary discussion and an evaluation. I found this quite fascinating since the church meetings I had known were basically monologues.

Before leaving campus, we studied topics like Inductive Bible Study, Hermeneutics, Homiletics, Expository Preaching, Apologetics and writing Bible study guides. Knowing there would be discussion and feedback after each presentation motivated us to do thorough research and study ahead of the meetings. This made the learning more engaging and inspirational. I soon became part of the team of student preachers of the Christian Union. My passion for the Bible grew strongly as reading the Bible became more meaningful to me. This passion led me to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies.

I have since been involved in preaching and teaching the gospel in schools, Christian Unions and churches. I also write Bible study guides in my place of work for group meetings. Long live BEST-P!

Kepha Nyandega, serving with National Council of Churches in Kenya

A New Perspective on Scripture Engagement

My experience of Scripture is related to the Christian context of my country. In some churches, we are constantly being taught that we are forgiven sinners and that we therefore have a debt towards God. As a result of seeing God in this way, I understood his Word from that point of view. At that time, I felt drawn to the Bible, but it had a crippling effect as my behavior was motivated by the fear of offending the One who died for me. I walked in fear.

All started to change during a retreat for multipliers of Scripture engagement. As I was listening to the various expositions on John’s Gospel, I was struck by the real and tangible relationship that was depicted. That experience helped me realize that in reality, the Jesus of the Bible is truly alive today, as he was when he walked this earth. Since then, my prayer has been the same as Paul’s, when he says that his only goal is to know Christ (Philippians 3: 7-14).

Last April, the UGBB (Union of Biblical Groups of Burundi) held a retreat on Scripture engagement, with approximately 70 participants. The goal was to reconsider the way we study the Bible, but also to invite into a relational perspective on Scripture engagement. From the first day, we noticed that when the students studied the Bible, they were used to answering a list of questions – for many of them, a Bible study was mostly an exercise in finding the right answers. So they didn’t know what to do when they found themselves in front of a text for an hour and a half, without any questions.

BurundiretraitekleinHowever, that challenge was an opportunity to introduce them to a new perspective on Scripture engagement. After showing the participants a short video comparing meditation of the Word to eating, we invited them to meet and discover the person of Jesus Christ through his Word. To help them, we presented a biblical exposition on the same text they had found hard to understand during their personal time of reflection.

At the end of the retreat, the testimonies were moving: some students wrote letters as a response to how Jesus had met them, others repented of not trusting the Lord with their daily life, etc.

We want to continue helping students develop their relationship with the Lord through his Word. We ask the Lord to give us a good strategy to enable students to love, study, live and share his Word.

Roland CUBAHIRO, member of GBU Burundi staff
bukuja(at)gmail.com

Let’s Face the Book

FacetheBookFace-The-Book is a Scripture engagement initiative by the Caribbean Fellowship of Evangelical Students (CARIFES). Its aim is to help young people study the Bible. Specifically, we want students to develop the habit of spending time in God’s Word and praying daily. We set this initiative up to specifically target today’s ‘information technology’ generation e.g. by using terminology with which students are familiar from the computer world.

Quads
One of the unique things about this Bible study initiative is that students are encouraged to form groups of four called “quads”. Ideally, this group meets once a week. It provides mutual support, encouragement and accountability as members endeavour to grow in the knowledge and practice of God’s Word.
They:

  • Pray regularly for each other.
  • Find out how others in the group are progressing in their studying and sharing of God’s Word.
  • Share with each other what they have learnt from the Word of God over the past week.
  • Share Bible study resources with each other.
  • Encourage each other in their Bible study and sharing activities.

Each group member signs a personal commitment with regard to their own spiritual life.
Each quad has a mentor who can be a student leader, staff worker, faculty member, youth pastor or any other mature person. Mentors are there to pray for, encourage and motivate quads.

Today’s PDF (Personal Devotion Focus)
This initiative encourages students to spend personal time in God’s Word using the PDF approach:
Document: What is today’s Scripture passage?
Background:  What is the background to this passage?
Review: What has your journey been like in relation to what you have read in this passage?
Highlight: What point(s) would you like to highlight from this passage?
Delete: Based on this passage, what would you like to delete from your life?
Copy: Based on this passage, what would you like to copy and put into practice in your life?
Underline:  What verse(s), thought(s) or idea(s) would you like to underline, memorize or meditate on?
Share: Based on what you have gleaned from the passage today, what would you like to share with others: face-to-face, on the phone, via text or social media, etc.?  Pass the word on.
Pray: Based on what you have learned from today’s study, spend some time praying.

In the Face-the-Book manual, Bible passages are recommended for reading. The manual also introduces the whole concept and approach of this initiative. Currently, the manual is being revised. It will be available in a few weeks’ time in English, French and Dutch.

If you are interested in the manual or have any other questions, please write to Bevaun Ragobeer, Scripture Engagement Coordinator for the Caribbean region at carifes100(at)gmail.com.

Ongoing training

Since 2005, the training department of UGBB (IFES Burkina Faso) offers an ongoing training programme to its students. The course lasts for two years, with the aim of passing on Bible competence and an understanding of the student movement to students who will in turn pass this on to other students. The biblical basis for the course is 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” The course includes theoretical learning and practical assessments (homework).

PatriciakleinI had the privilege of taking this course over the last two years. What encouraged me to do so was my hunger to know more of the Word of God. In the first year, we had sixty hours of theoretical teaching on the following subjects: evangelism, follow-up and integration of new Christians, Bible studies, Bible expositions, prayer, leadership, giving support to Bible study groups in schools, the Living Stones vision, fund raising and learning about our student movement. In the second year, we had thirty hours of teaching followed by a practical assessment.

For this second year, we chose an area of specialisation. The choices were:
– Understanding the Student Movement
– Evangelism
– Leadership
– Bible study

I chose Bible study. Thanks to this training course, I can now lead in-depth Bible studies and share what I discover with others. I’ve also started to help train our student groups in Bible study methods. For my personal growth, I’ve got into the habit of doing a personal Bible study (almost) every week. This has allowed me to study most of the book of Samuel in the Old Testament.

I often come across a passage that is very well-known, or that doesn’t seem to have anything special to say. But by questioning and reflecting, I discover truths that deepen my understanding of God and my walk with him. I find that the Bible is a inexhaustible source.

Patricia Nata Zième Kambou, Natural Sciences student, Burkina Faso.
(bethelsion (at) yahoo.fr)

The Word Among Us

TitelbildENkleonWhat is this booklet about?
The Word among us – that is the Bible around which we gather to listen to God. We believe in a God who speaks because he wants us to know him and his perspective on our world! His words are living and active among us as they speak relevantly into our various contexts and experiences today. The new IFES booklet takes us on a journey of rediscovering the precious gift of Scripture.

The Word among us – that is Jesus Christ, the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us. He is the centre of God’s revelation to us. The words of Scripture lead us to him. The new IFES booklet invites us to read the Bible in the context of a relationship – seeing Jesus and seeking an encounter with him through the written Word.

The Word among us – that raises the question of our response to God’s Word. We can keep this Word at a distance by not giving it much room. Or we can extend hospitality towards the Word, welcoming it as a part of our community, giving it space to shape our relationships and lives. The new IFES booklet invites us to strengthen and renew our embrace of the Word.

What is the content of this booklet?
The booklet consists of two parts which can be used independently of one another.

Part I: Cultivating a clear vision of Scripture Engagement. This part presents six core aspects of our interaction with God’s Word. Considering these can help us to broaden and deepen our overall understanding of Scripture engagement.

Part II: Reflecting on the impact of Scripture among us. This part provides questions which are designed to spark inspiring conversations. Reflecting on these questions can help us make necessary changes for renewal in our Scripture engagement.

In addition, you will find reflections on the place of Scripture engagement in the IFES Living Stones Vision, activity suggestions to help strengthen core aspects of Scripture engagement and ideas on how to become a catalyst for Scripture engagement in your context.

This resource is not a recipe book which gives all the answers. But it can start you off on a journey deeper into God’s Word by providing vision, stirring appetite, raising questions and pointing to possible steps forward.

What experiences have people had with this booklet?
A staff worker from GBU France used some of the booklet’s questions in a training session with students. She writes: “It led to very good discussions about our own motivation to engage with Scripture and how to get non-Christian students interacting with the Bible.”

A student from ABUB Brazil read the book and wrote: “I have been very edified by this little book. It has made me reconsider my commitment and love for the Bible and I want to share this with my Brazilian friends.”

The staff team of FES Malaysia spent a day together working through the second part of the booklet. Afterwards, the General Secretary said: “All staff agreed that it was an eye-opening evaluation of ourselves and how we engage students with Scripture. It helps us see where we are and where we need to go.”

How can you use this booklet?
The booklet itself includes suggestions as to how you can use it. I will here only highlight a few possibilities:

_You can start discussing the content in your student groups – either by focussing on just one small section of interest or looking broadly at the vision of Scripture engagement which this booklet communicates. The reflection questions in the second part of the booklet can open up inspiring conversations with little preparation.

_As a student movement, the staff team could be a good place to start. You can work through the booklet together using it to reflect on what you are experiencing in student ministry and how you can move forward in the area of Scripture engagement.

_Individual sections of the booklet can easily be included in other events and programmes. You can integrate them in longer prayer meetings or week-ends away as a student group. Or into training programmes and conferences of your national movement.

_You can also work through this booklet on your own. As you do so, do not only seek to grow personally in Scripture engagement, but also ask how you can encourage others to grow in this area. Introducing them to the booklet is one step you could take. We need ambassadors of God’s Word in our movements who help this generation of students to love, study, live and share this precious Word.

The booklet is available in English, French or Spanish – also online: http://scriptureengagement.ifesworld.org/the-word-among-us.

Sabine Kalthoff

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
ndubuakudavid(at)gmail.com