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

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: