At the table

There have been a number of ‘wow’ moments that have dramatically changed my life, especially regarding the way I view God and ministry. One such moment was the 2007 IFES World Assembly in Canada. The Bible expositions from the Gospel of Luke by Peter Kuzmic (Croatia), Jacques Buchhold (France) and Ziel Machado (Brazil) were soul-searching and very challenging. Ziel Machado’s first exposition stood out for me and at the same time took a strong grip on my heart. I could not let go of it until I put it into practice. Ziel Machado reflected on where ministry is done: the table as a place of acceptance, community and kindness; contrasting it to the desk, a place of business, achievements and success.

It was so challenging to me personally as I reflected on how I was involved in ministry. Was I doing it at the table or from my desk? At that time, I had served for four years as staff worker in my national movement, the Student Christian Organization of Malawi (SCOM). At that point, ten more years of service were ahead of me. God spoke to me so clearly that student ministry was to be done at the table, where students should feel welcomed, where they could be built into strong communities of believers, and as a way to take Christ to their universities. This changed how I was involved in student ministry. I took this Word from God in a literal way and opened my home to students, transforming the table of my home into a place of ministry. Countless students have eaten at this table: it became a place of discipleship and evangelism to so many young people.

At my home’s table, students who were struggling academically got confidence and performed better. Around it, Christ revealed Himself to many students and gave them a purpose for living. At this table, broken relationships have been restored. It was at that table where students have found life partners. Gathered around the table, students have learnt from Christ. At my family table, students have seen the frailty of our humanity and the sufficiency of God’s grace through interacting with my wife, our son, and myself, engaging with God’s Word and allowing it to bring amazing fruits in our lives. The Word of God must always be allowed to move from the head to the heart, then to the hands and feet: that is when we experience genuine transformation.

Duncan Chiyani, EPSA Associate Regional Secretary for Southern Africa

Sharing the Word in the context of student ministry

The Bible has a central position in student ministry. We organise our devotional life, our training activities, our dialogue with the university and our evangelistic activities around the Holy Scriptures. The high value we place on Scripture is the base for three steps that I consider whenever I share the Word at our meetings.

Step 1: Seriously study the biblical passage and strive to apply it in a fresh and appropriate way.

We frequently receive instructions to develop a profitable reading of the Scriptures. We learn a variety of biblical study methods and use many auxiliary resources, which allow us to make a good approach to the text. Indeed, from the initial steps found in devotions, to the ability of some of us to work on the original languages, we face the challenge of using every resource available to do a good and appropriate reading of the text. Meanwhile, we need to find pathways that allow our audience to apply the lessons learned in a faithful, opportune and fresh way. Because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3.16-17).

Step 2: prayer support

The nature of biblical exposition implies permanent prayer support, because it requires putting the heart of all those involved in the process (those who minister and those who listen) before the Word of the Eternal God. I once heard from a teacher; “the purpose of biblical exposition is to comfort the broken-hearted and challenge those who have become accommodated”. Nobody is indifferent before the Word, neither the person who exposes nor he who listens. As the Paul the Apostle said, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19-20)

Step 3: becoming accessible to listen to those who listen

When developing biblical expositions, one of the most important moments in learning is when I decide to make myself accessible to listen to those who listened to me. This allows me to see how they have understood the text and how they are applying it to their lives; I listen to their questions, suggestions and doubts, and this has deeply enriched my continuous learning process in the ministry of biblical exposition. We should seek these moments to learn to listen in an attentive, humble, reverent and respectful way towards our brothers and sisters who received “the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit… became a model to all the believers.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

These are the three simple steps I try to follow in the ministry of sharing of the Word of God.

Ziel Machado, Former IFES Regional Secretary in Latin America.

Bible Study Bookmarks for Different Genres of Scripture

In many Bible study groups, the following thing happens: you come together and read a Bible text. After a short moment of silence, somebody brings up his or her favorite topic that is vaguely connected to the text. This might be predestination, baptism or world politics. All these topics are important, but the purpose of the meeting gets lost – that is, to share around a Bible passage and let God speak to you.

At the IFES World Assembly 2015 in Mexico, I got to know the Intervarsity USA Bible study bookmark that guides through an inductive Bible study. Back in Germany, I translated it into our context. It was great: the students concentrated more and dug deeper into the text with the guidance of the bookmark.

As long as we read the Gospels, it worked quite well. Yet as we studied other types of biblical texts like prophetic, poetic or apocalyptic literature, it became more difficult to work with the bookmark. It was, for example, problematic to read Old Testament law as we read the Gospels – we couldn’t simply apply the law directly to our life. Some students asked: “Why should I follow Jesus and not the whole Old Testament law? Both are in the Bible and come from God…? And what about the psalms that talk about vengeance? Doesn’t Christ call us to love our enemy?”

We realized that we need different kinds of questions for different literary genres in Scripture. When reading narratives, we observe what the different characters say and do, how events evolve and how God is at work in the midst of this. When reading prophetic texts, observation is more about asking what social, ethical or religious wrongs are being addressed. Poetic texts often use imagery to convey their message and so we need to give them appropriate attention. Similarly, the questions we ask in interpretation will differ from one kind of biblical text to another.

After a while, we developed Bible study bookmarks for seven different genres: narratives, epistles, prophetic passages, poetic texts, Old Testament law, wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature. For each genre, the questions suggested for the Bible study correspond to the theological and literary characteristics of this type of text. You can find them here.

With regard to these bookmarks, Markus Heide – head of SMD student ministries – says: “I experience their value when they help student groups to unearth the treasure of Scripture instead of only hearing what they already know. I experience their value when they help a Christian to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend and together they make discoveries, instead of the Christian explaining everything to the non-Christian.”

Fabian Mederacke, former regional staff of SMD Germany
fmederacke@gmx.de

One Bible Study Multiplied into Many

As a student, I had the opportunity to join a Bible Study group, in addition to our weekly FES fellowship meetings. We met once a week during the semester. We named the group “Bible Surgeons” because we wanted to dissect the Word, discover it and process these discoveries in our lives. We did not just want to hear the outcome of someone else’s study, but engage with Scripture ourselves. These studies taught me to look at biblical passages through the eyes of different people, perspectives and entry points. This has been a great gift for me in my discovery of God and his Word.

Our FES staff worker, Annette Arulrajah, facilitated the Bible Surgeons’ group. Through this experience, I learned to lead Bible studies. As a student, I mainly observed how Annette facilitated. This wasn’t difficult because she would explain the reason behind why she did certain things, even if she had to repeat it weekly! In this way, we studied biblical books and at the same time learned to facilitate studies. I learned from Annette that you can facilitate Bible studies with 1 person or with 100 people. I discovered that engaging with the Word can be interesting, interactive and alive. I think the most valuable thing I learned is how to lead a Bible study in such a way that students learn how to study the Word for themselves and are enabled to facilitate a Bible study for others.

What inspires me to continue facilitating Bible studies with others is the desire to see students discover for themselves who God is through His Word. Since the Word is alive and still speaks to us, it can pierce our heart and draw us back to God – if we allow it to. I have often seen students so moved by the Word that the door for deep conversations was opened and new steps of faith were taken. For me, it is always important to remember that when I mentor a student, I do not do so with my words, but with God’s Word.

For eleven years I have been facilitating Bible studies and training others to do so. I thank the Lord that because of this, many students in turn have started to facilitate Bible studies!

Beatrice Leong, beascuits@gmail.com
staff worker FES Malaysia until 2018

Transformed by the Weeping Prophet – how God used Jeremiah to change the way I pray

(by Paula, Eurasia)

When I was asked to try and write about my journey with the book of Jeremiah, I must admit to having some feelings of hesitation… it meant revisiting what for me was painful growth – even if it was a good struggle!

The book of Jeremiah accompanied me as I was trying to work through some difficult family memories and intergenerational hurt. Jeremiah’s call and life were of course different to my own, but Jeremiah’s story, and in particular his relationship with God over several decades, called me to deeper discipleship as I met with the Living God in these ‘texts of disaster’.

Jeremiah was called in youth and weakness to preach to rebellious Israel. He endured what looked like fruitless ministry as well as loneliness, imprisonment and mockery. Despite the personal toll, Jeremiah kept going: in relationship with God, loving his own people (while tearing his hair out!) and serving the God of hope even when he could not see how salvation could come.

How do you speak to God when the usual frameworks of familiarity and survival are opened up, pulled apart and shown to be no more than straw? What words can you reach for when you hit those moments of despair?

Jeremiah’s poetic descriptions of God (eg 2:13, 2:32, 18:6, 50:44) and his colourful, unrestrained, honest, even rude, complaints to God (his ‘confessions’ throughout chapters 11-20) were like a can opener – opening me up to my own pain and enabling me in raw honesty to bring my own experience to God in words I had not dared to pray before. Perhaps my British reserve had held me back, or maybe I hadn’t really wanted to deal with some of those deep struggles that God loves to redeem?

I needed to learn the language of lament – beyond praise and petition, to engage with God in the reality of pain and struggle. I needed the reassurance that the God I meet in Jeremiah – robust and unthreatened by the fist-waving of His people – is the same God who brought hope and transformation to His people in Christ. I began to call on God to be to me who He says He is.

The bitterness of Jeremiah’s experience with his people, and his struggle with, not against, God, taught me to grieve past wrongs in my family. I was able to mourn what was lost and allow myself to feel sorrow over injustice – not allowing the old order of things to continue, at least not in my own heart. The book of Jeremiah shows us that as believers, we call on a God who is able to transform the hearts of people; the Living God can bring newness out of nothingness, repentance out of rebellion, right living after regret.

Books for further reading:
Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile.
Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best.

Entering into God’s Story

We need Scripture as a whole for our walk with God. Brief selected verses may well be precious and meaningful, but these individual passages cannot replace the big picture. In a very pertinent way, Dietrich Bonhoeffer invites us to enter into God’s story and to meet him in the reality of his dealings with this world that far surpass our individual lives.

The following text is from Bonhoeffer’s book: Life Together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a German theologian who lived in the middle of the 20th century, founded a theological seminary based on communal living and was deeply involved in the Nazi resistance movement.

Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness. All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality. We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth. […]
 
A complete reversal occurs. It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather that God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to his Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is “external to ourselves.” I find not salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ. Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his Cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together – The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. Translated by John W. Doberstein. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1954, 53-54.

Praying the Word

This is not an article; it is an invitation to pray…

An invitation to personal prayer
In a period of my life that was marked by many struggles, questions, and uncertainties, Psalms 42-43 became very precious to me. These psalms (closely linked through a recurring chorus) helped me to pray both my questions and my trust.

Read Psalms 42-43 slowly and prayerfully.

Reread the passage. What resonates with you and your life? Stay with those verses. Let them guide you into your own prayer. Some examples:

_v. 2 “my soul thirsts for God, for the living God” – a deep appetite for God runs through this Psalm. What is it you are seeking? How thirsty are you and how can you pray your thirst for God?

_v. 9 “I say to God, my Rock, why have you forgotten me?” – what a confession of faith right next to a hard question! The Psalmist confesses that God is his Rock, the foundation of his life. At the same time, he prays his questions and cries out his pain. Who is God for you? How can you pray the tension between your faith and your questions?
And so on…

You might want to close by writing out one verse from this prayer that particularly resonates with you. Let these words from Scripture become your prayer in the weeks and months to come.

An invitation to communal prayer
Recently, the programme team for World Assembly 2019 met to continue planning the conference. One of the Scripture passages with which we will engage at World Assembly is from Acts 4: a prayer spoken by the early church in the face of threats and pressure. Martin Haizmann, the conference director, led us in a time of prayer for World Assembly as described below. It was a rich experience. I invite you to let this prayer lead you in a communal time of prayer for the student ministry in your context.

Read Acts 4:23-31 aloud. Leave a time of silence for everyone to reread the passage. Then enter into a time of communal prayer inspired by this prayer from Scripture.

Reread Acts 4:23-31. In a time of silent reflection everyone is asked to make notes of how – in light of this scriptural prayer – they want to pray for student ministry in your specific context. It is also possible to put up posters on which to write these prayer requests so that they are visible for everyone. Have another time of communal prayer in which you bring these prayer requests to God.

Praying the Word. Not only prayers from Scripture, but all of the Bible invites us to pray. As we read and study God’s Word, we are invited to respond in prayer – to respond by praying our awe and praise, our questions, our pain, our commitments, our confession… God’s Word invites us into an honest conversation with the Living God.

Sabine Kalthoff
IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement

Reflections on Scripture Engagement in Prayer

“Blessed are those who keep his statutes, and seek him with all their heart” (Psalm 119:2). Scripture invites us to ‘seek him’ and by doing so invites us to pray – since this is the essence of prayer.

Many years ago, someone remarked that we should “Pray the Word”. Agreeing with what God has already said regarding issues that I prayed about (choices, fears, finances and so on) made sense to me. As I reflected on how praying has evolved within my environment, this statement came to mind again. Many people seem to have developed a new prayer language and posture. Certain words seem more powerful than others and walking around, claiming ground and casting out the devil have become the focus of prayer. Is praying the Word an imperative or a mere suggestion?

Christians often define prayer as communication with God, suggesting that not only do we speak to God, but that God also speaks to us. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bible as God’s Word has great relevance for this communication.

As we examine Scripture, we become more aware of God and can respond to him according to his revelation. It is through the Word that we get to know God and can answer with praise, love and trust. As this relationship grows, a meaningful friendship is established and we increasingly get to know the heart of the One to whom we pray. This helps us to pray with confidence according to God’s will. As we enter into conversation with God, we can enter into his desires for us, and see more clearly how we fit into his plan.

As a young believer in my early teens, I wrestled with the question of how I fit into God’s plan. In my prayers, I asked God what gift he had given me. I remember saying that all I do is help – assisting with Sunday school, sporting activities, singing and other areas of church life. It was through Bible study that I realized: being a helper was actually me using my gift! I was overjoyed. Since then, I have often experienced how during times of prayer, God gave me assurance by guiding me to Scriptures.

There are many ways in which God’s Word can shape our prayers: inviting us to seek God, deepening our relationship with God, guiding us in the content of our prayers, revealing sin so that we can deal with it and clear the communication channel to God, clarifying our thoughts, giving direction, revealing truth…

There is no doubt that engaging with the Word enables prayer and that praying provokes us to turn to the Scriptures.

Cheryl Jessemy, ceejessemy@gmail.com
staff worker with ISCF, Grenada and regional prayer coordinator for the Caribbean

“I am a servant of the light that never goes out”

David Bahena’s pilgrimage with God’s Word

David BahenaI became a Christian when I was 16 and my life was turned around – I experienced joy and suddenly had a purpose in life. At the same time, I was hungry for reading the Bible and my journey with Scripture began then and there.

At COMPA (IFES movement in Mexico), I learnt how to study, share and contextualise God’s Word. I belong to a generation who grew up studying the Bible inductively and taking part in workshops with Ada Lum. Samuel Escobar, in “Así leo la Biblia”, describes it like this: “learning to observe the text with clarity, interpreting its message and applying it to our personal lives.” Then came the time to share the Word with my fellow university students. It was such a joy to see my friends meeting Jesus in these small groups and being transformed by God’s Word. Also, because of our reality in Latin America, we were taught how to apply it to our context. It is relevant to the academic world, and to our country’s social, political and financial reality.

After serving as student staff we went through a time of spiritual dryness and renewal. As the staff had to prepare so many workshops, sermons and Bible studies, we were risking turning the Bible into a mere work tool. We read and studied God’s Word but we weren’t feeling passionate about it anymore. So much so that after serving for three years as General Secretary, I confessed to Douglas Stewart that I didn’t feel like reading the Bible or praying, and that I didn’t understand what was happening to me. God opened a new spiritual path of renewal centred on his Word. This new way of approaching Scripture included meditation, prayer and retreat. It was a time of learning how to pray with God’s Word and in the Spirit, and I was gradually transformed and renewed.

My calling in life has also been shaped by Scripture. In summer 2003, at Cedar Campus, whilst God was restoring our marriage, we were invited to cultivate the kind of spirituality that is humble, rooted in the Bible and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:18-21). Years later, God rebuilt my sense of identity, helped me to see that I was much more than just a member of staff and invited me home to cultivate the kind of spirituality that makes you a better parent, friend and citizen (John 4:46-54). Once again, last year in Pasadena, God renewed us and gave us rest, and we were invited to cultivate the kind of spirituality that flourishes through adversity and the desert (1 Peter 1:3-5). God is calling us to work alongside a generation of emerging leaders, to facilitate an encounter with the Lord that is Bible-centred, modelling humble and transparent leadership, strengthening basic relationships in life and the family, and persevering even through adversity.

David Bahena
David serves in IFES as Regional Secretary for Latin America

“Having my ears opened”

“Be still, and know that I am God….” (Psalm 46:10)
“By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me….” (Psalm 42:8)

Hearing the Word. Hearing my life. Hearing God’s still small voice!
Much of life is an experience of living with cramped-ness. Many experiences whizz past us – the people we have met, the ministry we do, and the life that happens to us.

2017 was such a year for me… taking many flights to the movements in my region; giving numerous Bible expositions and sermons; listening to many people as they went through tough pilgrimages; 4 deaths – one of my own dear mom, another my campus room-mate & 2 colleagues in East Asia; taking on the role of IFES Regional Secretary, East Asia.

Cramped, unexamined lives begin to leak out impatience, weariness, anger, bitterness and self-pity. I could not stop any of these experiences of life and ministry. But for sanity’s sake, I found the still, small voice of my Lord calling me away… to solitude! I managed seven spiritual retreats in 2017 (some of which I both facilitated and participated in). Two of them were for 3 days; four of them were merely 3 hour retreats; one was for 4 days.

In the facilitated retreat, small portions of Scripture were given to chew on and listen to [Psalm 42; 1 Corinthians 4:7-16; Exodus 19:1-6; Joshua 3]. As I waited with these passages… the space I created in waiting with the Word began to speak to me. I was ‘hearing’ the Word watering my life. I began to also ‘hear’ my life – the grief I had accumulated, the questions that were arising. The greatest gift was ‘hearing’ God, who had been there through it all. He began to impress His promises and His healing in a new way.

After each of these ‘retreats’, I came back with a fresh mandate! A clearer calling of how to proceed. For me, these retreating times are not an option, but an oasis where I can drink deeply and make space for life. So, I know for myself, 2017 was a year of ‘hard knocks & tough schooling’, yet it was the year I am certain ‘he carried me on eagle’s wings & sang his song over me by night.’

So, how do I go away on my retreats?

  • I bring the issues / concerns / experiences in my life that I want to examine.
  • I ask the Lord to nudge me to a Scripture passage to hang out with.
  • I pour out my heart, and wait & listen.
  • I listen to His Word, His voice & listen to my life. I listen as I walk, or as I sit, listening to nature, images or words that He brings to my heart and mind.
  • In listening, I respond from where I am. Conversations with God.
  • All these go into my journal, which acts as my back-up listening tool!

Happy retreating, dear friend!

Annette Arulrajah
IFES Regional Secretary for East Asia