My life is God’s project

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(written by Daniel Bourdanné, IFES General Secretary)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me
were written in your book before one of them came to be
.”
Psalm 139:13-16

BildDanielkleinIn 1982, I was a student at the University of Lomé in Togo. The course was very hard (only 7 or 8% of students succeeded in passing the end-of-year exams). For me, it was also a time of personal crisis: What should I do with my life? What was the purpose of my life? I had grand dreams. One of my dreams was to become a professor and be appointed to a chair by the time I was 32. But my “grand dreams” had been disrupted by the civil war in my country. I had spent two years without going to school. Even once I started studying again, I was still struggling with the question: “Why did God allow my studies to be disrupted?”. Actually, despite my faith in God, my future plans had always been centred on myself.

One day, I received a message from a sister and friend. We were both members of the CU. We used to share and pray together from time to time. That day, she wrote me a letter to encourage me. It contained these words from Psalm 139.

I had obviously read this passage before. But, that day, the words took on a new meaning for me. As I read these verses, I felt at first as if I was frozen to the spot, unable to move, just as if I had made an important discovery. A river of sense, understanding and meaning was at last pouring out from this passage. It was an overwhelming revelation for me and was to change the course and meaning of my life. At last! God had enlightened me, had opened the eyes of my heart to the real meaning of my life.

I am neither the product of natural chance nor the expression of life’s vanity. So much more! I am particularly loved by God, by the infinite God. As I am created in his image, I reflect his beauty, despite the ugliness the traces of sin’s bites have left upon me. My life is God’s project. It is also a great and good project in God’s eyes, even if I had not been fully aware of it until then. For I was making my own plans; I was dreaming of becoming someone important without really taking God into account in my plans.

This passage was also a clear and specific invitation made to me by God to place myself entirely at his service. If God knows me so thoroughly, if my life is his project, is he not the best guide for my present and my future, which he unfolds? I felt it was a passage of calling and consecration to God.

This passage is still a source of encouragement for me today. When faced with the choices of life, this passage reminds me that I need to turn my eyes to my creator to be guided into the right path. He is the one who unfolds our lives.  This passage from the Psalms surrounds me again and again. May God be praised for his living and life-giving word.

Daniel Bourdanné, daniel.bourdanne(at)ifesworld.org

Healthy Cooking

Introduction to a different kind of recipe book written by the global Scripture Engagement team

BildkochenkleinIn our student movements, we are committed to training our staff and students in Scripture engagement. How do we decide on the content of our formación events? What ingredients are needed in order to prepare a nutritious and tasteful dish?

The answer to this question will depend on the context and on the specific target group. For example, the dish we prepare will be different for students than for staff. The answer to this question will also depend on our overall vision. What do we want to see as the result of the totality of our formación in Scripture engagement? And what does this then mean for individual training events?

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19, NIV) “Until Christ is formed in you…” – a beautiful expression of what is on Paul’s heart for these churches!

What do you want to see as the result of the totality of your formación in Scripture engagement? Take a moment to put your vision into words. Please think specifically in terms of your target group.

My impression is that we often focus on only some of the ingredients needed to attain the overall vision while neglecting others. Sometimes…

  • We teach Bible study methods, but fail to address the expectations and attitude with which our staff and students approach God’s Word;
  • We train how to build and run Bible study groups, but fail to stop and reflect on what is actually happening in these groups;
  • We talk a lot about the Bible, but spend a disproportionately small amount of time listening to God’s Word and allowing it to speak to us. At many training events, the morning starts with a Bible study or Bible exposition, but then there is hardly any time to digest what was heard, to soak in the Word, to meet Jesus.

The global Scripture Engagement team of IFES has written a cooking help for you. This new resource does not propose a standard curriculum. Instead it seeks to help us plan carefully what we include in our training programmes.

Scripture engagement formación – a resource for planning and developing training programmes: You can download this material here.

Sabine Kalthoff
IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement

A Journey with the Lord’s Prayer

(written by Savithri Sumanthiran, Regional Secretary for South Asia)

“பரலோகத்தில் இருக்கிற எங்கள் பிதாவே” was the first Christian prayer I ever learned. I don’t know whether my memory serves me right, but as I recall, I learned the Lord’s prayer first in Tamil from a Lady Bird Book! From then on The Lord’s Prayer has been one of my favourite scriptures.

Shaping a relationship of intimacy with God…

In my early years, this prayer established a routine of prayer for me – no questions asked of it, no answers demanded from it. A a child, I simply prayed it. As I grew up, this prayer became the mainstay of my prayer life: the place where I have conversations and arguments with God; the platform from which I can pray during times when God seems distant and prayer impossible.

Shaping of character in the presence of God…

In my teens, I grappled for the first time with a phrase in this prayer; I had experienced hurts at a personal level, culminating in being confronted by a world that suddenly was no longer safe. I struggled to understand what it means to pray “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” – What did ‘debts’ mean? Who is the ‘us’ in this prayer? Was I to learn to forgive only those who are fellow Christians or was I to forgive the “other” who did violence to me and my community as well? I began the journey of learning what it means to forgive by taking the first steps. And I started to learn the freedom of self-talk that is able to say to myself: “I was wrong; I need to say ‘I am sorry, please forgive me.” And to enter into the scary process of meeting the person I offended or was offended by. This journey continues.

Shaping of a world-view in the presence of God…

Just a little older, praying this prayer introduced me to the idea that somehow Jesus is telling us to want His Kingdom to come, His will to be done – not at some future place but on earth. Until this time, I had internalized this phrase to mean that Jesus desires holiness in my personal life. Another journey of understanding Jesus and His mission began for me! Right now, I am trying to come to terms with why this prayer is all in the plural – “Our” Father, Give “us” this day our daily bread; Forgive “us” our trespasses …; Lead “us” not into temptation; Deliver “us” from evil…

Matthew 6: 9 – 13

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

SavithriThis Scripture for me:

  • is my safe space – a place to be open and intimate before the Lord;
  • is my discomfort space – a place to bring my real world questions and challenges
  • is my learning theology space – a place which invites me to enter the world of Jesus; to have conversations with fellow believers; to read what others have written.

Savithri Sumanthiran, Savithri.Sumanthiran(at)ifesworld.org

A Targum for Today

(written by: Yohan Abeynaike, General Secretary FOCUS Sri Lanka)

After a few generations in exile, the Jewish leaders faced a serious problem. Hebrew was being replaced by Aramaic as the common language of the people. With the change of language and context the leaders wondered how to communicate the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures to the next generation in a manner that was easily understood. This was the beginnings of the Targum.

SriLankasmallInitially, the Targum consisted of a simple paraphrase of the Scriptures in Aramaic. Later, it started to include explanations and expansions of the text so that the listeners could clearly see the relevance of the Scriptures in their context. In December, members of FOCUS Sri Lanka, decided to try their hand in writing a Targum using Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). We began by dividing the song by phrases and then developed each phrase more broadly in the explanation to achieve different aims. Here are a few examples of the aims we sought to achieve:

1. Understanding the conflicting thoughts and feelings of Mary and seeing her through modern eyes. (Lk 1:48-49)

“I cannot believe it! Thousands of Jewish women throughout history have wanted to be in this position. In the years to come people from everywhere will read and hear about my story. They will play my part in dramas and movies, they will preach sermons about me, they will sing songs about me. So many would wish they were me… but who am I? I am nothing…

…But, I am scared sometimes. I don’t know what the future holds for me. What will my relatives say about the pregnancy? What will the neighbours say? Will they mock me, ignore me or stone me?”

2. Applying the implications of a text broadly. (Lk 1:51)

God laughs at the boastful claims of the knowledge producers in our society. Can the scientist uncover all the mysteries of life? Can the economist satisfy all the people’s needs? Can the lawyer make a society more moral? Isn’t the claim that ‘all truth is relative’ – an absolute claim in itself? Why are they puffed up? Don’t they know that human knowledge will always be limited? It is only God who knows all things.

3. Using phrases and situations familiar to people today. (Lk 1:52)

All that is hidden will be exposed. He is the divine Wikileaks. The dark web will be lit up. The hate speech and tweets will be silenced.

The full text of our Targum for the Sri Lankan context can be found here.

The whole process was creative and fun. More importantly, it helped us to see and apply the text in fresher ways. Why not try it?

Yohan Abeynaike, yohan(at)focus.lk

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