Alan came to God

*Names changed due to sensitive location.

[Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash]

I want to share with you how I came to God. I wasn’t seeking him – he found me. He came to me at the most difficult time in my life. I got to a point when I wanted to take my own life.

It was unexpected. I was walking by my university, I saw this student handing out flyers. I went up to her, and in some way this person seemed to shine. After taking that flyer, I thought for a long time, and finally decided to go to that meeting. That evening the discussion was about truth, and it concluded with the thought, “the truth will set you free.” It just hit me.

“But to us, as staff, Alan seemed very suspect. He asked a lot of questions about who we are. But he also seemed to have a lot of genuine questions about the faith. We wondered if he was a spy, so we chose not to meet with him. We told him he could read the Bible if he wanted to find answers to his questions.

So he did! He downloaded the Bible onto his phone, and googled where best to start reading; he started with John’s gospel. It was his own reading of Scripture that let him to the decision to follow Christ.”

I went to the IFES staff l and said: “I want to know God, to know Jesus, and to grow in him”. God started to change everything in my life. My friends rejected me. When I read the Word of God, it led me to forgive my parents. They were amazed – and started to wonder why.

“We later found out that Alan’s father worked in the religious affairs department of the ‘KGB’ in our country, hence why he seemed so well-connected and inquisitive. Yet his interest was genuine; we started meeting with him for one-to-one Bible study.”

When my parents heard I was going to Bible studies, it was a shock for them. “We don’t need a son like that.” I wondered what to do; my father said “family or God: choose.” I began to gather my belongings.

Then my parents said: “Stay, we’ll drag you out of this”. I didn’t go to church for two weeks, I met with different people, with a Mullah, the took me to the mosque, and through all these contacts I understood that there is something in my heart, that salvation is in me, it was amazing. I started to abide in God’s Word, and I understood how much God loves me. I am thankful to God that there is this ministry through which I came to God.

“During this time we studied 1 Peter with Alan, about holding fast to Jesus in suffering. He said ‘I felt that this has been written just for me’. Alan was a final year student, and he said he didn’t want to do anything else in life except help others find Christ. He’s now joined our IFES movement as an intern, in another city where he can have more freedom from his parents, and his passion is to help others meet Jesus in his Word.”

 

Nina: Professor and Seeker

*Names changed due to sensitive location.

[Photo by Ifrah Akhter on Unsplash]

Nina is a remarkable woman. She is a single mother working several jobs to provide for her family. She is a university professor and a private language teacher for both local children and foreigners who need to learn a local language. Even with such a schedule she has time to think and to dream about what life could be like.

Nina comes from a minority ethnic group in a majority Muslim country in Asia. This ethnic group has very few believers… and she is not yet following Christ herself. But hearing her story it is clear that the God of all creation has been pursuing her…

From South American ‘m-workers’ who befriended her and helped her through some tough times, to the chance invitation to work in a private school founded by Christians — and then the many friendships she has formed, the conversations about faith and the way she experienced a different working atmosphere when surrounded by believers in J.

Mary, an older student and mature believer, prayed often for her, watching and waiting for the opportunities to share the Word with her. Mary’s patience did not mean inaction but active prayer. During this time of waiting and praying, friendship and trust grew. Nina began to tell Mary about her family and her history, starting to share her hopes and dreams. When Nina had a bereavement in her family she talked to Mary about death, which gave an opportunity to share a verse from the Holy Scriptures. But Mary’s great desire was to read from the Bible together with Nina, so that Nina could hear about and meet with God in His Word…

After a while, Nina herself asked Mary if they could read the Bible together. Nina invited Mary, not the other way around — and this started a pattern of meeting outside of lessons and reading the Scriptures together.

Mary led Nina through the Bible, starting at the beginning…and taking her through the big story of Scripture, introducing her to God in these stories and seeing His interactions with people. They traced God’s grace through the Bible and led up to the gospel story.

Mary asked Nina to find the passages, read them aloud and then summarise what they had read together. This way she learnt for herself the big story of God’s love and purpose.

During part of the coronavirus pandemic, they were even connecting every day and reading the gospel together. Nina learned to pray and to read with this good Christian friend. And even though the Bible, she would say, is not yet ‘her’ book, Nina shared these stories that she was hearing and learning with her friends because she was so moved by what she was reading and so convinced that these stories would be of help to her friends…

Course Foundations of Scripture Engagement

We are happy to share the news that the eLearning course “Foundations of Scripture Engagement” will be launched soon. It is a course prepared for student leaders and staff serving in the ministry of their national movements. The course will be available two times this year, one cohort starting on April 12th and the other cohort starting on August 9th. Each cohort go through Part 1 and Part 2, which last for eight weeks, with a week of break between them. When you sign up, you are automatically signing up for both Part 1 and 2 of the course.

[Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash]

We expect you need to dedicate at least one to two hours a week, ideally two to four hours, to go through the content of the course and to interact with others in the forums, plus one or two Zoom calls during the length of the course.

In this course, we will share the journey of deepening our foundations in Scripture and renewing our vision of the Word and its richness.

This is a special opportunity to learn and grow together with facilitators from the Scripture Engagement global team, to interact with people from across different regions and contexts, and to explore the questions you have, listening and learning from others around the world for mutual enrichment.

If you are a student or a staff and wants to join the eLearning course “Foundations of Scripture Engagement”, please sign in through the following link. Please note you will be signing to the language in which you are reading it here: English, Spanish, or French. In case you want to sign up for a different language, if you have any questions or would like to know more, please feel free to write to: scriptureengagement@ifesworld.org.

It will be a joy to have you on board. 

 
 
 

Connecting Scripture Engagement (SE) and Prayer

In December 2019, the global network of Scripture engagement (SE) multipliers met – fourteen people from around the IFES world. During this meeting, we had a work group on SE and prayer with the following participants: Eu Pui Chong (EP, Malaysia), Irena Huseva (IH, Ukraine), Heledd Job (HJ, Europe), Sabine Kalthoff.

Please start by looking at the summary of our findings on SE and prayer:

The following interview with the work group participants brings life to some aspects of this overview:

What is one new insight that you gained from this work group about the connection between SE and prayer?
(EP) Often, we study a passage and after that we pray for each other ‘leaving behind what we just discovered from the passage’ instead of letting the passage guide our prayer needs or shape our prayer items.

(IH) The importance of a prayerful posture in studying Scripture. For me that is not just putting my body in a certain posture, but becoming quiet before him and putting my hand into his to let him lead and walk with me through the whole Scripture Engagement.  In other words, being in a prayerful posture means being in prayer before, during, and after the Bible study.

(HJ) I gained a greater awareness that when I come to engage with Scripture by myself or with others, God is present with me in that very moment. The phrase that stuck in my mind is: The author is in the room”.

What encourages you and what challenges you as you reflect on this connection?
(EP) In particular, the Lord’s prayer has been invaluable – praying for my nation and the world has been difficult in this period due to what I perceive as an endless cycle of corruption power abuse. Letting the words of the Lord’s prayer lead me has been comforting. It also challenges me not to give up praying, seeing how God is at work and not to insist that God solve problems my way or in my timing.

(HJ) This connection encourages me as I come across passages that I find difficult. As I’m reading and struggling, I can pause and ask for God’s help. I can ask him, what do you mean? What do you want me to understand here? What should I do with this? And I know that when I pray, the Spirit who caused these words to be written is there present with me, ready to answer.

What is one practical step that you have taken or would like to take in order to strengthen the integration of SE and prayer in your own life and/or ministry?
 (IH) For many years, I studied Scripture by carefully observing the passage, asking questions and trying to grasp its main message. Only after coming up with the main message did we ask ourselves what it says to us. I still use this approach, but I try to be in a prayerful posture during the whole Bible study, letting the Word speak to me not only at the end of the study, but while I am deeply in it. I believe that the Holy Spirit can use not only the main message of the passage, but any parts of it to touch our soul.  

(HJ) In my personal devotions, I have tried to be more intentional in praying in response to what I read. At the moment, I’m reading through the Psalms. I try to take the words of the Psalmist as my starting point, taking those words and thoughts and making them my own. Then at the end of the day, I will return to that same Psalm and prayerfully reflect on how what I heard God say to me in the morning has been sustaining and directing me throughout the day.

Please complete the following sentence: “The gift of SE and prayer is…”
…waiting to be discovered and savoured. (EP)
…being amazed – a sense of wow at who God is, wow to who I am and wow to his boundless love. (IH)
…that when God speaks he is not just giving us information, he is inviting us to a conversation. (HJ)

Connecting Scripture and Prayer in Practise:

_Preparing to hear the Word. Most of us cannot just stop and listen to God. We sit down and open the Bible to read, but our thoughts are still elsewhere, busy with lots of things. We read a passage and at the end, we don’t know what we’ve read. We can read without hearing. I know that I need to prepare myself to listen to God. I need help to be present to him and his Word. What helps me most is prayerful silence.
How do you prepare yourself to hear the Word both individually and in a group? Prayer helps us enter into a relational posture and awareness of God’s presence.

_Praying the Word – God’s Word teaches us how to pray. We can let prayers from Scripture inspire and lead us in our prayers – both collectively and individually. This video shows what this can look like based on the Lord’s prayer. This article gives further examples of how God’s Word can shape our praying.

_Learning to lament from Jeremiah.  After the Covid 19 pandemic started, the Latin American region offered an online session on the topic of lament. For follow up, a resource with three Bible studies from the book of Jeremiah was developed – giving examples of how to lament, helping to reflect on lament and inviting to pray to God in this way ourselves.

_Retreats are all about prayerfully connecting our lives with God’s reality and his Word. They are an invitation to retreat from the business of life, to enter into a time of waiting and listening – holding out our lives and circumstances to God – hearing his Word – and prayerfully giving the Spirit space to speak to us. You can find material for personal or group retreats here. This testimony helps see the value of setting apart such a time.

There is so much more for you to discover… maybe this summary image can serve as a road map on the way. Please do write and share your experience of integrating Scripture and prayer – in your personal lives, but also in communal settings, at camps and conferences. We would love to hear back from you.

Sabine Kalthoff,
IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement
sabine.kalthoff@ifesworld.org

From fear to hope

COMPA had scheduled its highly expected National Student Gathering for April 2020. COVID-19 had already ruined some of my plans and turned my last year as a university student upside down. On March 30th, the Mexican health authorities declared a national lock-down and I went from an on-campus student to an on-line student overnight. What would happen to my plans, my dreams, and my goals for this year? Everything was getting cancelled and it was both sad and frustrating. However, I was able to see God’s hand because my family was healthy, and we had resources.

COMPA announced that they would hold the National Camp online. I was very happy to read that and, at the same time, I felt sad that I wouldn’t be seeing my friends from across the country in person. God surprised me by showing me that He gave us a community despite the distance and these convoluted times. Nearly 1,000 people registered and 700 signed up for on-line Bible studies.

When I was asked to host a Bible study, I accepted and I was more than willing to collaborate since I had a bit of experience in on-line Bible studies, as part of the Student National Convention. However, when I learned the book was Revelation, I felt intimidated as it seems hard to read. We were invited to a 3-session orientation event for 50 Bible study leaders. At the first session, we took a trip down this enigmatic book; in the second, we attended an on-line Bible study; and in the third, they expounded on the methodology.

The book of Revelation then went from a daunting text to a ray of hope in times of uncertainty. I loved stepping into their shoes, and, in a certain way, I felt identified with them. As a student, I like to have everything at hand and under control, but I had lost sight of the essential need to love Jesus deeply.

I grew in my love for the Lord because I saw that Jesus was with us in the midst of these new circumstances. This orientation was key, we had visual aids and a guide to manage time, as well as teaching tools.

Back then, hardly any of us were used to using ZOOM, but they made an effort. Although it was a long-distance call, we felt safe because we were connecting around the Bible. We were all afraid of studying the book of Revelation and we needed hope, and God gave us this hope through this enigmatic book. It was great because it was a true introduction to developing our mission on-line during these semesters. God is sitting on His throne and He has surprised us in the midst of this time of uncertainty by providing us with trust and hope.

Zuriel Castro/ Business Management / COMPA Mexico

Renewed in God’s Word

As I attended the IFES Scripture Engagement webinar (The Word Among Us – The Groans of Life and the God on the Cross) during that time when the whole world was afraid by a pandemic, there was also a hopelessness in our own lives. I was very careful about my family mother, wife and two daughters, seven and two and a half years old. It seemed like that was the end of the world, where churches were closed, no Bible study groups, no religious gatherings. At the same time, there were so many opportunities to learn God’s Word. The IFES Scripture Engagement webinar was one of them.

When Yohan Abeynaike from Sri Lanka led these studies, I felt a comfort inside me that nothing beyond God is eternal. The pandemic will end and if we are not happy by this global pandemic, at the same time we find God is also suffering with it and in him we find consolation. As we are suffering, in the same way our God has suffered on the cross. These Bible studies reminded me that our God is a God of forgiveness and he is inviting us to experience it from his hands. I can see the fulfilment of his promise in my life that he will never leave or forsake me because of what Jesus Christ did to pay my sins. I felt God’s protection and provision in my life and family.

I found my identity by these webinars that I am God’s son, not a slave. If I get lost and busy in worldly things, then still there is an option of going back to him and finding he is ready to accept me. I found that God has power to renew things in our life as he renewed so many things in the world. He refreshed the Scriptures in my life, his vision has been refreshed in me, my family relations found a new charm when I shared all these discoveries in God’s Word with others.

Growing through this Scripture Engagement webinar was a source of motivation for missionary work in my social circles through social media. I have shared the same things which have been taught with my non-christian friends and found their perspective of this pandemic have been changed. I was renewed in my obedience, remembering that God has assigned a mission to me, that I must proclaim His Word among all the nations, tribes, and ethnic groups.

Khurram Younis
Staff worker of PFES in Pakistan

Listening to the questions around us


Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

What kinds of questions are being raised in a time like this? Below you can see one possible exercise in highlighting some of these questions, as I pay attention to them in my own context. Maybe it would be a good exercise if you could also try to identify the questions being raised in your own contexts. How does the biblical story help us to engage and respond to these questions?

1. Questions about humanness

a. In this season, questions about human superiority and how much control we have over our lives take centre stage. We have had to come to terms with our limitations, our creaturely vulnerability and the uncertainty/unpredictability of human life. This also leads to further questions about the meaning and purpose of human living.

b. As we live in forced social isolation our society’s narratives of human individualism and autonomous self-sufficient lifestyles have been brought into the spotlight. Our need of the other, and the value of community has enhanced showing that we are inherently social beings and not autonomous creatures. The call to use the term “spatial” or “physical” distancing as opposed to “social distancing” is another example of this.


2. Questions about Christian theology, disciplines and community

a. Online Church – We have had to also ask questions about the meaning of church as we meet online. Do we miss something when we meet online? Has any aspect of church life been enhanced?

b. How do we read scripture – Have we had to rethink what we mean when we talk about God’s protection and security? Does a pandemic show that God’s return is imminent or are there other ways of thinking about eschatology?

c. Forgotten Christian practices – Have we neglected some forms of Christian discipleship (e.g. lament) in our Church life? Why and at what cost? What is the relationship between doubt and faith?

d. Deepening our theology – How do we reconcile God’s goodness and the presence of evil and suffering in the world? Does our collective search for a vaccine show a dependence on science over and above God?

3. Questions about the societies we live in

a. Effects of the pandemic – While the pandemic does not discriminate, does it affect some parts of our society disproportionately? What does that reveal about the disparities in our society?

b. Hidden issues – What issues in our societies have been surfaced during this time? (e.g. domestic violence, racial and ethnic discrimination/stigmatization)

c. Crisis of leadership – How would you rate the leaders in your society? What key aspects of leadership have been missing? How have they used the pandemic to further their own political ends?

d. Questions around value – What has the pandemic revealed about the value system in our society? Have we had to depend on segments of our society that we usually neglect? (e.g. shop keepers, garbage disposal workmen, delivery persons, public health inspectors etc.).

e. Questions around structuring society – Have we excluded the environment/non human creatures when we talk about society making/development? What are the limits we are willing to place on ourselves so that we can live in greater harmony with the rest of creation? What social/economic models need to be challenged? Do we need to begin another Jubilee movement calling on a moratorium of national debt?

Yohan Abeynaike, GS FOCUS Sri Lanka

Scripture Engagement & Context

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

God is a revealing God, his Word is his revelation of himself and his purposes to his world. It is wonderful we are invited by God to meet him, know and love him, through the Scriptures. As we answer this invitation and engage with Him in His Word, it is helpful to acknowledge we are a diversity of peoples, times and contexts. How we approach, view, interpret, understand and connect his Word to our lives is a question we must address with faith and with faithfulness.

Just look at Acts 3:12-26 and Acts 17:22-31 as classic examples of taking the context and those people’s questions seriously when presenting the good news.

When the working group met to reflect and discuss this issue, we thought it would be important to focus on how our contemporary context affects the way we read, interpret and live out God’s Word. We do this in the wide variety of contexts we come from where we seek to be faithful to the Lord – ‘correctly handling the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15) having our thinking, speaking and behaviour transformed by God through His Word and by His Spirit.

Through fostering a growing reflection and exchange in our global fellowship about “Scripture Engagement & Context”, we hope to better recognise our blind spots – those things that because of the milieu we live in/ have grown up in we do not see: about God, His purposes or ourselves. Through mutual learning in our international fellowship we hope to avoid some possible risks: a selective hermeneutic determined by culturally defined questions leading to ethnocentrism and relativism; or cultural ‘imprisonment’/bias leading to a poor reading of Scriptures even leaving out parts that don’t seem to be relevant (in our own eyes). For an extreme example of this see what King Jehoiakim did in Jeremiah 36!

We believe it is important to both grow in how we engage with the Scriptures from our own times and contexts, and at the same time become increasingly aware of how the Word ‘reads’ and engages with us. As we read and are ‘read’, as we participate, God transforms us and our context/community.

When engaging with the Word, we believe we are engaging with God himself in the Scriptures, with Jesus, the Living Word. We can therefore expect that he will engage with us – an experience that will not leave us or our communities the same.

Our different contexts raise a variety of questions which we should pay careful attention to when engaging the Scriptures. At the same time, the Word of God often raises other questions or gives answers that we would not have expected. Scripture reveals agendas and poses questions that people may not be asking. Thus, engaging with the Word will often disturb, question, and challenge what may be fully accepted in our context.

The reader of the Word is therefore not only personally challenged and transformed but challenged to be agents of change and transformation in the context and community within which they live.

In the end, when we are dedicated to a serious study of the Word, it should lead us to discover the heart and mind of God for our world: the Lord who is missionary, who is transforming and reconciling the world to Himself through Christ.

We pray that when paying more attention to the contemporary context we all live in, we will grow to become a better global hermeneutical community, learning from each other and faithfully giving witness to the Lord across the world from each of our contexts.

IFES Eurasia Scripture Engagement Coordinator (no name as in sensitive country) and Ricardo Borges (IFES Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement)

Inspiring Love of the Old Testament

Meeting God in ancient words, on a journey, as a scattered community…

Deuteronomy 8:3 “…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

The Deuteronomy Journey:

Over the last year in Eurasia, a group of 10 senior staff participated in a journey together through the book of Deuteronomy. This pilot project was born out of two observable needs that perhaps resonate with you too:

  1. The need for senior staff to have some input and inspiration from God’s Word for themselves when they are usually the ones giving out and training others. We all need to keep growing in our relationship with God and in our knowledge and love of Him.
  2. The need for students to meet with God in all of Scripture – including the Old Testament. Confusion, fear and perhaps lack of teaching can mean that the Old Testament feels distant or even irrelevant rather than the Holy Scriptures ‘that are able to make you wise for salvation…’.
    As staff and students, we want and need to be growing in confidence in reading, understanding and teaching the Old Testament.

The Deuteronomy Journey was designed for a group of peers to do together, learning from one another. We wanted to go deep into one book of the Old Testament as a window on to the rest of Scripture. We grappled with the God that we met there; we journeyed with this God who rescued His people and led them through the wilderness. We marvelled at the words He gave to His people to live by (the law that spoke of Him and made them distinctive in the world) and at the gift of His very self!

Apart from one face-to-face meeting at the start and end of the year, we met monthly on Zoom. The basis for these Zoom calls was written responses (shared with each other) to the Deuteronomy chapters that we had read that month. These ranged from a mini-essay to a letter to a friend and creative sessions for students. Meeting virtually wasn’t without its difficulties but coming together from different cultures gave us the opportunity to be enriched by different perspectives. Together we studied this challenging book with its history, law, some poetry and its call to a life of radical discipleship following the One True and Living God.

What participants said:

“It was good to ask the difficult questions and try to see how we can answer these – this has strengthened my faith…”

“This project has encouraged me to help students to value the Old Testament, the big picture of Scripture – so that we can together come to know the merciful and loving God who is revealed in the whole Bible…”

Deuteronomy 32:47 “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life”!

IFES Eurasia Scripture Engagement Coordinator (no name as in sensitive country)

The Bible and Mental Health

 

Imagine your friend tells you that she wants to kill herself, tonight. Imagine the despair you can see in her eyes. It’s clear: she no longer wants to live. Silence fills the room. What do you say? What can you do?

New Zealand has a very high youth suicide rate. It is twice as high as that of the United States, and five times higher than that of Britain. For many students, the above is not a hypothetical scenario but a real conversation they have had.

This reality became apparent as I trained students in evangelism last year. While we went through the content of the gospel and how we can share it, their insecurity in relating to friends living with depression and anxiety became apparent. They saw the importance of coming alongside them in their suffering, but was the gospel what they now needed? How could it be good news to them?

I realized that there were two needs. Firstly, students need to develop a ‘Christian lens’ from the Bible through which to see mental illnesses. Secondly, students also need to understand what anxiety and depression is and looks like. This will enable them to better love and share the gospel with those around them, to the glory of God. So the training event ‘The Bible and Mental Health’ was birthed.

Tim Capill, a pastor in Christchurch, came and gave us a biblical overview on the origin and solution to our suffering. Based on Psalm 139, he also spoke on six truths we can hold on to about God whilst we suffer. It was a brilliant talk that provided a solid biblical framework on suffering and, in particular, how we can trust God through depression and anxiety.

Dana Lee – a Christian psychologist specializing in youth and trauma also came and ran two seminars focusing on what clinical depression and anxiety look like. We practised in pairs with scenarios focusing particularly on our listening skills.

It was an event with a great turn out: over 50 students came to be equipped. As the organizer, I am encouraged to see that these students now have a better understanding and more compassion for those suffering with depression and anxiety. They have also become more confident that the deepest need of these friends is the same as that of anyone of us: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Candy Grice, staff worker with TSCF New Zealand
CandyG@tscf.org.nz

Book recommendation (by Sabine Kalthoff, IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement): Mark Meynell, When Darkness seems my Closest Friend – Reflections on life and ministry with depression. The honest account of a personal journey with very helpful general reflections. A worthwhile read.