Growing Contextualised Daily Bible Reading in Central Asia

As a student, I grew in my faith by developing the habit of studying the Bible every day.

In the UK, it was no problem to access resources that were appropriate to my situation, helped me understand what the text was saying and to consider what it meant for me as a young man.

Old translations, foreign materials

I have worked with the IFES movements in Central Asia for twenty years. While I’m always encouraging students to grow in their faith by studying the Bible for themselves, there has been almost nothing available in Russian to help them do this. Moreover, the most widely-used Bible version, the Russian Synodal Translation (RST), was itself translated in 1867 from the poetic and even older Church Slavonic language! Despite the fact that Biblica has produced a new Russian translation, many churches still use the RST.

Using foreign materials can prove problematic because of Bible study questions focussing on particular words that don’t make sense when reading from a Russian Bible translation. Also, these materials sometimes reflected ways of thinking or cultural issues that are alien to Central Asian students.

We needed to write our own questions which would help students engage with the Bible using the RST (but also work with the newer translation). These questions would reflect their level of understanding and be attentive to issues that were pressing for them (as well as seek to correct some common theological errors).

The COVID lockdown provided the final push:

We prepared Bible study questions and posted them daily on our church’s Telegram channel. Although written with students in mind, they have been useful to and appreciated by people aged 14-65+, as well as younger teens, couples, and house groups.

Experience showed that as well as supplying questions for the observation, interpretation, and application of the text, we also needed to provide a short explanation, or reflection, which summarised its key points.

Post-COVID, we decided to publish booklets with the material, encouraging students (and others) to have a phone-free quiet time – each booklet contains daily studies for one book of the Bible. To date, we’ve distributed about 250 copies and are encouraged by the testimonies of readers who have been really moved by God’s Word. For the most part, it has actually been older Christians (including those in Christian ministry!) who have come to understand parts of Scripture more deeply. Often people have said: “I’ve read this so many times before, but never seen that.” We hope to see more students using these booklets for daily quiet times, and we rejoice in every story of someone being impacted by studying God’s Word.

Former General Secretary of a Eurasian National Movement

The Gospel on (and in) the Ground

Vanuatu is a cluster of islands in the South Pacific and home to the Gud Nius Yunivesiti Felosip (GNYF), our IFES movement. Most of our country is still populated by small, subsistence-farming communities, and only a tiny portion will ever be involved in tertiary education (<1%). Many students will come to university having grown up in churches their whole lives, but still unsure of how to listen carefully to God’s Word and sometimes unclear on exactly who Jesus is or why our love, trust, and knowledge of him is vital. Even at the tertiary level, our students don’t really enjoy sustained engagement with written texts, preferring to hear and talk about what matters.

We wanted to devote a year to intentionally sharing the gospel with our friends and classmates on campus in ways that fit the relational nature of the islands and the strong oral preference in learning, as well as helping people engage with Jesus by piercing through the ‘church background noise’. We decided on a Melanesian version of ‘Uncover’ (a well-received gospel distribution project) called ?Huia Jisas?—Who is Jesus? While this focused mainly on students sharing stories from Mark with other students, we also planned some key public events that would connect our networks with the wider university community in a ‘Vanuatu’ way.

One of the traditional ways of imparting knowledge in Vanuatu is sandroing (or bwatiuli in the Raga language from Pentecost Island). This involves making patterns in the ground with a finger to leave messages, share information, or pass on significant stories. Our idea was to use this local artform to convey the gospel stories we wanted our friends and classmates to hear. We connected with a local bwatiuli expert, Uncle Edgar, to develop four new patterns that reflected four themes from those gospel narratives: sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and rule.

After a few weeks of reading and discussing the Mark narratives with Uncle Edgar, we presented these new patterns during a special event at our regional university campus. Our staff worker and students told four key stories from Mark, then Uncle Edgar introduced us to a traditional-style story and song he’d composed. It described two people (representing us and God) in a relationship that had broken but been reconciled. As he played the bamboo flute and shared each part of the story, he carefully drew the complex arcs and shapes representing the characters and concepts of what was being told.

As far as we (or Uncle Edgar) know, this is the first time that sandroing has been used in collaboration with and to share the Scriptures. He is excited to take these stories and patterns to his church so that Vanuatu can hear—and see—the good news of Jesus, settled in their hearts and etched in their land.

Uncle Edgar, drawing on the sand, sharing the ‘reconciliation’ episode of his gospel-shaped traditional story.

[Uncle Edgar sharing the ‘reconciliation’ episode of his gospel-shaped kastom storian (traditional story). P/C Arima Fae]

A sand drawing containing the completed ‘reconciliation’ pattern

[The completed ‘reconciliation’ pattern P/C Arima Fae]

The Beauty of Discovery Bible Study

In TAFES (Tanzanian National Movement), Discovery Bible Study (DBS) is one of the approaches we use, and it has captured the hearts of many students and associates! 

We utilise DBS for small group study by following this simple process: 

  1. one member reads the passage and 
  2. the group retells the story (passage), then 
  3. we answer a few main questions together; these are: 
  • What have I discovered about God? 
  • What have I discovered about people? 
  • How do I obey God through this Word? 
  • Who I am going to tell?

How did it start?

It was during a staff retreat in February 2021 that our Campus Ministry Coordinator, Sister Joan Wanjiru, proposed trying the DBS method to see if it would be suitable for training students. We used DBS for the first time at that retreat and later in Discipleship 

Training Seminars (DTS) throughout the country. After the success in 2021, we repeated this study technique during DTS in 2023. Although Inductive Bible Study and Manuscript Bible Study are still in use, DBS has become the most loved and practised approach by many Christian Unions since its introduction.

Uniqueness of DBS:

There’s something special about Discovery Bible Study and its popularity is fostered by these unique advantages:

  1. Easy to teach and practice. Understanding how to use DBS requires simple training. The discovery questions (above) are easy to remember, making it accessible, even if it’s a person’s first time.
  2. Importance of application. The practice of DBS is not complete until a person specifically addresses the question of how they will obey the Word that is being studied. 
  3. Tool for evangelism and discipleship. Through DBS, there’s always an increase in the number of people coming to Christ and the growth of members’ spirituality. Using this method of study with a non-believer may draw them to Christ and provides an opportunity for members to tell others about the Word of God. 
  4. Connects people in the group. Since DBS preserves the principle of small groups, participants get to relate to each other beyond just discussing DBS questions.

Jusline C. Nkala, treasurer TAFES KIUT CU:
  “It was amazing during DTS 2023 when we used this method to study the book of 1 Samuel. DBS is one of my good and best methods that I have encountered in terms of Bible study because we stay in a group and read the Bible story together, we discover what Scripture says about God and people, and we challenge ourselves to live according to the Word and share the Word with our friends”.

Tumaini Titus
Regional coordinator – TAFES Tanzania

Be still and know that I am God

[Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash]

This is God’s invitation to us (Psalm 46:10). No matter how full our days or how important our tasks, God calls us to be still before him. 

Stopping is a spiritual exercise. It is the stop that keeps us going. Each Sunday is an invitation to let our own efforts rest and rejoice in God.  

In addition, personal retreats can draw us deeper into God’s presence. Such a retreat can last half a day or several days. This year, IFES encouraged its staff to take time out for a personal retreat. Listen to some of their experiences:

          “It was my first time to go on a retreat. As the time approached, I felt increasingly nervous and under pressure, thinking that I need to use this time well and come back with results. Talking to a colleague helped me relax and simply be open to receive what God has prepared. The Lord is good. He provided a place where I felt safe and comfortable; he talked to me through Scripture, people, and in unexpected moments. Some of it was hard to hear, but very healing. I am planning to make this an annual tradition.”

          “An activity I really enjoyed was walking and taking pictures in the gardens of the retreat centre. It had been so long since I had lingered over simple, beautiful, and quiet things like flowers and plants.” 

           “I used a resource from the Scripture engagement website:  ‘An Honest Conversation with God: Praying Our Lives (Psalm 42-43).’ It provided just the right amount of structure and flexibility.”

          “I read through the prayers we find in the Epistles of Paul, praying them for me and for my region, reflecting on their relevance to this stage of my ministry.”  

          “I would describe my day as ‘mercifully quiet.’ I had one day without all the usual distraction. Some of the time I spent reflecting on my personal and professional life. But I also spent several chunks of the day simply sitting on the floor, resting or watching the rain, and had a profound sense of the presence and mercy of God with me even as I ‘did nothing’. This allowed me to recognise how overstimulated my body and mind have become. In response, I am building in more persistent rhythms to pause and be regathered in my work day.”  It is the stop that keeps us going. When is your next stop? And how will you shape it? 

Here you can find different resources to help plan a personal retreat, to prayerfully reflect on your life, and to connect God’s Word with your own experience. Enjoy!

Sabine Kalthoff
IFES Secretary for Spiritual Formation


Meeting with God in His Word: at World Assembly (or other large gatherings!)

World Assembly logoAre you going to World Assembly? Or do you have another big event, e.g., Formación, in your country or region with many people and a busy program to which the Word of God is central?

How can we make the most of these opportunities to meet with God and hear His Word, in a fresh and relevant way, when there are so many things to get involved with?
Let’s take a pause now to consider how we can engage with the Lord in His Word.

Personal delight and public testimony

The Psalms (our focus at WA 2023) are a great mixture of personal devotion, anguish, and praise combined with remembering, declaring, and testifying to the character and deeds of God in community.

If you read Psalm 40, for example, David poetically remembers what God has done for him: hearing his cry, setting him on the firm rock, and giving him a new song of praise…this personal encounter becomes an overflowing public testimony!

At our large gatherings, we can sometimes feel lost in the crowd, or very busy with numerous meetings. Here are a few simple ideas, which may help as you and other staff or students gather together to call on, hear from, and be transformed by the Living Word in these good, but busy gatherings.

  1. Personal: Be sure to set aside time to read and meditate on Scripture by yourself. Of course, you can follow your regular Bible reading plan, but you can also focus on the texts that are studied by everyone during the event. Having your own encounter with the Lord in these passages can prepare you to hear and better understand during the communal times of study. And, as you go through the conference, note down passages and thoughts that you want to spend more time thinking and praying over.
  2. Companionship: It is also good to value small group spaces of interaction with others around the Word. In large events, with many people, it is often these more intimate spaces, in pairs or smaller groups, where the sharing of doubts and discoveries becomes a special way of mutual learning and encouragement.

“I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.”
Psalm 40:10

  1. Community: Hearing from God through members of our diverse communities is a wonderful opportunity to learn from God’s Word through those from different contexts, who have different concerns, questions, and perspectives. As we study the reliable Word of God with other people, we might notice things about God, discipleship, and grace that would have otherwise gone unrecognised.
  2. Beyond the conference: So, as we go to World Assembly, Formación, and the like, let’s arrive open to what the Lord wants to teach us through His Word — in our own devotions, in the main teaching sessions, and over lunch, as we share what He is showing us in our contexts.

At these events we can hear stories, have access to resources, methods, and varied approaches to God’s Word. Seek to listen, learn, and identify (while taking note of) good practices that can be useful or adaptable to the challenges of your own reality and culture. Be willing to share your stories, your difficulties, but also the ways you’ve successfully engaged with the Scriptures.

These exchanges will help us grow in how we love, study, live, and share the Word of God in our mission contexts.

Paula and Ricardo
Serving as leaders of IFES Scripture Engagement Global Team

Scripture Engagement eLearning

photo of Bible and notebook

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

“I found it very helpful to be asked questions about Scripture Engagement during the course and not just be told what to think. This course also led to a breakthrough in my own engagement with Scripture. One thing I take with me is not to approach Scripture as a checkbox or research activity, but as a personal meeting with God.”
Testimony from Guyana

“Seeing the passion of the Psalmist for the Word in Psalm 119 convinced me – I want this passion and want students to be like that.”
Testimony from Italy

How can we grow in recognizing that Scripture Engagement pertains to every part of life? One way is to participate in a journey of learning together with brothers and sisters from our global fellowship. So, we want to encourage you to take the eLearning course “Foundations of Scripture Engagement,” which is designed to prepare those involved with the ministry of their national movements.

We see this as something other than a course where some people are teaching and others learning. In this, everyone is a student as they meet with God and learn from Him. This course takes place through listening to God in diligent study of the Scriptures, which in turn opens a space for: personal reflection, communication, sharing perspectives and experiences, and promoting mutual growth through the beauty of God’s message to us, as a community, through the Word.

We offer the “Foundations of Scripture Engagement” eLearning course in three languages. It is made up of two parts, each lasting four weeks with a week break in between.
There are two ways to participate.

Option 1: sign up for one of this year’s cohorts using the following forms:

English (starting on September 4th): link here.
Spanish (starting on September 4th): link here.
French (starting on October 2nd): link here.

Option 2: gather a cohort from your national movement or your region. This way, you can choose the dates and even adjust the length of the course to suit your group.
For more information on how to plan, or to clarify any other details, please write to

We look forward to having you on board too!

“I have gained a new appreciation and excitement about the Word of God. Taking the course was refreshing. The Word of God now feels more like a treasure than a chore. I finished each session wanting more.”
Participant from South Africa

“The course led to a shift in my attitude/perspective. I grew up as a Christian, but never stopped to ask: What are my convictions? Why do I read? For me, this course was a calling from God – calling into a deeper relationship, to go deeper with the Word.”
Participant from Ethiopia

IFES Scripture Engagement Global Team

Setting good models in Scripture

Messay's pictureI took my first steps with the Bible in Sunday school as an elementary student and, simultaneously, at home through family devotions. It was during this time that I got my first Bible and started reading for myself the words that I heard others teaching.

It was very special to have the opportunity to grow in my understanding of how to study the Bible. Through my participation in high school and college student ministries, I became familiar with a method known as Inductive Bible Study. Following this, as staff with EvaSUE (IFES movement in Ethiopia), I learnt an approach called the Manuscript Study Method.

People often ask me to name my favourite Scripture passages; however, there are no particular passages that I enjoy as such. Rather, different passages become relevant at different times in my life. Having said that, due to the frequency with which I have studied the first half of Mark’s gospel, I have grown to appreciate and cherish how Mark describes Jesus’ teachings on obedience. This is particularly true of the parable of the sower (or should we call it the parable of the soils?), which speaks to this gospel’s larger message of discipleship. Jesus’ teachings on this theme inspire me to see the daily, practical, and seemingly mundane aspects of discipleship.

When reflecting on the needs of and challenges for this generation of students as they seek to engage with the Scriptures, I have two main observations. First, I think this generation requires solid grounding and discipleship in their basic knowledge of the Bible – both its meta-narrative and the smaller portions. This point also ties in with how our churches are doing discipleship. Second, the generation responsible for equipping students to handle the Scriptures must lead by example, where it concerns application of the Word in our respective contexts.

Finally, I would like to share some of my goals for how I will continue to grow in the Scriptures. First, I want to consistently observe my own quiet time, during which I can study the Bible. Second, I should be an example to students in obeying what I read, preach and teach.

Messay Imru
EvaSUE Scripture Engagement coordinator and member of the IFES Scripture Engagement global team

From Caribbean region: The Artistic Bible Study Method

Image illustrating the artistic Bible studyI am happy to share with you an approach we use in the CARIFES region called “The Artistic Bible study method”. It was developed to guide students into the Scriptures from an artistic point of view.

This way of reading can help participants appreciate the details of a passage, while learning to communicate that appreciation in a creative and easy way. What remains of central importance is that we are engaging in the process of exploration. As an additional benefit, students may discover a new talent and enjoy the experience.

However, allow me a few words of caution before explaining this method further. While it is good, this approach may not be adequate in all cases, and it is the leader’s responsibility to manage the choice of texts accordingly. The goal is for participants to respond to the Bible passage using multiple senses and from different perspectives, increasing the possibilities for more comprehensive appreciation of the material. As it is not a rigid method, variations can be tested and implemented.

Regarding the tools needed, every participant should have paper, pencils, and pens in different colours. If tablets are available, these could also be used.

In the first stage, participants must explore and focus on the chosen text for 5 minutes. This time allows each person to consider their understanding of the passage and how they might express that understanding in their drawing. After this, participants should be given enough time to recreate their ideas on paper and share them with the group.

Some questions that can prompt reflection and creative response include:

– Are there any keywords that catch my attention?
– What is clear or not clear?
– What relevant information or important events do I see in the passage?
– What does this mean and how is this speaking to me?

When everybody has shared and explained their drawings, there is an opportunity for what we call “Debate”. Every participant will share one thought about each drawing, considering questions such as:

– Which drawing speaks to you? Why?
– What is your favourite? Why?
– What would you do differently?

Finally, we have what is called “Go Further”. In this stage, participants have the chance to draw something new about the passage and explain what about it is different and why. As an alternative to the ‘’Debate’’, after finishing their first drawings, the group can study the text using the traditional method of ‘’Observation, Interpretation, and Application’’, after which they should complete a second drawing for discussion.

We have tested this method during a training session with students in the region and, according to the survey taken at the end of this training, it was their favourite part. I was impressed with how clearly their drawings expressed the students’ understanding of the text, but also how diverse and rich lessons from the same text can be.

Jean-Davy Frair
CARIFES regional staff team as a Francophone Staff

Scripture Engagement: Power, Poetry and People in South Asia

“Build me up, Lord, keep me firmly rooted
So the truth I’ve found doesn’t become diluted
Let me abound in grace and wisdom
So I may not concede to a worldly system
Lord, make me stronger, take me farther and deeper,
Establish my steps, so I may be a way keeper”

[Excerpt from poem by ST – Artwork by Timaandra Wijesuriya]

You might recognise the verses that inspired ST to write this poem!

ST is a member of the IFES South Asia Scripture Engagement Multipliers Network which is made up of student ministry staff and graduate volunteers. Together we explore how God engages the hearts and minds of South Asians through his Word.

At a recent gathering of the Network, we reflected on Paul’s letter to the Colossians and its impact on us today. We noticed the underlying themes of power and wisdom in the letter and how Paul helps the small Christian community in Colossae to recognize Jesus as the true source of power and wisdom.

This sparked a discussion on where power rests in South Asian society (political entities, family relationships, social structures, memories and interpretations of history, etc.) and how we witness to Jesus and God’s kingdom in the midst of this reality.

We recognized the importance of letting the word of God dwell amongst us in a communal setting (Colossians 3:16) and how God uses those conversations to reveal the fault lines in our communities as well as in areas of our personal lives that need transformation.

For South Asian Christians – who form small, minority communities in their respective countries – this experience was both challenging and encouraging. In shame-oriented and violent cultures, airing personal and community issues presents a challenge. However, the witness of Paul, whose imprisonment by Roman authorities did not stop him proclaiming the universal Lordship of Jesus, was deeply encouraging.

As is evident in ST’s poem, itself inspired by reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians, God’s living Word continues to speak and minister to us in our various situations.

In the coming year, the IFES South Asia Scripture Engagement Multipliers hope to continue to meet, reflect on, and listen to God’s direction through his Word. In our gatherings, we want to spend time exploring Scripture engagement in terms of:

Creative expression – exploring the interaction between the Scriptures and artistic expression (poetry, song, dance, drama, digital media etc.)
Spiritual formation – exploring how the Scriptures lead us into greater personal intimacy with God and maturity in Christ
Contextual engagement – exploring how the Scriptures speaks into the issues present in South Asian societies and mindsets

We’d value your prayers as we take these next steps together… and encourage you to share in this journey by reading Colossians in your contexts!

Yohan Abeynaike
Scripture Engagement Lead – IFES South Asia

Engaging Seekers in the Word

When Zhenya went to a graduation ceremony in the capital city of her Eurasian home country, she noticed the presence of hundreds of international students.They’d been living there for 5 years and were now about to depart, probably without having heard the gospel…

Her desire to reach them with the good news of Jesus seemed an impossible goal. But 12 years on, thanks to the Lord’s direction and provision, a thriving International Student ministry now exists – including students from other sensitive countries.

At the heart of this ministry are hospitality and the Word of God. I asked Zhenya a few questions so we can hear more:

1. How do you study the Bible with international students?

We now have 25-40 students who cram into a small apartment each week – we make food together, eat, and study the Scriptures. It’s really important that the students feel safe and can ask their questions, debate, and also respectfully disagree in the context of friendship.

For our inductive Bible studies, the passage is printed out in all the languages of the students attending and this makes the Word accessible to everyone. After the main leader has asked questions about the text, we split into small (language-based) groups with student leaders to help facilitate a discussion.

It is very important that we ask questions. The leader must ask good questions that guide everyone through the passage and the students must be able to ask their questions of the text, to discover for themselves what is there, and be challenged to keep looking!

2. Over the years, what have you found to be important when studying the Word with students from different cultural contexts?

I’d say there are three main things:

a. Stories- students learn from stories! We mostly study the Gospels and, sometimes, Old Testament stories about the ‘heroes’. The main task is to allow the text to speak for itself and for students to be introduced to Jesus.

b. Visuals – In a multilingual, multi-cultural environment, it is so important to visualise the story; e.g., videos that illustrate the story, students acting out the passage, drawing pictures, and retelling the story.

c. Good real-world applications: the leaders need to guide students well, drawing on what students have said and helping them to see what the passages mean in their lived experiences.

3. Do you have a testimony of how God’s Word has impacted a particular student?

‘Maria’ from a small Muslim country is one example. In her own words, ‘Maria’ thought she already knew the truth, and was curious about her Christian friends who believed wholeheartedly in Jesus. Still believing in her god, she started to discover the truth of Jesus as she attended the Bible studies. But after two years of this, she realised that she believed in one god and was studying about another… and ‘Maria’ knew she couldn’t sit on the fence forever.

Week by week, she continued to discover more about Jesus through the Scriptures, until ‘Maria’ reached the point where she started to follow Him.

Reflecting on John 10, she testifies that:

“I was able to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice… and He has guided me to this decision.”

IFES Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement