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.

A Valuable Training and Mission Resource

“The Word Among Us” is a very valuable resource that we have used as part of our training for new student leaders in Jalisco. This booklet has helped students to have stronger convictions regarding Scripture and to love the Bible more. It has also encouraged and challenged them to live out their faith according to Scripture, and it has encouraged them to trust in the power and impact of God’s Word.

Isaac was one of the first students who started to explore the six main aspects of Scripture Engagement that we find in this resource. As a result, I could see how Isaac would reflect more in depth about his personal life and his relationship with God’s Word, and in a natural way he could see the relevance and importance of doing mission at university. He also felt more confident and motivated to do it.

The questions on page 27 of “The Word Among Us” also helped us to invite new students to our Bible studies on campus. We ask them if they are fine with us asking them a few questions, and when they say yes we start by asking, “Have you had any contact with the Bible?”. If so, “where and when?”. Many people say yes, but when we ask a few more questions they end up realising that they actually know very little about the Bible, and when they acknowledge this they are open to learning more about it. At this point we invite them to the Bible study on campus. Many people agree to come and others say they might come sometime.

This is how we met Monica, a biology student. She agreed to come to our Bible study after we interviewed her using the questions on page 27. That day we looked at Mark 2:13-17, which is about how Jesus calls Levi. Monica was very enthusiastic and took part in the session. She went home happy and came back the following week. She started attending regularly throughout the whole semester and we have been able to get to know her better over this time.

It is our responsibility as staff workers to equip students to carry out our mission and help them to engage with Scripture. This is why we use this valuable resource, “The Word Among Us”, when we equip new student leaders.

Rosa Angélica Ramírez Blanco
Staff worker in Jalisco
Compañerismo estudiantil

A Message of Transformation

My name is O.F.S. and I’m a Bible group coordinator in Nicaragua. 2018 and 2019 have been crucial years of change and surprises for me, my country and our student movement. What has happened in Nicaragua over the past two years? In April 2018 students marched to protest the lack of measures to deal with forest fires in an important reserve in our country. A few days later, a law to reform the public health service came out, which affected minority groups, and hundreds of people took to the streets to demand justice. What followed were days of violence, death and repression by the government. Since these events, human rights organisations have reported many deaths, people have been exiled and hundreds of others have disappeared.

Universities were closed for eight months, the country came to a standstill, people became desperate and in our groups many were asking questions – how can we offer hope in our context? And how can we continue the student work if the universities are closed?

I returned home feeling anxious, looking for answers and facing the challenge of continuing our mission; so I decided to meet up with some friends and young people from church and read the Bible together. This gave us strength and meaning in the midst of so much pain and suffering. We used the booklet called “The Word Among Us” and tools like “Writing a Psalm”. It was a liberating experience and our spirituality was really challenged. We were sorry we weren’t engaging with our community because the situation was so delicate, and we felt powerless because we weren’t helping our neighbours enough. As we tried to express our whirlwind of thoughts and examine them in the light of Scripture, we felt peace as we poured out our hearts to God and to one other. This helped us to experience a kind of faith that we should put into action thanks to Scripture engagement, and it showed us how prayer also calls you into action.

I was in exile. But I returned to my country because I want to be salt and light in this moment in time and because I believe that if we change the university we’ll change Nicaragua and we’ll change the world, because we should continue to proclaim the prophetic message of our God of true PEACE, JUSTICE AND LOVE. I realised that where there was a student, there was student work to be done. Our movement continues to embrace this belief, the call to be defenders of justice and ambassadors of faith. This is our commitment and it is only through Jesus Christ that we can change our reality and our country.

We cling with all our hearts to the redeeming hope that we find in Jesus!

Reaching out to an International Student with Far-Reaching Consequences

My name is Masha and I’m still a student. My father is not a believer and worked for the state security services until his retirement. My mum was a Christian, but she died when I was nine. I knew the truth from my childhood, but it didn’t inspire me. I didn’t really care about life after death, the creator of this world or other deeper questions. Even though I knew that God exists, I had no interest in a relationship with him. But then after a Christian summer camp at the age of 19, I started to go to church and six months later, I accepted Jesus.

I got involved in ministry for international students. I saw a big need to serve these students who suffer from loneliness as they are far away from their families and homes. One of those students was Katia (changed name), a girl from one of the most closed countries in Central Asia. She came from a traditional Orthodox background, but knew very little about God and the Bible. She started to attend our church because of a friend who was going there. Then after two months, she stopped coming.

I decided to take the first step and suggested to her that we meet. She declined several times saying that she was too busy with her studies. But then she found a day for me and we met. We had a great conversation. I shared my story and suggested that we read the Bible together. (At the beginning of my Christian life, I also had someone who read the Bible with me.) I had never invited someone to read the Bible with me before. I was a little scared and had no idea how to lead a Bible study. I was so happy when she agreed and we started to meet up every week. During our meetings, she asked lots of questions about Christianity and the gospel. Her strategy was to speak little and to ask much. But I liked it! And I was very encouraged when she started coming to church again.

During the student’s international forum that we put on, Katia heard a lot about Jesus and his love. She also had three dreams in which she tried to run from the devil and Jesus saved her. After this forum she accepted Jesus. She now comes to church and our meetings for international students, and of course we still continue to have our personal Bible study. It is moving to see how she has grown in her spiritual life. In May, she got baptised. She said: “I think God did not bring me to this country by accident!”

Masha, linguistic student in Eastern Europe

Messengers of Hope – The University in God’s Story

This World Assembly theme was developed in a series of Bible expositions from Luke and Acts. What follows is an excerpt from one exposition. You can listen to it fully and to the other World Assembly Bible expositions at https://ifesworld.org/worldassembly.

Please read Acts 1:1-11 before continuing with this article.
In her exposition on Acts 1, Janna Louie from InterVarsity USA invites us into a deeper hope – a hope that brings meaning and perspective to our lives and to our broken world.

Jesus reframes power for the apostles. Not only will God’s Spirit be manifest through what the world deems weak, but the Spirit is given to a broken and vulnerable people. In this reframing, God deepens their hope. God’s Spirit is not self-protective. God’s Spirit is not nationalistic. Instead, the Spirit expands their hope for what is possible.

The apostles expected King Jesus to bring about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, but restoration will be greater than their hopes for Israel. Instead of seeing themselves merely as victims to be vindicated, they are witnesses who testify to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They are given a vision in which they are no longer just the oppressed, but they bear the testimony of Jesus across the borders and boundaries created by the empire. They are not confined to walls built by superpowers, but they join God’s Spirit to reach across man-made walls. Their testimony will not just be confined to Jerusalem, but will go to all who are within Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In this statement, Jesus deepens their vision about restoring the kingdom of Israel. The testimony of Jesus will not be confined merely to the Jews, but will be manifest through them to the Gentiles. Their hope reaches beyond their community to include the Gentiles – and even their oppressors. Relief from oppression is too small a hope. Instead, Jesus invites a vulnerable community to steward the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus even to the ones who make them vulnerable.
[…]
The power of the Holy Spirit is an invitation first to see the resurrected Jesus in the places where we live. It is to see our homelands with Jesus’ eyes. To bear witness to the hope of Jesus where we are most vulnerable. The power of the Spirit is the power that enables us to endure in the places that cause us pain. The command to receive the Spirit’s power is not a quick fix. It’s a power that refuses to conquer and dominate, but perseveres in suffering. To touch and to heal. To grieve and to mourn. To wait with hope. It’s the power to testify of Jesus’ life in the very places we live. […] The Holy Spirit’s power invites a vulnerable people to transform the world around them.

You can listen to the whole exposition here.