Tag Archives: community

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

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.

At the table

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

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

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

Duncan Chiyani, EPSA Associate Regional Secretary for Southern Africa

Praying the Word

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

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

Read Psalms 42-43 slowly and prayerfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabine Kalthoff
IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement

Becoming a Listening Community

For the past few years I’ve had the privilege of investing in leaders through the Young Staff Network. This is a network of new staff serving with IFES in Europe. Our aim is to be a community that enables staff to grow and lay good foundations at the beginning of their ministry. This time last year I was challenged to think about what it might mean for this learning community to be a listening community — a community that is being transformed by the Word. This touched on a feeling I already had: we spend a lot of our time teaching the Word to others, but I wasn’t so sure whether our own personal engagement with the Word had the same high priority.

So we set a challenge for our young staff. We asked them to soak in Peter’s story over a period of 6 months. This involved reading Mark, Acts and 1 Peter as well as completing some exercises both individually and together with others. We wanted them to look at how God formed Peter as a leader, and through that to reflect on how God is forming them.

At the end of this challenge we met together to reflect and share about the experience. This meeting was both discouraging and encouraging.

It was discouraging because it confirmed that personally engaging with God’s Word is not very high on our agenda. There were exceptions, but most of the staff had struggled to make time for this. They were so busy doing that taking time to soak in God’s Word seemed like a luxury they couldn’t afford. I don’t think they are unique in this struggle. There is the temptation for all of us to focus on what we do, on the aspects of our ministry which others see. Then we start to neglect our need to have our own hearts and minds constantly renewed and transformed by God’s Word. This is an incredibly dangerous place to be in.

But this experience also showed me something else: when we do give time to listen to the Word together in community, God speaks and his Word transforms. As we reflected together on what we had learned, there was one common theme: God is patient in how he develops leaders. As we reflected on Peter’s failure, we saw again: it is not our competency that enables God to use us, but rather it is his grace.

Just like Peter, we are prone to failure – as our lack of engagement with God’s Word shows. But God is just as patient with us; he is just as willing to offer us grace. God longs to speak to us, so let’s keep listening.

Heledd Job
Heledd is from Wales, living in Italy. She is part of the IFES  Europe Leadership Development team,primarily responsible for co-ordinating the Young Staff Network.

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

Let’s Face the Book

FacetheBookFace-The-Book is a Scripture engagement initiative by the Caribbean Fellowship of Evangelical Students (CARIFES). Its aim is to help young people study the Bible. Specifically, we want students to develop the habit of spending time in God’s Word and praying daily. We set this initiative up to specifically target today’s ‘information technology’ generation e.g. by using terminology with which students are familiar from the computer world.

Quads
One of the unique things about this Bible study initiative is that students are encouraged to form groups of four called “quads”. Ideally, this group meets once a week. It provides mutual support, encouragement and accountability as members endeavour to grow in the knowledge and practice of God’s Word.
They:

  • Pray regularly for each other.
  • Find out how others in the group are progressing in their studying and sharing of God’s Word.
  • Share with each other what they have learnt from the Word of God over the past week.
  • Share Bible study resources with each other.
  • Encourage each other in their Bible study and sharing activities.

Each group member signs a personal commitment with regard to their own spiritual life.
Each quad has a mentor who can be a student leader, staff worker, faculty member, youth pastor or any other mature person. Mentors are there to pray for, encourage and motivate quads.

Today’s PDF (Personal Devotion Focus)
This initiative encourages students to spend personal time in God’s Word using the PDF approach:
Document: What is today’s Scripture passage?
Background:  What is the background to this passage?
Review: What has your journey been like in relation to what you have read in this passage?
Highlight: What point(s) would you like to highlight from this passage?
Delete: Based on this passage, what would you like to delete from your life?
Copy: Based on this passage, what would you like to copy and put into practice in your life?
Underline:  What verse(s), thought(s) or idea(s) would you like to underline, memorize or meditate on?
Share: Based on what you have gleaned from the passage today, what would you like to share with others: face-to-face, on the phone, via text or social media, etc.?  Pass the word on.
Pray: Based on what you have learned from today’s study, spend some time praying.

In the Face-the-Book manual, Bible passages are recommended for reading. The manual also introduces the whole concept and approach of this initiative. Currently, the manual is being revised. It will be available in a few weeks’ time in English, French and Dutch.

If you are interested in the manual or have any other questions, please write to Bevaun Ragobeer, Scripture Engagement Coordinator for the Caribbean region at carifes100(at)gmail.com.

Weekly staff meetings to study the Word

Almost ten years ago, our staff team decided that it was important to hold weekly meetings to study the Word together. This may not seem like something special in itself, but it becomes more interesting if we say we’re in Chile, a very long country with nearly 4,000 km from one end of the country to the other. Fortunately, this distance can be reduced thanks to the internet.

Over the past ten years, the staff team of GBU Chile has met every Monday afternoon for a couple of hours. We study the Bible together, pray for each other and the movement, and plan our weekly activities. The staff in Santiago (the capital, located in the centre of the country) meet in the national office, while the workers from other cities connect with us through the internet. This meeting is our weekly priority.

The meeting consists of three parts: The first part is dedicated to an inductive Bible study, which lasts about 45 minutes. We successively study complete books of the Bible. At the beginning of each semester, I send our calendar to the staff with the meeting dates and the people responsible for directing each weekly study. In this way, we have advanced a lot in our Bible studies over the past ten years: we have studied the Minor Prophets (they took us about a year and a half!), John and the epistles of John, Genesis, Revelation, Acts and we are currently studying Luke. The second part of our meeting contributes to the intimacy of our staff team. It is a time of mutual prayer and intercession. Each one of us shares their blessings and current struggles and is prayed for by the others. We also take time to pray for specific situations the movement is facing. Lastly, each one of us answers the question: What are you doing this week? This helps us organise our work and know what the other staff will be doing, even if they are 1,000 km away!

I personally believe that these weekly meetings have been key to the operation and growth of the Chilean student movement during the past years. On the one hand, they help staff workers from distant cities feel part of a body which encourages and exhorts them. Pedro Valenzuela, Santiago advisor, shared: ‘It is good to feel like a work team, no matter where we are located.’ On the other hand, I believe that these meetings help us to identify with our students, given that the main strategy of our movement is small group Bible studies. This time together helps us model these small group studies for the students we are pastoring, while also making us aware of the difficulties involved in finding and setting aside space for studying the Bible in our current world. Last of all, these meetings help us to understand that this is the Lord’s work, that we are the ‘channel and not the source’ of living water, and that the agenda of our life is directed by the Lord.

Gustavo Sobarzo, General Secretary of GBU Chile
gsobarzo (at) gbuch.cl

The Joy of Studying the Bible with Seekers

I believe that seeker Bible studies are the single most effective way to show Jesus to a friend. God is not a message or a theory, but a person. And this person is made known to us by the gospel stories.

The Italian context in which I live is characterized by suspicion and skepticism. It surprises me that in this context more seekers than I would have expected are curious to study Bible passages in a safe place with other fellow seekers. And when they come, oh, it is fascinating to see their reactions: “My first impression was shocking: I discovered in the Bible a marvelous figure, so human when angry and indignant in the face of unbelief and hypocrisy, and so divine in speaking with an authority never seen before… and even able to forgive his persecutors!’” says Gianluca, a medicine student.

Over and over again, I’ve witnessed how in studies like these, people get so much into the story that Jesus himself seems to jump out of the pages. They see Jesus, they see God. They are so shocked by his actions and struck by his words that they become hungry for more. As the weeks go by, and as they discover different aspects of this fascinating Nazarene, some cannot respond otherwise than with a decision to follow him.

When the first person in the group decides to do so, it’s amazing. The others see the life of someone who was sitting next to them in the previous weeks (‘one of their own’) transformed – just like the people they have been reading about in the gospels. The new believer becomes the most powerful witness within the Bible study group.

“It is real. It is not a fairy tale. Something happened to me that I still cannot fully understand, but I know that it is real” says Viviana, a business student. This is so intriguing that sometimes others in the group will want to experience the same thing. I had the joy of seeing almost entire groups of seekers become followers of Christ.

This is the power of God working through people who have met him in his Word. The Word did become flesh, and he is living among us today. He is waiting for our faithfulness and boldness in inviting our friends to find the living God through the gospel stories.

Sarah Breuel, GBU staff in Italy
sarahbreuel (at) gbu.it