Tag Archives: personal testimony

Leadership Transition

Being alive always includes change. In September 2021 Ricardo Borges took on the leadership of the IFES Scripture Engagement ministry from Sabine Kalthoff. Sabine will continue with IFES as Secretary for Spiritual Formation with 30% of her time, while putting the focus of her ministry on serving in a pastoral role at a local college. Ricardo and Sabine asked each other some questions regarding the upcoming transition.

Ricardo, what was one key experience of yours from the past four years as Associate Secretary for Scripture Engagement?

There were so many great experiences. One of them was seeing, in different parts of the globe, so many staff and students opening their Bibles to explore God’s Word in connection with the challenges of their context. It is indeed wonderful to experience that God’s Word is relevant to the whole of our lives.

Ricardo, what motivates you to continue in the global Scripture engagement ministry?

The fact that this is a global fellowship, with such a rich diversity of people, cultures, and different backgrounds. I look forward to seeing us grow in how these different perspectives help us to listen better to the Lord in the Scriptures. And to grow in our partnerships as we witness to the Lord in our different contexts.

Sabine, what is one precious memory from your past ten years as Secretary for Scripture Engagement?

Oh, there are so many that it’s hard to choose. One memory is from an IFES training consultation in Ghana. After I led a Bible study, a colleague from Nigeria came up to me and shared how God’s Word had spoken to him. I was filled with a deep sense of amazement – God’s Word speaks across cultures. I knew that before, but experiencing it was something different. It grew my trust and sense of wonder in God’s Word.

Sabine, what will your new role in IFES look like?

As Secretary for Spiritual Formation, my desire is to help staff flourish in their relationship with Jesus. In IFES, we are good at working hard. And then, we sometimes forget to make space for God to meet us, feed us, shape us – individually and as teams. My desire is to help create such spaces e.g., through leading Scripture engagement sessions with staff, shaping staff retreats and walking alongside individuals. (You can read more here.)

A Growing Vision

by Jacob Varghese, staff worker with UESI India

My journey with Scripture Engagement goes back to when I was a student. At that time, I entered into a personal relationship with Jesus as my Lord and saviour and started to connect deeply with God’s Word. Studying doctrine helped me see the Bible as the inspired Word of God and convinced me of the need to reflect on this Word. Simultaneously, I was introduced to the discipline of having a ‘quiet time’ and sincerely started practicing it. Doing this laid a good foundation for my faith.

However, I did not realize that I was only reading & reflecting on a few passages. I applied them to my life, but before long I was getting bored of reading the Bible. I continued to read in the Bible, but only as an exercise, just like physical exercise for my body. Slowly, I started withdrawing and having my quiet time only when it was convenient. Little did I know that even during that time my God was actively working within me and shaping me.

Taking A Break. As we travel, we take journey breaks in order to be refreshed. But for me, the break on my journey was breakdown. My staff colleagues and other students in the fellowship never realized the struggle I was going through. It was during this period that I met Rev. Koichi Ottawa (then IFES Regional Secretary for East Asia). He asked me very directly: “how is your journey with God?” I was taken by surprise, but I responded truthfully. Ottawa helped me to re-start my journey with God and his Word. I realized that Scripture engagement is not a duty or mere discipline, but that it is about the Lord walking at my side and speaking to me – there is fun, there are arguments, expressions of disappointment, joy and gratefulness. Scripture became the framework for my life. 

A Renewed Vision. Through the IFES global ministry of Scripture Engagement, my vision was enlarged. I began to understand more deeply that engaging with Scripture is an ongoing journey in an active relationship with our Lord God. I recognized that Scripture is not only about what God has done for me, but that it also places me in God’s grand story.
Scripture engagement is so much more than techniques – it is an invitation to continue growing in our relationship with Jesus and his world. As I understood this more deeply, I recognized my responsibility to start building up lives centred around Scripture.

Sharing this vision with individuals and building them up as vision multipliers was the next step for me. I made a conscious decision that in my personal capacity, I would focus on individuals and small group training programs and not wait for the formation of large groups. My journey continues with the vision to see young people actively engaging with God, his Word and his world.
 

Experiencing Transformation

written by Daniel, a student from Timor Leste

How can we change our old ways of living to that of new ways? Our efforts will not be sufficient to defeat darkness. Even more so if we have memories that will not let us go until we die. I struggled with such memories that haunted me.

As I witnessed fellow friends deciding to follow God fully, I also felt inspired to do so. At the same time, I felt an inner hunger and emptiness; I felt like I was about to drown. One night, I began to desire reading the Word of God. As I walked down the street that night, I reached a crossroad, and I turned in the direction of a staff’s house. I asked him if we can study the Word together and he gladly accepted. Our journey of studying the whole of Luke’s Gospel took us around five months.

Throughout the study I was inspired by the character of Jesus and how people’s lives were changed after encountering him. I saw how Jesus restores dignity in people – like when he healed the blind. I also saw how these people were truly moved by what Jesus did to them. What made a strong impression on me is that Jesus came from above to live a simple life among others. He did not choose to live like a performing magician. I learned that the key to transformation in my life is to have FAITH in Jesus.

Reading Luke’s gospel changed my way of thinking. I understood that life is not just about knowing God in our head but also knowing him in our heart. I learned to open up my life for Jesus to fill me and shine his light in me. I also began to realize that it would be unfair to keep quiet about what the Holy Spirit had done in me.

I started to notice friends around me with the same hunger to read the Word; the topic of life and God kept popping up in our conversations and on social media. So we gladly decided to form a small Bible study group. I have seen changes in my friends – they have new values in life and see life differently than they did in their old ways of living.

As I know Christ more, Jesus is helping to sort through the baggage that I accumulated from my past by sweeping them under the carpet. It is a sweet and painful experience. Although it is a painful, I know Christ is with me and this process is necessary to live a righteous life. It is like an ongoing work in progress with Jesus until the day I meet him. I call this process: “transformation is not just about change but construction”.

testimony translated from Tetun language

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

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

Transformed by the Weeping Prophet – how God used Jeremiah to change the way I pray

(by Paula, Eurasia)

When I was asked to try and write about my journey with the book of Jeremiah, I must admit to having some feelings of hesitation… it meant revisiting what for me was painful growth – even if it was a good struggle!

The book of Jeremiah accompanied me as I was trying to work through some difficult family memories and intergenerational hurt. Jeremiah’s call and life were of course different to my own, but Jeremiah’s story, and in particular his relationship with God over several decades, called me to deeper discipleship as I met with the Living God in these ‘texts of disaster’.

Jeremiah was called in youth and weakness to preach to rebellious Israel. He endured what looked like fruitless ministry as well as loneliness, imprisonment and mockery. Despite the personal toll, Jeremiah kept going: in relationship with God, loving his own people (while tearing his hair out!) and serving the God of hope even when he could not see how salvation could come.

How do you speak to God when the usual frameworks of familiarity and survival are opened up, pulled apart and shown to be no more than straw? What words can you reach for when you hit those moments of despair?

Jeremiah’s poetic descriptions of God (eg 2:13, 2:32, 18:6, 50:44) and his colourful, unrestrained, honest, even rude, complaints to God (his ‘confessions’ throughout chapters 11-20) were like a can opener – opening me up to my own pain and enabling me in raw honesty to bring my own experience to God in words I had not dared to pray before. Perhaps my British reserve had held me back, or maybe I hadn’t really wanted to deal with some of those deep struggles that God loves to redeem?

I needed to learn the language of lament – beyond praise and petition, to engage with God in the reality of pain and struggle. I needed the reassurance that the God I meet in Jeremiah – robust and unthreatened by the fist-waving of His people – is the same God who brought hope and transformation to His people in Christ. I began to call on God to be to me who He says He is.

The bitterness of Jeremiah’s experience with his people, and his struggle with, not against, God, taught me to grieve past wrongs in my family. I was able to mourn what was lost and allow myself to feel sorrow over injustice – not allowing the old order of things to continue, at least not in my own heart. The book of Jeremiah shows us that as believers, we call on a God who is able to transform the hearts of people; the Living God can bring newness out of nothingness, repentance out of rebellion, right living after regret.

Books for further reading:
Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile.
Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best.

“I am a servant of the light that never goes out”

David Bahena’s pilgrimage with God’s Word

David BahenaI became a Christian when I was 16 and my life was turned around – I experienced joy and suddenly had a purpose in life. At the same time, I was hungry for reading the Bible and my journey with Scripture began then and there.

At COMPA (IFES movement in Mexico), I learnt how to study, share and contextualise God’s Word. I belong to a generation who grew up studying the Bible inductively and taking part in workshops with Ada Lum. Samuel Escobar, in “Así leo la Biblia”, describes it like this: “learning to observe the text with clarity, interpreting its message and applying it to our personal lives.” Then came the time to share the Word with my fellow university students. It was such a joy to see my friends meeting Jesus in these small groups and being transformed by God’s Word. Also, because of our reality in Latin America, we were taught how to apply it to our context. It is relevant to the academic world, and to our country’s social, political and financial reality.

After serving as student staff we went through a time of spiritual dryness and renewal. As the staff had to prepare so many workshops, sermons and Bible studies, we were risking turning the Bible into a mere work tool. We read and studied God’s Word but we weren’t feeling passionate about it anymore. So much so that after serving for three years as General Secretary, I confessed to Douglas Stewart that I didn’t feel like reading the Bible or praying, and that I didn’t understand what was happening to me. God opened a new spiritual path of renewal centred on his Word. This new way of approaching Scripture included meditation, prayer and retreat. It was a time of learning how to pray with God’s Word and in the Spirit, and I was gradually transformed and renewed.

My calling in life has also been shaped by Scripture. In summer 2003, at Cedar Campus, whilst God was restoring our marriage, we were invited to cultivate the kind of spirituality that is humble, rooted in the Bible and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:18-21). Years later, God rebuilt my sense of identity, helped me to see that I was much more than just a member of staff and invited me home to cultivate the kind of spirituality that makes you a better parent, friend and citizen (John 4:46-54). Once again, last year in Pasadena, God renewed us and gave us rest, and we were invited to cultivate the kind of spirituality that flourishes through adversity and the desert (1 Peter 1:3-5). God is calling us to work alongside a generation of emerging leaders, to facilitate an encounter with the Lord that is Bible-centred, modelling humble and transparent leadership, strengthening basic relationships in life and the family, and persevering even through adversity.

David Bahena
David serves in IFES as Regional Secretary for Latin America