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

David Bahena’s piligrimage with God’s Word


I 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

“Having my ears opened”

“Be still, and know that I am God….” (Psalm 46:10)
“By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me….” (Psalm 42:8)

Hearing the Word. Hearing my life. Hearing God’s still small voice!
Much of life is an experience of living with cramped-ness. Many experiences whizz past us – the people we have met, the ministry we do, and the life that happens to us.

2017 was such a year for me… taking many flights to the movements in my region; giving numerous Bible expositions and sermons; listening to many people as they went through tough pilgrimages; 4 deaths – one of my own dear mom, another my campus room-mate & 2 colleagues in East Asia; taking on the role of IFES Regional Secretary, East Asia.

Cramped, unexamined lives begin to leak out impatience, weariness, anger, bitterness and self-pity. I could not stop any of these experiences of life and ministry. But for sanity’s sake, I found the still, small voice of my Lord calling me away… to solitude! I managed seven spiritual retreats in 2017 (some of which I both facilitated and participated in). Two of them were for 3 days; four of them were merely 3 hour retreats; one was for 4 days.

In the facilitated retreat, small portions of Scripture were given to chew on and listen to [Psalm 42; 1 Corinthians 4:7-16; Exodus 19:1-6; Joshua 3]. As I waited with these passages… the space I created in waiting with the Word began to speak to me. I was ‘hearing’ the Word watering my life. I began to also ‘hear’ my life – the grief I had accumulated, the questions that were arising. The greatest gift was ‘hearing’ God, who had been there through it all. He began to impress His promises and His healing in a new way.

After each of these ‘retreats’, I came back with a fresh mandate! A clearer calling of how to proceed. For me, these retreating times are not an option, but an oasis where I can drink deeply and make space for life. So, I know for myself, 2017 was a year of ‘hard knocks & tough schooling’, yet it was the year I am certain ‘he carried me on eagle’s wings & sang his song over me by night.’

So, how do I go away on my retreats?

  • I bring the issues / concerns / experiences in my life that I want to examine.
  • I ask the Lord to nudge me to a Scripture passage to hang out with.
  • I pour out my heart, and wait & listen.
  • I listen to His Word, His voice & listen to my life. I listen as I walk, or as I sit, listening to nature, images or words that He brings to my heart and mind.
  • In listening, I respond from where I am. Conversations with God.
  • All these go into my journal, which acts as my back-up listening tool!

Happy retreating, dear friend!

Annette Arulrajah
IFES Regional Secretary for East Asia

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.

My Psalm: “I’ve Read the Book”

Guinea, July 2017. We were given training in Scripture Engagement. After thinking about our motivations and convictions about God’s Word, each participant wrote their own psalm. After writing for 30 minutes, we gathered back together and each person read out their psalm. It was a powerful time of worshipping God. When we had listened to all the psalms, we shared our experience. Here are some of our reactions: “I was led into a spirit of prayer.” “As each person was reading theirs, I wished it would never end.” “It was like being in direct contact with God.”

Read one of these psalms, written by Axel Aurenche Gbelia, a student from the Ivory Coast:

I’ve read many books
I’ve been civilised
I’ve read many books
I even try to be wise

But I’ve read the Book
God’s handicraft, his work of art
His own album, His manuscript
Transcending prehistory into the future

I’ve read the Book
That heavenly writing, heavenly design
The story of God relating to man
And of men and women experiencing God

I’ve read the Book
I know now where I am from
Who God says that I am
Who I am, where I am going

I’ve read the Book
God’s brochure, His paper
My deserts are flowering again
My tears turn to laughter

I’ve read the Book
God’s decree and sculpture
I can cry for joy
And even laugh in adversity

I know who He is
God of letters, the one glossator
Historian of the ages, supreme author

I’ve read the Book
I’ve read His Book
Beyond training
Beyond education
Beyond teaching
Beyond conviction
I am changed for life.

Empowering students to study the Word

Listen to the testimony of one of the student participants in the FCSI Israel Bible Study Conference:
“Last year, I faced the most difficult circumstance in my life – the loss of my mother after a long battle with cancer. She was my best friend, my role model, my source of support and the greatest blessing God has ever given to me. I could not imagine my life without her. When I went to the conference, she had stopped responding to treatments and her condition was deteriorating very fast. At this Bible study conference, we studied the story of Jesus calming the storm; through it, Jesus met my paralyzing fears, sorrow, and brokenness and calmed the raging storms within me. His strong presence and overwhelming peace embraced me, carried me above this crushing situation and helped me overcome what seemed to me insurmountable.”
Our vision for the Mark Manuscript Bible Study Conference started in 2014; we wanted to see students who are both passionate about the Word and who know how to study and engage the Scriptures. We wanted students to meet Jesus through his Word and be transformed from within. Yet, the reality showed that our students were lacking the tools to study the Bible as individuals and with one another. So our desire was to offer them a study method which can help them feel comfortable studying the Bible with their friends and within their student groups. We believed that through this our students would also have the courage to start inviting their non-Christian friends to study the bible with them, offering them the chance to meet Jesus in his Word.

As we look back at these beginnings, we are filled with gratitude and joy to see God’s vision for the Christian students in Israel unfold. When we first invited students to meet Jesus through the book of Mark at this conference, less than 20 students committed to joining us. This year we had the third consecutive annual conference – for the first time, we had 110 participants altogether! Students have been sharing how this conference has shaped their faith and given them new eyes to see Scripture. More and more students are reading the Bible, leading to noticeable change in their personal lives.

Our prayer is to see the love of the Scripture and the passion we are witnessing among our students influencing the body of Christ in Israel.

Rasha Saba, rasha@fcsi.ws
Arab students’ ministry and training coordinator FCSI Israel

Healthy Cooking

Introduction to a different kind of recipe book written by the global Scripture Engagement team

BildkochenkleinIn our student movements, we are committed to training our staff and students in Scripture engagement. How do we decide on the content of our formación events? What ingredients are needed in order to prepare a nutritious and tasteful dish?

The answer to this question will depend on the context and on the specific target group. For example, the dish we prepare will be different for students than for staff. The answer to this question will also depend on our overall vision. What do we want to see as the result of the totality of our formación in Scripture engagement? And what does this then mean for individual training events?

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19, NIV) “Until Christ is formed in you…” – a beautiful expression of what is on Paul’s heart for these churches!

What do you want to see as the result of the totality of your formación in Scripture engagement? Take a moment to put your vision into words. Please think specifically in terms of your target group.

My impression is that we often focus on only some of the ingredients needed to attain the overall vision while neglecting others. Sometimes…

  • We teach Bible study methods, but fail to address the expectations and attitude with which our staff and students approach God’s Word;
  • We train how to build and run Bible study groups, but fail to stop and reflect on what is actually happening in these groups;
  • We talk a lot about the Bible, but spend a disproportionately small amount of time listening to God’s Word and allowing it to speak to us. At many training events, the morning starts with a Bible study or Bible exposition, but then there is hardly any time to digest what was heard, to soak in the Word, to meet Jesus.

The global Scripture Engagement team of IFES has written a cooking help for you. This new resource does not propose a standard curriculum. Instead it seeks to help us plan carefully what we include in our training programmes.

Scripture engagement formación – a resource for planning and developing training programmes: You can download this material here.

Sabine Kalthoff
IFES Secretary for Scripture Engagement

My life is God’s project

(written by Daniel Bourdanné, IFES General Secretary)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me
were written in your book before one of them came to be
.”
Psalm 139:13-16

BildDanielkleinIn 1982, I was a student at the University of Lomé in Togo. The course was very hard (only 7 or 8% of students succeeded in passing the end-of-year exams). For me, it was also a time of personal crisis: What should I do with my life? What was the purpose of my life? I had grand dreams. One of my dreams was to become a professor and be appointed to a chair by the time I was 32. But my “grand dreams” had been disrupted by the civil war in my country. I had spent two years without going to school. Even once I started studying again, I was still struggling with the question: “Why did God allow my studies to be disrupted?”. Actually, despite my faith in God, my future plans had always been centred on myself.

One day, I received a message from a sister and friend. We were both members of the CU. We used to share and pray together from time to time. That day, she wrote me a letter to encourage me. It contained these words from Psalm 139.

I had obviously read this passage before. But, that day, the words took on a new meaning for me. As I read these verses, I felt at first as if I was frozen to the spot, unable to move, just as if I had made an important discovery. A river of sense, understanding and meaning was at last pouring out from this passage. It was an overwhelming revelation for me and was to change the course and meaning of my life. At last! God had enlightened me, had opened the eyes of my heart to the real meaning of my life.

I am neither the product of natural chance nor the expression of life’s vanity. So much more! I am particularly loved by God, by the infinite God. As I am created in his image, I reflect his beauty, despite the ugliness the traces of sin’s bites have left upon me. My life is God’s project. It is also a great and good project in God’s eyes, even if I had not been fully aware of it until then. For I was making my own plans; I was dreaming of becoming someone important without really taking God into account in my plans.

This passage was also a clear and specific invitation made to me by God to place myself entirely at his service. If God knows me so thoroughly, if my life is his project, is he not the best guide for my present and my future, which he unfolds? I felt it was a passage of calling and consecration to God.

This passage is still a source of encouragement for me today. When faced with the choices of life, this passage reminds me that I need to turn my eyes to my creator to be guided into the right path. He is the one who unfolds our lives.  This passage from the Psalms surrounds me again and again. May God be praised for his living and life-giving word.

Daniel Bourdanné, daniel.bourdanne(at)ifesworld.org

A Journey with the Lord’s Prayer

(written by Savithri Sumanthiran, Regional Secretary for South Asia)

“பரலோகத்தில் இருக்கிற எங்கள் பிதாவே” was the first Christian prayer I ever learned. I don’t know whether my memory serves me right, but as I recall, I learned the Lord’s prayer first in Tamil from a Lady Bird Book! From then on The Lord’s Prayer has been one of my favourite scriptures.

Shaping a relationship of intimacy with God…

In my early years, this prayer established a routine of prayer for me – no questions asked of it, no answers demanded from it. A a child, I simply prayed it. As I grew up, this prayer became the mainstay of my prayer life: the place where I have conversations and arguments with God; the platform from which I can pray during times when God seems distant and prayer impossible.

Shaping of character in the presence of God…

In my teens, I grappled for the first time with a phrase in this prayer; I had experienced hurts at a personal level, culminating in being confronted by a world that suddenly was no longer safe. I struggled to understand what it means to pray “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” – What did ‘debts’ mean? Who is the ‘us’ in this prayer? Was I to learn to forgive only those who are fellow Christians or was I to forgive the “other” who did violence to me and my community as well? I began the journey of learning what it means to forgive by taking the first steps. And I started to learn the freedom of self-talk that is able to say to myself: “I was wrong; I need to say ‘I am sorry, please forgive me.” And to enter into the scary process of meeting the person I offended or was offended by. This journey continues.

Shaping of a world-view in the presence of God…

Just a little older, praying this prayer introduced me to the idea that somehow Jesus is telling us to want His Kingdom to come, His will to be done – not at some future place but on earth. Until this time, I had internalized this phrase to mean that Jesus desires holiness in my personal life. Another journey of understanding Jesus and His mission began for me! Right now, I am trying to come to terms with why this prayer is all in the plural – “Our” Father, Give “us” this day our daily bread; Forgive “us” our trespasses …; Lead “us” not into temptation; Deliver “us” from evil…

Matthew 6: 9 – 13

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

SavithriThis Scripture for me:

  • is my safe space – a place to be open and intimate before the Lord;
  • is my discomfort space – a place to bring my real world questions and challenges
  • is my learning theology space – a place which invites me to enter the world of Jesus; to have conversations with fellow believers; to read what others have written.

Savithri Sumanthiran, Savithri.Sumanthiran(at)ifesworld.org

A Targum for Today

(written by: Yohan Abeynaike, General Secretary FOCUS Sri Lanka)

After a few generations in exile, the Jewish leaders faced a serious problem. Hebrew was being replaced by Aramaic as the common language of the people. With the change of language and context the leaders wondered how to communicate the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures to the next generation in a manner that was easily understood. This was the beginnings of the Targum.

SriLankasmallInitially, the Targum consisted of a simple paraphrase of the Scriptures in Aramaic. Later, it started to include explanations and expansions of the text so that the listeners could clearly see the relevance of the Scriptures in their context. In December, members of FOCUS Sri Lanka, decided to try their hand in writing a Targum using Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). We began by dividing the song by phrases and then developed each phrase more broadly in the explanation to achieve different aims. Here are a few examples of the aims we sought to achieve:

1. Understanding the conflicting thoughts and feelings of Mary and seeing her through modern eyes. (Lk 1:48-49)

“I cannot believe it! Thousands of Jewish women throughout history have wanted to be in this position. In the years to come people from everywhere will read and hear about my story. They will play my part in dramas and movies, they will preach sermons about me, they will sing songs about me. So many would wish they were me… but who am I? I am nothing…

…But, I am scared sometimes. I don’t know what the future holds for me. What will my relatives say about the pregnancy? What will the neighbours say? Will they mock me, ignore me or stone me?”

2. Applying the implications of a text broadly. (Lk 1:51)

God laughs at the boastful claims of the knowledge producers in our society. Can the scientist uncover all the mysteries of life? Can the economist satisfy all the people’s needs? Can the lawyer make a society more moral? Isn’t the claim that ‘all truth is relative’ – an absolute claim in itself? Why are they puffed up? Don’t they know that human knowledge will always be limited? It is only God who knows all things.

3. Using phrases and situations familiar to people today. (Lk 1:52)

All that is hidden will be exposed. He is the divine Wikileaks. The dark web will be lit up. The hate speech and tweets will be silenced.

The full text of our Targum for the Sri Lankan context can be found here.

The whole process was creative and fun. More importantly, it helped us to see and apply the text in fresher ways. Why not try it?

Yohan Abeynaike, yohan(at)focus.lk

A Word of Encouragement

(Written by Martin Haizmann, IFES Associate General Secretary)

 “…  but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

A word from God to his people in history
For around 50 years, the Israelites have been in Babylonian exile. They were conquered and deported, losing everything: the land, the temple…. And now God announces through his prophet: I will take action and lead you out of captivity! But the message earns skepticism: Is our God able to rescue us – have not the Babylonian gods proved to be more powerful? And if he can, is he even interested in helping us? Why did he not intervene when the Babylonians conquered us? After everything we have experienced, does he truly care about us (see v. 27!)?

Isaiah 40 is a powerful plea for God: Yes, HE can! And – equally important, Yes, HE deeply and truly cares about his people. God invites them to persevere and keep trusting. As he cares for their daily bread, he promises to provide them with the daily portion of strength which they need to face life – so that they do not lose hope and do not lose heart.

A word from God for my personal journey
Throughout my life, God has spoken to me again and again through this word from Isa 40:31 – often in unexpected ways. I was given this verse at my confirmation when I was 14. From then on, this verse has been like a red thread which God has woven into my life – showing me that my life does not just depend on my own plans and decisions, on my achievements and failures. There is a God who is bigger than me. There is a story line which he writes into my life!

Just two examples:
_I submitted my final thesis in engineering after working on it for a full year. I was about to marry and then start working with SMD Germany a few weeks later. But my supervisor wrote to say: “You made a mistake… you will have to re-write huge parts of the thesis.” I was devastated. That night I attended the meeting of our student group. It closed with a devotion on Isa 40:31. I heard it as God’s personal word to me, as his invitation to keep trusting. His word assured me: I will not let you down.  A few days later I was able to prove that I had not made a mistake – my supervisor had. So I was happily able to celebrate my wedding and start serving with SMD.

_After five years on staff, I was asked to become the national coordinator for SMD student ministries. A daunting challenge! I was the youngest in the staff team, it would mean moving my family to an unfamiliar part of Germany, often leaving the family in order to travel, and taking the risk of never being able to enter into my job as an engineer. There were so many questions and concerns; it was difficult to find out if this was God’s plan and calling for us. With “fear and trembling,” we said yes. Right after being interviewed by the board of SMD, I was offered a five-year contract – and then a Bible exposition followed: on Isaiah 40:31. Again God was assuring me that above and beyond all of my own thoughts, HE is leading me in HIS ways.

Martin Haizmann, Martin.haizmann(at)ifesworld.org