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.
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:
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.
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 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
As a student, I had the opportunity to join a Bible Study group, in addition to our weekly FES fellowship meetings. We met once a week during the semester. We named the group “Bible Surgeons” because we wanted to dissect the Word, discover it and process these discoveries in our lives. We did not just want to hear the outcome of someone else’s study, but engage with Scripture ourselves. These studies taught me to look at biblical passages through the eyes of different people, perspectives and entry points. This has been a great gift for me in my discovery of God and his Word.
Our FES staff worker, Annette Arulrajah, facilitated the Bible Surgeons’ group. Through this experience, I learned to lead Bible studies. As a student, I mainly observed how Annette facilitated. This wasn’t difficult because she would explain the reason behind why she did certain things, even if she had to repeat it weekly! In this way, we studied biblical books and at the same time learned to facilitate studies. I learned from Annette that you can facilitate Bible studies with 1 person or with 100 people. I discovered that engaging with the Word can be interesting, interactive and alive. I think the most valuable thing I learned is how to lead a Bible study in such a way that students learn how to study the Word for themselves and are enabled to facilitate a Bible study for others.
What inspires me to continue facilitating Bible studies with others is the desire to see students discover for themselves who God is through His Word. Since the Word is alive and still speaks to us, it can pierce our heart and draw us back to God – if we allow it to. I have often seen students so moved by the Word that the door for deep conversations was opened and new steps of faith were taken. For me, it is always important to remember that when I mentor a student, I do not do so with my words, but with God’s Word.
For eleven years I have been facilitating Bible studies and training others to do so. I thank the Lord that because of this, many students in turn have started to facilitate Bible studies!
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org Arab students’ ministry and training coordinator FCSI Israel
Over the last three years, I have participated in a continuous Scripture Engagement training. The idea behind this training was to invest in young people who would in turn invest long-term in others. The aim was not to establish a specific programme for Scripture Engagement, but rather to train men and women who would translate what they learned into their own contexts.
Ten of us, from different French-speaking countries in Africa, took part in this training. The training happened over three sessions from 2015 to 2017, in Togo, Guinea-Conakry and Mali respectively; these sessions were key in enabling us to grasp the concept of Scripture Engagement and to improve how we approach the Bible. In between sessions, we had homework to do, such as studying the Gospel of John, reading a theological book, writing Bible studies, surveying students about how they perceive the Bible.
For me, one of the most important topics dealt with the convictions we have about God’s Word. I realized: Firstly, this topic allows us to relook at what we state about God’s Word and ensure that our beliefs are not simply abstract statements but alive with meaning. Secondly, it enables us to lay good foundations for engaging with God through His Word. I think it is essential for everyone to have strong convictions about God’s Word. Then we wouldn’t constantly have to chase people to ask if they are meditating every day, because they would be doing it anyway.
These training sessions impacted my ministry and my life. In terms of ministry, I have improved in how I ask questions when writing Bible study guides, I have set up a support group for my ministry (for financial, material and spiritual needs) and I have started to invest into a youth group. With this youth group, I am soon planning to survey students to find out how we can introduce them to God in the light of Scripture.
In my personal life, my way of engaging with God through his Word has changed. I now always try to establish a bridge between my biblical knowledge and my everyday life. And I have set myself the challenge of always sharing my discoveries in God’s Word with others whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Salimou Traoré, high school teacher and leader of the Bible study department in GBEE Mali, trasa_86(at)yahoo.fr
In 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
Since 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
Since 2005, the training department of UGBB (IFES Burkina Faso) offers an ongoing training programme to its students. The course lasts for two years, with the aim of passing on Bible competence and an understanding of the student movement to students who will in turn pass this on to other students. The biblical basis for the course is 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” The course includes theoretical learning and practical assessments (homework).
I had the privilege of taking this course over the last two years. What encouraged me to do so was my hunger to know more of the Word of God. In the first year, we had sixty hours of theoretical teaching on the following subjects: evangelism, follow-up and integration of new Christians, Bible studies, Bible expositions, prayer, leadership, giving support to Bible study groups in schools, the Living Stones vision, fund raising and learning about our student movement. In the second year, we had thirty hours of teaching followed by a practical assessment.
For this second year, we chose an area of specialisation. The choices were: – Understanding the Student Movement – Evangelism – Leadership – Bible study
I chose Bible study. Thanks to this training course, I can now lead in-depth Bible studies and share what I discover with others. I’ve also started to help train our student groups in Bible study methods. For my personal growth, I’ve got into the habit of doing a personal Bible study (almost) every week. This has allowed me to study most of the book of Samuel in the Old Testament.
I often come across a passage that is very well-known, or that doesn’t seem to have anything special to say. But by questioning and reflecting, I discover truths that deepen my understanding of God and my walk with him. I find that the Bible is a inexhaustible source.