Recently, while talking with a friend, we realised that many university groups near us were forgetting our main goal as IFES movements: students reaching students. We often struggle with the idea of ‘doing mission’ or even with inviting non-Christians to go to a Bible study.
What do we do when groups become closed among themselves and have no interest in impacting their university - or even their colleagues’ lives?
Yet we define IFES - and our local ABUB Brazil as well - as a missionary movement inside universities. So what do we do when some groups forget about that ideal? What do we do when groups become closed among themselves and have no interest in impacting their university - or even their colleagues’ lives?
A small study on mission activity
In order to understand what is happening, I conducted an informal research project with 49 people. According to my little investigation, more than half of the groups here in Brazil have no non-Christians attending their activities, and only around 35% try other ways to reach their colleagues. Many students do not know why, though invited, their guests never come to the events, and so some groups have nearly given up reaching other students with the gospel.
A student in São Paulo, Bianca Pinheiro, reflects on inviting people: "It's more difficult to get people to actually attend an evangelistic Bible study, than it is to prepare the study." She thinks that probably her group realised that non-Christians weren't going, so they decided to turn the Bible studies into discipleship studies for Christians. While there is nothing wrong with strengthening Christians, it usually does not translate into them actively reaching out in university. Other common reasons for failure to evangelise are busy lives, the sense of not knowing what to do or say, and even shame to be seen as committed Christians who study the Bible and are eager that others become Christians.
Some success stories in Brazil
But there are groups that are changing this reality. Marília Cavalcante, from João Pessoa, changed the day of her group’s meeting in order to take her class friends, who are now attending. ‘I was really happy with the Bible study today, because two non-Christian friends of mine went. They took part in it, gave their opinions, discussed with us. It has been a very good experience, something I was looking forward to.’
Tássio Cavalcante, a student from São José dos Campos, reports that while their group does see Bible study as one way to take the gospel to non-Christians students, they believe it cannot be the only one. They have been inspired to go on by stories of ABUB from years past, when many people met the Lord and transformed their environment by gathering to pray in the mornings in the square.
Prayer has also been the answer for some groups as they attempt to reach their fellow students. For one group in Brazil, many non-Christian students, the colleagues and friends of one person, suddenly started attending the group's activities. The numbers were growing non-stop and no one could understand why that was suddenly happening, after years of meetings on that campus. A very close friend of this student told me: ‘He is a real Christian, more than we can imagine. He prays more than you think it can be possible.’
But again, we cannot stop with prayer, making it an end in itself that frees us from being deeply involved with people. These non-Christians who suddenly attended ABUB meetings would never have come if they had not also been friends of the person who was praying for them.
Rediscovering our mission
Frederico Monfardini, a student from Presidente Prudente whose group has also had some difficulties reaching their non-Christians friends, says: ‘Mission is doing what Jesus did, going into the world and being together with the "widows and the orphans" of our college, showing, in that way, Jesus' love.’
We must purposely get to know the questions, fears and needs of our contexts.
Real relationships and engaging in the school or university's context with genuine concern and love must happen, keeping campus mission a daily practice even if the traditional ways of ‘doing mission’ are not reaching others any more.
But we must keep our eyes open and avoid feeling comfortable with just saying ‘our lives proclaim Jesus’ and using this as an excuse to stop speaking about our faith. Although we are dependent upon God and he can use us to reach others without our realising it, our mission efforts might need to be intentional in order not to be forgotten. We must purposely get to know the questions, fears and needs of our contexts, speaking to these situations in creative ways through diverse and original approaches that take the gospel to others.
So if we're neglecting mission, maybe we're neglecting our own Christian lives as well – we’re not spending enough time studying the bible itself and making it an integral part of our lives. And maybe we're relying too much on mission just happening, and not intentionally taking part in a missionary movement.
If we are losing our goal or deviating from it, prayer can be a way to readjust our path. This may seem too simple, but it is a way to connect with God and reconnect with his desire to use our lives in the university.
What is it like for your IFES movement? How would you like to change? What are the creative ways you are reaching others? Leave a comment and tell us about your situation.