Stepping back to move forward

“It seemed like we were grasping at straws. We were praying and pursuing all our leads, but without any progress. I felt a real burden for the place, but I realised that we couldn’t force it. We needed to take a step back and ask God to show us the way forward.”

And God did.

With the IFES Caribbean (CARIFES) team, Kerwin Stuart, Associate Regional Secretary, was attempting to re-start student ministry on the island of Antigua. Many years ago, ministry was planted there as the Inter-School and Colleges Christian Fellowship (ISCCF). But when several key people, including some good board members, stepped away from their roles about five years ago, ISCCF activities died out.

Over the last few years, Kerwin connected with some graduates and pastors who seemed to share his heart for campus ministry. But these promising developments all abruptly ended. Kerwin was “perplexed but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8): “we continued seeking God’s direction, asking him to lead us to the right people and show us where he’s at work”.

And that’s when Darlene made contact.

She is the youth director at a local church and a lecturer at Antigua State College – and she’d experienced IFES ministry as a student. Darlene wanted to let Kerwin know that she’d started meeting with a few students from the college to read the Bible and pray together. The “small group” is now consistently attracting 20-30 students each week.

Prayers answered.

Kerwin will soon lead an orientation on IFES and student-led ministry. The CARIFES team also hope that one or two of the Antiguan students may be able to attend this year’s inaugural CARIFES Academy. This will not only give the students skills in leadership but also expose them to the region’s rich network of national movements.

For Kerwin, the frustrated efforts and persistent prayers highlight “the gift of getting aligned with God’s plans”. But the story also points to the vulnerability of ministry on the Caribbean islands – due partly to geographical distances and transient student populations. In recent years, several movements have needed “re-pioneering” or revitalizing, including St Martin and Martinique. Watch out for more details about pioneering in the Caribbean as we approach this year’s Global Giving Day: Into All the World.

For today, let’s pray for staff and students in Antigua and the Caribbean:

  • Give thanks for the tenacious faith of the CARIFES team and God’s work through Darlene; pray for good relations and a common vision as they help this fledgling group become established.
  • Pray for the Antigua State College students attending – that they will flourish together in their faith and be strengthened in their witness.
  • Ask the Lord to lead the CARIFES team towards the right student(s) to participate in the CARIFES Academy – and pray that these potential leaders will have a formative experience with lasting impact.

A call to pray for Mahdia

This week’s Prayerline is a modified version of an update originally shared in the 8 June edition of the CARIFES Prayer Bulletin. To receive the CARIFES Prayer Bulletin, sign up here. 

On 21 May, the Caribbean region was shaken by the devastating news of a fire that broke out in the girls’ dormitory at the Mahdia Secondary School in Guyana. The fire claimed the lives of at least 19 children and injured several others.  

This extraordinary tragedy has deeply saddened IS/IVCF Guyana, the Guyanese people, and the IFES fellowship in the region. Since the fire, the national movement has been working with staff and contacts from the Mahdia area, including a pastor from the area who has offered a home and given initial guidance regarding immediate needs. The CARIFES regional team has been active in reaching out and offering all possible support to the national movement. 

IS/IVCF Guyana has sent a team to Mahdia for a five-day trip, during which they supported and served the residents in several ways. While in Mahdia, the IS/IVCF team hoped to make new connections and have a lasting impact. They have shared a full report in their own prayer newsletter here

Pray for IS/IVCF Guyana & the town of Mahdia: 

  1. Pray for the bereaved relatives of the 20 children who perished in the fire. Pray for all who are grieving, that they may find comfort and peace, and that they may also find God in the process. 
  1. Pray for IS/IVCF Guyana as they continue to grieve and offer practical aid after the fire, and pray for the CARIFES regional team as they stand with the national movement at this time. 
  1. Thank God for opening doors during the IS/IVCF visit to Mahdia. Pray that God will continue to grow relationships that were strengthened or started in the recent visit team visit.  

Latavia leaves home

“Pray for the Cayman Islands – please send workers”. 

Latavia, an experienced staff worker with ISCF, the student movement in Jamaica, had been praying for a new opportunity to serve overseas. When she saw this message posted during an online ISCF event, she wondered if she had found her answer.  

After a few months, Latavia’s calling to the Cayman Islands was confirmed when God gave her a dream about the landscape and geography of the island of Grand Cayman – even though she had never been there. This was also confirmed through a prophetic word from her Pastor. In June, she moved to the island as the first IS/IVCF Cayman Islands staff worker to be fully employed directly by the ministry.  

A new place always brings new challenges. “Cayman is a Christian nation like Jamaica, and because I was only going to be supervising seven schools, to be honest, I expected it to be easier”. In Jamaica, Latavia had personally overseen ministry in close to 100 schools and, in this new situation, she was looking forward to developing closer relationships with fewer students. But Latavia found the Caymanian culture far more indifferent to Christianity than she was expecting.  

In the Cayman Islands, over 130 nationalities are represented in a population of just 70,000, and there are many students who identify as atheists or follow different religions. By contrast, Latavia explains that in Jamaica “everybody might not personally trust in Jesus, but there is a reverence for God, and a general support for the ministry.” Student ministry in Jamaica is well established – over 70 years old. Groups are student-led, although supervised by a sponsor (Christian teacher). Christian students are less forthcoming in Cayman. “Lots of them seem to be in hiding”, observes Latavia.  

Nonetheless, she also went expecting to feel like a total stranger and foreigner in a new country. “The Lord has given me a lot of friends and a real community of Christians”, she says. Moreover, “the IS/IVCF board members are also really supportive.” 

As a financial centre, the Cayman Islands is an interesting and unique place for student ministry. “Here”, says Latavia, “we have the potential to impact the world. With so many students from other countries, we can impact the families they go home to worldwide.” Latavia wants to make the most of this with the 2023 theme Igniting our Schools with the Gospel of Jesus. “I’ve been surprised to meet students who have never heard the gospel”, she says. “A student asked me ‘What is Christ?’ It’s difficult to invest in students who are here for such a short time and can’t make a great impact on the island, but I want the students to become bold witnesses in their words and conduct.” 

Let’s pray for Latavia and students in the Cayman Islands: 

  • Pray for the discipleship retreat on 18 February, that students might become strengthened in their faith and equipped to live it out among their friends. 
  • Pray for Latavia’s efforts to bring more churches on board with the mission, that many churches will see and understand the strategic value of the ministry to students, and that they will support Latavia with finances, resources, mentoring, and pastoral care. 
  • Pray that as Latavia works to establish student ministry, build relationships, and make disciples, God will bless the work of her hands (Deuteronomy 28:12). Pray that he will raise up student leaders in the Cayman Islands. 

40 days of prayer and a sovereign God

‘So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.’ (Ezra 8:23) 

This was the verse with which Sister Anne, board member and prayer coordinator of IS/IVCF Belize, began the meeting. We’ve just reached the final week of the CARIFES 40 Days of Prayer, with one more meeting planned for 7 July. Students, staff, graduates, supporters, and board members of the Caribbean movements have been praying individually and corporately online. For this Prayerline, let’s join them, to pray for the points raised at their latest meeting, on the theme of ‘Thriving on New Ground’. Here are a handful of prayer requests from the meeting, for the whole global fellowship to lift before God. 

Movements are being pioneered on the island of Saint Martin, on the French (Saint-Martin) and Dutch (Sint Maarten) sides of the island. Let’s pray that God would give new contacts and provide new opportunities to begin ministry in Sint Maarten, and that in Saint-Martin God would renew the strength of existing leaders.  

GBEUH Haiti needs prayer for greater structure, and for the ministry to be expanded throughout the country. Pray also for political, economic, and social stability. Thank God that he will make the GBEUH the light that shines in Haiti. 

ISCF/UCCF Jamaica asks for prayer for a specific situation – for ‘teachers who feel overwhelmed, and students who need comfort after the deaths of relatives’. Pray for stability, wholeness, and healing, and that God would use this situation as an opportunity to draw them close to him. Pray for boldness of students to live out the gospel in a youth culture that looks down upon them.   

Ministry is continuing in ISCCF St Lucia, but there is a specific need for more Christian teachers to serve in their schools. Pray also for the possibility of a student leadership training retreat in August. Pray for ISCCF to recommence face-to-face in schools in the next academic year. 

‘Prayer is always our only viable option’, says Brother Lawrence, ISCF/UCCF Jamaica board member, during the meeting. ‘And student and schools ministry is so important. Our schools are the bottleneck of society. While many young people bypass the church, everyone passes through school.’ 

Pray with us for the CARIFES region: 

  • Thank God for this spirit of prayer; pray that CARIFES and the whole global fellowship might ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). 
  • Pray for the strengthening and flourishing of all 15 affiliated student movements in the Caribbean, plus those being pioneered. Pray that more students would hear the gospel and commit their lives to Christ. 
  • Many places need more workers; pray that God would raise people to serve students in many ways. 

Seizing the moment for high school ministry

Most IFES ministry takes place in universities. But in some parts of the world, a high school ministry is the best way to reach young people for Christ.  

In the St Vincent Grammar School in the Caribbean country of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Mrs Nakita Boucher is a ‘sponsor’ —a teacher who runs a Christian group at school—for the national student movement ISCCF SVG. This year, the group faced a dilemma. The pandemic made the prospect of running a student group in the single-sex school more difficult than usual.  

Nonetheless, Mrs Boucher felt that it was right to meet. As she explains, ‘I was led by the Holy Spirit to focus on evangelism. We couldn’t have allowed this time to pass us by, seeing what has happened around us in the last year, including the pandemic and the La Soufrière eruption. I decided we should focus on making the students aware of what it means to be saved and how to live a Christian life.’ 

Mrs Boucher read the moment well. The students were keen, and this term, the group multiplied from the usual 25-30 students to over 40 attending for half an hour every Thursday. They did Bible quizzes and discussed the students’ perception of who God is. Two young pastors were invited to come and explain salvation and repentance. Students and teachers shared their personal testimonies. 

One student shares the impact that the group has had on his faith: ‘I do not get a lot of time to read the Word as much as I should, and ISCCF has been a devoted part of my week where I can read the Word and gain more knowledge about the gospel and about God’s divine purpose for my life. At my church, I enjoy the beginner to youth class, filled with lots of activities, stories, and opportunities to connect with others of similar age about the same thing. Having something similar at my school feels so wonderful. I believe that ISCCF has made me gain confidence to spread the gospel and made me a more rounded student. I hope that more students can benefit as I have.’  

Six students gave their hearts to Christ this term, and ISCCF are hoping to follow up with those who won’t be able to receive discipleship at church. Mrs Boucher says that ‘overall, the group has been very vibrant, very interested, and our students are developing a love and appreciation for God. We hope that we can continue to share the gospel, and that these students will grow into the young men that God wants them to be.’ 

Pray with us for this ISCCF group and other students in St Vincent and the Grenadines: 

  • Pray for the six who received Christ for the first time this term. Pray that it would be the beginning of a lifelong, faithful and joyful devotion to Jesus and that God uses their lives powerfully. 
  • Pray that Christian students would be bold in proclaiming the gospel to their classmates, and that they would have a continual hunger and thirst for God.  
  • Pray that the ISCCF group at the St Vincent school would grow numerically and spiritually. Pray that students would get support in their Christian faith from peers and parents where possible. 
  • Pray that IFES high school ministry in different countries around the world would be more and more fruitful as students return to normal life after the pandemic. Pray that they would spend their lives living for Jesus. 

Closed Borders, Renewed Connections

As the world was shutting down, in the Caribbean new things were beginning.  

Bruce Fletcher and Francis Warner, two former leaders of IVCF in Trinidad and Tobago, were hatching a plan. Although the pandemic was just beginning and the Caribbean islands were closing their borders, Bruce and Francis saw a chance to remake some connections, reassembling those who were in IVCF alongside them.  

If there’s one thing that should never be underestimated, it’s a WhatsApp group. Bruce and Francis quickly gathered 80 people, all IVCF students from the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies between 1977 and 1981. Many were not from Trinidad and Tobago—Bruce himself is from Jamaica—and many now live elsewhere. Now mostly-retired professionals, most had not been in touch for over forty years. Bruce and Francis were hoping that these alumni would use what God had given them over the years to benefit the current cohort of IVCF students. The results that came were unexpected and wonderful. 

They began hosting events that would create conversation about the impact of the pandemic in the region, and some began to meet every Saturday night to support one another in prayer and intercede for current IVCF students. The impact of this has reached across the world already. Cherelle Thompson is a second-year Medical Sciences student, who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She praises God that the group ‘undergirded my Olympic journey to Japan with their weekly prayers to heaven … Their petitions on my behalf were answered through relationships, resources and faith posture that I needed for every step of the journey’. 

Group members have also supported IVCF practically. As many participants have felt called to give financially, the movements across the Caribbean have been sustained through the hardships of the pandemic. Group members have also offered to mentor young graduates. Bruce emphasises that as needs are identified across countries in the region, someone from the group is usually able to step in and help. There is an appetite to bring projects that are working in one place to the rest of the movements. 

‘Gladness and gratitude’ are the words that Joel Chryskarsten, General Secretary of IS/IVCF Trinidad and Tobago, uses to describe ‘Our Legends’, which is how the group is fondly referred to. He says that the financial support of individuals in the group ‘was vital in helping ensure our financial stability throughout the fallout period of the pandemic.’ 

Where could this go in the future? There are almost 15,000 alumni of IVCF, which was founded in 1956. The ‘Legends’ have also been discussing with Regional Secretary Marc Pulvar how other Caribbean alumni could be better connected, even those now living around the world. They are excited about what this could lead to, in the Caribbean and beyond.  

Please pray with us for IVCF Trinidad and Tobago, the Legends group, and the CARIFES region: 

  • Thank God that he provided for the Caribbean movements in the pandemic in this way. Thank God for the initiative and willing steps of faith of Bruce and Frank, and the servant-hearted spirit of all the alumni involved.  
  • Pray that the current IVCF students would continue to be blessed and helped by the care of alumni, and that this would have an eternal impact as they continue to study and move into their adult lives. 
  • Pray for the future development of alumni networks in the Caribbean and beyond, that God would use alumni to encourage, strengthen and bless student movements all over the world. 

Solidarity in disaster

What do you do when people around you are in need?

Recently there have been huge needs in CARIFES following the volcano eruption in St. Vincent. This disaster follows a long history of hurricanes, tropical storms, and earthquakes that leave many in unstable situations. Yet each time, the IFES movements in the Caribbean come together to care for their neighbors. Marcelle Mapp, Board Chair of ISIVCF Trinidad and Tobago, tells more.

“Luke 9:10-17 gives us an account [of meeting other’s needs]. You certainly don’t send people away to fend for themselves. So, when Hurricane Maria devasted Dominica in 2018, the Trinidad and Tobago movement sprang into action and raised funds to send 100 mattresses to the movement there.

Now recently with the explosion of the volcano Soufriere in St Vincent, we sprang into action again. On the morning of our recent launch of the 65th Anniversary celebrations of ISIVCF in Trinidad and Tobago, a few of us attended an emergency meeting called by CARIFES where we heard the board chair of St. Vincent and the Grenadines report on the state of the island, the evacuees, the devastation.

We asked ourselves, how could we join our faith with works? 

The next day a former Trinidad and Tobago board member called me for the go ahead to raise funds to send 100 cots to the SVG St. Vincent movement.  A flyer was done that same day and sent out on the ISIVTT network. One member responded immediately, and two cots were bought. We sent out a countdown every day for how many more there were to go. The response was overwhelming. In five days, we had met our target, but people kept sending money for cots. We raised enough funds for 126 cots. Like Moses we said, ‘Stop we have enough! (Exodus 36:6-7).’ The SVG movement is very grateful.”

Marcelle says that there are still so many more needs to be met in the region. Recently there have been heavy rains and flooding in the city and countryside of St. Vincent. People who were already evacuees are again displaced because of landslides. One of these evacuees is an ISCCF staff worker with his wife and baby. Please continue to pray for St. Vincent and the region.

  • Pray for the safety of those affected by recent natural disasters like the volcano and flooding.
  • Pray that non-Christians will be touched by the efforts made by the movements in CARIFES to help each other. Pray that it will open a door to conversations about the gospel.

Praise God that he has given us a spiritual family that carries each other’s burdens.

Crossing Paths

Tonia was born in Jamaica, where she came to know Christ in her IFES high school student group. She went on to study pharmacy in university and together with her husband (also a pharmacist), pursued her pharmacy career through several professional moves around the CARIFES region. It was one of these moves that brought her family to the island of St. Kitts. Unbeknownst to Tonia, her new residence would lead her back into ministry with IFES. 

At about the same time, Desmond Rogers, former Regional Secretary for CARIFES, was preparing for his ministry trip through the region. One of his stops was St. Kitts. By chance, Desmond and Tonia’s paths crossed and they began discussing what it might look like for Tonia to pioneer a new group in St. Kitts. Now, Tonia continues to pioneer the student work in her new home, bringing a deeper purpose to her professional move through supporting and encouraging her younger brothers and sisters in Christ.  

Tonia’s story is reminiscent of Acts 16, where Paul, a “full-time staff worker” pioneering the ministry in the sub-region of Macedonia, meets Lydia, a professional, and ends up establishing a church in her home. It is an example of a graduate keeping her career open to God’s leading and searching for opportunities to serve him after university. This is what we love to see – students transformed by the gospel and impacting the university, the church and society for the glory of Christ, long after they graduate. 

This week, pray with us for Tonia and the student groups in St. Kitts.  

  • Praise God for graduates like Tonia who look for opportunities to pursue ministry in their professional lives.  
  • Pray that students will grow in their leadership abilities to start new groups in St. Kitts. 
  • Pray for graduates to recognize the importance of mentoring and being involved with student ministry once they finish university.  

Canceled events create opportunities for prayer

Event cancellations have become a defining feature of 2020. Yet movements are using these difficulties as motivation for fervent prayer. One example is IFES Caribbean (CARIFES), which planned 40 days of prayer after they canceled their bi-annual missions conference. As CARIFES Associate regional secretary Kerwin Stuart says,

“Prayer is one of our core commitments, and the pandemic presented the ideal opportunity for more intense prayer.  In this challenging season, it is very important to seek God’s face together for discernment and wisdom.”

Each week, the CARIFES team sent out a Scripture focus, which individual movements used to inform their own prayer time. On Thursdays, the region gathered on a Zoom call to support each other and earnestly pray for God’s direction. Kerwin says that over the six weeks, the region grew in unity.

 “The time of prayer and fellowship was rich. Our after-meeting greetings, short praise reports and comments were a testimony of a people unified in purpose.”

While the 40 days of prayer ended last week, the region will remain unified in prayer. Let’s join them in interceding for the many challenges that CARIFES faces now.

  • Pray for the staff members who have had to take salary cuts due to the pandemic.
  • Pray for financial support for CARIFES communication projects.
  • Pray for a full-time staff worker to coordinate the ministry in the French territories.
  • Pray for the advancement of the student ministry in each national movement.

Finding Community in a Crisis

The idea of an event being “churchy” is not enticing to some students in Jamaica, a country where church has become a normal part of society. Though students have a genuine openness to the gospel, some may view Inter-Schools Christian Fellowship (ISCF) events as just another religious box to tick. However, pandemic restrictions are causing many students to realise the importance of community and spiritual growth. Because of this, students are using technology creatively to stay in touch and challenge each other spiritually. Stephen, a student, says that his ISCF group has been sending prayers to each other via voice messages and using online chat groups to do Bible studies. He writes,

“I have learnt through this period that we have the ability to increase our relationship with God with just the touch of our fingers [through technology]. With the distractions of the world, such as school or work, we always found reasons not to do so. But now that those distractions are gone, we have no reason not to use technology for God’s glory.”

Since daily life has been transformed by restrictions, online groups are also a place where students can feel comfortable to process. Chelsea writes:

“One reason that has encouraged me to stay online and in touch with the ISCF is for support. I’m not really one for letting people in and letting them know my emotions, but in the ISCF it’s different. I get to freely talk about God and communicate with others that share my beliefs. I feel support from everyone here. And I’m glad that others feel the same.” 

The events of the pandemic are also causing students to ponder what really matters. Debonae explains,

“The coronavirus has opened my eyes to the coming of the Lord and how he is pushing us to be saved so that we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

As this pandemic may be an opportunity to draw students closer together in community, lets pray for the IFES movement in Jamaica.

  • Pray for leaders to arise among staff, teachers, and students to help build communities where students can mature in their faith.
  • Pray for students to see the value in being part of a community of faith and to find creative ways to connect with each other.
  • Pray that the community created during the pandemic will continue after restrictions are lifted.