When it’s hard to go home

Each year, the Lunar New Year is a highly anticipated celebration for students in, and from, many countries in East Asia. It means big meals, family gatherings, streets lined in red, the pop of fireworks, and a rest from classes.  

This year, the relief from studying is long awaited by students in a high security, unnamed country. Universities have compensated for COVID-19 disruptions in the academic schedule, by continuing classes through breaks. This means that many students have not had a substantial holiday since last spring. Many of these students have not seen their families in months due to strict campus lockdowns. The Lunar New Year break is extremely overdue. 

But going home is a challenge for Christian students returning to non-believing families. Since the definition of success in this country focuses on material security, non-believing family are confused by students who spend time pursuing a “non-practical and irrational faith.” Other students will face pressures from parents who worry that there will be no one to offer up incense for them after they die. Lunar New Year dinners may create stressful conversations between students and relatives who do not understand. It often takes a few years of humble and prayerful witnessing before families are willing to accept their new beliefs or even come to faith themselves. 

With Lunar New Year underway, pray with us for students in this movement.

  • Pray that students will have patience with non-Christian family members who question their life choices. Pray that they will remain a steady witness for Jesus, especially when tensions arise.  
  • Pray that God will give groups and leaders courage and wisdom to know how to continue their ministry in the middle of a pandemic and increasing persecution. 
  • Pray that students will remain strong in their faith, even if they cannot meet in person. Pray that they will be motivated to stay in contact with their groups and leaders, even though it is online.

On a journey of wonder

The Journey 

Environmental justice is a complicated web. One small consumer choice has both human and non-human impacts  in places near and far. It can feel impossible to tackle the issue. But Prarthini Selveindran, an FES ministry staff worker in Singapore, believes it is best to approach it as a journey. 

Prarthini lives in Singapore, a city-state filled with lush gardens and skyscrapers bordering green parks and blue water. Despite the city-state’s dazzling surroundings, residents are removed from nature. Their seemingly natural setting is curated to combine beauty with organization. For this reason, Prarthini says the wonders of God’s creation are often overlooked.  

Prarthini is passionate about helping students develop that sense of wonder as the first step of their creation care journey. She invites them to “moving classrooms,” organized in partnership with Friends of A Rocha Singapore, which take participants into nature for workshops, gardening, and food tours. She also challenges students to search Scripture for evidence of creation care. The topic is dear to her since her own FES leaders encouraged her to wrestle with the issue whilst attending university. She shares a Bible passage that has influenced her own journey. 

“Psalm 104 is a text that has shaped much of my reflection on how we are to be within the created order, and how we can relate within the created order. It’s got to do with these big themes of interconnectedness and delight both in what God has created and realigning our perspective to view the world through a theocentric lens. It’s important because we live in a broken but beautiful world. Caring for creation is about making sense of how to live within that.” 

Inviting others along 

Now she has passed her fervor to two university students who have begun journeys of their own. Dennis Tan and Rebecca Goh say that discussing creation care in their FES groups has given them a new perspective for caring for others. And they want to invite more people along. 

Working with students from multiple universities, the two have started an Instagram account to generate creation care content. They post suggestions about sustainable living, facts about the environment, and discussion topics. 

As they encourage other students to think more about creation care, Dennis and Rebecca recognize the immensity of the matter. Rather than viewing it as a burden, they have learned three ways to view caring for creation as a feasible part of everyday life. 

1. Wonder  

Dennis says to look up. Literally. Lift your eyes from your screen and look outside. He says that when we slow down and spend time in nature, we begin to wonder at what God has created. And when we wonder at something, we want to take care of it.  

Rebecca adds that wonder isn’t hard, but it requires slowing down.  

“Wonder begins simply by paying attention to things we usually don’t pay attention to. I think technology helps us speed up and be more efficient, but sometimes slowing down helps us to be in awe and wonder of God’s world. 

Dennis adds that finding opportunities for wonder can be simple. 

 “Start exploring the natural areas around you like parks or nature trails. Even just looking up from our books to look outside the window [helps us to] see God’s hand in the skies and the greenery around.” 

2. Make small decisions 

It is easy to feel paralyzed when making sustainable consumer decisions. But Rebecca and Dennis advise students not to get ahead of themselves. Rebecca says that students can begin their journey with small practical steps. 

“To begin, use a reusable water bottle and reusable shopping bags. When you’re comfortable with those changes, make larger changes. Share these goals with your friends so that you can be accountable to one another.”  

Dennis says that students have a unique opportunity to naturally consume less because they typically have less money to spend. He recommends making a budget to be a responsible steward of both your money and the environment.  

“I think it really makes me think hard about where all my money is going. I’m privileged to not have to worry about money all the time, but it shocks me sometimes to see how much of my money is going to food, or non-essential expenses, and in turn, how much I’m consuming! It makes me think hard about the next time I want to buy something new, and whether it is faithful to God’s precepts to live a simple lifestyle.” 

3. Learn 

Rebecca says that it is important to stay curious. She advises students to pursue an array of perspectives on the issue and to examine the scriptural evidence for themselves. She recommends beginning the journey with the following resources: 

  1. A Rocha’s blog. A Rocha is a Christian charity that equips Christians to care for the environment. 
  1. Chapter 4 of John Stott’s The Radical Disciple 
  1. Prarthini has also written a book which shares stories of creation care in the context of Malaysia and Singapore.  

As students pursue more information, Dennis emphasizes that they look for perspectives from their own context. He suggests that students find local articles on sustainable living rather than following advice from other countries which may not be as applicable. 

Perfection is Impossible 

As you begin your own creation care journey, Rebecca and Dennis want you to know that perfection is impossible.  

“We don’t try to save the world,” Rebecca says, “but we have hope for Christ and the new creation. That is our hope. It brings comfort. Because the things of this world will decay.” 

Rather than adding to a Christian to-do list, the students hope that sharing about creation care will inspire a paradigm shift in others. She says it’s not about making perfect decisions. 

“It is about being mindful of our day-to-day lifestyle choices and what should motivate that. Ultimately, we want to think less of ourselves and more of others.”  

What can you do to develop a sense of wonder for God’s creation in your own context? What are small ways that you can change your habits to care for others by caring for creation? 

Over the balcony

Linny’s spiritual life was complicated. Her family was Buddhist in name and somewhat in practice, but her father was fascinated with the moral teachings of Christianity. Although their family never prayed or went to church, he always emphasized Christian values. Linny could not completely identify with the Christian or Buddhist side of her upbringing, but she was satisfied being a mix of both. She had even coined a term for herself – “Chris-Bud.” 

But in university, her spiritual identity cracked. She moved in next to a girl called Karina who was a fully committed Christian. Their shared balcony led to hours of deep chats about spirituality. Karina challenged Linny’s beliefs with tough questions. Though their discussions disrupted her worldview, Linny says she is thankful that her friend did not let her stay that way. Linny remembers the day Karina asked a question that “triggered [her] to the bone.”  

She asked, “Why are you doing good?” Linny did not know how to answer. After Karina went back to her room, Linny reflected. What is the meaning of my life? What am I doing here? Why am I doing good? Why should I? What’s the point?  Linny elaborates in her own words below. 

“Days after that, I started asking my friends at my campus about their meaning of life. Some were interesting, but also temporary and unsatisfying. A few were shocking. But one of them answered that his meaning to life was to glorify God. He told me that Jesus had died on the cross and given us eternal life. He was doing good as a response to Jesus’ love and kindness. I was bewildered! It didn’t make any sense. After I got home, I asked Karina the same question. She answered similarly. After that day, my curiosity about Jesus and Christianity burned. I began searching.” 

Linny began reading the Bible, joining her local Perkantas group, and attending Sunday services. Over time, her search turned into a deep love for Jesus. 

“It was like I was going deeper and deeper in Him mysteriously. Somehow, I found my meaning of life in Jesus. The more I learn, I believe He is the one who found me and not the other way around.” 

This week let’s rejoice over God’s work in Linny’s life. Let’s also pray for students around the world who hold syncretistic beliefs combining Christianity with other religions.  

  • Pray that they would find friends like Karina who will lovingly ask tough questions about their beliefs. 
  • Pray that Christian students would boldly pursue deep conversations about faith.  
  • Pray that Christian students would also grow in their knowledge of Scripture to be able to confidently explain their reasons for belief. 

An empowering heritage

After 67 years, Dr. Gloria Casabal still remembers the excitement of finding her faith in university. After all, she was one of the original students to attend the first ever IVCF Philippines Bible study with pioneer worker Gwen Wong. Through studying the Bible with Gwen, her faith matured into a lifestyle that would carry her through the highs and lows of life.  All these years later, Gloria has watched the world change in many ways. Yet, she always found security in God’s ability to remain constant. She had also witnessed the church continue to share hope no matter the circumstance.

Since their lives were so impacted by Gwen’s mentorship, Gloria and her husband Vic have wanted to use their own gifts to empower students. Since graduating, they have given faithfully to the movement. Their donations are normally used for bills, rentals, camps, and staff salary. But with summer events cancelled due to the pandemic, the money would have been unused this year. Instead the couple approved an initiative to make home-made face shields for police and other people on the front line.

With funding from the Casabals, staff, students, and graduates in Cebu City made face shields using foam and thin plastic. Their initiative was so well-received that others wanted to help. When an IVCFP alumni group in the USA saw the Facebook posts, they provided funds so that the work expanded to three other islands in the region.

The Casabals are a beautiful example of the way IFES graduates and supporters can empower current students. Thanks to their ongoing commitment to this national movement, this project allowed IVCF to share hope despite difficult circumstances. This week let’s praise God for graduates like the Casabals. Let’s praise God for the projects that offer hope to communities. Let’s also ask God for his protection over countries like the Philippines, which have been hit hard by the virus.

  • Thank God for the impact that this practical act of service by students and staff has had in Cebu City and beyond and pray for other community initiatives created by IVCF. The National Office Staff are also helping to cook and deliver meals to the homeless in Manila.
  • Thank God for the Casabals and other faithful supporters who enable ministry to continue.
  • Pray for students who continue to be affected by poor internet connection and low budget for Wi-Fi.
  • Pray for the secondary students who attended the online National Leadership Summit in July.

Studying far away from home

Studying abroad in Japan had always been Lydia’s dream. But as she prepared to leave her home in Brazil, she felt anxiety about this new experience. Nevertheless, she boarded a plane and faced the unknown. As she began her classes, Lydia soon discovered the challenges of being an international student. Constantly speaking Japanese was tiring and making friends required effort.  Lydia was particularly dismayed that she could not find many other Christian students. But when the professor from her laboratory introduced her to a student from KGK Japan, she was overjoyed.  She knew she had found a spiritual home in Japan. Lydia says,

“I started attending KGK activities and was able to feel the love of the Japanese Christian students. Even though I wasn’t able to communicate well at first, interacting with [them] made me feel accepted and safe in a country that it’s not mine and that doesn’t have many Christians.”

As Japan grows into a popular location for study abroad, KGK is actively pursuing opportunities to develop international student ministry. Last year roughly 115 international students were involved in KGK events thanks to the persistent efforts of leaders and students. In pre-COVID times, the ministry frequently practiced hospitality by inviting new students like Lydia into their homes for meals and fellowships. But despite the pandemic, their ministry has stayed strong. Many KGK students have continued relationships with their international friends via online Bible studies.  Leaders have also found that moving ministry online makes it easier to follow up with students who have moved back home but still tune into events.

This week, let’s pray for KGK Japan and international student ministries around the world.

  • In July, IFES East Asia is hosting a webinar that will feature international student ministry. Pray that this webinar will result in an increased hospitality of movements toward international students.
  • Pray that online events would allow movements to continue relationships with international students who have returned home.
  • Pray for students who have decided to follow Jesus while living abroad. Pray that they would continue in their new faith when they go home. Pray that they would have opportunities to share the gospel with others in their country.

Life in lockdown for international students in China

Since early January, international students in China have been living in lockdown on their campuses. Even while local families reunited over the Chinese New Year holiday, these students suddenly saw the doors of freedom slam shut.

Those who didn’t get out of China in time found themselves with half-empty dormitories and friends gone. They were only allowed to leave to buy food on campus and then quickly return to their rooms. Two international students from Nigeria, who are part of an international church in Beijing, share what it’s been like living under lockdown during the coronavirus.

Can you describe life under lockdown?

Theophilus: Shortly after coronavirus cases were reported in other cities, overnight all religious and public gathering were banned here. Then the shock of early February was the message: “Students are no longer allowed to leave the university campus until further notice.” I wasn’t allowed to meet my new church family and friends, or go out to buy fruit and other necessities. Or even visit other international student dormitories within my university. It was like I was stopped from living.

I now have to wake up every morning and stare at the laptop all day. I’ve developed severe backache. Fear came too, especially from the news I read and people I talked to. It is a horrible, monotonous and tiring existence under lockdown in China.

Hyellai: At first I thought, this will soon pass. However, as the days went by and the cases increased it became frustrating and depressing. The lockdown started the day I was due to travel to Thailand, so I had to cancel everything. I was disappointed, hurt and angry. Two weeks into the lockdown I became tired of the restrictions and I started having headaches and body pain.

How has your family back home responded?

Theophilus: Because they love me, I receive phone calls constantly from my concerned family in Nigeria. Yet they won’t allow me to rest because I have to keep answering fearful questions all day about my safety in a strange land.But this also increases the bond between me and my family, because we now talk more frequently than before. I’ve been able to reassure them that our safety only comes from God.

Hyellai: The level of fear from my family checking on me every day makes me feel more comfortable and yet lonely realising they are far away.  But I’m grateful they call me daily as it makes me feel loved.

How has being a believer in Jesus shaped your experience?

Theophilus: The lockdown was really a moment to fear. But rather feeding that fear, it was time to meditate on God’s words and promises and feed my faith. It’s also been a time for me to pray, especially for the world. The world needs “all manner of prayers” even beyond this virus pandemic. Because of God’s goodness I believe this time shall pass. Our deserted cities, roads and churches shall once again be filled.

Hyellai: Being a believer has really helped me to stay hopeful. Having many meetings online and praying both with friends and alone makes me feel so much peace. The feeling of speaking to God and knowing He cares has been really important for me. I have new available time to pray and study the Bible, and doing these things helps me avoid anxiety.

The Lord continues to work in China through international students experiencing these restrictions. New online groups have begun as students have reached out to other internationals in different campuses and cities. God is changing hearts and drawing his people together to pray and envision ways to be a blessing to those in China and back home. Please continue to pray for international students around the world as they can often be forgotten during times of crisis.

Frailty, fear and faith

23-year-old Jonathan, a Singaporean international law student in London was attacked unprovoked earlier this month. “We don’t want your coronavirus in our country”, they shouted.

During a pandemic, what spreads is not only a virus but also fear.

The impact on lives, plans and hearts

Beginning in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 swept across the East Asian nations and has now reached every corner of the planet. In many countries, schools and universities are closed and employees are working from home.

In the world of student ministry, training, camps and events have already been postponed or cancelled, or are looking doubtful. One particularly close to my heart is the triennial East Asia Regional Conference, due to take place in Thailand in July. We were expecting more than 600 students to attend. To cancel such a strategic event would be a huge loss.

People are paralysed with fear. We have been confronted with our frailty and vulnerability by a microscopic, yet potentially fatal virus.

Yes, we are facing a fiery trial indeed. But how are we as Christians to respond?

Seek the Lord

Rather than panicking, Christians can respond differently. In the Bible, when facing trials, godly leaders showed one clear response: coming to the Lord in prayer and confession. We are to face our suffering squarely, and seek the Lord.

King Solomon prayed for the Israelites (and then similarly for the nations):

“When famine or plague comes to the land… whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel – being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple – then hear from heaven, your dwelling place…”

2 Chronicles 6:28-30 NIV

So too, we are to pray, confident that He hears. In East Asia, we are using our noon time to share prayer items and spend time praying for the people and situation. Through this epidemic, we are learning to humbly submit to the sovereignty of our Lord.

Love the least

Another Christian responsibility during this trial is to practice compassion for the marginalised. Whenever there is suffering, the less privileged are the first ones to suffer. The coronavirus outbreak proves it again. In South Korea, free meal service charities have shut down their centres and programs, meaning the hungry struggle even more to find food. But Christians are looking for ways to deliver food to the elderly and poor. In contexts where many are struggling to buy face masks, Christians are encouraging one another to give masks to others who may need them more.

Continue with creativity

Christian students and staff workers of IFES movements are using creative ways to reach out to one another at this challenging time. They are using social media as a medium to pray together and continue with Bible studies. Evangelism and discipleship continue through online platforms. For those students whose church services have been cancelled, Sundays are now an opportunity to stay at home and witness to their families, while joining services online.

Jongho’s prayer

We are humans, bound by our weakness and culture. We need to take precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves from potential harm. Yet we are called to be faithful, even during a pandemic. This requires faith, love and creativity. It is my prayer that through this fiery trial, we may be found purer before the Lord, deeper in love and faith, and more faithful in stewarding God’s creation.

Tome’s friends join his Bible studies

Bible study. Why did you never invite us to your Bible study?” Tome’s friend demanded. He was looking over Tome’s shoulder at his weekly schedule.

Tome had been meeting weekly with a local staff worker in Timor Leste to read God’s Word. He was very keen and always wrote the meeting time in his schedule to make sure he didn’t forget. But Tome hadn’t expected his friend to be interested too. In fact, he soon found that there were several friends who wanted to join in! Tome’s one-to-one Bible studies grew into a small group of seven students gathering together each week to open the Bible.

IFES student ministry began in Timor Leste nine years ago. Despite the challenges of the context, the work has grown as God has opened doors. There are now three groups meeting weekly to study the Bible on three campuses, as well as two local staff workers.

Join us this week as we pray for student ministry in Timor Leste:

  • Thank God for the new group meeting on Tome’s campus. Pray that groups can be started on more campuses this year.
  • Pray for the Bible camp happening this year, focusing on the book of Acts and providing training for students in how to study the Bible.

Helping students love the Bible in a world of distractions

Melissa was the student who stood out. Eu Pui had been involved in FES Malaysia student ministry for 16 years, but Melissa stuck in her mind. Melissa prepared Bible studies thoroughly for the group she led. She thought about the timing. She thought about the audience. And what’s more, Melissa wanted the Bible to influence her life, the way she interacted at church and her decisions at work.

Eu Pui longs to see more students in Malaysia like Melissa, committed to engaging deeply with Scripture. But with students’ increasingly busy schedules and social media distractions, it’s getting harder to help them love the Word. They lose concentration. They just want sound bites. They’d rather watch a YouTube video than open the Bible.

These are just some of the challenges of student ministry today in Malaysia and in the rest of East Asia – and indeed, across the world.

The recent IFES Scripture Engagement gathering brought together the Scripture Engagement global team, regional and national movement staff from almost every IFES region, including Eu Pui from East Asia. A network of regional champions for Scripture Engagement was formed. The group spent time talking together about how they can best help their students engage deeply with the Bible, in different contexts. This network will continue to be a space for encouragement and learning across the regions over the coming years, which, God-willing, will filter out across every national movement.

  • Thank God for the conversations staff had at the Scripture Engagement gathering, sharing ideas and best practices. Pray that Eu Pui and the others would know how to take it forward in their own regions and movements.
  • Pray that Eu Pui and other FES Malaysia staff would continue to find joy in the Word as they spend time meeting students and preparing studies, talks and training.

Instant Christmas, constant love

Invitations had gone well this time. Pun and Love alone, two Christian students from the same faculty, had invited ten friends between them to the TCS Thailand Christmas party, Instant Christmas, constant love. TCS students wanted to introduce their friends to the constant love of Jesus. The food was the instant part! The guests all squeezed into the small apartment, instant noodles in hand. Once inside they could add the extras – cheese, chicken, mince, mushrooms, pak choi – all provided by the TCS host. 

Between the food, the games and the singing, the TCS students shared what Christmas is all about. They watched a short Bible overview on video and then Pun shared how the gospel message is good news for us. It’s like a present, that we need to open and accept, Pun explained. What will your response be? For some, it was the first time they’d heard the big story of the Bible. 

Will you pray for these students who heard the gospel last month? 

  • Pray that they would want to find out more and that their Christian friends would be prayerful in following up on conversations started at the party. 
  • Thank God for the courage of TCS students like Pun and Love, inviting their friends to hear the gospel. Pray that they would continue to be courageous witnesses, living distinctive, attractive student lives. 
  • Pray particularly for Ling* who has been coming to church and to a TCS Bible study regularly, and has recently taken the step of faith. Pray that she would be discipled well this year, growing in her love for Jesus and for evangelism. 

*name changed 

Thanks for praying with us!