Polygamy and poverty

I grew up in a broken, polygamous family in Uganda. My mother left me when I was six months old with my stepmother and my father. My stepmother only cared for her biological children. She didn’t want my father to support my siblings or me in our education.

In my third year of secondary school, my father stopped paying my tuition fees. My siblings and I had to stay at home and work. I started doing odd jobs around the village to earn some money.

I also started praying.

Hope and loss

Eventually my father agreed to let me attend the school where he was a teacher – a Muslim secondary school. I finished secondary school with good grades and was given a loan to study at university. My uncle offered to pay for my transport, accommodation and food. It was a good first semester. But it didn’t last long. My uncle passed away suddenly, and my support stopped.

I felt so helpless. I questioned God. It seemed like he had abandoned me after lifting me up. Without money to pay for transport, I had to walk several kilometres to attend my lectures. I also had to start working part-time to support my upkeep.

But then my own mother heard about my hardships and started working again. The money she gave me allowed me to rent a hostel room near campus, and everything changed.

A new chapter

The day I moved to the hostel, I wanted to thank God for his grace to me. I joined the local IFES Christian Union (CU) and started to serve as chief usher.

Soon after that I was appointed as the general secretary of the CU.

Through the CU, God has taught me forgiveness, courage and love. That’s changed me. I’ve learned how to align myself with the Lord and pray for my academics and family.

I have been hurt in the past by people I loved the most, but that does not stop me from showing them love and kindness. Today I still go back to the village to visit my stepmother and my siblings. I do not get angry with my dad for neglecting me because, through the CU, I’ve learned that the love of God is sufficient for me. I had never experienced so much love like the love I receive in the presence of God.

I want to serve the Lord with all my heart. I would like to be a leader in the Church.

Toose’s costly decision

As Toose’s student days drew to a close, his life in Liberia looked set. After graduating with an economics degree last year, he was offered a good job with a local bank. For financial security and an impressive status, it seemed an obvious choice. But much to the surprise of his friends and the disapproval of his family, Toose turned it down and joined the LIFES Liberia staff team instead:

“Ministry is my passion. I couldn’t choose any other job over that. If I need to make sacrifices so that others can hear about Jesus and be saved like me, then I’m willing to do it.”

Toose is one of eight LIFES staff who support student ministry with 16 student fellowships across five regions. He wants to see students growing in Scripture engagement and leadership, the way he did at university.

Toose asked for prayer:

  • The hearts of many students are hard because of false teaching they have heard and believe. Pray that students will receive the true gospel and apply it to their lives and study.
  • Pray that Toose would have strength, courage and wisdom in his work, as well as financial support and safety in traveling long distances between campuses.
  • LIFES would like to expand their ministry into five new regions in the near future. Pray for more workers.

How graduates are transforming communities in one year

The classroom walls are bare. Five or six teenagers crowd around each small wooden table, reading. Their teacher is not much older than them – Helena. She’s just graduated from university and is spending a year serving a community in northeast Ghana, as part of the GHAFES Ghana STICS program.

Helena is there with another graduate, Bright. Together they’ve set up a reading club, two youth clubs and a library – besides their ongoing work of teaching in the local school, serving in the four churches and sharing the gospel with the 95% Muslim population.

Graduates Peter and Faustina are serving elsewhere on STICS programs, teaching and working with the local church and community. The area they’re in is 98% Muslim. There is no internet, no lighting. Temperatures are regularly well over 40°C. It’s not an easy environment.

But Peter and Faustina have been able to start a reading and writing club, preach regularly at church, offer career guidance and counselling for high school students and speak at community durbars (meetings for the local community where issues like education or hygiene are discussed).

Will you pray for these GHAFES graduates this week?

  • Thank God for the 35 graduates taking part in STICS programs this year, seeking to bless rural, poor communities in Ghana.
  • Pray that God would sustain and equip them. Their workloads and responsibilities are great!
  • Pray that these communities would be changed as people hear the gospel.

Agents of hope

2009. James and Albert had just graduated from university. A huge change lay ahead. They packed their belongings and moved to Abrewankor, a village in rural mid Ghana. Abrewankor had no electricity, internet connection or proper road network. The two young graduates were to spend a year teaching at the local junior high school.

It was not going to be glamourous. Most of their friends were doing their national service placement year in the city, in jobs that would better their career prospects. But James and Albert were volunteering as part of the GHAFES Ghana initiative STICS (Short-Term Involvement in Community Service). They wanted to make a difference.

Light in the classroom

The school did not have a good reputation. It often ranked last in the district for its exam results. But slowly, things began to change. James and Albert bought a computer and a diesel generator to provide the students with light in the evenings. Albert used his electrical engineering skills to provide the school with wiring. They also shared the gospel with the students.

At the end of the year, the students’ results were the best ever. The school ranked second in the district league table.

A monumental goal

A year later, four other STICS graduates moved to Abrewankor to continue the work James and Albert had started. Exam results improved further. They then set themselves the goal of producing university graduates by 2015, a huge challenge academically and financially.

To raise the required funding, the STICS team set up the Abrewankor Education Fund and mobilised the community to contribute to it by donating a share of their crops for sale. They also raised funds from GHAFES networks and from their own pockets.

To date, over 80 Abrewankor students have benefited from the fund and 60 students are studying at university. 12 will graduate this year – five of whom are expecting to join the GHAFES STICS program.

Victoria: a lamp, a laptop and a drop-out

Victoria was posted to the local junior high school of Monyupelle in 2009 to teach religious and moral education, as part of the STICS program. Her parents wanted her to find a better placement, but she declined. With a rechargeable lamp and a laptop, she had everything she needed for teaching and evangelism. Every evening the students would gather around Victoria’s lamp to do their homework until the light ran out. Then they would listen as she shared Bible stories with them, before returning to their own homes.

There was one boy, Simon, who would join the students on a regular basis. Victoria found out that he had dropped out of school. She decided to enrol him in their school, aged 14. Simon excelled academically and eventually came top of his class in the final year exams. He is currently awaiting further exam results and would like to study medicine.


Clement: impacting a Muslim community

Clement’s STICS placement was to Zua, a predominantly Muslim community, in 2013. There was no electricity there, no church and no Christian witness – nor were any Christian activities allowed. Clement taught in the school and mobilised the youth for developemental projects in the village. He ran seminars for the young people, where he invited experts to come and speak about different issues in the community.

The chief of the community and his elders recognised the work that Clement was doing. They decided to offically welcome him as a full member of the community and as the Development Chief of Zua.

This has resulted in improved school exam results. Some students are now studying development studies and other degree programs at university. Clement is still a teacher, and is also working on a hospital development project in Zua which will serve Zua and four other communities in the area. The community in Zua have now allowed a church to be planted there.

How STICS came about

In Ghana, all graduates from tertiary institutions must complete a compulsory one-year national service. Most students (and their parents) are keen to secure urban postings to institutions where future job prospects are high. But GHAFES believe that Christian students and graduates can and should make a difference to change the world, given the right support. GHAFES wants its graduates to be models for young people, helping to transform communities for Jesus.

Since the STICS program began in 2009, 159 GHAFES graduates have chosen to take postings in deprived, rural areas. What’s their motivation? Simply a love for Jesus Christ and a deep conviction that they have been called to be agents of hope.

There are currently 35 graduates serving with the STICS program, working in sectors such as agriculture, co-operatives, education, health, church leadership and church planting, local government and rural development.

A model for Ghana

In a recent public lecture organised by GHAFES, the stories of these four STICS graduates were shared, along with several others. Ghana’s Finance Minister was present and gave a short address, requesting 100 such GHAFES graduates to join the country’s revenue department:

“I hope that Ghana will follow GHAFES for its Ghana Beyond Aid agenda (current financial development plan).”

Breakthrough for Africa’s Eden

Africa’s Eden – you can find it floating off the coast of Gabon: the tropical island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. With its spectacular beaches, vast stretches of rainforest, dramatic volcanic rock formations, and vast array of fruit, marine life, birds and plants, it really is a tropical paradise.

In the university world however, it’s a different story: these two small islands still have no university student witness.

A moment of breakthrough

After a decade of praying, two EPSA staff members finally had the chance to visit last year. Lawrence and Frederico met the chaplain of the national secondary school. He had been longing to see a university fellowship start up. He showed them around four university campuses and introduced them to local evangelical pastors. They had the opportunity to share the IFES vision and were welcomed warmly. The local pastors had been praying for this too!

There were other answers to prayer: two of the local pastors with experience in financial institutions were willing to help with graduate ministry. Lawrence and Frederico also met some local students who were excited to get prayer groups started. The students now have inductive Bible study guides in Portuguese, and the EPSA staff hope to return soon to provide leadership training to ten students.

A long road ahead

It’s an exciting start, but Lawrence and Frederico know there will be challenges ahead.

The islands are predominantly Roman Catholic and only have a small evangelical population. The church is financially poor. Lawrence and Frederico have not yet found a local Christian to coordinate the pioneering work in a full-time capacity, and there is no guarantee the university authorities will allow the new fellowships to meet.

Please pray with us that these challenges can be overcome, and that God would establish a thriving student movement in São Tomé and Príncipe.

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Inspiring students to think bigger

In Sierra Leone, student union elections are often violent. Last year, students of SLEFES, the IFES movement there, launched a successful non-violence campaign in the run-up to the elections at their university.

Elsewhere, SLEFES students have been speaking out against the widespread exam malpractice, encouraging fellow students to study and score grades they deserve. SLEFES students on another campus initiated a project to provide offline library resources for students on campus, since internet connectivity was a challenge.

What do all these stories have in common?

They are all examples of students thinking bigger – or ‘engaging the university’.

Matthew has been working with SLEFES for nine years. He had always thought that campus ministry was just about evangelism with students. But through the IFES Engaging the University (ETU) course he came to see the bigger scope of university ministry: everyone on campus needs the gospel: students, lecturers, faculty and staff. And it is the Christian’s role to bring a biblical perspective into every conversation, every discipline, every program.

Matthew writes:

“The ETU course served as an eye opener into how Christian students can be involved in the on-going conversations in their universities. Now I am helping SLEFES students to creatively and biblically engage in discussions happening on their campuses.”

  • Give thanks for the ETU course and for the way it helped Matthew better equip SLEFES students to live faithfully as Jesus’ disciples in every aspect of university life.
  • Pray that through these SLEFES initiatives, students, lecturers, faculty and staff – as well as campus life in general – would be transformed by the gospel.
  • Pray that the new Engaging the University e-learning course starting in March would be helpful for many involved in IFES student ministry around the world.

Challenges facing one new IFES movement

 “Today I work as a magistrate and a missionary.” 

Sona* was just one of the students impacted by GBU student ministry in Guinea Bissau. Through attending GBU Bible studies and training events, Sona felt called and equipped to serve both in the law courts and through opening the Bible with others. 

Guinea Bissau desperately needs more graduates like Sona, committed to living as disciples of Christ, and transforming their workplaces, churches and communities. The West African country is one of the poorest in the world and faces problems of infrastructure, political instability, and drug trafficking. Most people practise animism or Islam. 

In July this year the student movement officially joined IFES. While there is much to celebrate in reaching this milestone, the GBU movement needs our prayers as much as ever. 

There are currently five GBU groups across the country, but this year numbers have declined. Universities do not have campuses, so students tend to go home straight after their classes finish. They would like to be able to offer students snacks during the meetings but cannot afford to do so. Please pray for breakthrough: 

  • Pray for more students to attend and lead GBU groups as the new academic year gets underway. Pray that groups can be started on new campuses. 
  • Pray that God would provide the financial support needed for the ministry to flourish.
  • Pray for wisdom for the general secretary and those who work with students in Guinea Bissau. 
  • Pray for more graduates like Sona, committed to living as disciples of Christ in in their workplaces and communities. 

*name changed 

Thanks for praying with us!

How student work began in Zambia

April 1974. 

It was a memorable birthday. As Hank Pott turned 32, he and his wife Cathy touched down in Lusaka. They joined a small group of Christian faculty at the University of Zambia and spent their free time discipling the 100 Christian students there. 

Many people had been praying for them. The previous year, Chua Wee Hian, the General Secretary of IFES, had spoken at the student missionary conference Urbana

“Somewhere in this audience tonight are Hank and Cathy Pott. They’re going to Zambia. I ask you to pray them in – and then after two years pray them out, having found their Zambian successor.” 

Two years later, and 4,000 miles away in London, Zambian student Derek Mutungu gave his life to Christ. God gave him a heart to serve students back in his homeland. 

And so God answered the prayers of the students at Urbana. The Potts handed over leadership of the fellowship group, now 500-strong, to Derek. Under Derek’s leadership, the work expanded to more than 30 campuses. Today ZAFES is present on 91 campuses across ten regions. 

A new chapter for GBU Spain graduate Aida

Yesterday was a big day for Aida. The 23-year old graduate from Spain waved goodbye to her family and got on a plane to Equatorial Guinea, 4,500km away. Aida leaves behind a comfortable life, close friends, a familiar culture. Why would she give it all up? Because Aida longs to see a Christian witness established in the universities of Equatorial Guinea. She’ll spend the next year partnering with local Christian students to pioneer a new movement. Aida shared: 

“I know it’s going to be difficult. And I am not the best person to go. You could find someone else better trained and more experienced. But I know God is with me and He is going to mould my life for what He’s calling me to do. Maybe I won’t see great things. Maybe I’m just planting one seed which will not grow up until after my time. But I know God has great plans for this nation. Please join me in praying for God to start a new student movement in Equatorial Guinea.” 

  • Pray for Aida to settle in quickly to her new community, church and culture. Pray that through challenges she would keep walking closely with God, trusting and listening to Him. 
  • Pray for Aida to develop deep friendships with local students; pray that together they can be effective in reaching the universities with the good news of Jesus. 
  • Pray that God would provide supportive local churches and graduates to help the new movement get underway. 

Aida’s dream for Equatorial Guinea

Meet Aida. 23 years old. 

This is her story. 

A phone call 

It was a unique childhood. Her friends called her mwana ntang (white girl). They taught her how to play with a stick and tyre. At the age of seven Aida moved from Equatorial Guinea back to Spain. But it was too late. The country and its people were already firmly in her heart. 

In Aida’s final year at university in Spain, she had a chance to go back: a two-month internship at a school in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. Her reading book during that trip was Lindsay Brown’s Shining Like Stars: page after page, Aida was captivated by the stories of Christian students making a difference in their countries. It sparked a dream within her: a desire to hear the stories of Christian students from Equatorial Guinea making a difference in their country. 

On her return home, Aida received a phone call, which changed the course of her life. It was a GBU Spain staff worker: Aida, would you consider moving to Equatorial Guinea to pioneer a new movement? 

What timing! As she prayed, read the Bible and spoke to other Christians over the following few weeks, it seemed unmistakably clear that God was opening the door. 

Not alone 

That was 18 months ago. Since then, GBU Spain have been helping Aida prepare to move to Malabo. IFES supported her to go to World Assembly in South Africa. Hearing the stories and struggles of other pioneering staff and students helped her to adjust her expectations: this was not going to be an easy move, but she would not be alone. 

I know it’s going to be difficult. And I am not the best person to go. You could find others who are better trained or more experienced. But I trust God to provide for me and mould my life for what He’s calling me to do. 

I’m willing to do it because I’m not alone. I know God is with me, and the rest of the IFES family. Maybe I won’t see great things. Maybe I’m just planting one seed which will never grow up while I’m there. But it doesn’t matter. God has big plans for this nation. I’m learning that sometimes God’s timing is not our timing; God’s way of working is not our way.  

GBU Spain

Starting from scratch 

Aida wants to reach students. But what’s the best way to start? Ideas were sparked while listening to others at World Assembly: English clubs and music lessons – for both Christians and non-Christians – and other ways too. It’s going to be hard: most of the undergraduates there are a couple of years older than her, and the majority are male. But despite the potential challenges, Aida has a peace. 

I know I’m not there to be a leader or a director. I’m not there to impose my familiar IFES Europe way of doing things. I’m there to build a team and work together with them to start an indigenous movement. And God-willing, that will happen – first in one of the faculties of Malabo, and hopefully on other campuses in Bata as well. 

Beauty and brokenness 

Aida loves Equatorial Guinea. She loves the way you’re never alone there: if you’re out in the street, someone will say hello and walk with you to where you’re going; if you’re at home, there’ll be someone knocking on your door, wanting to come in for a drink. She loves the hospitality, the way of life, the smells, the colours, the diversity. 

But, like any country, there is brokenness here too. 

While most people are nominally Catholic, animism has a grip on their hearts. When a baby is born, the parents present the baby to the spirits for ‘protection’. When someone is ill, they go to the witch doctor. When someone is angry, they might have their enemy cursed. While the younger generation practise it less than their parents and grandparents, it’s still deeply embedded in the culture. For young believers, it’s hard to break away from it. And for an outsider, it’s hard to challenge it without causing offence. 

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by such signs of darkness, but Aida is trusting God to work: 

“I believe the power to change is in God’s Word. As we read the Bible together at university, I’m praying that God speaks to us and shows us where we are putting our faith in things other than Him, the one true God.” 

The country has big dreams, but few resources; many feel hopeless and frustrated. But Aida and the Christian students have a different hope to share – a hope which is not based on humans. It’s a hope that can change the heart of each individual, each campus, each community. This is Aida’s dream. 

“IFES family, imagine we are all gathered together in 2023, and standing here: a sister from Equatorial Guinea saying their movement is ready to join IFES. Will you join me in praying for that reality?” 

Aida is being supported by the IFES Breaking New Ground project.