“Family or God: choose.”

Eurasian student Miraz* had almost everything a young man could want. He was bright. He had a well-paid part-time job. He was a very successful athlete. And yet, inside, it was a different story. Despite all his achievements, Miraz felt hopeless. He wanted his life to end. 

But then God stepped in, in an extraordinary way. Miraz tells his story: 

“I wasn’t seeking God… He found me – at the most difficult time in my life. 

I was walking by my university one day and saw a student handing out flyers. Never in my life would I go to someone handing out flyers, especially outside the university. I can’t explain why, but that day I went up to her. She seemed to be shining. I took the flyer – it was for an event organised by the IFES movement in my country. 

I sat down on campus with the flyer, thinking for a long time about whether I should go or not. My other thought as I sat there was how to end my life, how to end the suffering. I was tired of life. I couldn’t live any more. 

But I went. And it was amazing. God was working in that place.  

If I had only known how much God loves me!” 

At that first meeting, the message that struck Miraz was ‘the truth will set you free.’ He downloaded the Bible on his phone and started reading John’s gospel 

“Some time later I made the decision: I want to know God, to know Jesus. I want to grow in Him. From that moment, God started to change everything in my life. When I told my friends my decision, they rejected me. When I came home from Bible study one day, my father, a Muslim, was sat waiting for me. They had noticed a change in me and had started to suspect something wasn’t right. He asked me: “Where have you been?” I told him I’d been with friends. Where were you? What did you do?” 

I tried to use all the wisdom God had given me, and I knew I couldn’t lie. “Father, I’ve been in church. I was at a Bible study.” 

My parents find out the truth 

It was a shock for them: “We didn’t think you’d become like that; we didn’t think you’d be one of them. We don’t need a son like that.”  

What should I do? My father said to me: “Family or God: choose.” So I began to gather my belongings. It was a very difficult time. I was in tears. Ok God, I prayed, may your will be done. My parents asked me to renounce my faith, but I couldn’t. How can you reject the one who has saved you? That was the start of a long period of opposition. So many tears, so much shouting. They made me go to the mosque and meet with a Muslim leader to persuade me to turn back. But I always felt God near me, saying “Do not be afraid, just believe.”  

Losses and gains 

Though everyone in the world left me, I understood how much God loves me because the Word of God is active. It was active in my life. I knew that, even if nothing changed, I needed to stand firm and overcome these difficulties. Through it all, I knew in my heart that God had saved me. 

Now time has passed, and I have a new family. I am not thirsty for anything in this world. I don’t need anything – I just need God. Thank God for the church here and for the student ministry through which I came to Him. Thank God they were not afraid to share with me, even though it might have caused them problems. God is alive.” 

*name changed 

Mountain climbing

It was dark by the time we reached the top. Exhausted from the hike and soaked from the relentless rain, we set about pitching our tents. It took longer than usual as none of the students had been camping before. It was not going well. After a cold, wet night, we crawled out of our tents the next morning to find the firewood wet. It took more than two hours to light the fire.

We trudged back to the cars, convinced that would be the first and last student camping trip. But to our astonishment, the students enjoyed it: we must do this again!

A way in

Several years later, we are still living in Central Asia, taking students and graduates on hikes up mountains. It’s proved to be a particularly effective way of building relationships. The usual methods of pioneering a movement would not work here: we are not allowed on campus; we cannot organise mission weeks or give out gospels.

But hiking up mountains is a way in. Away from the busyness of everyday life in the city, away from people who might overhear, away from controlling parents, being up on the mountains gives the young people space. Space to think, space to talk, space to consider spiritual matters. Each morning we start with a short devotional and give them a verse to remember, along with some questions to discuss as they hike. It’s enough to open up conversations.

Open goals

I was recently on a hike with some students. Two of us reached the summit 20 minutes before everyone else and sat down. We’d only met the day before, but hiking together had built trust between us. He turned to me: “can I ask you some questions?”

Another time, the group had been reading the book of Ruth together. A student came and walked alongside me: what does it mean to be a good man? he asked. Then: As a dad, how do you strike a balance so that your children are trained but not controlled? These questions were an open goal to clearly explain core truths of the gospel.

Aaron Burden – Unsplash

Repeating patterns

In this context, that student’s questions were particularly pertinent. Domestic abuse is alarmingly high in this country. The majority of women experience physical or emotional abuse at the hands of their husbands. They marry young: girls tend to marry just before graduating; boys just after. Too often they repeat the patterns they witnessed in their parents’ marriages.

We hear about the abuse from the young wives. It’s harrowing. But for us to confront the husbands is not easy. In this culture, if we tell the husbands we know what’s going on, they will feel ashamed and will likely punish their wives for disclosing it to us. The police do nothing, and there are almost no other services offered to help abused women. It’s too normal to be considered a problem.

Encouraging signs

Some young couples come to us for help. They want to change. They don’t want to repeat their parents’ mistakes. In us, they see a couple who actually love each other, and they want to know why and how it’s possible. That’s opened doors for us to look at the Bible with a number of young graduates.

Our parenting has also prompted questions. In this culture, the closest relationship is not between a husband a wife but between a mother and son. One young man we know divorced his wife just because his mother told him to. It’s very common for wives to be abused by their mothers-in-law, as well as by their husbands. But we’ve been encouraged to hear some young wives ask us how they can avoid the same patterns with their sons. We hope that their families will be different in a generation’s time.

Our dream

The work is very slow. But we stay because we believe in student ministry. We believe it’s good for the Church. The local Church here is tiny, mostly underground and persecuted. And sadly, despite being small, there are issues of suspicion and division between churches. We long to see a strong national movement established that is a blessing to the local Church, where graduates become church-members who can partner together in growing God’s kingdom across this nation.

Give today to support IFES pioneering initiatives in unreached countries like this one in Central Asia.

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Miracles in the canteen

I walked into the canteen, already rejoicing. This wasn’t my university, but I had managed to walk on to campus without being stopped. I found a place to sit down, opened my prayer notebook and wrote: if You send someone to come and sit with me, I’ll tell them the gospel.

After one hour, I heard someone ask, “Can I sit with you?” We started chatting. The student wasn’t a believer. I showed her what I’d written in my notebook and explained how she was the answer to my prayer. She opened up about her struggles at home and in her personal life. She joked that she didn’t believe in prayer. But she let me pray for her, there in the canteen.

A few days later, my new friend rang me. She wanted to tell me that the situations I’d prayed for had totally changed!

Born a Muslim, die a Muslim

I started going to the canteen every week. It is pioneering work. I have met eight believing students over a few months! We gather during breaktimes and try to share the gospel with their friends.

Most students are nominal Muslims. If they convert to Christianity they will face opposition from their family. Like I do. I am the only Christian in my family. If you’re born a Muslim, you should die a Muslim, they say.

I first heard about Jesus as a first-year student through the IFES movement here. After studying the Bible for a few years, I decided to follow Jesus. During my Master’s degree I became a student leader, and then after that, an intern. Now I am doing a PhD in Biophysics and serve as a staff-worker part-time. Long-term I would love to go to an even less-reached country in Central Asia and do ministry full-time, if God opens the door.

Why they need Jesus

The students I’m meeting in the canteen really need to know Jesus. In this country there is a spirit of depression. Many come from broken families. They feel unloved. Everyone wants to leave the country because of the poor education here and lack of job opportunities. Bribery and corruption are big problems too.

This university has its own unique challenge. It’s an arts university and the students don’t have good relationships with one another. They compare themselves, compete with others and feel jealous.

Please pray for us as we look for an office space here, for a male staff worker, and for opportunities to pioneer in other cities.

And pray for revival among the students.

Agnostic Daria’s drastic life turn

Daria* is a student in Mykolaiv, a city in Ukraine. This is her story:

“I considered myself an agnostic. I hadn’t really thought about God’s existence or the role of Jesus in my life. When I signed up to join CCX, the IFES movement in Ukraine, I didn’t even realise what I had signed up for! But as time passed, I started to look more carefully at the CCX people and wonder what motivated them.

I began exploring the Christian faith, studying the Bible myself and going to church. And after some time, I accepted Christ as the Lord of my life. I never thought I’d make that drastic turn in my life. Thanks to God and the amazing CCX group I chose this path. Now I can clearly see how He’s changed my life, my attitude towards family and friends. He is definitely alive!”

Daria’s university didn’t have a CCX fellowship. But thanks to support from the IFES Breaking New Ground program, a new group was pioneered last year. Daria is now leading the group. Will you pray for CCX Ukraine ministry this week?

  • Thank God for His work in Daria’s life. Pray that she would lead the group this year with prayerfulness, wisdom and joy.
  • Pray for more students to join the group and for good relationships with local churches.
  • Pray for pioneering work in other parts of Ukraine.

*name changed

Renewed hope for Milena’s pioneering ministry

As she listened, Milena* felt a wave of excitement. New ideas, a different approach. Yes, maybe we could try that! she thought. Pioneering student ministry in the Armenian city of Vanadzor had not been easy. But as she met and talked with others involved in pioneering across Eurasia, she felt understood, hopeful again.

Four months on from the first ever IFES Eurasia pioneering consultation, Milena’s ministry in Vanadzor now looks quite different. She’s started a flourishing prayer group on campus, encouraging students to gather weekly to pray for their classes, their non-Christian friends, their problems. Her focus is now on training up students – particularly in how to read the Bible with their friends. And Milena has managed to rent a permanent base for their student ministry activities: all ideas she heard from listening to others share their experiences at the pioneering consultation back in 2019.

  • Thank God for the way He used the conference to inspire Milena to start prayer groups, train students and find a permanent base for ministry.
  • Pray that the Christian students in Vanadzor would grow in numbers and passion for evangelism this year. Pray that the two students Milena is seeking to train up would be keen to meet regularly.
  • Pray that God would continue to provide the finances needed to rent the student ministry base.

*name changed

The IFES Eurasia pioneering consultation – the first of its kind – was attended by 18 participants, several of whom were students. The consultation was supported by the Breaking New Ground project. Read more stories of Breaking New Ground projects.

Thanks for praying with us!

When pastors get angry

Ben* was sitting in a meeting of senior church pastors, in a country in Central Asia. He was the odd-one out. The only foreigner, the only non-pastor. What a huge privilege it is to be trusted by these men, he thought.

As the meeting progressed, someone raised a suggestion: how about the church youth leaders work together to put on an inter-church event for their young people? In most contexts, this idea would be well received. But certainly not here. Several pastors, particularly the senior pastors, spoke up. They were angry.

A bitter history

They had seen it happen so many times before: these kinds of events (often organised by outside organisations) might be stimulating at first, but led to their youth becoming dissatisfied with their own church youth ministries… they would end up leaving their churches to form a new group, but this would soon collapse because of their lack of maturity. The final result? The youth would be lost. This was the country’s first generation of Christian young people. They were too precious to lose. They had seen it before, and they didn’t want to see it again.

In this context, how can IFES work? If the pastors said ‘no’ to their own youth leaders, how would they ever trust IFES to do anything to unite students?

Luan Cabral – Unsplash

Slow work towards a long-term dream

Over the last few years, Ben and his co-workers have worked very hard to re-build trust with church leaders, where it has been broken. They have decided that they will only work in the space churches give them. They approach the pastor, before they approach students from the church. They start by offering to run a conference in their church for their students, to encourage and equip them for evangelism. They insist that students belong to their churches, and their participation in IFES must not undermine this.

Ben’s hope is that, as the pastors see their Bible-based, gospel-centred training and their missional focus, they will begin to trust them.

Ben’s dream is to see students from different churches gathering to pray on and for their campus, encouraging each other to reach their friends with the gospel. But this process will take years of building trust. Student ministry in this context is not quick and dynamic as it is elsewhere. But that kind of model would not produce a long-lasting, stable movement which is a blessing to the local church.

An encouraging end to the story

So how did the tense meeting finish? One influential pastor, with whom Ben had recently met and outlined their plans for ministry, stood up and quietened the room. “Yes”, he said, “we have seen this before, and it is not helpful. What we need is organisations like IFES”. He pointed to Ben: “They come and talk to us. They come into our churches and work with our young people without extracting them from context of the church. This is the right approach.”

*name changed

Maybe I could too

Anya* studies economics and national security at a university in Central Asia. She doesn’t know any other Christians on campus. This is her story.

God loves me?! I’d never heard that sentence before. I was talking to my uncle, not long after I’d started at university. He and his family lived nearby. Their character and lifestyle attracted me deeply. I couldn’t help wanting what they had. They took me to their church one day where I saw a huge number of local Christians, worshipping God. I couldn’t believe it! I’d thought Christianity was a western religion, but here was a church full of local believers. If people from my country could follow Jesus, maybe I could too. Soon after that I made the decision.

I was so happy.

Growing up in God

One of the girls from church invited me to join her IFES group, at another university, and I’ve been going ever since. This group has really helped me to grow up in God. It’s a place of peace and laughter. After three months, I became a student leader. This last year we’ve been reading 1 Kings. I’ve loved learning about David and Samuel. Now I know how to read the Old Testament.

It’s great to have their support because I don’t know any other Christians on campus. Sometimes I feel very alone. I try to love my friends, but they don’t understand what I believe. They ask me why are you always so lucky in life? I tell them I’m not lucky, I’m blessed. I tell them that God is with them and they can talk to him too. But they don’t understand.

The prayer of two students

It’s a difficult place to be a Christian. At my university, corruption is a big problem. Almost everyone pays bribes to get good exam results. I don’t like that, but when I’m feeling down I remember that the IFES movement in Japan started with just two students praying for their university. I know God is with me too and prayer is powerful.

I hope to start a fellowship group on my campus this year. But it’s quite dangerous. If the authorities find out, there’ll be some trouble. We also want to start student ministry in three new cities, and develop graduate ministry and international student ministry. So we need to pray for more staff and more student leaders, and pray that God would show us which hearts are open.

Changes and fears

Before I became a Christian, I wanted to leave my country and go to Europe or America where life is easier. But God has changed my mind. I know God has plans for me and has placed me here for a reason. I used to be very angry with my father for not treating me well as a child. But God has changed that in me too and has taught me to love him.

My family still don’t know I’m a Christian. I need to tell them. Even if they don’t want me to be their daughter anymore or even if I am in danger, I need to tell them. I have felt scared when my family visit me at university – what if they find my Bible? But now I am more scared about their future – what if they don’t find Jesus? I need to tell them. But I don’t know how.

Tears rolled down Anya’s cheeks, as we stopped to pray for her parents. Please pray for Anya today in her witness to her family and friends.

* name changed

You can help students like Anya live out the gospel today. Read more stories and find out how your giving can make a difference.

Katya breaks new ground in Tiraspol

Katya has a heart for the unreached. Perhaps it all started a few years back at Formación, an IFES training event for student leaders in Eurasia. There she heard the challenge: where will you go with the gospel? In that moment she thought of Transnistria, an area of Moldova without any IFES ministry.

18 months later, thanks to a Breaking New Ground grant, Katya found herself on a bus to Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, to help pioneer a new IFES group there. Progress has been slow. Getting the support and trust of the local churches is essential to building a lasting work. But church collaboration in this area is not common. Only one church was willing to work with Katya and embrace the IFES vision.

This year, building church partnerships is Katya’s priority. She’d also like to see students using the Uncover seeker studies with their friends. And once a month, Katya will be taking CSC Moldova students from Chisinau down to Tiraspol to help in the work. God willing, this will both bless the new group in Tiraspol and also grow the students in Chisinau in evangelism and pioneering.

Please pray for Katya and this pioneering work.

  • Pray for opportunities for Katya to build trust with local churches, and pray that they would be excited by the IFES vision.
  • Thank God for Victor, a student who recently gave his life to Christ through the new group. Pray that he would persevere and mature in his faith.
  • Pray that the monthly trips to Tiraspol would be fruitful in the lives of all the students involved.

Thanks for praying with us!

A knife under the pillow

Niraj* seemed to be a confident, easy-going medical student. But at night, it was a different story. He was haunted by nightmares and always slept with the light on. What he learned in medical school had not been able to help him, so he kept a knife under his pillow to keep the bad dreams away. 

An attractive community 

Niraj is one of around 1,500 students from India, studying in Yerevan, Armenia’s ancient capital city. He’s a regular at the IFES student Bible studies and even attends their prayer meetings, along with other Hindu classmates. He loves the community. It’s a place of escape, away from the Indian international student bubble; it’s a place of acceptance, unrelated to his academic performance. No gossip, no back-biting, no pressure.  

No fear. 

As for the Christian stuff – he could get on board with much of it. Jesus seemed like a good idea, and didn’t seem incompatible with his loose Hindu beliefs. But his Christian friends told him that he had to choose: you can’t just add on Jesus to another set of beliefs. It’s all or nothing. Following Jesus will affect every part of your life. Your work, your marriage, your speech, your money, your free time. 

It sounded a bit intrusive to Niraj. 

Hinduism plus Jesus 

Niraj’s story is not uncommon. Each year, hundreds of Hindu students from India arrive in Armenia. Tuition is cheaper and university places are easier to find. Medical students like Niraj are there for six years – so there’s time to invest in them. And they’re keen to be part of IFES activities and community. But many, like Niraj, adopt a ‘Hinduism plus Jesus’ framework. A whole-hearted leap of faith to trust in Christ alone is hard. Niraj’s friends have been praying for him to come to faith in time. For some, it’s a matter of small steps. 

Recently, Niraj took another small step. 

He no longer sleeps with a knife under his pillow. 

Instead, he prays:

“Jesus, You are with me. You are watching over me. So I’m going to bed.” 

Pray, with Niraj’s friends, that he’d come to trust more and more fully in the God whose ways are better, whose grace is sufficient, whose love casts out fear. 

When following Jesus leads to suspicion

Eight students from the IFES movement in Armenia attended the IFES Formación training event for student leaders in Ukraine last week. There should have been nine, but Hayk* couldn’t make it. His father said yes at first, but later changed his mindLike Hayk, many students in Armenia experience opposition from their family and friends when they start getting involved with IFES activities. One student leader explained: 

“As a Christian at university, everyone considers you strange, old-fashioned, and someone who doesn’t want to enjoy life. It’s hard to share the gospel because if they find out you’re a Christian or if they hear the word ‘Jesus’ or ‘church’, they’ll think you’re a member of a sect. For them, the only true church is the national church.” 

  • Pray that the eight students who attended Formación would be catalysts for revival on their campuses, living holy lives and boldly sharing the gospel with their friends and family. In a culture where it’s rare to see students take leadership initiative, pray that these Christian students would feel equipped and motivated to help lead their groups. 
  • Pray that the new building the movement has just bought would be a place where misconceptions and suspicion about following Jesus are broken down, where strong friendships are formed and where many encounter the God of grace. 
  • In a country where inter-denominational collaboration is rare, pray for a willingness among local churches to partner with the IFES movement. 

    name changed*

Thanks for praying with us!