Waiting for your friends

It is hard watching your friends reject the gospel repeatedly. But in his timing, God can open their eyes. José, a student at the University of Barcelona, recounts a surprising phone call he received from his classmate in the middle of the pandemic. 

“During my college years I often prayed for my friends and classmates. But many times, my prayers seemed to bear no fruit. Or at least the fruit did not come in the way that I expected. I was so frustrated by my friends’ refusals to attend evangelical events or activities with me. 

So, I was surprised when this year I got a call from my classmate Andrés. He had never shown any interest in Christianity, but suddenly he wanted to talk about faith. I discovered that he was not entirely opposed to God or the Bible but had turned away for various reasons. He had realized that it was time to get close to God again. 

So, I suggested that we start an Uncover Bible study. At the beginning, I was a bit nervous. Would his questions be too simple or too philosophical? But the Lord surprised me again. My classmate was very happy with the study. Andrés told me that the Uncover design and structure were particularly appealing to him, very different from what is usually associated with the “traditional” idea of Bible study. While the questions seemed simple at first, they led to much more complex discussions. 

By reading the gospel we discovered together the person of Jesus: who he is, his mission, and what he wants to tell us today. Thanks to the studies and their questions we were able to discuss how these passages challenge us and our lives. We also talked about current issues and our role as Christians in the modern world. We discussed topics like the meaning of life, our pursuit of happiness, and the constant preoccupation with pleasing and seeking fame. I thank God for granting me this opportunity to share his Word in such a practical way!” 

This week, pray for the students who are still waiting for their friends to become receptive to the gospel. 

  • Pray for the non-believing students whose world has been turned upside down during the pandemic. Pray that they would reach out to their Christian friends for answers. 
  • Pray for the Christian students who continue to walk with their nonbelieving friends, even when they reject the gospel. Pray that they would remain faithful in their witness and not lose hope for their friends. 
  • Pray for the Scripture Engagement ministry of IFES. It equips students like José to share Scripture with their friends in a way that is relevant, natural, and powerful. Pray that more students like Andrés will become captivated by the Word of God.  

Leading through the fog

When the future is uncertain, moving forward can feel like walking through a thick fog. In these situations, we are faced with a choice – to stay in one place, or to continue in faith. Like so many ministries, the Formación conference continued to mentor student leaders amid a foggy future.  

This Formación was unlike any other before. What once was a 10-day conference bringing students together from across Europe expanded into a 10-month online course with lectures and small groups meeting over Zoom.  

Many creative elements contributed to a thriving digital learning community of 67 students from 30 countries. But the objectives remained the same. The program encouraged participants to recognize their unique strengths and offered clarity about who God is, how he created them, and for what purpose. They examined their own cultures and how the gospel could answer needs within their unique contexts. And most pertinently, students learned how to lead in the midst of change and uncertainty. As one student expressed,  

“Even in critical times, even in the fog, serving God is possible, leading others is possible, preaching the Good News is possible!” 

Having just wrapped up the 2020-2021 cohort, the leadership team is assessing how this unusual year may change future Formacións. The new format proved that creating an international digital learning community is possible and has benefits. Pray for the Formación leadership team as they discuss the future of this important conference, and trust God to lead through the fog.  

  • Praise God for the digital tools he has provided to continue the Formación conference online. Thank him for the cross-cultural relationships among participants which have offered insight and inspiration for their ministries and leadership.  
  • Pray for the 67 students who have just finished Formación. Pray that they will use what they learned to serve their student groups and campuses. 
  • Pray for the Formación leadership team as they reflect on this previous cohort and plan for the next conference. Pray that God will give them wisdom to discern the best way to use what they have learned over the past year. 

Sara’s Return

Everyone left Knin. That is just what happened in a war-town with broken families and broken futures. Sara had gotten out and attended university in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. And now, strangely, she wanted to return. 

Everybody thought she was crazy. Nobody ever returned to a place like Knin. But in her second year of university, Sara heard a voice telling her to go back. She questioned what she was hearing. After all, she had a great photography job, amazing friends, and was serving God by organizing events for students. Still, she couldn’t ignore the voice, so she started to pray.  

“I knew if that was His will, I would need to leave everything, even university, to go and follow His voice… I knew that step would keep my inner peace. So, I decided to trust Him. I graduated, left my university, friends, job, everything I had, and I moved back.” 

Once she did, things weren’t easy. Sara was lost, totally unsure of what she should do in Knin. But when she attended the Revive Europe conference, things got a little clearer.  

At Revive, Sara joined thousands of other students for worship, prayer, and teaching. Though she was a university student, Sara attended one seminar for teenagers so that she could better understand them. There a vision for a teenage ministry took shape in her mind. Over the rest of the conference, Sara heard God repeating the words “small things.”  

“He wanted me to do the small things for “big people”. He reminded me how he brought me from having nothing my first year of university to many opening doors… He showed me a new beginning and new start.” 

Sara returned to Knin after the conference and converted a room in her church into a “hang out” place where teenagers from the community could have a listening ear and be themselves. She planned games and even offered a free photography class. Soon, the teenagers felt like a small family.  

Sara said that she had always imagined herself going to Africa to work with children exploited as warriors. But as she looked around at her teen club one morning, God told her,  

“These are kids you need to fight for. Kids that survive in broken families, kids with unsafe homes, kids that lost themselves. These are your warrior kids.” 

Since COVID-19, things have been difficult for the group. The church has sold their building and Sara has struggled to find funds for the group’s activities. Sara still believes that God has a plan for the teenagers.  

“I am still fighting for them in my prayers until God provides a new, better way. The Revive conference reminded me of how great our God is. I also met a lot of amazing Christians who fight with me for those children. I could not ask for more!  …I can’t wait for the next Revive and for revival in my small town of Knin! Revival in hearts of many.” 

Pray with Sara for revival in Knin and Croatia. 

  • Pray for Sara’s group, that she would have the resources to continue. Pray that the teenagers she mentors will come into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. 
  • Pray for other students like Sara who attended Revive in 2019. This conference has inspired many students to create outreach projects in their communities and campuses. Pray for those who have stepped out in faith to do what God is calling them to do. 
  • Pray for revival in Europe. 

Meeting the Mayor 

Big things happen when student workers serve their cities. In October two Ichtus Vlaanderen student workers, Ruth and Sem, wrote a letter to the mayor of Kortrijk asking her to address the needs of the students during the COVID-19 crisis. They had a proposal: to make spaces available where students can safely follow their online classes in the company of other students. This was a need the city had already been thinking about and the extra helping hands were gladly received. Little did they know that their relationship with the mayor would lead to more opportunities. 

After working with Ruth and Sem, the city asked them to oversee dedicated study spaces during the exam period. Due to their continuous presence, students and members of the city council started to recognize Ruth and Sem, creating opportunities for them to share about Ichtus. 

But they didn’t stop there. During the exam period, student workers in the city began the Coffee Brigade. Every Thursday they loaded their cargo bikes with coffee and snacks (all provided by the city council) and visited students around the city, handing out coffee and fruit. &

During the rounds it became clear that students were craving social contact, longing to be with their classmates on campus again. After a couple of weeks, the brigade would find some students eagerly waiting outside their door, cup in hand and with their mask on. They said that getting coffee, even from a stranger, was a welcome distraction from their isolation. 

When the exams finished, the city council agreed to keep the study places open throughout the entire term and appointed Sem and Ruth as people students could go to for a listening ear. 

The workers made an impression on their city, even capturing the attention of local newspapers who recognized them for their service to students.  

What is clear is that God opens doors in Kortrijk if we have to courage to try the handle. It was never our intention to get media attention or to become close with the city council. For two years we have been having prayer walks in the city and on the campuses asking God to open doors. We wanted to serve the students in our city and God led us to the people who could help us with that.”

Sem and Ruth, student workers, Ichtus Kortrijk 

Student workers like Sem and Ruth are shining bright in a dark second year of the pandemic, refusing to let difficult circumstances steal their capacity to serve others. Praise God for these brilliant examples of Christ’s love and pray with us that the city and students of Kortrijk will be impacted by their efforts.  

  • Pray that the relationships that Sem and Ruth have cultivated with the city will continue and lead to more partnerships.  
  • Pray for the students they have come in contact with through the Coffee Brigade and study spaces. Pray that they would come to Ictus events.  
  • Pray for a new project in Ichtus to encourage the 3800 residential students of Kortrijk. They still need the right contacts within the city to achieve this and are also still looking into how to pioneer in this city next year. 

Do you want to find creative ways to engage your university and society, like Ruth and Sem? The Engaging the University initiative can offer ideas, support, and training to help you bring the gospel into modern issues, topics, and conversations.

Blinded by busyness

What would happen if we stopped and listened for God’s voice? At Revive 2019, Sam, a UCCF student, realized that his busyness could be blinding. Below he shares what happened when he recognized God’s activity in his daily routine. 

“At Revive, we studied Acts 3, where Peter and John go to pray at the temple and encounter a lame beggar. As I listened, I realized that this was a journey that Peter and John routinely made. Yet that day the Holy Spirit told them to stop. Because they were obedient, they saw the man healed and 2,000 people saved. 

I began to think about what that would look like for me. I’m walking to lectures along the same road every day. What if one day the Holy Spirit calls me to step into what he’s doing? Would I be listening?  

One night, God put me to the test. As I was walking home, I passed a guy on a bench, looking up at the stars. We made eye contact, but I kept walking. But the Holy Spirit told me go back and talk to him. I thought, ‘Really, Lord?’  

Eventually I went back. He invited me to sit, and I asked him about his story. He was surprised, saying no one had asked him that before. He explained that he was a spiritualist and ran a YouTube channel for other spiritualists. Then he asked me what my story was. So, I told him how God had radically transformed my life.  

But then things got weirder. He told me ‘I was actually on my way home tonight, but a voice in my head told me to stop and sit here. And now you’ve arrived. You have a message for me. Are you going to share it?’ 

I said, ‘Well, I can tell you about Jesus!’ We chatted for an hour about Jesus and the cross. I told him that Jesus wanted to meet with him right then and asked if he wanted to follow him. He said yes!  

Since then, he has continued to meet with my friend to talk about Jesus. It just blew me away to think that God is setting up these divine appointments all the time! He trusts us with them, and all he’s looking for is our obedience to what the Holy Spirit is already doing!” 

It is easy to forget to live our lives prayerfully. But like Sam, we can challenge ourselves to constantly be listening for the Lord’s voice. This week pray for Sam and his friends at Durham University in the UK. 

  • Sam asks that you pray for a 24-hour prayer room that he and other UCCF students are helping launch. He says they want it to be a place where they can ask God for revival in their city.  
  • Pray that students around the world will search for opportunities to be led by the Holy Spirit in their daily routines. 
  • Thank God for events like Revive, which encourage students to reach the lost and pray for revival. Pray for the thousands of students who will attend Revive in 2021 and pray for the planning team as they are currently working to encourage registrations.  

Now is the time to sign up for Revive 2021! Be a part of a powerful movement of students praying for revival in Europe. Find out more here 

Making a move

Meet Janet. This bubbly Malaysian student living in Ireland smiles brightly as she describes the shy but curious culture within which she’s chosen to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. Despite spending most of her university career in a pandemic, she has managed to make friends.  

“You have to make the first move to meet people,” she says. 

Janet has made the first move in other ways too. Along with a few other international students, she has started a Christian student group in her very secular technological university. Numbers have grown over their year-long existence, with 20-30 people attending meetings online. Janet says the support they have received from CUI Ireland has made a huge difference.  

“When CUI Ireland found out about our group, they contacted us. Because of the pandemic they have given us lots of materials to work through like Uncover John and Uncover Mark.” 

Janet said that a leader from CUI also recommended that she take the Engaging the University (ETU) e-course. At the time, Janet felt that the group was becoming stale. She hoped that the course would provide innovative ministry ideas.   

“I found so much more in there than I expected,” she says. 

Janet says that the course helped her understand the holistic role of faith in her university experience instead of compartmentalizing her student group and university life.  

“We can’t waste our university years just trying to organize our Christian student groups. University is such a good time for evangelism because we are all trying to find ourselves. And people need Christ in the university more than anywhere else.  We can’t make it into two things –the Christian student group and then all the non-Christian stuff. The Christian student group has to be a part of the society as well.” 

The course did in fact help Janet approach her group with new ideas. Inspired by another participant in the ETU course, she organized a discussion night over a popular TV series, incorporating the theme of unconditional love. Janet said this event was one of their most attended. The group is also organizing an evangelistic event using a series of questions given to Janet through the ETU course. The questions are intended to get participants talking about important issues which can lead into spiritual discussions.  

Though the pandemic continues to offer obstacles to creating new events, Janet is hopeful that what she has learned through the ETU course will be useful to their continued growth.  

“There is so much more that we can do.” 

This week join us in prayer for Janet’s group in Ireland.  

  • Pray that Janet will be able to pass along what she has learned from the ETU course to increase the group’s impact on the university.  
  • Pray that their evangelistic efforts would be fruitful as they continue to create new ways to reach more students.  
  • Pray for more students like Janet to understand the power of engaging their faith in the university. Pray that students would have the boldness, curiosity, and creativity to find new ways to integrate faith into their courses, conversations, and relationships on campus.

Do you want to engage the university like Janet? Not sure how to get started? Take the Engage the University Course! Sign up here.

It’s not rocket science

“It’s not rocket science.”  

That’s what Sofia Papaspyrou wants Greek students to understand when they open the Bible. She volunteers with ethos_SXEF, working with staff worker Jonathan Clark to show students the vibrancy of Scripture. 

In a country that leans heavily on Orthodox religious tradition, students tend to be unfamiliar with the Bible in their own hands. Evangelical students coming out of this background are often accustomed to enduring Bible studies rather than enjoying them. Many students believe that they are not capable of unpacking a passage of Scripture without a church authority to guide them. Within evangelical circles, this can also be the case, with many students low on confidence that God speaks as his Word is read and understood. Others enjoy studying, but often do not apply what they learn.  

So, when Jonathan and Sofia challenge students to voice their observations from the text, they are confused. The way they study the Bible seems too simple. Yet students soon find that everything they need is already there. Jonathan encourages students to not just guess the meaning of a passage, but to instead look for context clues in the passage as well as in other parts of Scripture. In this way, they let the Bible interpret the Bible.  

When students discover that scriptural study is not a lofty process, they become enamored with God’s Word. Jonathan hopes that a better understanding of Scripture will inspire students to apply it to their lives and communicate that truth to their fellow students. A student, also named Sofia, says,  

“Our last conversation on 2 Timothy 2:2 has completely changed my view of discipleship. We talked about one-to-one, Bible-centered conversations and how unusual of a practice that is in our country. After praying and asking for my mentor’s advice I decided to start one with a younger friend from church.” 

Though Jonathan and Sofia have been encouraged by the progress made with Bible study, there is still much more to be done in Greece. In 2018, they received a Breaking New Ground grant from IFES, which allowed them to begin a new group in an unreached area. Almost three years later they are continuing to stimulate and initiate student groups in cities that need them. Will you join us this week in praying for the movement in Greece? 

  • Pray for students involved in Bible study through ethos_SXEF. Pray that they would understand the vitality and relevance that the Bible brings to their lives. Pray that they would be inspired to share what they learn with their friends. 
  • Pray for more people to understand the importance of university student ministry in Greece, as many churches do not see the need to create new groups. 
  • Pray for Jonathan Clark and his wife Dawn as they continue to work cross-culturally with student groups in Greece. Pray for their perseverance as they encounter resistance tied to traditional Orthodoxy and cultural norms.  

Light a Fire

An exciting development in IFES Europe from the last decade is the growth of the Fellowship of Evangelists in the Universities of Europe (FEUER). This IFES network operates in happy partnership with many evangelists and Christian leaders from across the continent.  Organizers are encouraged to see a growing confidence in the public proclamation of the gospel in the universities of Europe. The network has pioneered hundreds of mission weeks across 40 countries with a growing team of evangelists equipped to speak at them. In November they organized a conference with 550 participants from 62 countries including Burkina Faso, Mexico, Argentina, and Nepal.  Michael Ots, Field Director for FEUER, gives an update. 

“One of the biggest highlights was hearing the reports of evangelistic initiatives over the last year. Despite all the challenges and restrictions associated with Covid-19 it was great to hear how groups have creatively and courageously used online platforms collaboratively to continue sharing the gospel. One example was across the Balkans where hundreds of students and staff logged on to hear evangelistic presentations from professors, professionals and preachers from around the world.” 

As a result of these presentations, a Serbian professor came to faith. He had been invited to give feedback from a non-Christian perspective, not knowing that the week would change his life. Now, other evangelists are calling him a Serbian John Lennox. He is now part of a group learning to preach. 

Michael says, 

“We also heard of how groups in Ukraine and Israel have been creatively using Instagram to post short evangelistic talks, the latter being inspired by the Scottish Christian students who had hosted a whole week of events for every university in the country. We were reminded through these stories that we shouldn’t focus not on what we can’t do – but think about what we can. Don’t just see the challenges of the present situation but also focus on the unique opportunities that it presents.” 

  • Do pray for lasting fruit from these and many other initiatives. 
  • Pray for even more bold and creative ideas of how to proclaim the gospel during this time of uncertainty. 
  • Pray for countries that have just joined the network to grow in their confidence in publicly proclaiming the gospel. 

All the sessions from this year’s conference are now online and can be viewed on the website www.feuer.network.  If you have a passion for sharing the gospel in universities and would like to be better equipped, why not join next year in Coma Ruga, Spain from 28th – 31st October? 
Contact michaelots@gmail.com for more information.  

It is not always rainbows

The rainbows were everywhere. Rebecca Iacone, a student from GBU Naples, could see them brightening the balcony of each flat on her street. Above the colours, each picture displayed the cheery message – “Andrá tutto bene.” Everything will be okay. Each night the news reported the death toll, sometimes accompanied by disturbing photos of corpses carried away in trucks. Yet the program always finished with a hopeful “Andrá tutto bene.”  

But will it really be okay? GBU Naples bravely faced this question during the worst of the lockdown. With every online gathering, students voiced their worries about sick family members, delayed studies, and their limited freedom. As many relied on the hope that life would return to normal after the virus passed, GBU staff Francesco Schiano reminded them that without Jesus, there is no hope.  

 “Coronavirus offered us tremendous opportunities to remind people around us that death is a constant reality and that forgetting about it is a big mistake (Ecclesiastes 7:2).” 

By studying Habakkuk and Revelation, the group looked at suffering through a biblical lens. Students were challenged to put their faith not in temporary solutions, but rather in Jesus, the conqueror of death. Rebecca says that the study allowed students to see their situation through God’s eyes. 

“We believe in a God that loves us and is preparing something much greater for all of us. We need to remember that we won’t be in this world forever, that suffering will end, and God’s justice will be established, as we read in Habakkuk. Even if things are bad now, God will make everything right in His own timing.” 

Rebecca also says that the movement was able to reach many new students with hope. Under normal circumstances, meeting numbers are low, as many students commute into the city from their hometowns. Yet online ministry has made it possible for more to attend. Pray for GBU Naples as they follow up with the Christian and non-Christian students who have joined them online in the last few months. Let’s also pray for GBU Italy. 

  • Pray that Christians will remain hopeful in Jesus, even as they deal with an uncertain future. 
  • Pray for more staff workers in Italy. Currently there are many regions without a staff worker, and some of the staff workers need a full or part time job to support themselves. 
  • Pray for students as they navigate nominal Catholicism in every part of their life. Pray that their classmates would understand how a relationship with Jesus is different. 

Far from home in a pandemic

Naturally, during a global pandemic, the idea of leaving home and travelling abroad may cause stress and anxiety. Yet, hundreds of thousands of international students will arrive in the UK and Ireland this month to begin studying at university. 

The predicted 50% drop in students studying abroad in the UK, due to Covid-19, has not yet materialised – with Scotland reportedly seeing an increase in international students! 

Now is the time to be aware of international students in our midst. Friends International (FI), a close ministry partner of IFES Europe and UCCF Great Britain, is finding that many of these students have more concerns about studying overseas this year. 

Students from China coming to Southampton University shared their feelings with FI staff:  

“Will people discriminate against me because of what people are calling the ‘Chinese Coronavirus’?” Another said: “I’m nervous about coming on my own to another country; will I be able to communicate with people as I’m not confident in English?” 

Some of these are common concerns for any student studying abroad, yet Covid-19 is bringing increasing uncertainty and universities are having to make significant changes. ­Ministry needs among international students are especially intense this year because of the added isolation of social distancing conditions—and those conditions make it especially challenging for ministries to connect with these students. 

A student from France, studying at Cardiff University, shared how their university was changing:  

“The usual start date for our courses has been postponed. The earliest induction date will not be until late October. They will also change the teaching experience: it will be mostly online and small-group teaching. I would say that the uni experience will certainly be different, but all those thorough implementations aim to ensure the safety of everyone. After all, better safe than sorry.” 

Please pray this week: 

  • For international students arriving in their study destinations this month—in the UK and many other countries.  Pray that they would manage the changes well and not be overwhelmed. 
  • For local churches and Christians to make every effort to welcome the new students and to connect with them even if that is online. 
  • For FI staff and Christian students who are offering friendship and faith to these students. Pray that the hospitality schemes, English language classes and Bible studies would all help integrate the students while moving them closer to a saving faith.