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  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 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. 

Young leaders grow together

Ministry continues through multiplication. Multiplication happens through empowering students to lead. Every two years, IFES Europe multiplies their efforts by investing in their student leaders through the Student Leadership Formación (SLF). The conference provides mentorship to young leaders across Europe. Sem Thomas, from IFES Belgium, attended the training in 2009. Now, he is a full-time staff member with his movement. He says that he is still in contact with at least six former participants in Flanders. Each person is either a church leader or has served in a movement for several years. Sem says,

“All of them have since grown as leaders. I would like to believe that SLF had an impact in how they lead now.”

Sem has also watched his own students grow as a result of attending SLF. Ruth was a student who showed leadership potential. Upon Sem’s recommendation, she attended SLF where she was empowered to step into new roles.

“Sending Ruth to SLF was my way of helping her to see her potential better. After going to SLF as a participant, she decided to be more involved in her local student group, where she became the president. Later she joined our staff team and went back to SLF as a community group leader. Then later she returned to be on the organizing team.”

This year, SLF will look a little different due to COVID-19. What once was a two-week conference has now lengthened to a 10-month course to compensate for going online. Though the format has changed, the goals have not. Participants will cross cultural barriers to collaborate, create, learn, and receive mentorship. The training will focus especially on equipping young leaders to adapt to the changing circumstances.

SLF begins this month, so this week let’s pray for the young leaders involved.

  • Pray for the new online format. Pray for the technology involved, for strong internet signals, and that participants would feel a strong sense of community with their peers even though they are not meeting in person.
  • Pray for a sense of direction for participants. Pray that God would reveal the areas where they are gifted. Pray that they would grow in recognising how to use these gifts to serve others.
  • Pray for the organizers involved. Pray that they would have many creative ideas to remain adaptable and organized in the new format. Pray for wisdom as they mentor and guide participants.

Longing for connection in lockdown

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the power of Christian connection. Inspired by this idea, a group of students from UCCF Great Britain created a virtual choir for Christian Unions across the country. After more than 1000 students joined the Facebook group in a matter of days, it was clear that the project was fulfilling a deep need.  

What began as 50 – 100 students singing together quickly developed into a huge operation. The students divided themselves into regional coordinators, recruited tech teams, and produced a demo track. International students and students from other IFES movements joined in, adding a verse sung in multiple languages. After one week of organization, one week of video submissions, and two weeks of editing, they uploaded the final video to YouTube. With 550 singers, 60 tech people, and 50 organizers, the project was a testament of student initiative and cooperation.   

As the video circulated, the students found their non-Christian friends to be very responsive. One CU student from Essex said,   

“I have sent the video to everyone! My non-Christian friends liked seeing what I was involved in and one friend even prayed after watching the video.”   

Looking back on the experience, students involved say that the choir revealed a deep longing for connection.  Hannah Wood, one of the student organizers, says that the choir shows the power of doing something together. She says: 

“Throughout the whole process there was a real sense of togetherness, that although we may all be from different backgrounds and universities and even countries, we all want the name of Jesus to be proclaimed, and that one way to do that is by singing together.”  

You can watch their video here.   

This week let’s praise God for the community students share as Christians and pray for more student initiatives like this.  

  • Pray for the non-Christian friends who watched this video to be attracted to Christian community and ultimately Jesus.  
  • Pray that students would keep finding ways to connect with other Christians around their country and the world.  
  • Pray for university students who continue to deal with interrupted education due to COVID-19. 

Trust-building with Muslim friends

“I’m praying for you.” Aaron’s* comment to his Muslim friend Rashid* prompted questions. How do you pray? What kind of prayers? How does it work?

Students Rashid and Aaron met last year. Rashid wants to be friends, and occasionally seems keen to talk about deeper things. And yet, like most people from his country, he is also distrustful and hesitant. Building a friendship of trust in which you can share deeply, requires patience and time – time spent together.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, being together is difficult. For many it’s impossible for Christians to physically meet up with their non-Christian friends. Classes are cancelled; students are stuck at home. Communication must happen online, where people can feel more hesitant to talk openly.

Another Christian student Ali* recently started up an English Club on his campus. He couldn’t share openly at the club, but it provided a place to build friendships. Now Ali needs to find creative ways to strengthen those new friendships, while the group cannot meet in person.

  • Pray for Aaron, Ali and other Christian students to find ways to keep investing in relationships with Muslim friends. Pray for opportunities to show love and to share more deeply about the hope they have.
  • Pray for Rashid to have the courage to ask more questions and explore the claims of the Christian faith this year.
  • Longer-term, pray for trust and a sense of partnership to be built with local churches so that Christian students can be discipled effectively and trained up to lead.

*names changed

How is your student group adapting to doing mission in a COVID-19 world? How are you seeing God work? We’re making a film to encourage students around the world. Email with videos sharing your stories and showing what you’re up to.

Resiato dreams of reaching the nations on campus

Resiato*, an international student from Kenya, has big dreams. She wants to start an international student ministry at her university in Estonia. Her motivation? The Great Commission from Matthew 28. Resiato sees her campus as a platform to make disciples of the nations.

It’s a big dream, but Resiato isn’t alone. A staff worker from another IFES movement heard about her plans and recently travelled to meet her. They spoke about how to share Christ with international friends and how to start a ministry. Within a few months Resiato was taking a Hindu friend to church regularly, and had arranged to talk to church pastors to share her vision.

The majority of international students in Estonia come from Nigeria, Russia and Ukraine, but there are many from India, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan as well. Resiato reflects:

“I’m interacting with so many different cultures. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. But the materials from IFES definitely help me carry out the Great Commission.”

Resiato needs your prayers as she seeks to establish an international student ministry in Estonia:

  • Pray for Resiato as she shares her vision and gathers leaders to help reach out to international students.
  • Pray that many international students would be reached with the good news of Jesus through this new group in Estonia.
  • Thank God for partnership between IFES movements. Pray for more opportunities to encourage one another and share resources.

*name changed

How God used our ministry failure

In March 2018, I tried to start a group for international students in the Bulgarian city of Varna… and failed miserably.

The journey begins

BCSU, the IFES movement in Bulgaria, had already started a group for international students in Sofia, the capital. It was going so well that we wanted to expand the work to another city. Varna was the next logical place. It had a large international student population, and there was no other Christian group available for them.

But Varna was an eight-hour train ride across the country from Sofia, where I and most BCSU staff workers lived. The only staff worker in Varna was already tied up with other ministry responsibilities. So we started praying. And we waited for an opportunity.

From bad to worse

Shortly after that, a volunteer offered to come and spend three weeks in Varna, helping to establish the group. An answer to our prayers! We had a venue ready to host us as well, so I travelled to Varna to join the volunteer.

Publicity was the first job. We handed out flyers and talked to hundreds of international students. And then the night of the first event came… and only three students showed up. It was a bad start – but the other nights were even worse. On one evening there were no students there at all! It was very discouraging. We questioned whether God had wanted us to start a group in Varna at all.

Sarah’s request

Then we got a message from Sarah*. She was one of the three students from the first night. She had enjoyed meeting us and wanted to start going to church. At least we had reached one student! God’s definition of success is different than ours, we thought. Perhaps His plan was for us to help this one student come to faith.

Sarah started getting more involved at the church. She was enjoying what she learned and loved the atmosphere. But Sarah was unable to attend the weekly church Bible studies because she didn’t speak Bulgarian. She asked us if we could help. Using resources from the IFES Breaking New Ground program, and with Sarah’s promise to invite her friends, we decided to try one more time to start something for international students in Varna.

Unexpected results

And this time, in October 2018, the students showed up! And they kept coming back. The group started looking at the gospel of John using the Uncover  material. Amazingly, the group grew and flourished as international students kept inviting their friends to explore the person of Jesus.

Today it is the largest student group in the country! The group currently includes both seekers and believers from countries across South Asia, Europe and Africa. Sarah is still on her journey of figuring out what she believes. She continues to be a big advocate for the group and invites her friends to all our events.

And I have learned that God’s vision for reaching students is so much bigger than mine, and that He can use our supposed failures for His glory.

*name changed

This pioneering work in Bulgaria is being supported by the IFES Breaking New Ground initiative.