When you don’t know any other Christians on campus

“When I mentioned I was a Christian, they turned on me, telling me the Bible was a book of lies and saying that I was a judgemental idiot. They didn’t care what I had to say.”

Caroline studies art and design in Northern Ireland. She doesn’t know any other Christians on her campus. It can be a hostile environment. When difficult moral or ethical issues come up in class, she doesn’t have any Christian friends to turn to for support.

That’s why Caroline has decided to start a Christian group on campus, with the support of CUI, the IFES movement in Ireland. She’s already met with the college authorities and has set up social media pages for the new group. She would love to start reading the Bible with interested seekers. But it’s hard ground. Even after setting up a stand in the foyer to raise awareness, only one student has come forward to join Caroline.

She asked us to pray:

  • Pray that the hearts of non-Christians will be open to God’s Word.
  • Pray that the Christian Union will grow and flourish so that together, in Christ, we can make an impact on campus.

Courage to share the best message for humanity

“I met a student last winter. She had been bullied at school and had almost lost her faith. But then she started coming along to a NKSS Norway fellowship group. Seeing the way her faith had blossomed was a huge encouragement to me.” 

Hans longs to see more students strengthened in their faith, making Jesus known in the university. That’s why he’s decided to work full-time for NKSS as a staff worker. 

Norway is a difficult place to be a Christian student today. At least 70% are not actively sharing the gospel. Hans is hoping to help students grow in boldness: “It would be a shame if we didn’t share the best message humanity could ever get.” 

Hans will need our prayers as he gets used to his new role and routine: 

  • Pray for wisdom for Hans as he works out how to spend his time. Pray that he would know where to invest and how to establish sustainable ministry patterns. 
  • Pray that NKSS students would grow in love for Jesus this year and in a desire for their friends to know the best message humanity could ever get. Pray that Hans would know how to encourage and equip them. 

Thanks for praying with us!

Walking the lonely road

Perhaps I’d read too many missionary biographies. I’d pictured myself as a trail-blazing pioneer of student work, reaching the unreached with the gospel of Christ. The reality was far less romantic. No conversions, no miracles, no revival. Days of apparent fruitlessness turned into weeks and months of discouragement. I didn’t know what to write in my prayer letters. Six months in and I’d had enough. I was weary of walking this lonely road of student ministry.

Sadly, this kind of experience is common for young staff starting out in student ministry. That’s why the IFES Europe Young Staff Network (YSN) exists. Heledd works with YSN, supporting the young staff of IFES movements across the region. She shared her reflections on this vital ministry.

Unexpected challenges 

One of the biggest challenges young staff face is finding their value in Christ, rather than in what they do. When their churches and friends are giving money to support the work, they can feel a huge amount of pressure to show that the investment is worth it. But ministry is slower work than they’d expected. Much of what is going on is unseen and the fruit might not be apparent until years down the line. It’s tempting to project a false outward image to impress others. Living that double life is exhausting. 

For others, the big challenge is the loneliness and isolation. In the smaller movements they might have very few co-workers, or perhaps none at all. They spend a lot of time travelling between campuses and cities, working on their own. Learning how to set goals, how to prioritise and how to make strategic decisions is difficult. IFES work is deeply relational and tends to attract people who are very relational – so having a lot of time alone can be an unexpected challenge for them. 

A lifeline for young staff 

Many of these problems are inevitable challenges, but the Young Staff Network seeks to equip young staff to survive and even thrive through the challenging early years of ministry. The YSN provides a learning community for young staff to join. It’s a place where they can build relationships with peers, share their struggles and learn together what faithful ministry looks like. 

Each cohort meets together three or four times during their first year of ministry. In addition, they are all assigned a mentor who meets with them monthly on Skype. The YSN also provides training and a study program to help young staff lay good biblical foundations for their ministry. 

Goda’s story 

We are seeing staff staying longer in IFES now. Five YSN graduates have become general secretaries in their national movements. Many others are still active in leadership and are passing on what they’ve learned through YSN to others in their local contexts. There have been many encouragements, but Goda’s story, a young staff worker from LKSB Lithuania, particularly stood out: 

After I became a Christian, I saw in the Bible that disciples go to places which need the gospel. That motivated me to join LKSB as a staff worker, as they had a huge need for more staff. But it was a tough first year. I struggled to raise any money at all for my ministry. It was a very stressful period and raised many questions. Why am I here? What’s going to happen to LKSB? How can we keep going without money? 

Joining YSN and meeting others in the same position was a huge encouragement. The teaching and conversations helped me to rethink fundraising. Three days after returning home, people had donated enough money to support me for seven months. God had done a miracle. 

Give today to support the Young Staff Network and help more people like Goda keep going in student ministry. 

Nurturing a culture of discipleship

Torur has just finished high school. Unlike most of his friends, he’s not going to university. Nor is he finding a job to earn some money. Not yet anyway. Instead, he’s decided to spend a year serving KFS Faroe Islands, one of the newest IFES student movements. Having been helped by the KFS high school ministry himself, Torur is keen to see other young people encouraged and discipled. 

His only co-worker, Ragnhard, the General Secretary, shared more: 

“95% of people in the Faroe Islands identify as Christians. But for many of them, it just means that they go to church at Christmas, and for weddings and funerals. Some go to church more regularly, but the churches here lack a culture of discipleship.” 

The KFS School of Discipleship provides young people with a place where they can be discipled. Each Monday evening, the 25+ young people meet to be trained in discipleship, apologetics, evangelism and leading Bible studies. Ragnhard and Torur would love to see the trainees go on to establish a university student ministry, and ultimately strengthen the discipleship of the Church. Pray that their dream would become a reality. 

  • Thank God for Torur’s willingness to serve KFS this year and pray that God would use him in reaching more students with the life-transforming news of Jesus. 
  • Pray that the work on translating Uncover John, a resource for seekers, would be finished soon and that many young Christians in the Faroe Islands would use it help their friends encounter Jesus. 

Thanks for praying with us!

How student work began in Bulgaria

September 1992. 

A two-week trip to Eastern Europe earlier that year had changed everything for the Fillingham family – Rick, Jane and their two young sons. The Iron Curtain had fallen. New doors were open. They sensed God’s call. That same year, the family moved into a seventh floor flat in inner-city Sofia. 

They only had one telephone contact in the city, a physics student called Oleg. Through Oleg, Rick met a small group of Christian students who had started meeting to the study the Bible. In March the following year, 20 students gathered to hear Rick explain the vision of a national student movement, and BCSU was born. 

Rick and Jane came to love the country and its people deeply. Rick spent the next few years traveling between cities in Bulgaria, discipling students and encouraging them to form their own Bible study groups. Growth was difficult but steady. Bulgaria was still a dangerous place for local believers. For missionaries, life was full of inexplicable and difficult bureaucracy from the old regime. Rick and Jane had to leave the country every three months to renew their visa, and sometimes found getting back in not straightforward. The family came up with a system at the border: if the questioning of Rick was becoming too intense, the boys would start to cry and scream, until the officials had enough of the noise and let them continue on their way! 

Today there are 60 students actively involved with BCSU Bulgaria, including 22 international students. 

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.  

Training students to share Jesus on and off the pitch

Anna is a psychology student in Italy. She loves climbing and competes with her university team. She also loves Jesus. As an athlete and a Christian, Anna faces unique challenges: 

“Being a Christian in the sports world is not easy at all for me. People do not want to hear your opinion about God. I want to have more confidence to share my faith with my team-mates but starting a conversation about God is difficult.” 

With training and matches several times a week, student athletes often struggle to balance the commitments of the team, with study and Christian fellowship. There’s also the challenge of living for Jesus in what can seem a fiercely anti-Christian culture. Sports team can often be places of heavy drinking and crude conversations. What does it look like to be Jesus’ disciples in that context? 

Anna and 18 other students from ten European countries have been looking at this question at the annual European Christian Sports Union (ECSU) summer school these last few weeks. The group is now in Bulgaria for ten days of sports mission. 

  • Thank God for the mission opportunities and training that Anna and the other 18 students have received this month and pray that they would return to their university and community sports teams across Europe with a new boldness and competence in sports mission. 
  • Pray that Christian students across Europe would live lives on and off the field/court/pitch that seek to give God the glory and help many others discover the gospel.

Thanks for praying with us!

Just another place I didn’t belong

I never want to go back to my first week at university. I was asked 17 times where I was from on day one alone. It should have been a straightforward answer, but for me it was the worst question to be asked. Did they really want to hear a five-minute explanation of the eight different countries I’d lived in? Where was I from? I wasn’t even sure myself. 

I looked the same as everyone else on the outside. But inside I felt different. Was this going to be just another place where I didn’t really belong? I couldn’t understand their jokes. I didn’t know the songs they sang along to. Even the taste of McDonalds seemed unfamiliar. Several times that week I wanted to ring my parents, but of course they were on the other side of the world, nine hours away. Starting again was going to be hard. Why have you brought me here, God? 

Defined by three letters 

TCK. These three letters don’t mean anything to most people. But to several million people around the world, these three letters define them. It stands for third culture kid. The term refers to someone who has grown up in a culture different from that of their passport or parents. 

Like Wianne. She’s a TCK. She was born in Malawi to a Dutch mother and a South African father. She went to high school in Kenya and now studies health and society in the Netherlands. 

Like Matt. He’s a TCK. He’s British, but was born in Zimbabwe, and lived in Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Mozambique growing up. He studies occupational therapy in the UK. 

Like Joshua. He’s a TCK. He’s British too, but grew up in Pakistan and Jordan before moving to the UK at the age of 13. He studied engineering at university and now works in IT. 

For TCKs, going to university brings particular challenges: culture shock; homesickness; struggling to fit in. Yet being a TCK also has advantages. For one thing, TCKs are able to contribute to student ministry in a unique way. With their international experience and cultural awareness, TCKs are often the best placed people to get alongside international students. 

Wianne, Matt and Joshua shared their reflections on life as a TCK and a student. 

Just trying to survive (Wianne)

“I don’t think I dealt with the transition very well at first. It was overwhelming. It felt like the ground beneath my feet vanished. I was numb. It took so much energy just trying to survive. My first reaction was to try to blend in to Dutch society. I didn’t want to stick out and be different. I did my best to fit in and pretend that I found it all normal: the food, the clothing, the direct way of communicating, the endless talk about the weather! But I didn’t understand Dutch culture and quickly realised I had different priorities to my peers. I missed home; I missed my international high school friends, now scattered around the globe; I missed ‘normal’ people around me; I missed being able to be myself. 

I had chosen to follow Jesus and had been baptised right before leaving high school. I knew that Jesus is always in control and that He is good. But it didn’t feel like that. Repatriation – moving ‘back’ to the Netherlands – was one of the hardest experiences of my life. Yet, in this trying time my faith deepened and became more real. 

Looking back four years later, I am thankful for the place I am in now and I am glad that I don’t have to do that first year again! I am thankful for the personal growth that has happened in my university years and for my involvement with Ichthus, the IFES movement. I thank God for all my Dutch friends who invited me to various activities, who took the time to really listen to me, who allowed me to be open and real with them. This made all the difference for me in adjusting to the Netherlands.

I am thankful for the opportunities that I had as a TCK. I’m thankful that I can easily connect to people of various backgrounds and cultures, and in this way be a bridge between the national and international students at my university.” 

I should fit in. But I don’t. (Matt) 

“Coming to the UK straight from the dusts of Africa without having lived here on my own before, I felt very much out of place. The main challenge for me has been in relating to British people. I have a British passport and am racially white – so in one sense, I should fit in. But I don’t. My priorities, outlook on life, subjects of conversation and humour – all of that is different. 

I remember one day seeing two of my friends talking together. I went up and stood between them. They instinctively jumped away! I didn’t understand. Immediately they told me I had violated their personal space by standing too close to them. I was totally shocked!

There have certainly been challenges being a TCK and a student, but there have been lots of advantages too. As a TCK, I find it easy to relate to people from other cultures. I absolutely love working with international students at university. I love bridging the gap to understand their culture and background. Through church and my local IFES group, I’ve had the privilege of opening the Bible with international students and seeing some come to know the Lord.

University has been (and still is) some of the hardest years of my life. I am still coming to terms with living in a place where my passport says I am from, but where I feel I don’t fully belong. 

University has also been a place where I’ve grown spiritually. I’ve learned about the identity I have in the gospel of Christ. Now as a student, my church is my family and the place I can call ‘home’.” 

My instinctive reluctance (Joshua) 

“I was a fairly typical TCK student – having moved around several times before, I found it relatively easy to settle in and make friends, easy to adapt to new situations. And like other TCKs, I had to work at opening up and developing deep friendships. At the back of your mind there’s an instinctive reluctance – perhaps because you wonder how long you’ll be there; maybe this friendship will just lead to another painful goodbye in a few years’ time… 

I really enjoyed spending time with international students at university. I had close friends from Japan, Italy, Egypt, Pakistan, Singapore and Malaysia. I loved getting to know people from other cultures – it just came naturally to me. 

Being a TCK has had a huge impact on my life. The most important thing about me is that I’m a Christian, and my citizenship is in heaven. But the second most defining thing about me is that I’m a TCK. If I hadn’t been a TCK I think I’d have been content settling here in the UK. But because of my upbringing, I’m conscious of the fact that there’s a whole world out there that needs reaching. Whether that means moving overseas myself, or just serving international people who come to the UK, I’m not sure yet. 

Are there ways that others can better support TCKs at university?

Practically, TCKs face a lot of challenges when they first arrive. Opening a bank account, getting their phone to work, having money in the right currency – that kind of thing. There’s also the issue of university holidays. Where do you go? You probably can’t afford to fly back to wherever your parents are three times a year. Christian friends and church family showing hospitality can make such a difference to TCKs during the holidays.” 

Are there third culture kids at your university? Are there ways you could better support them? What could you learn from them? Are there ways you could encourage them to use their gifts and experiences in reaching out to others on campus? 

Hundreds gather in South Africa from around the world

Debora is studying new media art at university in Lithuania. But she’s not there this week. She’s in South Africa along with 1,200 others from 172 countries. They’re attending the IFES four-yearly gathering World Assembly. For Debora, this week will be a totally new experience. She’s never been surrounded by so many young people, passionate to make Jesus known on their campus. She’s never heard God’s praises sung in so many different languages. She will see for herself that she is part of a vast, dynamic global fellowship. 

Debora is a member of her local IFES movement in Lithuania, LKSB. Her fellowship group have recently started reaching out to international students and have had Muslims and atheists coming along to their events. At World Assembly, Debora will be able to receive training in how to share the gospel with students from other cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as a wide range of other areas. She says: 

“I hope to learn more about how students in other countries share the gospel so we can try out new things here. I hope to make long-lasting friends – maybe we could even have mission trips to each other’s countries later on and do even bigger events together.” 

Join us in praying that Debora and the 230 other students participating in World Assembly will leave with a bigger vision of God and their part in His kingdom work. 

Thanks for praying with us!