88 years of life and student ministry

6 February 2020 was the first anniversary of the death of British pastor, evangelist and theologian Michael Green. A huge part of Michael’s life and ministry was spent telling students about Jesus. He spoke at countless mission weeks in Great Britain and across Europe, leading many to faith and inspiring students of IFES movements to live and speak for Jesus unreservedly. Two months before he went home to Glory, Michael shared his reflections on the changes, challenges and future of student ministry in the region.

What changes have you seen in student ministry over the years?

The biggest thing I’ve noticed is growth. We’re well aware of what a secularised world we’re living in these days. But we often don’t realise that the Christian church has actually never grown as fast as it has in our generation. The growth, particularly from Islam, is massive in south-east Asia, and we’re seeing this in a number of countries in Europe as well. Underneath the somewhat tired, old oak trees of Catholicism and Orthodoxy we’ve now got the green grass growing up: new movements of young men and women committed to Christ.

What are the main challenges to evangelism in the university in Europe today?

Most countries in Europe have come out of a communist situation, and so there’s still a lot of communist ideology and burnt-in atheism. But there’s also the influence of consumerism and materialism which make people very hedonistic and self-serving. These things affect the spiritual climate and make the atmosphere forbidding.

Add to that the fact that evangelical work almost anywhere in Europe is regarded as a sect. So Christians tend to keep their heads down, and generally there isn’t the confident boldness that I would like to see. People don’t expect God to do great things; they don’t expect conversions when you have meetings. And then of course they’re all covered with confusion when they see ten people coming to Christ! But it happens often enough. I love it!

But these are very difficult days. There is no doubt that the Christian gospel is facing challenges that it’s never faced before. Issues like trans-genderism were almost unknown in days gone by, but now are major. And today’s Christian young men and women have got to get so rooted in the gospel that they are able to handle challenges of this sort. So when they come upon these new, contentious issues, they don’t just give an opinion, but answer from a rooted, biblical worldview.

What encourages you as you look at the work of IFES national movements in Europe?

I’m encouraged to see a greater innovation and creativity in evangelism. In the old days it would have been straight proclamation. I believe in proclamation, but I believe in using the creative arts as well: music and drama and dance and mime and so on. We’re beginning to see more of that in Europe. Of course, the gospel is the same, but the wrappings need to be different according to the culture.

National movements are also paying more attention to apologetics training, and I wish I’d focused more on that when I was young. I now realise that apologetics never saved anybody, but it is a very valuable tool for moving the rubbish out of the road that leads to Christ. It needs to be the hand-maid of evangelism, not some sort of metaphysical discussion that never brings anybody to conclusion.

What advice would you give to this generation of Christian students?

Firstly, I would urge all Christian students to join a Bible-based organisation that is passionately evangelistic in outreach and coherent in fellowship, and the classic example is the IFES worldwide. Christian students need to be with other students who are committed believers from a different denomination, from a different nation, from a different culture. Together they need to be God’s counter-culture on campus, committed to God’s work in the university.

The future lies with people who’ve got the guts to stand up and be counted. Students must have one foot in the culture and one foot in the Scriptures. And they must have a heart blazing with passion to pass on this gospel that has made new people of them. Unless there is a new life and a new lifestyle in us, nobody’s going to listen. But if there is, and if we’re determined to reach the lost, nothing will be able to stand against us. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not be able to stand against the proclamation by His kingdom. And He’s never been proved wrong yet.

What’s kept you going for so long?

I think there are two things: one is my devotional life. I have kept a devotional life going every day right the way through my life. In other words, I’ve kept in touch with the source of light and life, and that is absolutely critical. The other thing is that when I find I’m not doing anything for the Lord, my spiritual temperature goes down. But once something new is thrown to me, I say to myself, ‘Hey look, I can’t do this – but the Lord can. I’ve got to rely on Him.’ And so: a mixture of keeping my devotional life going and taking opportunities for service which will cast me back to draw afresh on the resources of the Lord. Those two things have kept me fresh.

What’s your prayer for Europe’s students in the coming years?

I pray that in the next ten years there’ll be a renewed confidence in the power of the gospel, a new courage to be bold in testimony, in drama, in music, in dance, and in inventing other ways of bringing the gospel home to friends. And that confidence of course comes from going back to the cross again and again, and realising what the Lord has done for us. And if He’s done it for us, He’s done it for others. So woe to us if we don’t proclaim the gospel.

We give thanks to God for the faithful service of this remarkable man to the university world. His co-worker and friend Michael Ots, reflected:

It was an incredible joy and privilege to partner with Michael in student evangelism around Europe over the last ten years of his life. He was not only an incredible evangelist and an inspiring mentor but he also became a close friend.  His many decades of involvement in evangelism around the world gave him a unique position from which to assess the strategic and valuable ministry of IFES of which he was a great supporter.

Buy a copy of the recently published authorised biography Michael Green: By His Friends. It includes reflections from Lindsay Brown (former IFES General Secretary), Richard Cunningham (UCCF Great Britain General Secretary) and Michael Ots, among others. Also available at tenofthose.com.

3,000 young people praying for revival

30 December 2019: students, graduates, staff members, and representatives from other Christian student ministries – together, united. All 3,000 voices from 68 countries raised together in prayer for God to move in Europe. For many, it was the stand-out moment of Revive,the recent IFES Europe student evangelism conference.

Giulia, a graduate from Switzerland, was one of the 3,000. She shared her reflections:

“In my workplace, I’m surrounded by people who don’t know the Lord, but sadly I’ve put little effort into sharing my faith or living as a disciple at work. Revive made it very clear to me that, as a graduate, obedience to God must come first every day of the week, not just in my free time. I left eager and equipped to be a fruitful, blazing witness in my workplace.”

Will you join us this week as we pray for Giulia and for all those who were at Revive?

  • Thank God for the amazing ways he answered prayer for Revive. Countless young people left feeling excited to be part of something bigger, better equipped for mission on campus and beyond, and with a renewed love for Jesus and the gospel.
  • Giulia asked us to pray for graduates in Europe: “Pray that we become equipped for evangelism through a flourishing relationship with our Creator and Saviour.”
  • As the new semester starts, pray that Revive participants would be putting into practice what they learned. Pray that through them, revival would come on campuses and in communities across Europe.

Find out more about how IFES is supporting work with students and graduates in Europe.

Thanks for praying with us!

Now it had a face

Sandbags. It was an unusual picture. Brian* had been a student at the time. Just one among the vast crowds of young people at Urbana, the InterVarsity/USA missions conference. And there God spoke to him. He gave Brian a vision for using his life to share his faith. The picture he had was of people piling up sandbags to deal with a flood, but there was one area where no one was working. If I can go anywhere to share my faith, why not go where no one else is going? he thought. And so the idea of serving among Muslim people was planted in Brian’s mind.

A short-term mission trip to Bosnia, a Muslim-majority country, confirmed it. Brian found he could relate to Muslim people well, and he enjoyed their company. Living among them and sharing his faith seemed more doable. Before, the concept of Islam had been an empty void to him. Now it had a face.

Surprises in store

Brian ended up settling in France with his young family, to serve with GBU, the IFES movement there. A large part of his time was spent reaching out to Muslim students and helping GBU students to do the same. It wasn’t easy. Being on staff didn’t make him immune from the usual fears of evangelism. Over the years that followed, Brian discovered a lot about sharing the gospel with Muslim students. And he was often surprised.

Coffee and questions

Brian and his wife set out for the campus one cold morning, armed with flasks of coffee to hand out, and a question: would you be interested in joining our Bible/Quran discussion group? One of the Muslim students they met that day was particularly keen to come along. Why? That very morning he’d been wondering what the differences were between the Bible and the Quran. He was delighted to meet someone offering him the opportunity to find out – along with a free coffee!

Time and again, Brian found that Muslim students were often happy to talk about faith matters, and to receive prayer. In fact, they were often disappointed to find that westerners – including Christians – were usually reluctant to talk about those kinds of things.

Rethinking worldviews

While it was easy enough to get into a conversation with a Muslim student, their different worldview meant that Brian needed to learn a different approach in apologetics.

Take, for example, the commonly held Muslim belief that the Bible has been changed and corrupted. In a Western context, Brian would start by inviting the student to look at the evidence, say by studying the manuscripts, to prove that the Bible hasn’t been changed. But that approach, Brian found, fell flat on a listener with a Muslim worldview. One day he tried something else:

On hearing ‘the Bible has been changed’, Brian suddenly took a step away from the student. What are you doing? they asked. “I don’t want to be standing here if you get hit by lightning”, Brian replied. “What you’re saying is really serious. This is God’s Word. Are you saying God has allowed His Word to be changed?! May God protect you from what you’re saying right now.”

Brian’s dramatic approach worked. The student quickly changed his mind. Because as a Muslim he already understood that God is sovereign and unthwartable; there was no way He’d let His Word be changed.

Daniel Morton – Unsplash

Believing forward

Of course, helping a Muslim see that the Bible hasn’t been changed was not the end goal; it was just a helpful step along the way. Brian knew that the power to transform hearts is found in the Bible. That’s why he helped start up student-led Bible/Quran discussion groups, and loved to open the Bible with his Muslim friends. Sharing his faith and his life was not quick, easy, or obviously fruitful work. But it was obedient. And that’s all that mattered.

So what about us? Why should we bother to share the gospel with our Muslim classmates on campus? Brian reflected:

We don’t have a choice but to get on board with it. If we’re really committed to reaching every corner of campus, we have to be willing to engage all people. There are staff in IFES movements today who are former Muslims. We have to ‘believe forward’, trusting that these Muslim students might one day be faithfully serving God as well.

There are Christians today living in Iran, Tunisia, Kyrgyzstan and similar places. If they could, they would beg us to reach out to their fellow compatriots while we can. Immigrants and international students, visiting scholars. It’s probably their best chance to hear the gospel, and it’s an amazing way that we can partner with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

*name changed

Rindra gathers with 3,000 students from across Europe

Rindra is from Madagascar but has been studying in Norway this year, where he’s been serving NKSS, the IFES movement there, in his spare time. In ten days, he’ll be making his way down to Germany, to gather with 3,000 other students and graduates at Revive, the European student evangelism conference. Rindra and thousands across the region, are hungry to see a move of God in this generation.

Rindra is particularly looking forward to two of the many seminars on offer: ‘Talking about Jesus without sounding religious’, and ‘The Mark Drama’. He wants to learn how to share Jesus in different ways, and see his NKSS friends enthused about evangelism. Norway, like so many countries in Europe, is increasingly secular and needs revival.

As students and staff from IFES and other Christian student organisations seek God together at Revive, their prayer is that revival would ripple out across Europe and beyond. That’s Rindra’s prayer too:

“I hope to be enthused and equipped to return home to Madagascar, to UGBM, the IFES movement there, and share His name, continually praying for revival in our universities and nation.”

Join us in praying for Revive:

  • The impact of Revive, for individuals, universities and countries, could be huge. But not without prayer! Pray that God would do an amazing work of reviving hearts, and ultimately universities and the whole of Europe, for His glory.
  • Pray for the organisers, volunteers, prayer team, speakers and those leading seminars or workshops. Pray that they would have energy and great joy as they serve together.
  • Pray for the students coming from smaller student movements, that Revive would be particularly encouraging and helpful for them.

Over the last 40 weeks, students of IFES movements across Europe have been making short videos about their countries and how you can pray for them. Watch all the videos here

Find out more about Revive at reviveeurope.org

Thanks for praying with us!

Aliens, thieves and priests

I remember the anxieties of starting university. I didn’t even understand my timetable, let alone my major. Where was I meant to be when? What did all those letters and figures mean? How was I going to survive?! I didn’t have the answers.

But there was one thing I knew a lot about: God. Early on I met some people who were part of the Bulgarian Christian Student Union (BCSU). They invited me to go along to their fellowship meetings, and I was glad to start attending. They didn’t know it, but their invitation was to lead me to three significant realisations and change the course of my life for ever.

Always a student

Before long, the first thing I realised was that I’d been wrong: I really didn’t know much about God. I’d previously read the Bible as a novel, skimming the pages without much interest. BCSU challenged me to think and apply the Word of God in my life, to ask questions and to explore my own worldview. I came to understand that in God’s kingdom, I will always be a student who is learning from Christ.

The second thing I realised was why this student group exists. At first, I’d thought it was just a gathering for Christian students to study the Bible. But in fact, the student group was the perfect place to invite my friends who didn’t know Jesus. What better place for a student with questions about God? Many of my friends then heard about God and attended BCSU events and Bible studies.

Aliens, thieves and priests

My third realisation, I confess, didn’t happen while I was at university. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to discover it. And that’s why I wanted to write this article, so you will not make the same mistake.

In my student years, I thought the university was a place that would give me knowledge for my career. I thought it was a place to invite friends to study the Bible in the hope that they would meet Christ and be saved. 1 Peter 2 talks about believers as being ‘aliens in the world’. I saw myself only as an ‘alien’ – someone who didn’t belong to the world. My job was that of a thief: to ‘steal’ others out of the world and make them aliens too.

But 1 Peter 2 also talks about the believer’s role as a ‘priest’. The two are inseparable characteristics of God’s people. No, we are not from the world, but at the same time we are in the world, and we are to carry God’s presence. This was what I missed.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light… Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

1 Peter 2: 9-12

At university I did not act as a priest. If I had, as well as inviting my friends to study the Bible, I would have asked my classmates and teachers questions about what we were learning. I would have been part of the student council or the theatre club. I would have tried to keep Christian principles in everything I did. I would have brought the voice of Jesus into conversations happening around me. But I did not.

Fortunately, this sad story does not end so sad. I am not a student anymore, but I am still allowed to be part of the university literary club (I love to read!). So at last I’m active at university!

An appeal to students

Don’t make the same mistake as I made. You can live out your role on campus as a royal priesthood. Perhaps you will ask a question that will change the mind of your lecturer forever. Perhaps you will hold a position regarding a theory that will make a lasting impression on your classmate. Perhaps you will do something that will make people curious about your faith. Perhaps a bold act will turn into an echo that will change your university, city or even society.

I challenge you to be priests now, to be present at the heart of the university. As you walk into the corridors and enter the halls, know that your steps are the steps of Christ, and your presence is the presence of Christ in your university.

So do not be thieves like me, but be priests, because you are called to this.

Desi, BCSU Bulgaria graduate                                                                              

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.