Natalie steps forward

Word spread fast about the new cell group started by Natalie Jordán in her faculty at the University of Panama, but not everyone was supportive. Nevertheless, Natalie was confident of God’s continued provision and presence. “Even though we sometimes fear what the future brings, God is present as a firm rock,” she says.

Last year, Natalie, a student leader with CEC Panama, set up the student group in the Faculty of Architecture and Design to provide a meeting space for fellowship, worship, and Bible study.

“It was challenging because there hadn’t been a Christian student group in the faculty for the last few decades, so there were many professors and administrators who were unaware of CEC and what we do,” explains Natalie.

In addition, when more students heard about the group, Natalie learned how sceptical and atheistic mindsets can be a stumbling block. Even among the Christian students, there were not many willing to help lead the group. On top of this, the staff worker left at the end of 2022 and a replacement has not yet been found.

But the Lord provided committed believers from other faculties who have stepped up to help lead. And because her group is one of only two cell groups at her university’s central campus, it draws students from several different faculties.  

“The Lord has provided everything we need over the years,” shared Natalie. “Even to see just one person interested in knowing more about Jesus shows how he is using us to impact the university. In the end, everything comes from him; we do what we do because of him and for him.”

After the challenges of setting up her group, Natalie is looking forward to learning from other members of the IFES fellowship this August at World Assembly. There she will join approximately 1,000 students, graduates, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters from around the globe as they meet in Indonesia for IFES’ quadrennial conference. They will experience teaching, study, worship, the arts, and fellowship, all focused on the theme of being resilient witnesses in the university and beyond.

“I am looking forward to meeting some of my brothers and sisters in faith from other parts of the world, especially those who may be experiencing persecution,” says Natalie. “I feel that this may help fuel my passion and efforts to share Jesus among my peers and encourage me to take of advantage of the opportunities I have in Panama to do so freely.”

“I also hope to receive training in sharing the gospel effectively with any type of person I encounter at the university – something I often feel I lack.”  

Trusting in the Lord’s provision and the generosity of our supporters, IFES will provide scholarships for many attendees like Natalie at World Assembly 2023. These scholarships will ensure that World Assembly has a truly global voice, regardless of financial barriers. With this support, scholarship recipients can connect with the global fellowship, share their experiences, ideas, and testimonies at this transformative event, and return home freshly inspired and equipped to face the challenges of their context with increased resilience. 

Please pray with us for Natalie and for World Assembly:

  • Pray for student leaders like Natalie in CEC Panama, that they would be guided by the Lord’s wisdom and filled with courage to do his will in the university.
  • Pray for CEC Panama, that God would provide the right people and resources needed to continue his work. Pray especially for a new staff worker and for the training of new staff.
  • Pray that the Lord would use World Assembly 2023 to strengthen faithful, resilient witnesses of Jesus Christ, in the university, and beyond. 
  • Pray that the Lord of the nations would provide the funds needed for World Assembly scholarships.

If you want to help leaders like Natalie share their experiences and be better equipped at World Assembly, now’s your chance. We’re seeking to raise USD 37,500 for World Assembly scholarships over this year’s Global Giving Day. You can donate here, learn more here, and follow the campaign on Facebook and Instagram for updates and more stories from scholarship applicants.

Creation Care and Climate Crisis

The United Nations annual conference on climate change, COP27, came and went this November. Hosted in Egypt, it was shrouded in controversy about human rights and overshadowed by other major political events. Its main achievement was a significant breakthrough for developing countries with the establishment of the loss and damage fund.  

The messiness of COP27 is the latest evidence that, when it comes to facing down the existential and catastrophic probabilities of the climate crisis, all of us keep getting it wrong. We can feel paralysed facing the huge scale of the problem. Equally, we often feel that climate change is somebody else’s problem, and that it can be somebody else’s priority. More immediately urgent demands and purposes loom large. But this short-sighted, individualistic approach isn’t good enough. As Christians, we need to ask what God has to say about it.  

Engaging in climate issues could seem like a side project for IFES student movements, with a potentially dangerous distractive power from the urgency of the gospel. Particularly when our ministries encounter obstacles, putting effort and energy into this issue feels not only irrelevant, but irresponsible. How can we engage purposefully without feeling as though we are deviating to a different calling? 

The gospel is not a magic pill 

If engaging in climate issues feels like a deviation of focus, we haven’t understood that this gospel of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is bigger and fuller than we think. Our message is not a spiritual formula, or a magic pill that we want students to swallow. It is a call to realign with the truth about God, ourselves, and our world. It is a miraculous invitation to know the person, Jesus, who famously, “turns the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). When students are set free by saving grace, transformed in their standing before God, this renewal overflows into every area of life, including our characters, families, and ambitions. Jesus refuses to be boxed. If we make him Lord, the implications make themselves known. No reality is left untouched. 

In IFES, we strive to honour this in our commitment to equip students to participate fully in that vast cultural frontier: the university. Engaging the university is a core IFES value and the name of one of our Global Resource Ministries, which aim to provide various kinds of support to the national movements. We encourage students not to live in a kind of “holy huddle” but bring their faith to the issues in the world around them. “Thriving in Whole-Life Commitment” is one of the four priorities in the IFES strategic plan, and our vision is to see transformed students impact society for the glory of Christ. Across all disciplines, climate issues are an increasingly important part of that.  

Crucially, they are also integrated with some of the other existential problems that IFES students encounter academically and personally. The climate crisis is also a health crisis, as stakeholders globally are beginning to recognise. It is indivisible from problems of civic oppression and geopolitics, and it is, of course, already devastating the world’s poorest people. 

A matter of witness, discipleship, and obedience 

As we strive to be salt and light (Matthew 15:13-16), a global movement of students who claim to follow Jesus, we cannot ignore the real impact on real people. We must also understand the injustice that the global North has perpetuated. Christians in the USA, the UK, and the European Union, in nations with the greatest cumulative culpability for ecological damage and carbon dioxide emissions, who are facing minimal consequences, cannot dismiss climate justice as too far away and too big. On current trends, parts of Africa and South Asia will become entirely unliveable in the coming decades due to climate change. We’re a global student movement, and we’re part of a global church. Our Biblical mandate is to care for all people, to champion justice, and to remember the suffering of brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 13:3). 

This is also a matter of witness. Peter Harris, founder of A Rocha International, a network of Christian organisations dedicated to the conservation of nature, writes that in A Rocha’s early days “it was alarming to find not only that there were very few Christians working in environmental organisations, but that the typical narrative was that Christian thinking and practice were the prime culprits for environmental degradation.” Harris was told by a prominent conservation leader that “evangelical theology and unrestrained corporate behaviour were the two greatest threats to global biodiversity, and they frequently overlapped in the person of their leaders”.  

This embarrassing reputation, arising from an unbiblical neglect and exploitation of the natural world, needs to be relegated to the past, particularly in order to reach a student generation very aware of the climate crisis. A holistic methodology of engaging meaningfully both with Scripture and the issues in the university will equip students to reject both corporate greed and environmental apathy in their own decision-making, letting the gospel inform their approach to their careers, the natural world, and their accountability as global citizens.  

Recently the student group in Bratislava from VBH, the IFES movement in Slovakia, took to the streets in partnership with World Cleanup Day, a secular global initiative which began in Estonia. After cleaning in the streets, they held an event to discuss the signature of God in creation that we see in our surroundings. The idea was to help students praise God for his handiwork and honour him by caring for it. “We feel very strongly that God gave us the responsibility of being stewards on this earth,” says Dominika, VBH staff worker. “We see how we have failed in this task.” Repenting of our own selfish, careless exploitation, we can sing with the Psalmist “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).  

“Acknowledge him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6) 

At World Assembly in August 2023, we will give time to discuss the climate crisis. The speakers will be Ed Brown, Catalyst for Creation Care for the Lausanne Movement, and Founding Director of American environmental initiative Care of Creation, and Denise Thompson, Director of Black Scholars and Professionals for InterVarsity, the movement in the USA. We look forward to exploring the question with so many nations represented in person.  

At the grassroots level, students and staff are integrating creation care into their activities. GBU, the movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), recently held a climate conference, discussing nuances of the “dominion” concept from Genesis 1. Louise is a staff worker from Ichtus, the Dutch-speaking movement in Belgium, who felt uncomfortable with the level of air travel that her work required. “I made the choice to step up my game. By flying I would be doing the one thing I really didn’t want to,” she says. With the blessing of the movement, she took two days to travel to the recent FEUER gathering in Greece by train instead.  

The global nature of our fellowship makes the question of long-distance travel inevitably difficult. The pandemic made that all too evident, proving that we can function online yet making us feel the emotional and spiritual lack of real connection. There are important individual judgements to be made, and of course, alternatives are not always available. It is nevertheless refreshing to make good choices like this when opportunities come. 

Elsewhere in IFES, some are prioritising the integration of climate issues into student ministry even more deliberately. Two of the catalysts from Engaging the University’s Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI) are tackling questions of climate: Johnny Ngunza from GBU DRC, and Johnny Patal, from GEU, the movement in Guatemala.


Guatemala is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. The premise of Johnny’s project is that bringing into conversation Guatemalan students from different disciplines who know their theology will generate powerful solutions. Developing resources from these discussions can also help the efforts multiply. “The environmental crisis requires the involvement of different types of people, including academics from different disciplines, politicians, religious figures and citizens”, says Johnny. “This is difficult to achieve in society, but a strength in IFES movements.”  

Similarly, having founded Another Sound of Africa University, architect Johnny Ngunza is leading a project which takes a more focused approach to the same themes. His work tackles soil erosion in his city of Beni, a problem which not only hinders urban economic development, but leads to pollution, soil degradation, and habitat loss.  

Together with GBU students, Johnny is testing bioclimatic architecture and new construction, as well as ecological techniques. Workshops, conferences and training foster integration of theology with environmental questions. “In this development phase”, says Johnny, “the floor is given to the students as they materialise the ideas they conceived during the innovation workshops. It is a joy for me to see them take ownership of the project and build on Biblical and scientific foundations to make concrete proposals.” 

The gospel for a creation subject to frustration (Romans 8:20) 

As Johnny’s project perfectly demonstrates, environmental issues are indivisible from economic problems, and both must be considered in order to witness with impact in our society. 

There is more to be done to improve our response to climate change, and a splintered, single-minded approach won’t work. The Bible doesn’t treat Jesus in that way. In Romans 8, Paul explains the incredible idea that the entire creation is redeemed through Christ; it is through Christ’s victory that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  

The story God tells is so much greater than our little purposes. In Colossians 1:16 we read that all things are created through and for the Son of God. A view of redemption which includes the very world we inhabit will not only motivate us to care about preserving what God has made for himself, but will give us deeper understanding of the gospel we present to students. Creation care is not a deviation from our purposes. It is an expansion of our knowledge of God and the depth of glory in which he calls us to join him.  

From Beggar to Beggar

“Evangelism is simply one beggar telling another where he found his bread.” 

That quote is a favourite of Daniela, a nursing student at UNAN, Managua and leader in CECNIC, the IFES student movement in Nicaragua. It’s work that she treasures, and below, she explains some aspects that she holds especially dear. In this edition of Prayerline, let’s pray with her that students in Nicaragua would come to Christ, and that God would equip CECNIC evangelists to share with their fellow students “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 

“Engaging hearts that Christ himself formed with tact and affability is a gift”, says Daniela. “You must remember that each person you speak to is valuable in the eyes of Jesus. Praying with students helps us remember our identity as salt and light wherever we go, especially in the university, where we spend much of our time.’’ Accordingly, she encourages those in her movement to ‘’take the opportunity to reflect grace, love, and mercy.”  

On Daniela’s campus, CECNIC has created “evangelism spaces” which have been well received by their fellow students. While CECNIC members who volunteer in these spaces have a message to offer, theirs are not the only voices being heard. Rather, participants are invited to share something of themselves with the student evangelists. The evangelism spaces thus provide an opportunity for the evangelists to really listen to and understand the students who come and share something of themselves. “I love that we meet a wide variety of people and really get to know them”, reflects Daniela. “We talk about where they’re from and what they’re studying. We listen to them talk about their experiences over the semester, like which classes have been the most difficult, and we laugh together.”  

So these evangelism spaces aren’t only about having a message to tell. Their most compelling function is to help establish student to student dialogues. “I identify with people”, explains Daniela. The stories she hears echo her own student experiences. ‘’It’s wonderful to be able to understand them, venture to share those feelings with them, and tell them that the Father accompanies them on this beautiful, tired trip through university.” Speaking this truth also serves as a reminder for Daniela. ‘’I pray for and with them, then ask what they’d like us to keep in our prayers.’’ And when they say goodbye, Daniela is encouraged to see ‘’a smile on their face as they say thank you.” 

Daniela doesn’t forget the people she meets.  Along with the other students in her group, she prays for what they’ve asked for, “remembering that the Lord knows their lives, and that the names on paper are not just names”; they are ‘’people who need to be strengthened through hugs in the form of prayers.” 

Let’s pray for Daniela, the student evangelism spaces at UNAN, and for CECNIC: 

  • Pray for each of the students who have shared their struggles and requests with Daniela and the rest of the team. Pray that through the faithful witness of their love, they would come to know Jesus for themselves, and “cast all their anxieties on him because he cares” for them (1 Peter 5:7). 
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit would sustain and strengthen Daniela and other CECNIC students as they seek to reach broken lives by witnessing to the truth and light of the gospel.  
  • Pray that God would continue to raise up godly student leaders and communities in Nicaragua, who can live for him at university and beyond. 

Hope, Exhaustion and Mental Health 

Endless online meetings spent huddled around dark, over-familiar desk spaces became the sum of our experience. As the pandemic has worn on, students have become more and more burnt out. 

In Brazil, this became a big problem. When state governments began to introduce restrictions in March 2020, along with much of the rest of the world, students were at first eager to engage online. They soon found, however, when remote classes became the order of the day, that they had no healthy routine. Universities struggled to put together schedules, which became chaotic and, in some cases, didn’t stop to give more than one week of holiday in the year. 

ABUB, the student movement in Brazil, did a lot of creative work in those months to keep students engaged and functioning. By the end of 2020, students were tired, and mentally and emotionally many were struggling. They were fighting, nonetheless. When a vaccine was approved in January 2021, students were full of hope, expecting to go back to in-person life soon. As it turned out, the vaccine wasn’t available to students for eight long months. Many have now endured unbroken online study since March 2020. It’s difficult to keep going when life seems so difficult, and there’s no end in sight. 

Student Mental Health and ABUB 

ABUB has been engaging with student mental health in Brazil for a long time. In 1997, a university in Viçosa, Mina Gerais, found a high rate of depression and suicidal tendencies among its students. Students from ABUB and the Evangelical Centre of Missions organised the first Hope Week in 1998. Since then this event has occurred biannually and has spread to several other universities. Students organise workshops, talks, debates, and Bible studies. They use art to engage with topics like racism, sustainability, social responsibility, and politics – but with a primary focus on mental health and the hope of Christ. The event went ahead online in 2021.  

Before the pandemic, ABUB students were also instrumental in helping their universities put together the official programs for the national annual suicide prevention campaign in Brazil, Yellow September. Staff worker Jessica reports that in 2019 contributing to this was one of the most popular student activities. Jessica points out that when all the ABUB students were surveyed in 2019 for the issues that were causing the most problems in their groups, ‘the great majority answered with depression and mental health.’  

2021 research has found that 43% of students in Brazil thought about giving up their studies during the pandemic; 28% of male students and 40% of female students said their emotional state was ‘bad’ or ‘horrible’, 61% of young people aged 15-29 said that they suffer from anxiety, directly or indirectly because of the pandemic, 51% said they suffer from exhaustion, and 10% say the pandemic caused them to consider suicide. 

Be still and know that I am God 

By the beginning of 2021, staff were realising that the students really were burnt out. Not many groups had managed to renew their leadership in 2021, so many students had been in leadership for two years. They were feeling responsibility to stay in post, knowing that the pandemic had ensured that if they stepped down there would be no one to replace them. Whenever someone would muster an attempt to reinvigorate the student groups with a fresh initiative, explains Jessica, ‘every new idea sounded like a weight on their shoulders.’ 

Pablo, a staff worker in ABUB’s East region, decided that their approach needed to change. He began to think of an expression that he had heard at a workshop in the IFES Southern Cone sub-regional training, something to the effect that ‘a leader needs to lead people into the rhythm of life that God has established, and needs to know when to lead them to rest.’ They would forget about new activities – and not ask the students for more enthusiasm. Instead, they would meet the students where they were. Before the pandemic, the student group would sometimes use the lectio divina method of reading the Bible – an approach that emphasises slow contemplation, rumination and prayer over analysis and exegesis. Jessica explains that while the Catholic and monastic associations of lectio divina mean that many evangelical churches in Brazil don’t frame the concept in this way, she has found that students like it. Pablo explains that he uses the term ‘prayerful Bible reading’, which ‘explains more easily what we were proposing’. 

Lectio divina was potentially a great answer– but how to repackage it for the pandemic? More online meetings and labour-intensive initiatives weren’t working, but Pablo and friend of ABUB Liz decided that to meet the moment they would produce lectio divina Bible studies as podcasts. Being able to listen in their own time, students could be given a tool to help them rest, refocus and be refreshed in Scripture. As Pablo puts it, ‘the main point was to allow a period of rest from online activities without giving up spiritual growth’ – and even that such a rest was essential to students’ spiritual growth. Jessica remembers that the first episode made her break down in tears. ‘I realised that I hadn’t been resting at all on God myself.’ 

Maria is a student who shares: 

‘Last year, students’ hearts were all experiencing the same feeling of physical and mental exhaustion, dismay, and, even though we had all adapted to living online, there was always that feeling that something was missing. The podcast helped to bring reflections to the hearts who were really in need of rest. Students have said that it has really helped them. It gave us the perspective to remember that not everything is lost, but actually under God’s control.  

‘After two years of remote classes, students can find hope by trusting that Jesus Christ is enough to help us continue walking on. Even if our eyes cannot see that. God continues to work in us. We have hope in using the skills God has given us to fulfil what he has called us to. The task of reaching every student for Jesus Christ needs to be fulfilled by those who are available, so may it be through us!’ 

Burnout, Mental Health and the Gospel 

Mental health parallels physical health; one might have a chronic or severe mental health disorder just as one might have a chronic physical problem. Mental health problems can arise from specific life events, in the same way that accidents create physical injuries. And our physical health can fluctuate in all kinds of ways – often in relation to our lifestyle and environment. So too can mental health. Just as by not sleeping or eating enough you could exacerbate an existing health problem, create new ones, or simply start to feel unwell, mental health problems can arise when we are mentally and emotionally exhausted, lose perspective and become very stressed.  

The World Health Organisation defines mental health not merely as an absence of mental disorder, but ‘a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’ Christians adjust this paradigm into what we know of the truths of Scripture – we don’t make seeking good mental health our gospel, nor do we over-spiritualise and neglect psychological and physiological factors. Many faithful and mature Christians still struggle with lifelong mental health issues. But as Christians we have additional resources to live with them. We have an ultimate security, an ultimate hope, an ultimate strength, and ultimate joy at our disposal. And when students burn out, from overworking, pandemics, or whatever else is thrown at them, leaving the new ideas and the initiatives behind and simply resting in what we already have in Christ is a powerful way to move forward and give God the glory.  

The over-brimming, peaceful-flourishing maximum capacity of supreme mental health is waiting for us in glory. As hymnwriter Augustus Toplady wrote, the ‘glorified spirits in heaven’ are ‘more happy, but not more secure’ than those still in this world. Jessica concurs, pointing out that ‘when you have eternal hope, your focus changes. The question is, how can we put down roots into eternal life now?’  

You can listen to ABUB’s (Portuguese) lectio divina podcasts here. 

Because he first loved us: visiting a children’s home

Koinonia, the student movement in Cuba, have been demonstrating the love of Jesus to a broken world. 

Gretel is a student leader in the city of Sancti Spíritus. Her student group found an opportunity to reach out to a local children’s home. The students wanted to show God’s love to the 20 children living there, all between the ages of 4 and 12, who had no parents to care for them.  But it was the first time they had done anything like this. 

While the idea felt ‘super crazy,’ Gretel explains how the Lord opened the doors for them. ‘In the middle of the pandemic,’ she reflects, ‘I don’t know how, but we had the same feeling. We wanted to show the love that God has for people. This idea couldn’t have come at a better time, when grief from the pandemic was at its peak, and many people were going through real storms.’ 

The students decided to bring some toys and gifts for the children. They also put on a play for them, exploring the theme of Christian love.                                                             

Gretel testifies to a real feeling that God was with them and working through them in the lives of the children. She shares that ‘there was not a single day, not a single hour, not a single minute, not even a second that we did not see the mighty hand of our Father in heaven. It wasn’t as easy as it may seem. But for God nothing is impossible. We knocked on the doors and they opened wide. Students who planned, coordinated, prayed, and put everything into the Lord’s hands from a distance were a blessing to beautiful children who have not had the opportunity to know the gospel, in a place where affection, joy, and genuine love is always welcome. 

‘We were blessed, too. I know I speak for everyone; there is no explanation for what we experienced. That fullness that we felt. God is good! And God wants us to demonstrate his love to others, just as he has demonstrated it to us. Do not hesitate to do crazy things for the kingdom of God. God will support those blessed and glorious adventures. You will see that he not only accepts you unconditionally, but he accepts others – just as we saw it.’ 

Gretel signs off with a prayer and a challenge; ‘May we be Christ’s adventurers!’ 

Pray for Koinonia in Cuba: 

  • Pray that the students in Sancti Spíritus will be able to continue building relationships with the children they met; and that these relationships will impact the children. Pray that it will point them to Jesus, and they will be adopted into sonship (Ephesians 1:5), children of God, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). 
  • Pray that Koinonia students will continue to demonstrate God’s love to those around them throughout their lives. 
  • Pray for Koinonia to continue to grow and flourish, even in the difficult times caused by the pandemic.  

The apologetic scientist

God had the answers. Jonas just knew it.  

Though he came from a family of atheists and agnostics, he could never quite deny the existence of God. At 15 years old, he heard the gospel in a small church in Tijuana, Mexico and gave his life to Christ. 

As he grew in his faith, he started to have questions. He did not carry the same skepticism as his family, but he was very interested in apologetics. Frustratingly, he had no one to share this interest with. In his church, they considered having questions as evidence of a lack of faith. Jonas learned to keep his concerns to himself. 

 Jonas found peers when he went to university. He helped begin the first student movement in Baja California, which soon became part of the Mexican national student movement, COMPA. His friends from COMPA encouraged him to search the Bible for answers. Through their influence he also discovered apologetic authors like C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. Jonas says, 

“It gave me great enthusiasm to know that faith is not irrational. On the contrary, I understood that we must include the mind in our devotion to God in order to love Him with all our being.” 

Since leaving university in 1998, he has helped countless students address similar questions. He served as a student leader with COMPA, then as a volunteer. He has also started new apologetic groups around the region. Now working as a researcher, he wants to help students develop an integrated view of science and faith. He became a Catalyst in the Logos and Cosmos program, an initiative from the IFES Engaging the University ministry, receiving mentorship, resources, and support to bring his ideas to fruition. 

“With the help of Logos and Cosmos, I would like to be able to get in touch with Christian and non-Christian students who are struggling with scientific or pseudo-scientific questions about faith and help them find answers and harmonize university knowledge with what they learn in the Bible. I believe it is possible to have an integrated view of reality by doing justice to the Bible and science.”   

Jonas hopes to start small groups and reading circles to discuss issues of science and faith. He is also interested in using his research to explore the theological implications of mathematics, hoping that it will give him opportunities to share his faith with his colleagues and students.  

Pray with us for Jonas this week and the other Catalysts integrating their faith with academics. 

  • The university where Jonas works is mainly focused on research and graduate studies. This means that it can be difficult to find undergraduate students. Pray that God will lead Jonas to undergraduates who are seeking spiritual answers.  
  • Pray that Jonas will have many spiritual conversations with his colleagues through his research.  
  • Pray for students who have big questions about faith. Pray that they will meet someone like Jonas who can guide them towards answers in Scripture.  

Want to meet Jonas for yourself? Hear him explain why he was excited to join the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. 

Virtual Pioneering in Ecuador

This week Prayerline is guest-written by Guadalupe Muñoz, who is responsible for the work with pioneer groups through CECE Ecuador.

When I began serving in this ministry, I had not considered using virtuality as a way to establish new university groups, but the pandemic changed everything, even the way of doing mission.

In April 2020, thanks to the virtual events that we (CECE) held for the anniversary of our movement, we were contacted by students from universities in cities where CECE has not previously worked due to their location or lack of contacts at the university.

In May 2020, we began a series of workshops for pioneer groups. The series was made up of six study sessions and a planning session for new students interested in starting a group at their university. We had two rounds of workshops, from which five university groups were born: ESPOL and UG-Administración (both in the city of Guayaquil), IKIAM (Ecuadorian Amazon Region), UNEMI (Milagro), ESPE (Latacunga). These workshops also strengthened a fragile group in the city of Ambato. All these groups continue gathering every week and are now consolidated.

I want to tell you particularly about UNEMI and Juan, one of the group coordinators. When Juan contacted us, he was very happy to know that he would have a community of faith at his university. He quickly got his friend Andrea involved in the mission and now they meet weekly through Zoom with an average of six participants. Juan and Andrea have already participated in a student training event and a national camp. Juan’s commitment is so strong that now he also participates with small responsibilities at a national level. His desire is to show the gospel of Jesus Christ to each classmate. Though he has not yet met them in person, he has overcome obstacles to generate meaningful relationships with them virtually.

Join us praying for:

  • The new contacts whom God will call to his ministry in the universities of Ecuador.
  • For coordinators who, like Juan, are passionate about sharing the gospel of Jesus with their classmates, even without meeting them in person.
  • For classes that are returning with a hybrid model (partially virtual, partially in person). Pray that we can adapt to the changes that will come, especially with the groups that were born in virtuality.

Lifted Up

A nighttime walk should be peaceful, a welcome break from the sun, or a chance to think and pray. But for women around the world, just a short walk home at night can be dangerous.  

IFES desk research compiled in the Global Trends Report discovered that violence against women is a trend likely to affect student ministry in the coming years. While the issue touches every part of the world, research shows that Latin America is one of the top regions influenced by this problem, particularly on university campuses.  

But IFES groups in Latin America are speaking up, using theater productions and discussion events to encourage a higher value of women as image-bearers of God. And interestingly, Latin America is also the IFES region with more female general secretaries than men. Out of a total of 20 movements, 11 are led by women. 

“Even though many of us consider América Latina to be a ‘machista’  (macho) environment, this mission field is open to so many women. There are single women, women married with little kids and older kids… in other words, an immense diversity of women serving the Lord in student ministry. What a blessing!” 

says Carmen Castillo, Latin America Sub-regional Coordinator.

The region has started a project to regularly bring together female leaders to share support and encouragement with each other.  

“The idea is to be able to support each other in a process that aims, not only to empower women as they are, but to also support our brothers in mission,” 

says Carmen.

In a heavily patriarchal society, projects like this remove barriers to the gospel by showing its power to undermine the demeaning messages and practices of machista (macho) culture. Carmen says, 

“As a song from our land says: ‘[Jesus] exalted children, and women.’ That is the Jesus we serve, who takes those despised in the world and lifts them in the right place.” 

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day to recognize the achievements and struggles of women around the world. This week, pray for IFES women, making a difference for the gospel on university campuses.  

  • Pray for female university students who are affected by gender-based violence on their campuses.  
  • Pray that IFES students, leaders, and staff will challenge unjust discrimination and violence towards women. Pray that their courage to address these issues will bring glory to the gospel.  
  • Pray for women in leadership in Latin America. Pray that God would guide their group and develop their gifts and talents to be used effectively in their ministry.  

Vibrant growth in the Patagonian tundra

Jesus told his followers to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. Pablo Galaz is taking that command literally.  He lives in Punta Arenas, a small port town on the Chilean side of Patagonia. While its extreme southern location is the perfect starting point for Antarctic expeditions, it creates a challenge for those pioneering new student groups. Wild mountains and cold islands bar this region from the rest of Chile. If Pablo wants to reach another city, he must board an expensive four-hour flight to Santiago or drive three hours to Argentina. The location is not ideal, but Pablo believes that a vibrant student movement can grow in the cold tundra of the south. 

In 2019, Pablo became the pioneering staff worker of the Breaking New Ground initiative in Chilean Patagonia. Since then, he has spent a large portion of his time driving long distances to other towns and cities in the region, helping pastors and leaders understand the value of student ministry through workshops and teaching. Since his city is much closer to Argentina than his own country, he hopes a partnership will develop with Argentinian churches. As revival has come to many churches in Patagonia, the spiritual soil is fertile for student ministry. Pablo’s mission is to help them develop a heart for students.

He has already established many of his own strong relationships with students in the Chilean part of Patagonia. On one of his long road trips to Argentina, Pablo brought along Nicolas, a second-year student wrestling with questions about his life and future. Staring ahead at the open road, the two of them dove into rich conversations about life, ministry, and the enormous mission of reaching students. After their road trip, Nicolas became one of the most faithful student leaders in their group.

Student leaders like Nicholas make a huge impact on the progress of planting new groups in Patagonia. But the region is isolated, and many students leave once they graduate. Yet Pablo remains firmly planted in his vision for many active groups throughout the region. One of his projects is a church plant which will value and reach out to university students. Symbolically, they call themselves El Arbol, or The Tree. Pablo hopes that with time, this church and many others will grow deep roots in the cold soil of Patagonia, to foster dynamic movements of students. Pray with us as he continues to break ground in this isolated region. 

  • Pray for perseverance for Pablo and his student leaders as they continue to meet with church leaders in Patagonia. Pray that these churches would understand the need for student outreach.
  • Pray for new opportunities for leading workshops in the cities of Rio Grande and Ushuaia.
  • Pray for more student leaders to become invested in the mission.

Building Bridges

EDITOR’S NOTE – We incorrectly published an earlier version of this article that did not fully and correctly incorporate the most recent input of CECE staff and students. The error was ours; we apologise for the mistake and we regret if the content has caused any concern and confusion. The version below properly reflects the views of the CECE members involved in the piece. We are grateful for their collaboration on this Conexión issue, and we hope it provides a useful point of reflection for the wider fellowship on questions of justice in your own context. 

If you are a university student in Ecuador, conversations on campus can be stressful. Living in a country historically divided by social class, region, race, and religion is hard. It means that a simple comment over lunch can turn into a full-on discussion. It might mean choosing to keep silent while your classmates express their opinions regarding the current political situation because you know that speaking up will only lead to tension.  

 The evidence of polarization can also be seen online. Some students re-share questionable memes or information which can alienate peers who don’t share their culture, background, or ideology.  

A Country Divided 

In October 2019, Ecuador’s divisive issues reached a boiling point. Protesters filled the streets after the president cut 40-year-old petrol subsidies and released labor and tax reforms.  Some say these protests were the result of hundreds of years of oppression and tension between social classes, political ideologies, and regional inequality.  Differences between standard of living in the urban centers and rural areas are significant. Those who live in rural areas have less access to services such as health, education and connectivity to the internet, while those in the city have better access to these basic services.  

 A further division is the historical regionalism between the coastal and Andean provinces of the country. Religion, race, immigration policies and political ideology continue to be sensitive topics with which is it is a challenge for students to maintain respectful conversations with those who view the world differently. During the October protests, university students (including CECE students) and campuses served both protestors and police as shelters for food, childcare and medical attention. This was a clear sign of building bridges in a moment of conflict. 

Engaging Intelligently 

CECE Ecuador is also equipping students with practical tools to build bridges through dialogue. Ruth Hicks de Olmedo, the National Director for CECE, says that many students have never observed healthy discussions before. She says, 

“Respectful dialogues are not something that are commonly modeled in family, church or political spheres. Maybe in some academic spaces, like forums, but certainly not in the public arena.” 

 The movement is equipping students for these conversations by teaching and modeling how to engage potentially polarized topics in a thoughtful and respectful way.  

“We encourage students to use language that encourages dialogue. We want them to understand the importance of coming with a listening and learning posture even if they have a clear position about a topic. If they don’t have a clear position, they should view it as their responsibility to think and research the information they are sharing– not just passing along the latest thing that appears on Facebook.”  

CECE encourages intelligent engagement in several ways. The movement publishes a weekly blog to briefly and thoughtfully explore timely issues from a Christian perspective. They have also designed training workshops to show students the connection between their faith and their life online. The movement also models healthy dialogue during their local and national events.  

During these events, student leaders and staff create safe spaces to give students the language and framework to discuss potentially controversial topics. One such event is the yearly national camp, which brings students from all over the country together. Ruth says that at the beginning of camp, there are students who are apprehensive to mingle with people from outside their student group.  

 “We have students who, when they arrive at camp have never interacted with someone from another province. After getting to know each other, they will say ‘they are quite different from me, but it was great to get to know them. Now they are my friends!’” 

By putting their healthy dialogue tips into practice, students can approach the camp with a posture of listening and learning toward others with different perspectives. As the days progress, the students are surprised to find that it was not so hard to make a new friend. 

Understanding Injustice 

When they are equipped to engage in dialogue, students may become more sensitive to the injustices around them.  More recently, talking about the effects of coronavirus has highlighted existing inequalities within society, particularly between races and regions. These inequalities are also evident in the university context. While many public university students waited months for their classes to move online, private universities in the city accomplished this in a matter of weeks. Still, many students in rural areas lack access to the internet or technical equipment to even participate online. There are also many students who have had to reduce the classes taken or withdraw from the private universities due to the economic situation.  

Many of these students come from families who depend on earning their income day by day through selling produce in local markets. Since these markets were shut down during the lockdown, families have been forced to find alternative places to sell their products.  Becoming aware of issues like these along with the protests of October has helped students see their connection to deeply rooted systemic problems.  

A Chance to Learn 

Ultimately, CECE aims to model healthy dialogue because they believe it brings glory to the gospel. Staff member Andrea Utreras says that building bridges encourages students to look at the big picture.  

“Jesus is calling every tribe, tongue, and nation. He is calling everyone. And we are to be united in him. We are also called to love people, which means loving those who are different. Loving them as a whole person, and not just because they share our faith.” 

As they challenge students to engage intelligently, Andrea always encourages students to be prepared to grow.  

“You will discover that maybe you are not right at all. Be prepared to be challenged. Be prepared to read more or ask another person. Be okay with saying I don’t know. And if you don’t know, it is okay. It is a chance to learn.”  

What divisive issues are discouraging unity on your campus? What can you do to build bridges between yourself and those who disagree with you?