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?

Bridging the gap through art

Laura had always dreamed of doing creative outreach with her ABU Puerto Rico fellowship. When she heard that other movements in Latin America had organised an arts festival, she was inspired. With funding from the IFES Innovation and Evangelism project, Laura and a group of 20 students organized a week-long arts festival. The festival featured a range of activities including a series of talks on subjects like ‘art and social justice’, and Bible studies.  They wanted to get students thinking about the God who created them, and how Christian values motivate a lifestyle that cares about society.

Through the week they kept hearing: why are you doing this? The students on campus were surprised to find that Christians cared about social issues and the arts. It opened the door for dialogue. In Puerto Rico, many young people feel over-saturated with religion.  The island is traditionally Catholic. They think they know the gospel already. But a creative event like this bridged the gap, breaking down barriers towards evangelical Christians.

Students have found that art can get people sharing deeply – whether or not the artwork is overtly ‘Christian’ in nature. That has been the experience of ABU staff worker and professional artist José.

He believes art can create space for conversation and can deepen relationships:

“Art is common ground for humans. It’s a shared language. It allows dialogue. When people see my artwork, they want to know what’s behind it. And then you have permission to talk about almost anything, and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable.”

During COVID-19, art has created opportunities for outreach online. Movements around the world are using films, literature, and artwork as subject material for online discussion groups. The exploratory nature of these discussions often allows them to take a spiritual turn. This week let’s pray for movements like ABUB who are using art to spark dialogue about faith.

  • Pray for groups who have taken their art outreach online. Pray for fruitful discussions about faith.
  • Pray that students and staff with creative gifts will feel encouraged to incorporate them in their ministry.
  • Pray that non-believing students will feel comfortable opening up to IFES students and staff through engaging in art.


In Brazil, student initiative drives ministry.  Student leaders act as missionaries in their schools, train other students, and take part in regional and national governance. So, you can imagine the concern when the movement was forced to cancel their largest student training conference due to the pandemic.  Jessica Grant, an ABUB staff member, says that canceling the conference meant missing an entire generation of student leaders. She says,

“Having fewer students trained and willing to be regional student leaders means that there are fewer people helping new groups. Our staff workers alone could not articulate the groups we have nowadays. We depend on students to make this student mission alive.”

In response to the cancellation, staff workers and regional student leaders began to think about a new way to ensure that a generation would not be lost. As a result, they created a four-week online Missionary Formation Course. They based the theme on the post-exile period in Ezra and Nehemiah, where God guided his people out of captivity and called them to rebuild the wall and temple. ABUB leaders likened this biblical period to the new reality, where students are facing the challenge of rebuilding ministry in a new context.

 Jessica says,

“The course is helping students bring meaning to a moment that before felt lost and unstable, to understand that God has called them to act in this situation.”

As the course wraps up this week, let’s pray that ABUB students will feel empowered to continue ministry in a new reality.  

  •  Pray that students continue the mission actively and impact their context even if there are no face-to-face classes this year. Pray that they will have courage, strength and creative ideas to reach their non-Christian friends.
  • Pray for the participants of the course. Pray that any students who did not previously know ABUB will become active in their schools and universities.
  • Pray that God will help ABUB to learn how to continue to train students in this new and uncertain future.

Why pioneering student ministry matters

José* is a busy medical student in the multicultural Mexican city of San Cristobal. He loves Jesus and wants to share the good news with his friends. But it’s hard. José has a part-time job to fund his studies, on top of a busy workload at university. His faith is tested by the huge variety of ideologies and religious practices surrounding him. And José doesn’t have much support as there is not yet an established IFES ministry anywhere in the region.

Over the last two years, the IFES Breaking New Ground project has been supporting pioneering work in this region. COMPA Mexico staff worker Daniel has visited the area several times on pioneering trips and is now preparing to move there with his young family. Meeting students like José helped him to see the need for an established student ministry:

“There is a great need to disciple the new generations – those who embraced the gospel years ago but never received follow-up or training. Students like José need deep roots in the faith and the support of the body of Christ if they are to serve the university and impact society.”

Please join us in prayer for God’s work in San Cristobal:

  • Pray for the practical and financial needs of Daniel and his family as they prepare to move to San Cristobal to help pioneer a student ministry.
  • Thank God for José’s hunger to know Him more and share Him with his friends. Pray that José would have wisdom in managing his time and that he would grow strong spiritual foundations this year.
  • IFES is currently supporting the launch of 51 new student fellowships in Mexico. Pray that all of these new groups would become established and thriving.

*name changed

Miracles for student actors in Brazil

When I first considered taking part in The Mark Drama, I knew it was going to be an interesting challenge. But I never imagined it would be one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.

Immersed in Jesus’ life

On the first day of our ABUB Brazil student leadership training, we watched The Mark Drama, a 90-minute dramatic retelling of the whole of Mark’s gospel. It was presented by students from different regions. It was great to experience how The Mark Drama gives the feeling of being immersed in Jesus’ life.

After two weeks of intensive Bible studies, teaching and workshops on ‘The path of the cross’, looking at Mark’s gospel, the student leaders split up. Most students went to serve local churches or NGOs. But I was one of 15 students who joined the Mark Drama group.

Miracles first-hand

After three rehearsals we had the first presentation. It was quite an experience! 90 minutes before it began, one of the actors fell sick. We couldn’t do anything – except trust! We started to pray and worship, knowing that God does everything right in His way.

With 15 minutes to spare, the actress who was sick, stood up, prayed with us and was healed! We could start the performance, trusting God to speak through us. Despite some mistakes, we saw God acting in that place and many people were interested in knowing more.

It was a great reminder to us that Jesus calms the storms in our hearts and does miracles.

We thought it couldn’t get any better… but more was to come!

ABUB Brazil

An even better miracle

On the second day, the venue was full – people filled the corridors and had to stand. At the end of the performance, we noticed a student giving his life to Christ, declaring the same things we had just been praying. We discovered that his friends had been praying for him and sharing the gospel with him for a long time. He had gone through some very hard moments, but through the drama God revealed Himself as his Lord and Saviour. We were so grateful to God!

The whole experience of doing the Mark Drama gave us a fresh, deep and personal experience of who Jesus is. It helped us understand more about Him and renewed our faith.

All of the students at the recent ABUB Brazil student leadership training were encouraged to organise performances of The Mark Drama on their campuses this year.

Student Stephanie leaves her social bubble

What had led to these girls living in shelters? What was life like for them? Stephanie listened to their sad stories. Girls so young and already with such heavy luggage, she thought.

It was the third week of the recent ABUB Brazil student leadership training. After two weeks of intensive Bible study, teaching and workshops, the 48 students spread out across the city to serve local NGOs, churches and mission organisations. Why? To learn that to lead is to serve.

Graduate Stephanie was helping an NGO that works with teenagers from difficult backgrounds. A week of gardening, painting and talking to the young people left a deep impression on her. Familiar Bible passages struck her in new ways – the call to weep with those who weep, and the promise of the new creation.

She reflected:

The experience of leaving my social bubble and getting involved with other realities made me reflect on the role of Christianity in the face of injustices and social inequality.

Will you pray for these ABUB students and graduates this week?

  • Pray that the students’ leadership training and serving experiences would shape the way they live out their faith on campus this year. Pray that they would find ways to show compassion to those who are suffering and speak out against injustice.
  • Pray that these student leaders would serve their student groups faithfully this year. Pray that they would have courage and creativity in evangelism. Pray that through them the movement will continue to expand.

Could a city of violence be transformed by the gospel?

It was a huge decision to make, and Cecy’s head was full of questions. What would it be like to live there? What is the university context? What do students struggle with? What are the churches like? Is God calling me here?

Cecy made her first exploratory trip to La Paz, a small city in Mexico, in November last year. ‘La Paz’ means ‘peace’. But it’s far from peaceful. It’s a dangerous place, with high rates of crime, violence and homicide. COMPA, the IFES movement in Mexico, doesn’t have any student ministry happening there. So Cecy went praying that God would make the way ahead clear – and He did!

Discovering La Paz

La Paz has at least 18 universities, some public, some private. Cecy had the opportunity to meet several students and get to know their context. What are the challenges they face as Christian students? One thing they mentioned was the rejection they’re facing, being labelled as homophobic because of the negative impressions people have of the Church.

Another student, Sara, spoke about how difficult it is to do mission alone. She was very happy to hear that Cecy would be coming to support and equip her to share the gospel with her friends.

Cecy was encouraged to find that the local churches were interested to hear about COMPA’s vision and were positive about collaborating.

Cecy plans to move there in May to begin the pioneering work. She is now praying for God to provide a team to work together, a suitable home for the ministry and the necessary finances.

IFES is currently supporting the pioneering of 51 new groups in Mexico through the Breaking New Ground project. Find out more about this project and read more stories of pioneering work around the world.

Give today to support IFES pioneering initiatives on unreached campuses in Latin America and around the world.

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Aisha goes back to her roots

The love story of Cecilia and Franco began while they were university students in Chile. Both of them were student leaders in GBUCh, the local IFES movement, where Cecilia had recently come to Christ. Before Franco graduated, his parents moved with him to the United States to start a new life, and the two students pursued their own paths. But a few years later, their paths crossed again. They got married and Cecilia moved to the US where they had a daughter, Aisha.

Growing up in the US, Aisha was familiar with the struggles facing migrant families – the language barrier, loneliness and cultural differences. It was tough.

But today Aisha is thankful for her migrant background. A recent graduate, she’s now preparing to move back to Chile for a couple of years to help serve the IFES movement there. Aisha particularly wants to help GBUCh reach out to the many immigrant students, recently arrived in Chile from Venezuela, Haiti and other neighbouring countries. She’ll be working in four different cities, some of the poorest in Chile, and three of which have no other GBUCh staff at all.

Will you pray for her?

  • Thank God for the way he has prepared Aisha for this role and for her willingness to go. Pray for her final preparations, support-raising and move to Chile in February 2020.
  • Pray that Aisha would be able to help GBUCh students effectively reach out to students from all different backgrounds. Pray that many would come to faith in 2020.
  • The protests in Chile are on-going and sometimes violent. Pray for peace to be restored.

Aisha will be serving in GBUCh Chile as part of the InterVarsity Link program.

Thanks for praying with us!

How IFES Governance Development is making a difference

Nico met Jesus through Toto while they were colleagues, and the two became friends. Some time after that, Toto quit his job and accepted a role as the General Secretary of the IFES movement in Uruguay, CBUU. Nico was still a young Christian, but he had expertise in administrative and management issues, so he volunteered to be part of the CBUU board.

He knew it could get awkward. His friend had now become his employee. How would he maintain impartiality in the face of decision making? How could he say yes or no freely while preserving their friendship?

This is where the IFES Governance Development training came in. It helped them clarify crucial questions: what is the relationship between the board and the general secretary? How should they deal with conflict? How are their roles different? How could they work together to advance student ministry in Uruguay?

These questions are crucial for every IFES movement board and general secretary to work through. Healthy boards lead to healthy student movements. It’s that important.

Will you pray for the work of the Governance Development team?

  • Pray for CBUU board members this weekend during their Governance Coaching Program, led by Carmen, one of the Governance Development team members. Pray that they would be helped to govern well, making wise decisions and strengthening the national movement.
  • Pray for recent and upcoming Governance training for the movements in Niger, Lithuania, Colombia, Gabon, the DRC, Antigua & Barbuda, Ghana, Burundi and Guatemala.
  • Pray for the boards and individual board members now taking Governance Development e-learning courses.

Thanks for praying with us!

Engaging the university as Christ’s ambassadors

Vega Baja, a small coastal town in northern Puerto Rico, sees thousands of locals and tourists flock to its beautiful beaches every year. Some go to enjoy the wildlife and scenery, others the water sports and swimming. But last weekend, 20 ABU Puerto Rico students arrived in Vega Baja for a very different reason: they were there to look at the Bible.

During their annual retreat, in a rented beach house by the sea, the students used the IFES resource The Word Among Us to dig into Scripture. They wanted to trace God’s big story through the Bible and see how it fits with our story today, and particularly how it relates to our involvement in society.

Many of the group members are activists. They’re involved with other university societies and causes – political, environmental and human rights-related. During the retreat the students spent time wrestling with big questions, asking themselves what it looks like to engage with the reality of their society with a biblical worldview.

Join us in praying for them:

  • Thank God for the fellowship, teaching and good discussions the students enjoyed. Pray that they would continue to dig into Scripture throughout the year.
  • Pray that the students would be actively involved in campus life and societies with a Christian mind, as Christ’s ambassadors.