Region / Country: North America
Listening, learning and serving Hawaii
Next week, students in Hawaii will be spending part of their spring break knee-deep in the rich soil of wetland taro patches. As part of their annual retreat, the students will spend a day helping in the fields in the beautiful Waipi’o Valley. Serving the local Hawaiian community and looking after the land are two of the values particularly important to InterVarsity USA’s native Hawaiian ministry.
As well as studying the Bible and listening to God’s Word, the group will spend time with the elders of the Hawaiian communities in Hilo, listening to them and learning about their past. Learning Hawaiian history helps the students embrace their identity as Hawaiians, while they grow in their faith as Christians. There is much pain in their history, yet also, in Christ, hope for restoration and healing.
The students want to help their friends see that you can be a Christian and be Hawaiian. They want to show that God cares about their culture, their communities and their land.
Join us in praying for them this week:
- Pray that the students would be a blessing as they help in the fields and spend time with the local community.
- Pray that the students would know how to live out their identity as Hawaiian Christians.
- Pray that the ministry would grow this year as students experience the love of Christ.
Thanks for praying with us!
From Myanmar to Nebraska
Alee first met Sha K’ Paw on 20 June — World Refugee Day. He was one of the volunteers, helping out amidst the good-natured chaos of the face-painting, soccer tournament and fashion show. The annual event in Omaha, USA always attracted big crowds, and that year was no exception. Alee, an InterVarsity staff worker, had the responsibility of coordinating the team of volunteers.
They hadn’t had many high school student volunteers in the past, so the fact that these young people were volunteering stood out to her. She got talking to two of them — Sha and his friend, Sunkist — both Karen refugees from Myanmar. It turned out that they were planning on going to the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) that fall. Alee’s ears pricked up! She’d met Karen children before, but she’d never met Karen students going to college. They chatted away. And then she took a stab in the dark: “Are you two followers of Jesus?”
Sha K’ Paw
Sha K’ Paw was born in Myanmar, a country in South Asia marked by a long, devastating civil war. At the age of seven he moved to a refugee camp in Thailand, where he stayed for six years, without his parents. It was a simple life: every day Sha went to school, played with his friends and ate rice with mung bean soup. His dormitory was run by Christians who taught the children to read the Bible and pray every morning and evening.
At 12, Sha moved to the US with his aunt in search of a better life, and was suddenly plunged into a totally different world: the culture, the language, the people — everything was different. He writes:
“I had heard people tell stories about what ‘third countries’ (countries where the refugees settle) are like. I’d heard they have a lot of food, great education, freedom and opportunity. And when I got to the US, I found the stories were true: the country was full of great things. But there were struggles too. I no longer had to worry about my empty stomach, but I had to worry about eating too much. I no longer had to worry about war, but I couldn’t speak English, and I struggled with school and understanding the culture. I no longer had to live in fear, but I still worried about my future.
As a teenager, I looked back and I could see how God had led me safely through life. There had been moments in my life when I’d felt alone and abandoned — but God had been there with me. There had been moments when I’d wanted to quit — but God had strengthened me. Realising deeply how He had been a Father and Saviour to me all along, I accepted Him as my Lord and Saviour, without doubt or question. I was baptised on 5 March 2011, at the age of 15.”
An answer to prayer
As all staff workers know, meeting Christian high school students about to go to university is a golden opportunity. All you need to get is their number, and you can plug them straight into a fellowship group before they’ve even set foot on campus.
But Alee met Sha around the time that her InterVarsity staff team had been praying about reaching every corner of the campus. They’d been reflecting on the way that each person reached is connected to a network or people group. With those prayers in mind, Alee realised the opportunity in front of her. Release, not recruit. That was what InterVarsity student ministry was all about. These two young Christians could be added into an existing, thriving fellowship group at UNO. Or they could be empowered and equipped to start their own, reaching out to other Karen refugees. It was a no-brainer.
After meeting Alee at the World Refugee Day, Sha and a few of his friends were connected to the staff workers at UNO. They bonded over mookatah (Thai grill) and after arriving at UNO as freshers, started studying the Bible together. Sha and a few others were discipled, and it wasn’t long before they were leading the Bible studies themselves and telling their friends about Jesus: “My friends need to know that Jesus loves them; someone needs to help them know that, and I guess that person is me.”
The group grew, as more Karen students heard about the fellowship group and joined in. Sha reflects on that time of growth:
“I continued to grow little by little as I was learning and leading at the same time. A group of us also prayed about God’s mission on our campus and we saw growth over the past year. It was the investment of our staff workers in us that helped us grow, and of course the Holy Spirit who led us.”
God’s faithfulness for pilgrim people
Almost all of the Karen students are the first in their families to study in the US. Most, like Sha, grew up in refugee camps before moving to America. They arrived with little or no English. Their parents would have had even less. It was up to the children to help their parents adapt to the new culture, act as interpreters, go to the bank, read the mail. The pressures of being displaced are all-too familiar for these young people.
The group of around 25–30 refugee students at UNO have been studying the book of Exodus, learning from the story of God’s displaced people. Having seen the faithfulness of God in the Bible and in their own stories of suffering, the students want others to know Him too. Some of them have even started reaching out to other refugee communities around them. One student, Manger, said:
“I am encouraged by my experience as a former refugee and a first-generation college student. I experienced God’s love throughout my life and I want to share it with others. I want to see revival in my community — at church, at home and at school.”
It is amazing to see how a casual conversation at a community event a few years ago has grown into a thriving student ministry. But this story is as challenging as it is encouraging. Are we, like Alee, praying for opportunities to reach new corners of the campus? How many more unengaged networks could be reached this year if more of us adopted the release, not recruit mentality? Are we looking to share the faithfulness of God with those around us?
Repenting together and saying ‘yes’ to the call of Jesus
Matthew picked up his brick. Lit up above him was a huge sculpture depicting Babylon. But it wasn’t old Babylon – it was today’s Babylon. At the top of the sculpture were pictures of the comforts and luxuries of modern life – wealth, technology, fashion, food… Below them were pictures depicting the reality – the exploitation and enslavement of the many people in our world who pay the cost to make the luxury possible.
This was part of Urbana18 – a mission conference for students from the USA and Canada.
Engaging with the book of Revelation, 10,000 students were invited to take a brick to represent their own complicity in Babylon and commit to making choices that say ‘yes’ to Jesus. Each brick was printed with the words:
“Come out of Babylon, my people.” Revelation 18:4
This was just one of many ways students were asked to respond to the book of Revelation and step into mission during the week. Matthew commented:
“Hearing the stories of everyone being convicted to listen to and act on God’s callings has been so immensely encouraging. It’s made me think about how I can turn my faith from acknowledgement into repentance and action.”
Pray with us for students returning to their universities after attending Urbana.
- Pray for courage to make decisions that say ‘yes’ to Jesus on their campuses.
- Pray for many to respond to the call to mission – in their universities, workplaces and to the ends of the earth.
- The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
See more from Urbana missions conference, including most of the plenary sessions at: urbana.org
Thanks for praying with us!
Meet two students committed to seeing a witness on their campus
Laura and Danae, students at the College of New Caledonia in Canada, could easily feel out of their depth. They have no local staff worker and few Christian students. But they’re committed to seeing a Christian witness established on their campus. That’s why this semester, as leaders of a new InterVarsity Canada group, they’ve been organising regular outreach events. The students they’ve met are turning out to be more open than they’d expected:
“We’ve had the privilege of getting to know a young Hindu student from India who started coming along to our Bible studies. One day, while we were reading a passage in Mark’s Gospel, I asked him: ‘Why are you here? What are you looking for from this group?’ He replied: ‘Truth. I’m trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not.
‘This was so encouraging to me. God is placing a discontent on the hearts of students here and giving them a hunger to discover the truth. We are so thankful we can be a part of this beautiful journey alongside our classmates.”
Join us this week in praying for God’s work on this campus:
- Pray for Laura and Danae to continue leading the student group boldly and faithfully. Pray for new leaders to take over from them when they leave their university next year.
- Pray for this Indian student and for other seekers to come to know Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
- They’ll be running a course for seekers in the new year. Pray that students would be interested to go along and that many would come to repentance and faith through it.
Thanks for praying with us!
From the classroom to the campus
Callum was a regular at church, even through his teenage years. He played the drums in the church youth band once a month, and in his final year of high school he was one of the leaders at the Friday night youth club. The younger boys looked up to him. Christian family, summer camps, youth group — he would be fine at university, no question.
But Callum wasn’t fine at university. He never really settled into a church — it was a bit of a walk from where he was living, and the morning service started at 9.30am (much too early after a night-out). He went along once or twice to the student fellowship group in the first semester, but they kept going on about evangelism and it made him feel uncomfortable. He never went totally off the rails, he just slowly drifted away. The change was so gradual, he hardly noticed it. Finals, football and a new girlfriend took up all his time. Four years later when he graduated and landed a good job in the city, it didn’t even cross his mind to find a church. He no longer called himself a Christian anyway.
The alarming reality
Callum’s story is based on the story of thousands of young people in Canada.
A survey carried out in 2011 showed that two out of three young adults (aged 18–34) who had been raised in the church in Canada, were no longer attending. The survey results shook the Christian community across the country. The drop-out rate was alarmingly high. Since then, InterVarsity Canada have been taking action to try to reverse the trend: three years ago they recruited staff to re-pioneer high schools work in a couple of its big cities. Their focus would be on getting the students into the Bible, encouraging them to think missionally and helping them to transition well into university.
Laying the foundations
It was not going to be a quick or easy task. Once healthy and thriving, high schools ministry in Canada had declined in the 1990s and early 2000s, as schools became less open and various staff members left. They needed to start again from scratch.
In Toronto, Inter-Varsity staff spent a few years concentrating on building relationships and trust with local pastors and headteachers. When doors started to open up, they found that the familiar campus ministry model would need to be adapted for the high school context. For one thing, the students’ lunch breaks were short. They’d only have about 15 minutes for a Bible study, so the passages would have to be chosen carefully — a short parable or just a few verses. The staff were keen to equip the students with skills to handle the Bible faithfully on their own. So they taught the students how to ask simple questions of the passage: What could they observe? What did it mean? How could they apply it to their own lives? These were tools they could use in their personal Bible study times or in leading groups in the future.
42-week mission trip
Helping high school students develop a missional mindset was key. But how? Toronto staff had an idea. They knew that most students would be familiar with the concept of a short-term mission trip — one or two weeks in the summer serving overseas or downtown in the city. Staff decided to capitalise on that and launched the idea of a 42-week mission trip. The school campus was their mission field for every week they were at school. They encouraged the young people to team up, to pray, to survey and plan, to try something, and then to debrief together — just as they would do on a short-term mission trip. They asked the students to consider where they were already involved in school life — a sports team, a jazz band, a social action club — and then encouraged them to live and think missionally in those communities.
Slowly, the students started to get on board. The weekly lunchtime slots became evangelistic opportunities, while planning and prayer moved to the mornings or after school. 60–80 students came along to Christmas and Easter events, organised and led by the students themselves. One group of guys ran a ‘pop and prayer’ event, where they handed out free pop to teachers and students, and then offered to pray for them. One girl finished school and then decided to take a year out serving Inter-Varsity school Christian fellowships — she started leading a Bible study for Muslim students.
Developing Bible-based, mission-minded high school students was one thing; but would they stick at it when they transitioned to university?
To help give the high school students a fighting chance of transitioning well into university life, a new initiative was launched in Toronto this year: Transition 101. Different youth ministries teamed up to host an event at which Christian university students would come and meet high school students. There were seminars on a range of topics, including how to survive at university, apologetics, spiritual disciplines and mental health.
It was also an opportunity for the high schoolers to make connections with older students already there, students who could encourage them to keep the missional mindset as they started at university in a few months’ time. Research carried out in 2018 found that young adults going on to further education are four times more likely to connect with a Christian campus group or chaplaincy if someone from their home church tries to make a connection for them. Initiatives like Transition 101 will, God-willing, help reduce the drop-out rate.
Hitting the ground running
There are already stories of students transitioning well. Noah is one of those. He’s just started university in Canada, having been involved in InterVarsity ministry in high school. He writes about his experience as a freshman so far:
“Having been part of a Christian group in high school, I was able to learn about on-campus ministry opportunities before getting to university. That made it easier to get involved once university started. I knew that I wanted my faith to continue to grow and my relationship with Jesus to deepen. Looking back on my first month of university, my main encouragement for future freshmen would be to get involved with on-campus ministry and find a church to call home as soon as possible, before the semester gets into full swing.”
InterVarsity Canada staff are praying that there will be more stories like Noah’s, of students arriving at university ready to hit the ground running. In such a vast country, staff-workers are spread thinly. If student ministry is going to flourish it’s essential to get Christian students on board as early as possible with the vision of reaching out on campus. Similarly, it’s important to invest in graduates as they transition into the working world, so that they, too, can hit the ground running in their workplaces, envisioned to live and speak for Jesus.
InterVarsity Canada President Nigel Pollock reflected:
“We are increasingly seeing that discipleship is a process from early teens to late 20s. Student ministry — and in particular being involved in leadership in a campus group — is a really significant opportunity for students to grow in a different environment which complements and adds to their local church experience. Mentoring students through the key transitions from high school to university and from university into work makes an enormous difference to the effectiveness of student ministry and the impact of the gospel in people’s lives.”
Only with continued investment in these critical transition stages might the trends be reversed. Pray with us that this might be so, in this generation.
The full survey reports can be found here:
Jesus in 90 minutes
15 students. 3 rehearsals. 16 chapters in 90 minutes.
Students have been performing The Mark Drama for more than ten years. From Brazil to Belgium, from Chile to Latvia, the impact of The Mark Drama has been tremendous.
The concept is simple. 15 students without props, costumes, training or microphones, acting out the gospel of Mark. They memorise the sequence of the events of Jesus’ life, and then improvise the lines. They rehearse. They invite their friends to come. And then they let God’s Word do the rest.
The first performance of The Mark Drama took place in 2004 in Austria. It’s since been performed by Christian student groups around the globe, as students have passed on the vision to others. Groups with more experience have helped out those putting it on for the first time.
The Mark Drama leaves a lasting impression on the actors as well as the audience. The gospel story comes to life for them in a fresh way. Students from across the world who’ve recently been involved in The Mark Drama performances shared their reflections.
Kathi, special needs education student; actor (Pharisee)
Every week I met with one of my fellow actors to talk through the chapters and to learn the most important titles of each chapter by heart. And that was really one of the main things in experiencing the drama: studying the structure of God’s word to be able to remember it during the drama. Weeks after the performance I still pictured certain scenes when a person talked about any passage from Mark or what Jesus did when he walked on this earth. Suddenly the book is not just a story but you remember your own experience with it.
I would not want to miss this experience and I would do it again, for there is still more to learn.
Raul, engineering student; director
Having the opportunity to direct is special because you get to enjoy every detail of what the actors are learning and you see it transforming them. It was beautiful to see students coming from different parts of the country to form one group of actors. For some it was their first time to get involved in a GEU project. Putting on The Mark Drama was instrumental in reviving student work in this region and encouraging students to do mission. It was performed to a room full of students. Many were interested to know more about the movement. Each person there had the opportunity to see Jesus’ miracles, to navigate through rough waters, to experience the multiplication of bread and fish. Every word of Mark came to life!
Seth, mechanical engineering student; actor (Jesus)
The “Crucify Him” scene — how can I even describe it? Being in the midst of friends and classmates — people I’d spent the last two years of my life with — screaming for my death; and then knowing that if anyone deserved to be in the position Jesus was in, it was me. The only reason I don’t have to stand there in real life is because the God of the universe, who made the moon and stars, decided that he himself would stand in for me. Even now several months later I can’t talk about this without breaking down in tears of gratitude.
Débora, international relations student; actor
When I decided to participate, I had no idea what was really waiting for me. It’s amazing how each moment had something special. I already knew the gospel of Mark but was surprised by how much I learned through this experience.
We ended up doing the second performance in a college, well-known for its aversion to the gospel. Then on the same day there was news of a planned attack in the building. It was unrelated to us, but even so, we weren’t sure whether to cancel the event or not. Our emotions intensified a thousand times! But we prayed and decided to move ahead. At the start of the performance there were only about 20 people in the audience. But by the end there were about 60 — many more people than we had expected, to the point that the chairs were not enough! We could hardly believe what God had done there. Many of them were touched and came to thank us for the presentation, speaking of the impact it had had on their lives.
Sam, 1st year master’s student in teaching; actor (Jesus)
I’d acted in amateur theatre before, but at the end of a production I’d always had these useless lines in my head. It was so much better to finish a production and have Jesus’ words memorised! It’s been super helpful in Bible studies, conversations about Jesus, evangelism and my personal walk with Christ to know Mark’s Gospel so well. Playing the role of Jesus made me think much more about the words that I’d read so many times before — it forced me to think about what he really meant, and how he might have said them. It also gave me a greater appreciation of what Jesus went through — as he taught and lived with his disciples who took so long to understand (just like us!), as he was constantly challenged by the religious leaders of the day and how he struggled with knowing he would die and take on God’s wrath, and yet he still ultimately submitted to his Father’s will. Acting in The Mark Drama has left me with a greater understanding of who Jesus is, and what he has done for me.
God continues to use The Mark Drama both to strengthen Christian students around the world and to draw unbelievers to know him more. If you ever have the chance to watch it — or even better, to be in it — take it! It comes highly recommended by these students and plenty more who’ve been involved over the years.
If you’re interested in putting on The Mark Drama yourself then visit The Mark Drama website to find out more.
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Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
It was an unlikely friendship. Nabeel was a devout Muslim; David a committed Christian.
Even though David knew nothing about Islam, he believed that Jesus is for everyone and boldly prayed that Nabeel would one day come to faith in Jesus.
In bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi tells the story of his dramatic journey from Islam to Christianity, and of the faithful witness of his university friend, David Wood.
Nabeel and David hit it off straight away. They met as undergraduates through their university public speaking and debate team in 2001. They studied together, ate together, did life together. They talked about their lectures and their families and their weekends. And they talked about their faith. To begin with, neither of them knew much about the religion of the other. But they learned quickly. Their debates were robust and sometimes heated. But their friendship was such that it could withstand even the stormiest of their disagreements. Nabeel wrote:
“…it didn’t matter how rough our relationship got, because we were living life together… A surface-level relationship might snap under the tension of disagreement, but by living our lives together, we were forced to reconcile. Of course, beyond mere proximity, we really did love and care for one another. Like true brothers, even after our biggest knock-down, drag-out arguments, we were still brothers.”
Of course, David knew it would take more than friendship and debating for Nabeel to become a Christian. It would take a miracle. So he kept praying.
Praying for the impossible
“God, please show Nabeel the truth!” David’s weeks of praying for his friend turned into months and years. Nabeel was resolute in his conviction that he would never — indeed could never — become a Christian. Moments of apparent breakthrough would be followed by weeks of unwavering resistance. Nabeel’s conversion seemed utterly inconceivable.
But something changed after one significant evening spent discussing the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross. Nabeel later wrote:
“It was as if, rather suddenly, a veil of certainty was lifted, and I was seeing the potential of the world in a new light. It was like I had been wearing coloured glasses my entire life, and they had been taken off for the first time. Everything looked different, and I wanted to examine it all more carefully. Maybe, just maybe, I should start considering it a remote possibility that the Christian message could possibly be true.”
It was four years before Nabeel reached the conclusion that indeed it was true and chose to give his life to Christ. For David it was a long journey of praying, persevering and waiting.
Love that perseveres
Through those long four years, why didn’t David give up and walk away?
At the time there were Christians who encouraged him to do just that. They told him he should concentrate on others who might be more open, or quicker to convert. But David’s motivation was not ultimately that Nabeel would convert to Christianity. It was love:
“You’re preaching the gospel because you love them, not because they’re a missionary opportunity. You’re preaching the gospel because you want what’s best for them; you want them to have the relationship with Christ that you have.”
It might have been easier to avoid the heated conversations. That’s what many of us do. But that isn’t really love. David comments:
“If you really care about your Muslim friends, shouldn’t you want them to know the truth? Sometimes we might decide not to tell them because it might hurt their feelings — but that’s like saying their feelings are more important than them knowing the truth about God.”
God uses ordinary people
David Wood was just an ordinary Christian student. He didn’t always know the answers; he didn’t always say the right thing, but God used him in an extraordinary way to impact Nabeel.
Many of us would consider ourselves ill-equipped to share the gospel with Muslims, ignorant of the key questions or unsure of how to begin. Nabeel wrote:
“I have met a few people who, after reading this story, thought they needed to know all the answers about Islam before connecting with Muslims. That is certainly not the case. David barely knew anything about Islam when we started talking. What people need before befriending Muslims is not advanced knowledge of Islam but a willingness to discover what is important to their Muslim friends and the desire to invest the time to learn and discuss those matters as the relationship progresses.”
Are there Muslims on your campus or on your street? How might you start to get to know them better? Who could you start praying for? Let’s be people who make the most of the opportunities God gives us, because he is using ordinary Christians to bring Muslims to know Him.
What happened next
Nabeel went on to have a global public ministry, testifying to the truth of the risen Christ. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus has sold 450,000 copies and has been translated into 28 languages. Nabeel had a tremendous impact on thousands of people, both Christians and Muslims, through his books, lectures and public debates. He went to be with Jesus in September 2017, after a year-long battle with cancer. Find out more about him at: nabeelqureshi.com.
David now heads up an apologetics ministry, Acts 17. He continues to share the gospel with Muslims and has taken part in many public debates, often in front of a university audience.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more stories about ministry to Muslims from IFES movements around the world. To receive them in your email inbox, along with prayer requests from around the world, sign up here for IFES weekly emails.