Thanking God when bricks are flying

Niloy’s friends don’t always come to BSFB fellowship meetings. Some Christian students in Bangladesh are from Muslim families who don’t approve of their faith. But even those from Christian families are often forbidden from attending! Why? Some are concerned that their children are too busy already with a huge university workload. Others are worried for their children’s safety: when students meet, they risk having bricks or sticks thrown at them by aggressive non-believers.

In addition to these social obstacles, the COVID-19 restrictions and the devastating Cyclone Amphan will create more challenges for Niloy and his friends to share the gospel or fellowship in the coming months.

However, prayers answered in the past fuel their encouragement for the future. Earlier this year Niloy and his friends were able to hold a BSFB event on the theme of thanksgiving. The money for the event came in just the day before! Niloy remembers:

“Through this program, we realised that we should always rely on God and show our gratitude to him. It was a blessed day. Many students even accepted the Lord as Saviour that day! Since then I’ve seen students are connecting to God with a stronger faith.”

Let’s pray for Niloy and BSFB Bangladesh this week:

  • Thank God for the 1,800 high school and university students involved in BSFB Bangladesh, and particularly for those who professed faith this year.
  • Pray that God would help these students to find ways to keep meeting despite the enormous challenges of COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan.
  • Pray that students would remain thankful and faithful to God, despite the persecution and challenges they face.
  • Pray that God would provide a way for two regional camps and a governance training for the BSFB board to go ahead this year, perhaps postponed or online.
  • Pray for opportunities to start ministry in the country’s medical schools.

Life in a stairless multi-storey car park

My mother had always told me: education is your greatest indestructible asset in life. As I walked around the university campus that first afternoon, I felt a wave of anticipation. I had worked hard to get here. My results proved it. And now, this was it. This was my break – my chance to finally move ahead in the world, my chance to get that indestructible asset and make my mother proud.

But the dream didn’t last long. That night in the student hostel, the harsh reality hit.

My accent gave me away first. Then they asked what’s your good name? And of course, they knew. I was a Dalit. Some of the boys started mocking me. They told me I was only there so that the university could meet their quota for Dalit caste enrolments. Quota. It became my unwanted nickname.

This wasn’t new for me. I’d been the victim of discrimination my whole life. But somehow I’d hoped university might be different.

Lawyers and toilet cleaners

For many students in India, the caste system will significantly shape their university experience – and indeed their whole life. But for students outside India, caste might be an unfamiliar concept.

The caste system is India’s ancient societal hierarchy. It divides up the people into different classes, or castes. A student from a high caste is the most privileged in terms of their status, education and career prospects. They might become politicians or lawyers or doctors.

The Dalit caste – illustrated above – comes below the four main castes. They are known as the ‘untouchables’. Typically, they do the ‘untouchable’ jobs, like disposing of dead animals and cleaning toilets. A young person from the Dalit caste has very little chance of getting a place at university. They cannot change their caste. The system has been described as a multi-storey car park with no stairs or elevators – no way of moving up or down. You stay in the caste you were born into.

There are other disadvantaged castes in India, referred to collectively as Other Backward Class (OBC).

The devastating results

But what about the student in our story? Didn’t he make it to university?

What his classmates said is likely to be true. Government and educational institutions now reserve a certain number of positions for people from ‘backward’ castes, in an attempt to reverse some of the disadvantage they have in society. But still, the issue remains. Discrimination persists, with devastating results.

In May 2019, a young graduate doctor committed suicide after allegedly being harassed by three senior doctors of higher castes. It is by no means the first story of its kind. But far more common are the stories that never make it into the news. The scornful looks, the cruel comments, the unfair exam marking, the frustrated dreams: this is everyday life for young OBC people in India.

Lakshmi Prasad – iStock

Christians who care

So what can be done? What is the biblical response to caste? How should Christian students respond today? Two UESI graduates feel deeply about this issue and shared their reflections:

Get talking!

Ignorance about the issues surrounding caste is a huge problem. Many universities in India already have anti-caste engagement groups. Christian students should join such groups and contribute to the conversations with a biblical worldview. Or Christians should start such groups if they don’t already exist – as we did in the southern Indian city of Chennai. The university is a fantastic place to facilitate dialogue and challenge the status quo. It should be Christian students taking the initiative to speak out, inviting students from all different castes into the conversation.

Make the invisible visible

One powerful sign that we have the love of our invisible God, is when we love our visible neighbours impartially. We may be studying alongside the disadvantaged and oppressed without ever thinking: are they visible? Are their concerns talked about? Is their worldview represented? Are their research papers recognised?

Christian students should do what they can to facilitate an environment where students from all caste backgrounds are included, heard and respected. When caste-based violence goes unreported or university professors display caste-based favouritism, it is for the Christian student to make the invisible visible.

Steward our university learning

The negative effects of the caste system can be seen throughout every aspect of society. Will the Christian student choose to use their discipline to help? Could an engineer find innovative sanitation solutions to replace manual scavenging? Could an arts student create a movie or a piece of music that subverts a certain caste stigma or prejudice, or that celebrates the beauty or unity found in the culture of another caste? Could an architect look into slum development housing projects? Could a sociologist re-write the history books to represent the disadvantaged authentically?

The possibilities to steward our university learning to help the disadvantaged are endless!

Shape our student groups

What do our student fellowship groups say about our attitude to the oppressed around and among us? Are we making an effort to study, understand and discuss inter-caste histories in our group? How accountable is our group with regards to fighting caste and similar social discriminations? Do we include a teaching of caste as part of Christian discipleship curriculum to young believers? How inclusive are our student, graduate and staff groups? Do we take measures for affirmative action and intentional representation?

It is clear that such an engrained social reality will not be changed overnight. But, as in every culture and society, Christian students and graduates have the responsibility and mandate to be agents of change in their generation.

He’d never seen a Christian before

It would have been difficult to guess his age. His face was weathered, his tattoos faded, and he spoke with the quiet wisdom of one who had seen and suffered a lot. Only when talking about Jesus and his love for the students of his country did the brightness of his eyes betray his youth.

Sonam* shared his remarkable story.

The truth he’d been longing for

Sonam had not had an easy life. His parents had divorced. Most of his childhood was spent with neighbours or relatives. He often wondered why he’d been brought into the world, why he’d ended up with this family. He kept bad company and numbed his pain with alcohol. His family disapproved of him; his schoolfriends didn’t like him.

At high school, someone invited him to go to a Christian camp. Sonam had heard of Christians before, but he’d never seen one. Everyone he knew was a Buddhist. Compelled by curiosity, he decided to go along. That was where he first heard the gospel. A God who loved him? A God who accepted him and had a purpose for his life? This was incredibly good news! Sonam accepted Christ and found the unconditional love of a Father he had been longing for.

Taylor Simpson – Unsplash


Today Sonam is pioneering a new student movement in his country in South Asia. There are now Bible studies happening in a few colleges and one graduate fellowship. Sonam travels across the country on the back of a truck, visiting the students on different campuses. It’s not easy. The groups are not allowed to meet openly on campus. Those who convert to Christianity will face discrimination in society and opposition from family. Some keep it a secret, reading their Bibles after everyone in the house has gone to bed. Their parents might stop paying their tuition fees if they find out.

As the only staff member, Sonam is praying for wisdom in recruiting a board for the movement. He would love to see the movement affiliate to IFES at the next World Assembly.

Big dreams

That’s not his only dream. Sonam dreams of seeing Christian students going on to change their communities: an end to street fights, drug trafficking, alcohol abuse, divorce. He dreams of seeing Christian students impacting their churches, working together across denominations as Bible-saturated, missional churches. He dreams of seeing Christian students choosing to move to the rural areas after graduating, where 40% of people have never even heard the name of Jesus before.

These dreams fuel his prayers and dictate his next steps: recruiting staff, preparing for the student camp, investing in new student leaders, finding a permanent ministry base, starting a Bible study in the yet-unreached campuses.

Join us in praying that Sonam’s dreams would become a reality.

*name changed

Learning to tackle difficult questions

Kevin studies civil engineering in Nepal. He is one of only three Christians in his college. His friends are mostly Hindus and like to ask him difficult questions about his faith – the kind of questions that could easily unsettle you in your convictions.

A couple of months ago, the questioning intensified. And Kevin had an idea: he decided to write down all the questions his friends were asking. Then he took along his list of questions to an interactive event on worldview, organised by NBCBS, the IFES movement in Nepal. Kevin learned there about apologetics and grew in confidence to tackle the difficult questions he was asked by his friends. Since then he’s even started writing blog articles on apologetics to share with other Christian students, so that they too can defend their faith when it’s challenged by difficult questions.

Let’s pray together to our God who hears:

  • Thank God for Kevin and the ministry of NBCBS. Pray that Kevin’s friends would have their eyes opened to the truth of the gospel.
  • Pray that all the Christian students of NBCBS would be able to engage with difficult questions with confidence and competence.
  • Pray for the planning of the national NBCBS winter retreat. Pray that students from many different colleges and universities would attend.

Thanks for praying with us!

One student’s fight for unity in diversity

I am Samuel Poologasingam from Sri Lanka. I believe that every university in the world should have a united Christian witness. This is my story.

One step forward, two steps back

University wasn’t at all what I’d expected. Spiritually, the campus was a desert. The closest church was 12km away. Most of my classmates were Muslim. There was no IFES ministry here at all.

I dreamed of seeing Christian students from every denomination, race and caste meeting together on campus. But that wasn’t the reality. After a lonely year of crying out to God, I finally found a small group of Christian students.

It took one year for us to register officially with the university as a non-denominational fellowship. During that time, we faced a lot of opposition. There were 18 of us, from different faculties and denominations; some of us were Sinhalese, some were Tamil. And that was the problem. Students of different ethnic groups are not supposed to mix, according to the university culture.

Pressing on

This was where I almost gave up. My own friends turned against me because of the diversity we promoted. It left me feeling very alone and frustrated. But through God’s strength, and with support from the national FOCUS ministry, I kept going, working together with students from different races and denominations. We organised Christmas events for children in nearby villages, helped schoolchildren with their entrance exams, hosted suicide awareness programs and conducted environmental care programs on campus.

At the FOCUS National Conference 2018, our university fellowship affiliated to the movement. It was an amazing milestone for us.

I rejoiced that I was able to witness God building a fellowship united in diversity during my time at university. Students who previously accused us now respected us for our unity. Initially they saw us as troublemakers, but over time they’ve seen that our unity is what makes this group of students unique.

Grace that initiates

My country has been devastated due to ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. Even though the war has ceased, there are still deep tensions in Sri Lanka. This year’s Easter Sunday attacks caused further pain and division, as more than 250 people were killed, including two FOCUS students. Many other students were injured.

As we struggled to support these students, we realised that the Muslim community had been deeply affected by the tragedy as well. Many were now facing discrimination and hardships.

At the national level, the FOCUS movement initiated a dialogue with the national Muslim student body. A declaration was signed by both groups, pledging solidarity, acknowledging the wrong done to one another and seeking forgiveness. On our campus we also decided to initiate conversation with our Muslim friends. Together we agreed to hold a service of remembrance for those caught up in the attacks.

To our surprise, over 250 students from all ethnic and religious backgrounds gathered for the service. The Muslim students thanked me for loving them unconditionally and for allowing them to grieve with us.

A big dream for a broken people

Even in the midst of that great tragedy, God found a way to begin the process of healing between our communities in the university. It showed me that God is truly the great God who can use even our weaknesses and tragedies to bring about his purposes.

In a country so divided, I see the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way in which all the communities can find true healing and reconciliation with each other. I pray that our Christian fellowship is a witness to that truth.

How it all began

They stood together on the stage: the pioneers of new movements alongside those who had supported them. It was a beautiful picture of gospel partnership. How had it all begun? We listened to our brothers and sisters tell their stories of struggle and sacrifice. We listened to their triumphs and tragedies. We listened to them speak of the faithfulness of a God who had used them in their weakness. We listened as tears ran down our faces. 

13 movements affiliated to IFES at World Assembly 2019. Read on to find out how student work began in three of them. 

SONOKO Cambodia 


Two former students of KGK Japan arrived in Cambodia. The country and its people still wore the scars of the devastating civil war years of the 1970s. The two graduates were praying that God would start a student movement in this beautiful, broken land. Through setbacks and trials, the movement slowly began to grow. In 2012, the first full-time local staff worker was appointed, Chamroeun. He was a young man with a deep love for His people and a passion to see Jesus known in the university. He was preparing to become the first general secretary of the movement. 

But it was not to be. Chamroeun died in a tragic accident, going home to glory in 2017. The movement was, once more, on its knees. Why, God? Must we endure even more pain and heartache? For the staff and students, these were dark days. 

Though the pain of Chamroeun’s death is still raw, those involved with SONOKO Cambodia testify to God’s comfort and faithfulness through this tragedy. They have not stopped speaking of the hope they have in Jesus. A hope that goes beyond the grave. 

There are currently around 40 students involved in the movement, with groups in Phnom Penh and Siem Riep, and plans to pioneer a group in a third city. 

IS/IVCF Cayman Islands 

There was no student work at all happening when Tomy and Brianna arrived back in Brianna’s homeland, the Cayman Islands. But God was at work. Tomy was welcomed warmly by the local churches. They were more than willing to work together to see Christian fellowships established in schools and universities across the country. Tomy spent time meeting up with local Christians, sharing his plans to pioneer. An evangelical student movement? Yes, that sounds familiar! Time after time he found himself meeting with graduates who had been involved themselves with other IFES movements while studying overseas – in Jamaica, the Philippines, Barbados, Guyana, the US! 

Seeds which had been planted years before, many miles away, were now bearing fruit in this unexpected way. Thanks to the support of these IFES graduates and local churches, the movement grew quickly. Today it is working in one university and six secondary schools. 

MFES Myanmar 

MFES Myanmar affiliated to IFES at World Assembly in 2019. But it was not an easy journey to get to that point. Former IFES South Asia Regional Secretary KP, had been looking for opportunities to start a student movement in Myanmar for some time. He planned to meet a local Christian worker, Sawm Thang, at World Assembly 2015 in Mexico, to discuss starting a new ministry. Sadly, KP passed away just before World Assembly. Sawm travelled to Mexico anyway hoping that he would find somebody else to talk with regarding the pioneering plans. But he was denied entry at immigration and was detained for two weeks, without any way of contacting his family. 

Remarkably, Sawm did not lose his vision for student ministry. On his return, he met regularly with students to pray for their country and to study the Bible. Momentum grew. Howard Spencer, one of the IFES governance development trainers, provided training for potential board members. The movement was formally established in October 2016. 

Today there are around 120 students involved in MFES in three regions. 

Learning to walk in the light

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…” Ephesians 5:8 

Living as children of light has unique challenges for MFES students in Myanmar. Most of their classmates are Buddhists and think that Jesus, the ‘English god’, has nothing to do with them. If you’re a Christian you’re considered a betrayer of the nation. There are practical challenges too, as Christians are not allowed to meet on campus. 

But next week around 50 MFES students are going away together for their annual summer camp. They’ll be studying Ephesians 5 and exploring how they can be “Walking in the Light” on campus. There will also be seminars on how to lead Bible studies, how to share the gospel with Buddhists, and other hot topics for students today. 

Let’s pray that, as in previous years, the conference would be encouraging and refreshing for students and staff as they prepare for the new academic year. 

  • Pray for friendships to grow between students from different parts of the country. 
  • Pray that the students would grow in their affection for Jesus and would long to share Him with their friends on campus. Pray that they would keep living as children of light in the darkness. 
  • Pray for stamina and wisdom for those leading the conference. Pray that God would keep them amazed by God’s grace, serving sacrificially to see students come to know Jesus. 

Thanks for praying with us!