Students face communication struggles as they deal with the aftermath of a cyclone during COVID-19

If you can’t imagine a place untouched by coronavirus, consider Vanuatu. This island nation in the South Pacific is one of few countries that has no confirmed cases of the virus. However, the island’s greatest defence – remoteness – is also its greatest weakness.

The tiny nation had closed its borders to all outsiders, including foreign aid workers, when Cyclone Harold ravaged the islands, destroying crops and infrastructure, and killing 27 people. With the country’s economy so fragile, the damage to food supply will create major problems to those already struggling to provide. Closed borders and poor communication networks also mean that any foreign support will be greatly limited.

These challenges make the situation particularly frustrating for Joel and Tiffanie Atwood, the Breaking New Ground project leaders for Vanuatu. The Atwoods came to Vanuatu to pioneer an IFES movement among university students and to train future ministry leaders in theology and preaching. However, they are currently stuck in Australia due to the closed borders. Joel says:

“We’re feeling the distance from our friends! Currently all tertiary campuses are closed and the technology in Vanuatu isn’t quite up to digital ministry yet.”

With no stable form of communication with their friends, the Atwoods are praying from afar for ministry to continue in Vanuatu. Students on the islands are left to their own creativity to figure out how to stay connected as the nation rebuilds.

Let’s pray for Joel, Tiffanie, and the nation of Vanuatu this week:

·      Pray that Joel and Tiffanie would be encouraged as they wait in Australia. Pray that they can connect with students in Vanuatu.

 ·      Pray for students in Vanuatu to find ways to encourage each other despite communication difficulties.

·      Ask God to provide enough food and supplies to the nation of Vanuatu, as imports are limited due to COVID-19.

·      Pray for continued protection from coronavirus, as the nation’s healthcare system is not equipped to handle the gravity of a pandemic.

International students go on Mango Mission

It wasn’t an everyday sight: students from all over the world – Nigeria, China, Japan, India, Australia – knocking on neighbourhood doors in the heat of the Australian summer, to offer residents free mangoes.

The 30-strong team of students, half of whom were international students, had just attended the AFES Australia National Training Event (NTE). All across the country, groups of students were now serving local mission projects, putting into practice what they had learned at NTE. This group were helping a local church with their outreach initiatives.

The ‘Mango Mission’, carol-singing, English classes and a barbeque in the park provided ways for them to meet people from the community, offer prayer and invite them to Christmas events at church. Students Rayo from Hong Kong and Angelo from Sri Lanka also had an opportunity to give talks during the week.

What did they take away? Rayo shared his highlight:

“One of the things I enjoyed most was sharing the gospel in a team of like-minded people from many different nations. It really gave me a view of how heaven is like.”

Will you pray for these students as they continue in mission on campus?

  • Thank God for the friendships formed between local and international students during the week. Pray that these relationships would deepen back on campus.
  • Pray that the students would continue to be bold in evangelism, thinking and living missionally at university.
  • Pray for the on-going work of FOCUS, the AFES international student ministry. Pray that through it, international students would be trained to reach the nations, living as faithful disciples wherever they end up in the world.

A key moment for Ali

In February 2019 we shared the story of Ali, a student in New Caledonia who had a dream to see student ministry pioneered in his country. One year on, what’s been happening in New Caledonia?

One group of students has grown into two. They have been meeting together regularly on two campuses for Bible study and prayer. Last year the two groups also worked together to organise an evangelistic event on creation and science. Not many students had heard of GBU-NC, so this event helped them gain visibility among both Christian and non-Christian students.

Ali took a year out last year to get a job. But he’s recently decided to return to university to continue with his studies, eager to help GBU-NC become more established. Why?

World Assembly was a key moment. Throughout World Assembly, the Lord challenged me on the importance of the student ministry for New Caledonia, and on the responsibility that He entrusted to me by sending me there. Today I am happy to resume my studies and finally be able to invest myself more in this ministry with the students.

Another student leader was recently able to attend AFES Australia’s National Training Event and is keen to keep investing in the pioneering work. The movement is still at a pioneering stage and will need to be strengthened through IFES training opportunities, local staff support, leadership structures and students like Ali taking the initiative to try something new. Please pray with Ali, that these needs would be met and that one day the movement can affiliate to IFES.


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The key to sustainable student ministry

Kehinde does lots of travelling to support IFES movements around the world, but even for him, Fiji was a first. The beautiful, quiet island in the South Pacific attracts thousands of tourists every year. But Kehinde was not there for a holiday. He was there to help the IFES movement, PSFC, develop sustainable, indigenous support for their ministry.

This is known as IFES Indigenous Support Development (ISD), which Kehinde Ojo leads. Why is it so important? Because student ministry thrives when its support (financial, prayer and practical) is local. It’s simple.

And yet, it’s not that simple. Many national movements find it hard to tap into local partnership resources. It can seem awkward, time-consuming or discouragingly unfruitful. But the Biblical focus of the ISD training material enables movements to think differently. It’s not begging. It’s an invitation to be part of a dynamic, society-changing work, right on their doorstep!

Thanks to the help it received from the ISD program, PSFC Fiji have got excited about fundraising. They now feel equipped to reach out to new potential supporters and invite them to partner together in campus ministry.

PSFC recently held their biggest fundraising event ever, in which more than 100 guests gave generously to support the ongoing ministry among students. Praise God!

  • Pray for PSFC Fiji as they seek to become financially self-sustainable. Pray that local Christians and churches would catch the vision for student ministry and want to be a part of that.
  • Pray for wisdom for Kehinde and the ISD team as they help train ten IFES movements in Southern Africa at the end of March.
  • Pray for the 20 national movements taking part in an ISD e-learning course, starting next week.

Thanks for praying with us!

Finding joy

I didn’t need God. My life was comfortable. I was fed up with religion, fed up with feeling judged for not living up to the standards of a ‘good Christian’. I didn’t even want that kind of lifestyle. I was fine as I was. 

Fanga moved from Tonga to Vanuatu in 2017 to study law. In her first month there, her friend invited her to go along to the student fellowship group. This is Fanga’s story. 

Pure joy 

I didn’t want to go. But I didn’t feel like I could say no, so with reluctance, I started attending. It was a totally new experience. I hadn’t realised how shallow my knowledge of the Bible was. For the first time, I was seeing and experiencing the real Jesus for myself, and it was compelling. 

Each Wednesday we’d meet to study God’s Word. These weekly Bible studies, together with the teaching at the IFES South Pacific Regional Conference (SPARC), helped me to start to understand the grace of God. Following rules might make me seem like a good person, but it wouldn’t change my heart. It was only through trusting in God’s grace, freely given to me, that I could be saved, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without Him, my life was meaningless and my happiness was temporary. But in Him I’ve found joy. 

I now feel the urgency to tell others about Christ. Everyone should have the chance to hear about Him, and I want to live a life that makes Jesus and his Word easily accessible to everyone. 

Seeking out the strangers 

Our university is diverse. We have students coming from all over the South Pacific to study here, as well as a large number of local students. This makes our fellowship group a wonderfully messy mixture of cultures, languages and church backgrounds, finding common ground in Jesus. 

Most students in the university have heard about Jesus and have some familiarity with the Bible. But they don’t understand the gospel. Lots of them, like me a few years ago, want a break from religion, having been hurt by rules-based churches in the past. They need to see the real Jesus. That’s why all our programs revolve around introducing students to Jesus through the Bible. Only that can change mindsets. 

Beyond our campus 

We are now seeing a change on campus. Students are hungry to know Jesus. They come along because they want to dig in to the Bible. A year ago, small Bible study groups started in student accommodation blocks. And now we offer three meetings a week – one in English and two in Bislama (Vanuatu broken English). 

We’re witnessing God’s work beyond our campus gates too. Our national movement, GNYF, is pioneering student groups in the francophone universities in Vanuatu, and regionally there is pioneering work starting in New Caledonia. But my heart is for my homeland – Tonga. Please pray with me for the same work to start there in the next year or two. 

Opportunities to talk about Jesus because of the rain

Their hearts sank as the rain started to fall. And it wasn’t just a passing shower. The students of TSCF, the IFES movement in New Zealand, were meant to be giving out free hot chocolate to students on campus as part of their mission week. They’d only just finished setting up the pop-up café when the winter weather sent them scrambling for cover. Everyone was disappointed that good conversations had been cut short and that opportunities would be missed. 

So they decided to pray, and set up their stand again in the library foyer. To their amazement, they soon found themselves inundated with students visiting their stand, also seeking shelter. Each student was asked to put a pin in the scale of the human story, from hopeful to hopeless, from comedy to tragedy. And the students wanted to talk about Jesus. The best conversations of the week happened that day. It was a helpful reminder to TSCF students of their dependence on God: he was sovereign over logistics and weather, and he was sovereign in the important work of drawing people to himself. 

  • Praise God for the way he answered the students’ prayer. Thank him for all those who were able to hear about Jesus through TSCF’s mission week events. 
  • Pray for the ongoing follow-up. Pray that many would be willing to start reading the Bible and explore the Christian faith more. 

Thanks for praying with us!