Priscilla was one of 1,700 students. She had come with her friends from GBU Italy to join students from 47 other countries. This was IFES Europe’s student evangelism conference, Presence, held at Easter 2017. Almost two years on, we asked her to reflect on the long-term impact of being at Presence. She shared her reflections:
“I was expecting a wonderful experience. But not something that inspirational. Both for me and for my IFES group (GBU) in Milan.
It was amazing to experience a connection with other students as we prayed together in different languages. And it was amazing to see how big IFES is — to realise that we are involved in a huge international project.
But one stand-out moment for me was hearing a man share his testimony on the last night. He had grown up in a Muslim family in the Middle East. As part of his study, he spent a few months in France as an international student. There he had met some Christian students and started reading the Bible with them. Just three weeks before he left France, he gave his life to Christ.
That man now works with IFES students in the Middle East.
After hearing his story, I felt convinced that we need to make more of the opportunities we have to reach international students. We are used to praying for missionaries all over the world, but what about the hundreds of international people around us? They need to know Jesus! And they can be a powerful testimony in their own communities when they go back. The time they spend in our country might be short, but it could be enough.
A new heart
My friends and I came back from Presence spiritually charged, full of ideas and with a new heart for international students. Since then we’ve started having Bible studies in English as well as Italian. In my university we have a lot of international students — mostly from China, India, Pakistan, South America and other countries in Europe. They are from different religious backgrounds. Generally, we find that they don’t know much about Christianity, but they are more open to speaking about spiritual matters than our Italian friends. Sometimes their questions surprise me. They are curious. Talking about our souls and our sin is not weird to them.
Before Presence I was interested in international students, but I was scared because of the language barrier and I wasn’t sure what approach to take. After Presence we decided not to worry about those things. Our English is not perfect and our Bible studies are not always the best. But the important thing is to make the international students feel loved and welcome.
We’ve started hosting evangelistic events each month — usually themed parties, like The 1950s, Pizza, Movie Night, The South of Italy… We’re learning to have someone there to translate everything into English, and we’re trying to think about how to manage food, games, music and a presentation of the gospel in the most effective way. Sometimes we’ve had up to 60 students! We’ve also gone out to meet students on campus. Now we’re working to create a little guide about how to survive at university here, which includes some information about GBU.
An adventure worth having
To IFES groups that haven’t yet started engaging with international students I would say to risk it because it’s really worth it. It’s a great opportunity to discover other cultures and to test your faith. Pray for your universities and let yourselves be amazed!
And to IFES students in Europe who are considering going to the next European Evangelism Conference, Revive, I would say, GO! When we came back home we realised how much Presence had joined us together as a group. It made us a real team with the same goal and the same vision, the same love for students. Presence was an adventure and gave us stories that we still tell today.”
The impact of Presence was felt across the whole region, as students fell more in love with Jesus and caught the vision for sharing Him on campus. Many mission weeks happened in new cities as a result of Presence. But IFES Europe still longs for more. It longs to see revival. In its Christian students. In its universities. In its nations. Revive, the next European evangelism conference, is taking place in Germany, 27 December 2019–1 January 2020.