In the Bible, a living relationship with God is inextricably tied to looking back with thanks and looking forward in faith. Jacob turned his stone pillow into a memorial of God’s presence. Moses commissioned an annual eating of flatbread to recall their hasty exit from Egypt. Jesus asked us to remember him with bread and wine – and to look forward to sharing them with him one day. Ruth envisaged a brighter future with Naomi’s God. Paul dreamed of taking the good news to Spain.
At this time of year, it’s good to follow this pattern of looking back and ahead.
In Prayerline this week, Tim Adams (IFES General Secretary) offered his reflections on our global fellowship and a ‘big prayer’ for the coming year. But Tim is not alone in leading IFES ministry. Since taking up the post, Tim has appointed a team to support the role: Annette Arulrajah and David Bahena as Associate General Secretaries, George Ogalo as Chief Operating Officer, and Olena Welch as Head of Global Resource Ministries. Together, they take responsibility for developing and sharing IFES priorities and resources across the globe. In this Conexión blog, we hear their highlights from the past year and discover their big prayers for 2024.
THE TEAM IN ACTION
Like Jacob and Moses, the four team members are grateful for their own experiences of sensing God’s presence and witnessing his salvation – especially within IFES ministry. Both Annette and David were general secretaries of their national movements (FES Malaysia and Compa Mexico) before becoming regional secretaries (East Asia and Latin America), George was National Director of FOCUS Kenya, and Olena was the co-General Secretary of the movement in Ukraine and Training Secretary for IFES Eurasia. With milestones of thanksgiving through the years, they are now – like Ruth and Paul – looking ahead to where God is leading.
As Associate General Secretary for Global Fellowship, Annette has a particular focus on deepening fellowship and strengthening the sense of global community across all our national movements. She notes, “It’s been a big leap from 10 movements in 1947 to being a fellowship of over 160 movements today. So, one aspect of my role is to guard and nurture genuine fellowship as we keep on that path of growth.”
David’s main responsibility as an Associate General Secretary is to strengthen the work of the regional secretaries so that they can effectively serve national movements. He clearly approaches this with a pastoral heart: “I help them stay focused, support them in difficult situations, and care for them in their life and ministry balance.”
As Chief Operating Officer, George oversees IFES International Services. His focus is to ensure that our operations effectively serve IFES ministry and align with our strategic vision and plan. “I’m very excited about our current Thriving Together strategy and it’s a great privilege for me to play a part in helping us all serve God’s purposes together with that vision in mind.”
Olena facilitates the teamwork and collaboration of Global Resource Ministries (GRM) across the fellowship. She views her oversight of these various teams as a supportive role: “Behind the scenes, I enjoy serving as a catalyst and encourager to GRM mentors and resource persons who are assisting and equipping national movements.” Together, they promote cooperation and innovation in ministry by helping to design effective tools and share best practices. They partner with national and regional leaders to identify needs, develop ideas, and mobilize local resources.
HIGH POINTS OF 2023
So, looking back, what brought them joy?
It’s likely that one highlight of 2023 for all 845 delegates who attended it was IFES World Assembly in Indonesia. And certainly, for George, he notes how refreshing it was to reconnect with students, staff, and board members who are on the frontline of IFES ministry:
“In my role, I can find my days becoming full of spreadsheets and agendas. So, it’s always precious for me when I have special times and space with my colleagues in IFES and with the grassroots of our IFES family. There is never a moment with students that is not inspiring and hopeful!”
The others agree. For Olena it was her time in Nigeria last November at the NIFES national conference on Scripture Engagement and Prayer. She was there to facilitate training for them, but she recalls how much she received from them:
“One day, the rain damaged the campsite generator, so we were out of power. The sun set quickly, but the program continued. Imagine 1,300 university students, sitting in pitch dark, gathered in small groups, lighting up the space with their mobile phone flashlights, actively, passionately, engaging with a passage from the Gospel of John. I was in awe of the dedication of these students. I admired their love for Scripture. I was humbled and honoured to play a small part in their training journey.”
Similarly, David notes how it was ministry visits bringing him into contact with local movements on the ground that were his high point – and learning opportunity. In MENA, he met staff rebuilding their national movement and better understood some of the region’s complexities. In Equatorial Guinea, where ministry is being pioneered, he was able to use his native Spanish to build bridges with pastors and graduates who may form the first board. In the Caucasus, he listened to the joys and challenges of staff in this subregion. He says,
“In these three trips I really enjoyed doing mission in community and learning about the different contexts and challenges of mission. At the same time, it was thrilling to see God at work, calling and raising up a new generation of leaders in different parts of the world. It was like I was seeing the global face of IFES.”
If David was blessed by seeing the global face, Annette’s highlight was listening to the global voice:
“What gave me deep joy in 2023, was embarking on a listening journey as I began my role. I was listening to individuals around the globe and then to different global teams. The listening opened many doors to understanding and being heard. It revealed that there is a hunger for lives that are being touched and transformed – and that there are ways we can enhance our collaboration to make that happen.”
We can give thanks with the leadership team. Through opportunities to engage with, speak to, learn about, and hear from students, staff, and national movements over the last year, they have witnessed God’s presence and salvation. Let’s hope they returned from their trips with some souvenirs – stone, food, or otherwise – to remember God’s works.
BIG PRAYERS FOR 2024
So, what’s next?
Annette is excited about how her listening journey will unfold into a period of discernment through three different but interrelated teams. They will consider how what’s been heard can inform and shape a new season of spiritual vitality.
This includes the launch of Project Renovaré – an initiative aimed at renewing global fellowship across IFES. Annette pinpoints three aspects: to stir us back to our roots as a movement of prayer; to raise and nurture younger leaders in our midst; and to embrace and disciple a new generation of students. Her one heart longing for such a period of renovation is this:
“That the kadima renovaré – the moving forwards required to renovate and renew our global fellowship – will be done together.”
That desire for togetherness resonates crisply with Olena’s vision:
“My one big prayer for IFES in 2024 is for all of us to strengthen our collaborative relationships, so that we move and act in synergy with one another. May we all agree to be each other’s sojourners in this delightful, humbling, and strategic journey – aligning and capitalizing on each other’s gifts and strengths to create pathways, networks, and communities that strengthen ministry – now and into the future.”
For Olena, this is fundamental to the essence and fruitfulness of GRM. She is looking forward to working with teammates on their strategic plans and seeing how they can join forces with regional teams and national movements to shape culture and build stronger partnerships. “My prayer for GRM is that we continue to pursue our common purpose of fostering grassroots initiatives that lead to sustainable growth,” she adds.
George will also be concerned with strategy and growth. Over the coming year, he will spend time in the IFES offices in Malaysia, the USA, and the UK. He’s eager to see how Thriving Together will become more embedded in our systems and structures, boosting synergy amongst our service centres and national movements.
“I pray Thriving Together can be a dynamic framework for our plans and programs – not as a corporate strategy to rely on but as a ministry tool to work with. Our reliance is on God! So, I hope we’ll all be praying as we plan and planning as we pray.”
David knows just how important it is to ensure that young staff are firmly grounded in both skills and spirituality. One of his joys is supporting the the formation of staff who are in their first years of service. So, he’s looking forward to attending the Latin American Staff Formacion Encounter in May 2024 in Quito, Ecuador, where about 50 new staff from 20 national movements will gather for a three-week program.
At a global level, he’s excited to be involved in drawing up a road map for the formation and development of the regional leadership and their teams. This will flow from last year’s 360-degree evaluation process that gathered feedback from around 60 national movements, 35 staff from regional teams, and the 10 regional secretaries. David shares what he hopes will transpire:
“My big prayer is to see regional leaders and teams using their strengths, flourishing in their calling, so that they create positive environments of growth and development among national movements and cultivate a renewed spirituality that inspires a new generation.”
THRIVING TOGETHER INTO 2024
In these hopes and dreams for the coming year, we find practical expressions of what Thriving Together can look like. In the first instance, we find this leadership team thriving together: they come from different backgrounds, serve in varied roles, and have different gifts, yet their comments reveal a common vision that echoes the General Secretary’s in Prayerline:
In 2024, we’re being invited to pray for a deepening spirituality and connectedness across our fellowship. We will thrive together as we pursue and cultivate a prayerful, vibrant, shining relationship with Jesus that cherishes the interrelatedness of his global family.
That’s a prayer we can pray – and be a part of answering. Annette reminds us: “We’re all partakers of this transformative journey of keeping our fellowship revived, relevant, and robust. Hop on and join in the pilgrimage!” How will you get involved? How will you make the most of our global partnership?