In January IFES welcomed Tim Adams as our new General Secretary. Since then, we have seen God work through Tim as he has connected with leaders and students from around the fellowship to shape the next phase of IFES ministry. We recently caught up with Tim to hear his reflections from his time so far as General Secretary.
What has been most exciting since stepping into the role of General Secretary?
I am really thankful to see the resilience of our national movements despite the practical, financial, and spiritual challenges of the last 18 months. Many countries continue to deal with huge obstacles, but I am encouraged that their sense of hope and commitment remains strong. I can see that movements are finding opportunities amid the challenges. One region that has particularly inspired me is the South Pacific, where pioneering has continued despite closed borders that separated teams and prevented pioneer staff from entering new countries.
For example, in Vanuatu there have been no COVID-19 deaths, but with borders completely closed the international students studying there are unable to leave the country unless they have fully completed their degree. More local students have filled up the university spaces which would otherwise be filled by incoming international students. As a result, there have been an increased number of students to reach and a captive audience of internationals students who need support. The movement has put this time to good use by investing in these students and working with churches. Also, a Tongan-American InterVarsity USA staff worker, who had been seconded to IFES South Pacific, was planning to move from the USA to Tonga to replant the national movement there. Due to COVID-19 these plans had to be cancelled. However, as a US citizen he could travel to Guam, where we have no student movement. Plans were pivoted and he has now moved to Guam to pioneer a Christian student work there! He has already started meeting with a small group of three students to read the Bible, pray, and dream about what God might do across the two university campuses.
I am also thankful for the team of people God has given me to work with. I am so excited to welcome new members and can’t wait to see how their unique giftings will make an impact. As we emerge from a difficult time, I believe that IFES will have a strong team to support the renewing, rebuilding and reshaping of IFES for the next phase of our ministry.
I heard that you have taken a ‘world tour,’ meeting with different movements virtually to get a sense of what ministry is like in their contexts. What has stood out to you from these meetings?
These visits have been a real highlight. ‘Visiting’ Lebanon, I was moved to tears by the story of a student who came to faith in the aftermath of the Beirut blast. LIVF, the national movement, had been studying Lamentations, and it was inspiring to hear how the crisis had brought this book alive to them. I also visited Belarus and was amazed by God’s work there, especially as they reach out to international students. From Chile I heard how God has built the movement over time, and how in the south, in Patagonia, they are able to help pioneer new groups over the border in a remote corner of Argentina. Most recently I visited Burkina Faso, which was a joyful experience. I had a tour of their compound to see students meeting together and spent time hearing from staff workers and praying with them. They have a thriving ministry in high schools and universities and regularly see over 1000 students a year coming to faith!
All in all, I have been impressed with the creativity, resiliency, and steadfastness of every movement I have met with. It is such a joy to know that there are students and staff who are faithfully serving God in every part of the world.
What has been challenging about your time as General Secretary?
In the last 9 months COVID-19 has profoundly affected the health of IFES staff and national movement staff. In April and May, movements such as UESI India and UCU Columbia suffered great loss. Two of our international staff team were also severely ill, sadly with one of them passing away. This was devastating, and our sadness was compounded by a sense of helplessness. To me it was a reminder of our humanity and the need to depend on God alone. Every day I come back to Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”.
It has also been difficult to not be able to pray and plan in person with the staff team. Living Stones was our ‘2020 vision’, a strategic plan that has guided the way we work together as a fellowship, but the day I started was the first day of 2021! Thankfully we have worked hard to build the foundation for a new plan. Still, I have really missed the opportunity to be together with people to think and pray about the future.
Tell us more about the direction of strategy that God has laid on the heart of the senior staff team.
When I was at World Assembly in 2019, I was struck (as always) by the wealth of gifted, experienced, and talented people from IFES national movements that work on the frontline of student ministry. Reflecting on that, we believe that the future of IFES is not to build a large central organization, but to build better ways to connect and learn from each other. The goal is to strengthen us as a network that enhances, elevates and supports one another. One of the major strengths of IFES is the breadth of our network and one of the keys to a more fruitful thriving future is to build that ‘togetherness’.
With that in mind, we are calling the draft strategic plan ‘Thriving Together’, and we are excited to be gathering feedback from various parts of the fellowship. Using that feedback we hope to finalise the plan this autumn.
What are your hopes for the next six months?
Over the next few months we will share more about this vision with IFES member movements and give them the opportunity to contribute, and I pray, to build momentum and unity around that direction. However, we also need to recognize the unique context we are in right now. Nehemiah has always been one of my Bible heroes, and I have been thinking about that story. A high point in that book is the renewal and revival as the people come together again around God’s word. But the journey towards this renewal began when God moved Nehemiah to begin the work of rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem. My vision for IFES is a fellowship that is thriving together, but the next six to 12 months are also a time to ‘inspect the walls’ to assess where we are at, and what repairing and rebuilding we might need to do in order to get to that point of renewal.
How can we continue to pray for you?
Pray that God will help me to get the right balance of praying, listening, reflecting, and moving forward and that he will direct my paths. Pray especially for people coming into new positions in the leadership and senior staff of IFES. Pray that God would help us develop as a team and shape IFES so that we are playing our part in equipping, encouraging, and supporting fruitful local ministry in the world’s universities.
To hear more about Tim’s heart for IFES, check out his recent conversation over Instagram Live.