In this Conexión, we’re shining a light on the mutual blessing that comes from IFES cross-cultural ministry initiatives, starting with a personal reflection from IFES Writer Bryn Rickards.
When seventy-two disciples returned to Jesus after their first short-term mission trip (Luke 10), they’d taken the blessing of healing and deliverance into the homes of many. But the experience was clearly a blessing for the disciples too – their excitement in reporting back to Jesus shows how the horizons of their faith had been expanded (verse 17). This is the generous economy of God’s kingdom. Mission is not one-sided.
I learnt that when I was a student. As a member at Bristol University Christian Union (UK) in the 1990s, I was invited to take part in a summer camp in Poland run by ChSA, the national IFES movement. I didn’t know much: it was for high school students; it was in a forest with some lakes; we were going to “help” – by supplying some conversational English classes and leading small group seminars on theological topics.
But the experience turned out to be as much about what we would receive as what we would give. Besides the adventure of a lengthy coach journey across Europe and the beautiful pine scents of the Polish forests, we were exposed to the gift of cross-cultural ministry. We shared friendship and faith with people of a different language from a different culture in a different spiritual context.
As I look back, I doubt that any of the Polish high school students who attended my layman’s seminar on eschatology (‘the last things’) were changed forever by its content. They may have been impacted, however, by their positive interactions with this team of foreigners who’d come to “help”.
What they do not know, of course, is how much I benefitted from them. In the Polish forests something was being planted in me. ChSA’s invitation to take part in this short-term mission trip gave me a lasting vision for global student ministry, a heart that would later lead me to serve with – and be blessed in – IFES in Armenia for many years.
Many others have likewise benefitted from ministry partnerships within and across IFES regions – particularly such partnerships that have arisen organically.
FROM ROMANIA TO LATVIA
During her time at university, Diana Moraru loved being part of OSCER, the IFES movement in her country, Romania. She also had a vision for expanding the ministry; as she puts it, “I had a heart for the nations and during that time I was praying and hoping to see international student ministry start in Romania.”
On graduation, she heard about an opportunity to join an IFES team in Riga, Latvia. Since the role offered experience in International Student Ministry (ISM), she was keen to volunteer so that she could learn knowledge and skills to apply when she returned home. Sure enough, after her formative year in Riga (2016-2017), she returned to Romania and eagerly took up the role of ISM staff worker in Bucharest.
But during her time in Latvia, Diana had experienced what she describes as a “beautiful collaboration”. Along with the Latvian team and IFES-Nederland, she had been involved in laying plans for a Youth Exchange project with Erasmus+. In Spring 2018, Diana returned to Latvia with volunteers from OSCER for a 10-day mission, which also included ten students from the Netherlands. She recalls,
“The experience was a blessing for all 3 movements. The Latvian movement received help with a mission week and Latvian students got more involved and interested in ISM. The Romanian and Dutch students experienced a cross-cultural ministry project, which also gave them greater exposure to ISM. It resulted in some Romanians getting much more involved in ISM afterwards.”
When Diana became OSCER General Secretary in 2020, she attended a Cluster Group for newly appointed General Secretaries in Eastern Europe, where she met Ulvis Kravalis from LKSB Latvia. As they shared together about strongly relational models of mission and ministry being used in their own contexts, there was energy and excitement. The desire for partnership and collaboration was rekindled.
FROM LATVIA TO ROMANIA
Ulvis and his team had been considering how best to run mission weeks within LKSB ministry. So when Diana suggested that a team from Latvia come and join them for a week of outreach in Timișoara in 2022, it was a welcome opportunity. The student group in Timișoara had organised several mission weeks in previous years, but this one was the first since the pandemic. The group was smaller and had lost some confidence in going out and sharing faith on campus. So, the arrival of Ulvis – along with a staff worker, a volunteer and two Latvian students – was much appreciated.
Indeed, the Latvians were received not just as observers of the mission but as helpers in it, involved in every aspect. Mike and Kris York – InterVarsity/USA staff who’ve been serving in Romania with OSCER for many years – noted how much the team’s presence helped the Romanian students step out in faith. Summing up the mission partnership, Diana observes: “Both movements were giving and receiving”. Ulvis agrees – he points to Romans 1:11-12, stressing the words:
“I long to see you… so that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
The mutual encouragements continue. At World Assembly, Ulvis met a student from Timișoara who he’d prayed with during the mission week. She’d been facing tough times, emotionally and spiritually, but he was delighted to see how she’d improved. Meanwhile, Diana has been able to provide mentoring support to one of the Latvian team, Karlis, who’s now heading up ISM in Latvia.
AND BEYOND: EUROPE & EPSA
One of the distinctive features of this partnership is the organic way in which it developed, through ministry relationships and networks. Similar collaborations continue for both Romania and Latvia. In April 2023, students from Greece joined the OSCER mission week in Iaşi, whilst Latvia and Lithuania recently came together on a training program for young evangelists.
Connections within a region are often a natural channel through which movements partner in ministry. Zelalem Abebe – IFES Regional Secretary for English- and Portuguese- Speaking Africa (EPSA) – notes how some of the larger national movements in his region are offering support to newer or more vulnerable ones. FOCUS Kenya is supporting FOCUS South Sudan by covering the cost of a staff worker’s salary for three years and by seconding a staff member to assist in Bible study training. NIFES Nigeria has also been experiencing the joy of giving by providing a year’s salary for the General Secretary of another movement in the region.
ACROSS THE OCEAN: LIBERIA & THE USA
In a global family like IFES, the blessing of ministry partnerships also stretches across oceans and continents. Since 2017, InterVarsity/USA staff Shannon Lamb has been taking one or two from her USA staff team on short-term ministry trips to join with the national movement in Liberia (LIFES) for training and mission. Whilst they’ve been of help to LIFES, Shannon stresses how her team members have benefitted from having the horizons of their faith expanded. The LIFES approach to pioneering, for example, inspired some in the USA team to start a new group back on an unreached Pennsylvania campus.
The mutual benefit of trips like these can be truly transformative for faith and ministry. Shannon remembers how one team member expressed what they had received from their time with LIFES: “This has been more like being like Jesus than anything else I’ve ever done”. And, looking back, she estimates that everyone who’s taken part in one of these trips has gone on to enter a leadership role in student ministry.
Alongside such organic links, IFES and its affiliated national movements run various formal, cyclical programs to intentionally foster ministry partnerships within and across regions. For many years, IFES InterAction has facilitated teams within Europe. For example, Helen Seavers, studying German at Lancaster University in the UK, will be spending her incorporated year abroad as part of an IFES InterAction team that’s supporting ÖSM Austria student ministry (read more here). FOCUS Kenya and NKSS Norway also run an exciting ten-month Interact Exchange program for staff workers. And in the United States, InterVarsity Link connects volunteer staff with national movements all around the world.
The list of stories and opportunities is long, and extends through every IFES region. As a movement born out of the collaboration of ten national movements, it’s unsurprising that IFES continues to facilitate and actively encourage cross-cultural ministry partnerships. But the current scope of these stories is not always widely told, nor the opportunities known. We hope that the connections and collaborations shared in this blog leave you encouraged – and curious.
Have you thought about taking part in collaborative mission within IFES? Whether for a week, a year, or longer, how might you be able to enter into this mutual blessing? Speak to your national movement or IFES regional team, or look under ‘other opportunities’ here . And, if you’re not able to join a team yourself, why not encourage someone you know to consider it? Invite them to experience the generous economy of God’s kingdom.