How are we reaching the nations in our universities?
“We must be global Christians, with a global vision, because our God is a global God.”
— John Stott
The university brings together people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds, making it a strategic place to share the good news of Jesus, and speak into developing worldviews.
According to a British Council report, the number of internationally-mobile students has risen from 800,000 in the mid-1970s to over 3.5 million in 2009, with the global student population set to reach 262 million by 2025. More than half of this growth is taking place in India and China.
The future of the global church will be shaped, in part, by the way in which students are reached, impacted, and shaped by the gospel message today, and encouraged to live out their faith in every area of society.
The university context around the IFES world
We spoke to a variety of people working in IFES student ministry, to reflect together on the breadth of opportunity that lies before us, and the richness of our diverse mission field.
Ricardo Borges is currently serving as Acting Regional Secretary for Latin America, where a strong sense of creativity helps Christian students connect with culture, using the arts to tell God’s story. Ricardo sees that a key aspect of evangelism is being able to engage meaningfully with one’s own culture.
“Latin Americans do bring their own creativity to mission. We ask how our faith connects with the world, and how do we engage in the challenges of the world in a biblical way? It’s not just about saving someone’s soul and then waiting for heaven, our Christian faith has implications for our lives today and to the context around us.”
Ricardo also believes that mission is enriched through exposure to other cultures and ideas, bringing variety and creativity to evangelism.
“The best approach to mission is a multicultural one. It’s not about saying one nationality has the best approach, that would be the wrong attitude. For students in Latin America it’s important for them to share the gospel through their relationships and friends, bringing a message of biblical transformation, both of individual and society.
“The feedback we’ve had in Latin America from things like the Mark Drama, which was first used in Europe, is absolutely great. I think it’s because the drama is about presenting the gospel through art, in a very creative and emotional way, communicating the message with power.”
The growing church in the global south
Gideon Para-Mallam, IFES Regional Secretary for English- and Portuguese-speaking Africa (EPSA), is seeing the impact of church growth in the global South.
“As we see fewer missionaries coming from the West, we see more students demonstrating real interest in mission and getting involved themselves. With increased globalization and better access to education, IFES national movements are benefiting from being better connected with one another, and collaborating in their efforts to reach and disciple students.
“Many Nigerian students in Ghana are joining the local movement, and we are also seeing links between countries in different regions, such as Francophone Africa. We have seen students from Kenya, Rwanda, Benin and Burundi travelling to join students in Tanzania for evangelism, and students from Malawi connecting with peers in Botswana.
“We are seeing more and more graduates who are not ashamed of the gospel and are ready to live sacrificial lives in response to it; for example, graduates in engineering and medicine going into full-time mission work, travelling to rural areas of Nigeria, and to serve in other countries.”
And yet discipleship can still be difficult.
“Sometimes students can be more opposed to the gospel than communities outside the university, with a prevalence of nominal Christianity. Despite this, we have students coming to the Lord in many campuses.”
A timely opportunity
Jamil, IFES Regional Secretary for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), came to faith while studying in Europe.
“Hundreds of students will go abroad to study in North America and Europe, some who have never heard the gospel before. Being at university is therefore a chance for people to share the good news with them, specifically because these students are more open to learning, and to hearing about the gospel message.”
Sergei is IFES Regional Secretary for Eurasia, where many students in former soviet contexts often must be guarded in sharing their faith.
“It is not easy to tell people you’re a protestant Christian. Students here first try to earn people’s respect; the right to speak before preaching. Students who have heard something of the gospel sometimes come with their own prejudices, but when they see the connection between what you say and what you do, they start asking questions.”
Joyce Hiendarto, an Indonesian who travelled to study in the USA, now works with InterVarsity as Communications and Creative Strategist.
“International migration has helped to shape the way students perceive the working out of the great commission. In our context, as well as calling American students to engage in cross-cultural mission overseas, there is a lot of that happening in our own back yard.”
Not just going, but also receiving
In an article on Migration and Evangelism, the Lausanne World Pulse cautions us against limiting mission to “going” to distant places and reaching other ethnic communities.
We are a movement that is rich in its diversity and creativity, for which we give thanks to God.
As the nations come to your university, how are you reaching them? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below, and let us know how we can be praying for the nations on your campus.