What’s unique about FCSI Israel?
The movement is unique in that it brings together Arab Christians, Messianic Jews and also international students. We operate in three main languages — Arabic, Hebrew and English — but there are actually many more languages spoken between us. Our backgrounds, cultures and political viewpoints can be quite different, but we have the same heart to be united and serve together.
What struggles do Christian students face?
The universities in Israel are, on the whole, very secular. Yet there are also plenty of students from different religious backgrounds. So Christian students face big challenges in terms of being surrounded by different worldviews and lifestyles, and witnessing into that. The other big issue is that all of the Christian students are in the minority within their ethnic groups — both the Arab Christians and the Messianic Jews. And when you’re in the minority, and many people don’t understand or agree with what you believe, it becomes harder to leave your bubble and share your faith.
How has student ministry been changing in recent years?
Students are starting to go outside their social circles more. They are more courageous to share the gospel. And as they become more known to the community, people are becoming more open to engage with us. In Israel it’s not a matter of restrictions — there’s freedom of religious practice — it’s more a psychological fear, a feeling of being the minority. But recently God has been raising up people who are studying apologetics, and this training is giving students greater confidence to go out and share their faith. And we are seeing students from different backgrounds come and engage and ask questions. It’s not happening on every campus yet, but it’s encouraging to see change starting to happen.
What conversations do you have most often with Christian students?
In many of the churches, people are not challenged to think about why we believe what we believe. So when students come to university, they’re confronted with questions they don’t know how to answer. They need to learn to engage with those questions. So we often talk about how they can share their faith with others in a way that engages the mind.
Apart from that, we discuss the same things that students probably right across the world are discussing today: relationships, sexuality, how to live a godly life in a secular world — that kind of thing.
How often do you gather together as a whole movement?
We have a joint conference once a year in May, with all three groups (Arab Christians, Messianic Jews and international students) represented. The conference is led by a committee made up of students from each of those groups. We also come together for the Mark Manuscript Bible study conference once a year. We’d like to gather together more often, and are praying for more opportunities to do that.
What were some of the highlights of the FCSI conference this year?
This year the theme of the conference was Jesus in the Centre. 120 students gathered to learn about our role in God’s big salvation story with Jesus at the centre. The times of sung worship were a real highlight, as always. We sing in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Christians who rarely meet altogether, in one place praising the God of the nations: it’s an amazing and moving experience — really a glimpse of heaven! And it was great to see students engaging and getting to know one another better through small group discussions and over meals. It’s a place where new friendships are made.
I was also encouraged to see the maturity of certain students who were struggling to overcome relational problems and differences. They were willing to put those differences aside for the sake of gospel unity and to put Jesus at the centre.
Why do you think it’s so important to do things together?
I keep putting in front of my eyes Jesus’ prayer that his people would be united so that the lost would come to know Jesus. There are huge challenges, and I don’t have answers to how these challenges will be overcome. But I believe in my heart that we have to be united if we are to start focusing on the salvation of everyone who lives in this land. Too often we put people into categories when we meet them; we make assumptions and dehumanise them. And the reason is because we don’t know each other. If we’re going to see any real and lasting change in Israel and in the church, we must get to know each other — on a daily basis, not just at a conference. We need to know not only how to worship together but how to live life together, and that is much more challenging. We are seeing friendships develop across FCSI after students meeting at joint conferences, and my prayer is to see that happen more and more.
What’s your prayer for the coming years?
My prayer is that we’d see students doing more mission and outreach on campus. We long to see many more people coming to Christ. Students are thirsty and open during their university years, and we want Christian students to make the most of that window of opportunity. I’m tired of seeing Christians sitting inside churches, and their ‘sharing’ just stays within the church walls, rather than in the community. So I’m praying that our students would bring Jesus into their communities, sharing the gospel and witnessing practically with their lives. And of course, my prayer is for unity! I know that’s big. But I sense this is God’s heart and he is moving us in that direction.