A brief history of IFES Word & World

Robert W. Heimburger

IFES Word & World began with a dream. That dream was to equip those involved in student ministry to listen more attentively to God’s Word and God’s World. This would happen through responding to contemporary issues in today’s universities, asking theologians and scholars to comment on what the Christian faith has to say (see my comments from the May 2016 issue).

This dream came out of the IFES Living Stones vision from more than a decade ago with its encouragement to speak good news in the midst of university communities. That vision called for equipping students to integrate faith and daily life and for resources to inform dialogue and discussion within universities.

Hoping to serve the IFES fellowship in this way, Tim Adams, Associate General Secretary, and Daniel Bourdanné, then IFES General Secretary, with the encouragement of the IFES Board, invited me to start a publication. Together with the emerging IFES Theological Advisory Group and Cathy Ross as Consulting Editor, we started IFES Word & World in 2016.

The goal was not to provide simple answers but rather to promote discussion and seek truth together. The goal was also not to provide an official IFES position on the issues at hand. Instead we hoped to facilitate discussion – and at times disagreement – on questions like violence against women in the university, migration through the eyes of faith, or the purpose of  the university. The issues we took came out of the context of Christian mission in the world’s universities, and these were primarily topical and applied questions like living under persecution, rethinking leadership, being witnesses, or reading the Bible in context, rather than central theological questions.

In bringing Christian wisdom to bear on issues at contemporary universities, we sought to avoid replacing the excellent work already done by national movements to create resources. We also did not want to create a sense that national movements should look to IFES internationally to do the work they could do best, speaking good news in their national and regional contexts. But we listened to national movements who signalled at World Assemblies that while they saw equipping their members to interact on current issues at universities as central to their mission, they did not have capacity to create materials at a sufficiently high level. And what resulted was something that national movements would have difficulty doing, drawing authors from many countries to speak on one issue.

It has been a joy to see IFES Word & World grow and encourage many over the last four years, despite its limitations and failings. In eight issues, we have had new authors contribute along with long-time contributors to IFES like Samuel Escobar and Chris Wright. While many of the authors have said that IFES movements played a significant role in their coming to faith or growing as Christians, I invited a number of authors with no previous involvement with IFES to write for the publication. Along with theologians and academics, we have heard from students, IFES staff workers, and professionals from places like Gabon, Greece, Israel/Palestine, Australia, the United States, and Colombia, benefiting from the wonderfully international network that is IFES. A team of translators have made it possible to publish simultaneously as IFES Word & World in English, IFES Palabra y Mundo in Spanish, and Parole et Monde de l’IFES in French. A host of illustrators and designers have produced a beautiful publication. In two years alone, the publication’s website received over 23,000 unique page visits, with an unusually high proportion of readership in Spanish, and delegates at World Assembly in 2019 took home more than eight hundred hard copies.

A highlight for Word & World came when the issue on violence against women in the university was released. Psychiatrist and UESI India graduate Jamila Koshy’s article examining this theme through the Tamar story in 2 Samuel 13 was especially popular in Spanish translation. From Chile, Dany Berdía P. wrote this on Instagram:

This edition came with perfect timing to @gbu_chile! Just the day before there was a large protest against rape culture, where a few of us also went to protest. A large number of faculties and universities here are on strike demanding non-sexist education and the end of sexual abuse on campus. This is great material to getting us talking about what we can do. Please pray for Chile!

As I step down as Editor of IFES Word & World, I hope in years to come the publication will grow in its service of the IFES fellowship, promoting theological reflection about the world students live in.

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