A Look at IFES Publishing

‘Book publishing is in the life-blood of IFES ministries’. That was one of the convictions shared at a publishers’ gathering at IFES World Assembly in 2019. Those in attendance understood that putting good books into the right hands can change lives, and the impact can multiply to transform communities.  

Many of our 160 national movements have been involved in some way with publishing, and yet it’s an aspect of the fellowship that can slip under the radar. Nonetheless, our calling to reach universities means that IFES operates in institutions that exist for education and research, and students are day by day encountering, absorbing and applying new ideas in their studies. Colin Macpherson, Director of Publisher Development at Langham Partnership, reflects that ‘having a focus on student ministry and the leaders of tomorrow marries very well with a burden for publishing’. We could point to the initial endeavours to establish Inter-Varsity Press UK and USA in the 1940s, or to the fall of the Soviet Union and opening of Eastern bloc countries for ministry in the 1990s, when publishers were desperately needed in the young movements to teach those with little knowledge of Christianity. Publishing is strategic. 

IFES-affiliated publishers equip movements with materials they need, bridging student movements and the wider church, and enabling students to approach their issues as mature disciples. Local publishing empowers Christians with contextualised insights, crucial in a global church which has often been dominated by certain voices ringing from thousands of miles away.  Macpherson again affirms that ‘when a group of mature believers from the national church feels called to [publishing], it is my experience that they are better able to listen to and discern the needs … and then speak into those needs with contextually important messages’. And IFES can guarantee that the task of creating relevant resources doesn’t rest with national movements working alone, but is supported cross-nationally, and that these resources can be distributed worldwide to students who share cultural or linguistic heritage. 

The stories of three particular regions demonstrate this. 

Latin America: Certeza UNIDA 

Certeza UNIDA had a grassroots beginning in 1959 with the student-led Certeza magazine. Developing into a book-publishing ministry, it was the origin point for the evangelistic Dialogue between Christ and Marx (1967), for instance, by Samuel Escobar, the leading Latin American theologian who later became Honorary IFES President. Now, Certeza UNIDA is the umbrella organisation that links the Spanish-speaking publishers in Latin America, as well as Publicaciones Andamio in Spain. Certeza UNIDA is a platform, for publishing houses associated with Latin American student movements to collaborate on projects for wider circulation in the Spanish-speaking world, or that would be too ambitious for one publisher to work on.  

Literature has been vital in the flourishing of the evangelical church in Latin America. To spread the gospel, book stores were opened, colporteurs transported books into mountain regions, and a book van travelled the length of Argentina. In the last decade, they have been focused on the landmark Comentario Bíblico Contemporáneo, published in 2019 as the first single-volume commentary on the whole Bible from Latin American scholars. Gisela Muñoz Cruz, sub-regional coordinator in IFES Latin America, calls it a ‘valuable and strategic work that will doubtless enrich the ministry of the national movements and the church for years to come.’  

Certeza UNIDA is adapting to current communication channels by working on social media and ebooks. The core need remains the same, however. Ian Darke, who works with Certeza UNIDA and has been publishing in Latin America since the 1980s, emphasises that ‘it’s important that students and graduates are aware of the tremendous value of written word resources, and also that they don’t appear by magic.’ He suggests that publishing ministries like Certeza UNIDA need more people to invigorate overstretched teams with passion and creativity, that ‘the opportunities to serve are many, both for local Christians or missionaries.’  

Certeza UNIDA currently doesn’t have a dedicated online presence. You can, however, explore the websites of three of the publishing houses that form part of Certeza UNIDA – Certeza Argentina, Andamio, based in Spain, and PUMA, based in Peru. 

Francophone Africa: Presses Bibliques Africaines 

One in four Christians in the world is in Africa – and so the African church needs resources. PBA, a publishing ministry associated with IFES Francophone Africa, began in 1985, originally producing materials for IFES training and other internal purposes. Incredible growth has followed, however, and PBA have since published 130 titles and distributed to every French-speaking country in the world. Their vision is to see French-speaking readers transformed through quality Christian literature, produced by Africans.  

Based in Benin, PBA have experienced tremendous success through the struggles of the last two years, publishing at a rate not much altered from before the pandemic. One of the most crucial aspects of the work is the commitment to publish only African authors. Georges Laté, PBA Manager, emphasises that ‘God talks to us in our culture’, and that it is thus essential to write from an African context, using African concepts, ideas and approaches. PBA gives space to African thinking about the Word of God. 

As well as receiving manuscripts, the PBA sometimes commission them – identifying a need, finding the relevant work of a theologian, and holding writing workshops. This process has created such works as Du Temple à la Cité (2021), by Augustin Ahoga, or Vivre le grand amour: amour et sexualité des jeunes (2019), by Gad Abel Dideh. The PBA remains rooted in student ministry, and authors are often well-known names within IFES, including general and regional secretaries. The PBA also hold writing and reading workshops for students, who read and debate new titles together.  

One of the biggest challenges is that of distribution. There are difficulties selling and transporting books, especially given border closures, and not enough distribution staff. Online markets are only partly helpful, as they are still inaccessible to many, and hard copy production remains critical. One marketing strategy has been ‘Christian Book Day’, promoting a reading culture amongst Christians. 

Georges and the team have a visionary focus on growth opportunities, too. The PBA is developing younger authors, training and providing them space to hone their skills. Amazon’s market would give PBA titles a greater reach across different parts of Africa. This is an area in which collaboration across different parts of the IFES fellowship has been key – earlier this year, IFES Logos & Cosmos were able to help PBA make some of their titles available as Kindle editions, accessible to billions far from the reach of a hard copy.  

And while the PBA have of course been affected by the pandemic, they are also recognising the opportunities it brings. Georges suggests that the habits of audiences have changed favourably – when people are unable to travel, they have more time to read. Authors from Togo and Gabon are currently writing about COVID, explaining the healing hope of Jesus to the world, through the pandemic, from Africa. The team feel convicted that this was a task given to them as a testimony to non-Christians. They are looking to expand their authorship community to include diasporic Africans, to bring in new contexts and nuances.  

Browse titles on the PBA website or Facebook.  

Find the following titles as Kindle editions: 

MENA: Inspire Publishing House  

Five or six years ago, Shaher Luka, a member of the IFES Middle East and North Africa regional team with 25 years of publishing experience, shared a vision for a publishing house to serve the region – an idea that crystalised in 2018 with Inspire. The team identified a need for resources to engage the youth – particularly given the remarkable demographics of the region. Around 60% of the population of the Arab world is under the age of 25 – a striking prospect for the church.  

The Inspire Publishing House, based in Egypt, was thus established with three objectives – to encourage the younger generation to write, to encourage Christian authors to write for young people, and to focus on issues that young people care about. Inspire also strongly encourages their authors to write in Arabic, enriching the library of Arabic translations with original material for and from the Arabic-speaking world. 

The youth focus has resulted in the publication of Bible studies written by students from Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, and a Jordanian graduate has also authored a book discussing Old Testament warfare. Inspire has partnered with Inter-Varsity Press in the UK, and UCCF, the UK national movement, to translate the evangelistic Bible study materials Uncover Luke, John and Mark into Arabic. They have been well-received, and 6000 copies of Luke have been distributed to young people in the region. Inspire also sees fostering relationships with the local church as absolutely key. 500 Arabic copies of Martin Haizmann’s I AM First. Last. Alive. (2019), originally published by SMD, the national movement in Germany, have been given to all church leaders in Egypt. 

Inspire has published 10 books, with three currently in the pipeline, despite many struggles since 2018. The greatest has been that Shaher passed away earlier this year. Nonetheless, the Inspire board remain convinced that Inspire is necessary for the church and the national movements, and they are looking for a way forward, hoping to slowly but surely develop their profile in order to resource the whole MENA region. 

The vision is big. John 4:35 is a timely verse – ‘Look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’. Despite the burgeoning youth population, there is no Christian publishing house which focuses solely on young people in MENA – and yet young people have an appetite to read. As in Francophone Africa, the challenges of distribution are some of the most pressing. Hussam Fakhoury, training secretary for MENA and founding board member of Inspire, sees audio books, ebooks, and Amazon distribution in the future.  

The team are keen to begin publishing both in English and French, as well as Arabic, and seizing the gap in the market of English Christian books. They are also thinking globally; with 400,000 students from the Persian Gulf studying in the United States alone, Inspire sees important opportunities to distribute Arabic resources to international students. They can thus harness and strengthen the IFES network to reach every student with exactly what they need. 

You can reach Inspire on Facebook or Instagram. 

Looking Forward 

Whether or not you live in these regions, you can stand with these publishers as they work to reach and equip students. Here are five ways to support these ministries, right where you are.  

  1. Pray for IFES movements and publishers to work as God leads them, and to always seek him. Pray through all the situations detailed above. 
  1. Explore and share the work that these IFES publishers are doing with the links provided. 
  1. Read – we want to reach eager potential readers in the broader IFES world. 
  1. Use your network. Do you know someone who could help or who could benefit from one of these ministries? If so, let us know at hello@ifesworld.org, and we’ll connect you. 
  1. Consider whether God could be calling you to use your skills and creativity in Christian publishing, at home or in the wider world.  

The student context is characterised by constant new beginnings, and the global scale is as big as it gets. But God is directing the growth of his global church, building connections and experiences and weaving together something amazing from students, publishers, authors, readers, church leaders, and everyone in between. Publishing becomes one key way in which IFES helps students live the vision of Ephesians 4:15: ‘speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.’ 

Eleven Easy ways to Love International Students

There are currently over five million international students worldwide, and that number is only set to grow in the coming years. The global movement of students from everywhere to everywhere has never been so extensive, and international study can provide fantastic opportunities and an incredible adventure. It’s not an easy thing to do, however. Students can face xenophobic abuse, ranging from a pointed look all the way to a physical attack. They may feel isolated and have difficulties integrating into their new culture – especially after Covid-19. For so many students, the pandemic magnified loneliness and cut slices out of the short university years which can never be replaced. 

There is so much opportunity here for Christian students to reach out in love and welcome, to cross cultural barriers and make international students feel at home. Time and again in the Bible, God affirms his concern and care for those in a strange country. He commands his people to “love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). When God has brought us near, who were so far away from him, and welcomed us to his banqueting table, how can we not do the same for those far from home? Here are eleven ways to love international students on your campus. 

1. Be the first to show hospitality 

Welcome international students not only as someone from their new culture, but also as an ambassador of the kingdom of Jesus. You might be the first or only Christian they will meet. You might be the only person who will pray for them. 

2. Extend friendship  

Work at becoming friends. There is great value in friendship across cultural and religious divides, and it’s a great first step to sharing the gospel with people from other cultures. Where there is mutual understanding and respect, friends are more willing to learn more about why our faith is important to us. 

3. Create space for reciprocity 

Our relationships with international students should not be one-sided, where we are always giving, and they are always receiving. This would create an imbalance of power and deny international students the dignity of giving. Create a space that allows for reciprocal relationships, where everyone can contribute. There will be a lot that international students can do to help you, and a lot you can learn from them. Listen to what they have to say. 

4. Display love 

Love your international friends just as you would want to be loved when in another country. Be a joyful witness of what Christ has done for you. But let your activities be natural, not forced. Share joyfully, but do not force Jesus. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you and to work in the lives of your international friends. 

5. Don’t underestimate the power of eating together 

Love can often be given and received via the stomach – and food plays a central part in hospitality in many cultures, providing a relaxed atmosphere of fellowship. Check for religious or dietary preferences. Remember Muslims don’t eat pork, and Hindus don’t eat beef. 

6. Help international students prepare to return to their home country 

International students are temporary visitors in your country, coming from and returning to their own communities. Helping students to prepare for healthy re-entry is a vital part of our ministry. Success in ministry occurs when students return well and contribute meaningfully to the church in their home context. 

7. Be sensitive to politics 

Avoid talking about politics before a friendship is formed. Often these debates will close the door for the gospel rather than bring your friend closer to Jesus. Don’t make broad negative statements or speak disrespectfully about anything that might be of religious significance. Instead, speak joyfully of your own faith. After a trusting friendship is established, political discussions could lead to conversations about the need for Jesus in our countries and in our world. We can ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and sensitivity, and remind ourselves that each of our political standpoints arises largely from the contexts, experiences and influences we have been exposed to – and these will of course be different around the world. 

8. Don’t include alcohol in your gatherings 

Don’t serve any alcoholic drinks in your meetings and events. It may cause confusion or offence for international students from Muslim or Hindu contexts, as well as for Christian students from other cultural contexts. 

9. Build relationships with those of the same gender as you 

When building friendships with international students, focus on relationships with those of the same gender as yourself, being aware of different cultural expectations around the roles of men and women. Avoid the opportunity for motives for forming a friendship to cause confusion or otherwise be misunderstood. 

10. Have humility in misunderstandings  

We all have different ways of doing things that may cause surprise or shock on either side. Try to avoid cross-cultural faux pas, but don’t let it worry you too much – misunderstandings are inevitable in any genuine relationship. These moments are opportunities to practice humility. When friendship exists there will be forgiveness, greater understanding, and even some fun stories to laugh about in the future. Be encouraged that students really love receiving invitations and will normally overlook any cultural blunders when they are extended with warmth and love. Love has the power to heal most cultural misunderstandings. 

11. Be aware of security issues 

Remember that the cost of becoming a Christian is usually far higher for a Muslim or a Hindu than it is for a nominal Christian or agnostic. Keep security issues in mind when contacting students from sensitive countries. 

This list was adapted from the newly released resource God’s World on Your Doorstep, as part of the  Sobremesa campaign. Sobremesa is all about extending the radical welcome of Jesus to the international students on our campuses,. Students can do this by creating communities of acceptance, belonging, and cross-cultural understanding. 

You can read the full resource for free to find lots more information to equip you to reach out to international students. Find out more about the vision, the stories, and the community of Sobremesa here

Hope, Affliction, Prayer

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 Colombia 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.  

On further reflection

As we approach the end of the year, we are looking back at our favorite Conexion pieces from 2020. Though each story is different, they are all connected by the theme of God’s power and faithfulness. We hope looking back on these stories will encourage you to continue trusting and walking with God in the new year. 

“There are also issues of identity. No-one’s asking, ‘who is God?’ anymore. Everyone is asking ‘who am I?’ The self-help books tell you not to worry, just be yourself. But how can you be yourself when you don’t know who you are? And how can you know who you are when you don’t know Christ?” 

Even before the pandemic, a staff leader from InterVarsity USA was noticing dire mental health issues in her students. She tallied the number of those she knew were suffering and found there to be 44 people. Research from IFES also indicated that mental health is a primary trend affecting student ministry around the world. With prayer and professional help, many of these people found holistic healing. As many have endured a lonely and difficult year, we hope this story will remind you that there is always hope. 

“Faced with the invisible and pervasive danger that surrounds us, we must not forget, dear friends, that there is a refuge, a fortress, a help which does not reside in us, but in God!” 

Back in March, the world was just at the beginning of a pandemic which would impact this entire year. This message, from Acting General Secretary Jamil, reminded the fellowship of human frailty and God’s power. His advice to turn our eyes upward, resist fear, and rely on God is just as timely now as it was in the spring. 

“For Muslims around the world, this time of year is normally characterized by the sounds of family and friends bursting through a lively home filled with delicious smells. Yet in a time of COVID-19, this year’s fast will look different.” 

This year has been difficult for anyone celebrating a holiday. Though many Christians are now facing disrupted Christmas plans, Muslims were experiencing this months ago during Ramadan. At that time, we encouraged students to show love to their Muslim friends using five simple ideas. While we hope that holiday celebrations in the coming year will be different, these five suggestions are still useful for anyone wishing to reach their Muslim friends during Ramadan. 

“Being a believer has really helped me to stay hopeful. Having many meetings online and praying both with friends and alone makes me feel so much peace. The feeling of speaking to God and knowing He cares has been really important for me. I have new available time to pray and study the Bible, and doing these things helps me avoid anxiety.” 

Many people have been isolated from family and friends this year but imagine bearing this isolation in a completely foreign country. That is what Nigerian students Theophilus and Hyellai endured earlier this year. Though they suffered from loneliness and homesickness, they experienced God’s peace. We hope their testimony will encourage any students who are still currently isolated from family and friends. 

“Students are indomitable in their spirit. They have found a new way of meeting.” 

Students have faced innumerable challenges this year, from disrupted study plans to isolation. Since ministry requires personal connection with others, many believed that this would be a lost year. However, students have proven that a pandemic will not stop the message of Christ. Since this story was written, they have continued to creatively shine in this dark year. Read these three examples to discover how ministry in a pandemic was thriving from the beginning. 

Reflecting on 2020 

As you reflect on this year, we pray that you will remember the incredible opportunities that God has provided students to continue his ministry amid challenging circumstances. Through the many hardships, we remember his desire to meet us where we are and to faithfully walk with us. May these testimonies be an example of the many ways students around the world courageously continue to follow God’s guidance.  

Because he is my brother

This was not what Arjun* had in mind when he dreamed of being a doctor. He stumbled backward as the man advanced. The man was shouting hateful words. Go back to where you came from!  His eyes were wild. In his peripheral vision Arjun noticed someone else approaching, stalking their group of six students. His friend let out a cry – the shouting man had kicked him! Arjun noticed more men emerging. They were everywhere – he counted twenty of them. As they closed in with fists raised, Arjun knew this would not end well. He lifted his eyes, and just before he felt the first blow, he noticed a police officer leaning against a wall, silently watching. 

Arjun remembered his little white coat. He loved to dress as a doctor when he was a child. His parents were so proud when he had told them that he wanted to study medicine. When he learned he could attend medical school in Central Asia for a fraction of the price in India, his mind was set. The admissions counselor made it sound easy. The city would be modern and exciting. Everyone would speak English. Six years abroad would be a breeze.  

But the admissions counselor had lied. It did not take long for Arjun to realize that the situation was not as perfect as he thought. At the airport, the student coordinators forced Arjun and his friend Veer* to hand over their diplomas. They and the other Indian students were crammed inside a taxi and sent eleven hours away to their study destination. Hungry and nervous, they were unable to communicate with the driver, who only spoke the local language. But that was the least of their worries. They soon realized that as Indians, they faced heavy discrimination from locals.  

They were warned not to stay out later than five o’clock, as a minor encounter with the wrong people could quickly become dangerous. Wallets and bags were stolen from their friends in broad daylight. Their elementary skills in the local language rendered them helpless. But there was one word they understood well – “black.”  As they walked through markets children shouted it at them while their parents pointed fingers. 

The discrimination continued on campus. Following their first exam, Arjun and Veer stood in a long line, waiting for their results. After an hour, all 200 names of their peers had been called, yet the two students remained outside. They began to panic. What happened to our tests? The door opened and their group leader stepped through.  

The professor is wondering when you are going to pay him.”   

Unbeknownst to Arjun and Veer, the professors routinely withheld marks from students who did not pay a bribe. Indian students paid a premium. While their local classmates paid the equivalent of 15 USD for a good mark, Arjun and Veer were forced to pay the equivalent of 200 or 300 USD. But sometimes they did not have the chance to take the test at all. While students waited to enter the exam room, some professors would find small excuses to remove them. Once Veer was barred for wearing a hoodie. Another time, Arjun was removed because he had a beard. 

Despite their best efforts to understand the local people, Arjun and Veer were constantly shocked by their treatment. Six years stretched hopelessly before them as they considered a life without allies. Unable to find relief from the stresses of their coursework and the dangers of the city, the students felt emotionally homeless. This continued until their Indian classmate, Sai*, met a local peer named Adel*. 

Adel had never known any Indians before. But as she chatted with Sai after class, she realized he needed a friend. She invited him to her IFES group. Then Sai invited Arjun and Veer. In a matter of weeks, 15 more Indian students attended regularly. There, the students met Omar* and Elina*, the local IFES staff, who welcomed them into their lives. Finally, they had local friends.  

Omar and Elina were the first people that Arjun and Veer called after they were beaten up on their walk home from class. The two staff members rushed them to the police station – where the police advised the students not to file a report. Still, Arjun and Veer took comfort in the fact that they had someone to call. These relationships completely changed their experience.  Adel began offering her help for anything they needed. She accompanied them to the markets and haggled over rent prices with landlords. By simply being present, she dramatically changed how locals reacted to the Indian students. 

But other locals did not understand why Omar, Elina, and Adel cared about the foreigners. When Adel walked with them, they called out to her, asking if the Indians were a bother. Sometimes they challenged her. Once she accompanied Veer to the clinic to make sure he was not overcharged. When she refused to accept the exorbitant price, the doctor became angry. He questioned why she would go to such lengths to protect an outsider. Adel’s response was simple and salient.  

“He is my brother,” she said. “This is what you do for family. You protect them.”  

In truth, Arjun, Veer, and the other Indian students did find a family with the IFES movement in Central Asia. Worshipping and studying the Bible with Omar, Elina, and Adel carried them through the darkest hours of their studies. These friends were their allies in a culture that rejected them. Arjun describes his local Christian friends as people of integrity.  

“They always stood for the right things,” he says. “They backed us up.” 

In many places, foreigners like international students, refugees, and immigrants navigate blatant discrimination in their new society. Christians like Omar, Elina, and Adel are taking the opportunity to welcome these people by demanding justice on their behalf. They have even risked their own social status to do so. Their actions honor God’s command to treat the foreigner as “your native-born,” (Leviticus 19:33-34) and bear witness to God’s love for all nations and peoples.  

How can you be an ally to the foreigners around you? What can you do to pursue justice on their behalf? 

*name changed 

When heaven rejoices

Nowhere in the world are there more international students than in the USA. And among the 1 million students arriving at universities across the country, are those from some of the least reached countries in the world*: Yemen, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti – even North Korea. As you meet the following four international students, join with heaven in rejoicing that God is calling people from every nation to follow Him! And pray that there would be more stories of students coming to faith and being equipped to share Christ around the world.

Yang inspired by sacrifice

International student Yang was not a Christian. During the semester he was too busy with his PhD study to spend time exploring more. But he was curious. Over the winter vacation, Yang decided to sign up for Urbana, the InterVarsity student missions conference, to learn more about God.

It was during the prayer night at Urbana that something changed for Yang. He watched as Urbana participants spent an hour praying for the persecuted church. Yang was amazed to hear of the willingness of men and women to give up their lives for Jesus, and even to pray for those persecuting them! Their faith had a profound impact on him. He knew he needed to follow this Jesus too.

Sundeep finds the true light

Students from South Asia were excited to be invited to celebrate Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights – with their InterVarsity friends. Food, fireworks, cricket and singing filled the evening, and the students had the opportunity to share about their Diwali traditions. Then one Christian graduate, a former Hindu from India, shared his testimony of how he had found the true light in Jesus.

After the event, a volunteer invited one of the students, Sundeep, to church. Sundeep had picked up one of the free Bibles. After learning more about the gospel, Sundeep prayed to receive Jesus into his life!

Lily embraces evangelism

“I don’t understand why my Christian friends waited so long to tell me about Jesus!” Lily is a student from East Asia, and after giving her life to Jesus, became a student leader. She has a strong desire to return home to share the gospel among her people. She often reminds others that people are eager to learn about Jesus, and often it’s our timidity which delays their access to the gospel. Lily recently began a seeker Bible study with several students from her country who are curious about Jesus.

Salima discovers she can follow Jesus

Salima is from a country where followers of Jesus are heavily persecuted. A couple of years ago she connected with InterVarsity students and staff through the international group. Salima attended most of their discussions on the life of Jesus that semester and showed a hunger to know more.

Some months after that, one of the staff workers connected with Salima again. Salima explained that she had found a local church of immigrants from her home nation. She had even started hosting their prayer meetings in her home! With the support of many in that community, she was beginning to understand how a person from her country could follow Jesus.

Very recently, Salima started to follow Jesus. Her husband is still investigating the Christian faith.

Names have been changed.

Read more stories of international student ministry around the world.

Resiato dreams of reaching the nations on campus

Resiato*, an international student from Kenya, has big dreams. She wants to start an international student ministry at her university in Estonia. Her motivation? The Great Commission from Matthew 28. Resiato sees her campus as a platform to make disciples of the nations.

It’s a big dream, but Resiato isn’t alone. A staff worker from another IFES movement heard about her plans and recently travelled to meet her. They spoke about how to share Christ with international friends and how to start a ministry. Within a few months Resiato was taking a Hindu friend to church regularly, and had arranged to talk to church pastors to share her vision.

The majority of international students in Estonia come from Nigeria, Russia and Ukraine, but there are many from India, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan as well. Resiato reflects:

“I’m interacting with so many different cultures. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. But the materials from IFES definitely help me carry out the Great Commission.”

Resiato needs your prayers as she seeks to establish an international student ministry in Estonia:

  • Pray for Resiato as she shares her vision and gathers leaders to help reach out to international students.
  • Pray that many international students would be reached with the good news of Jesus through this new group in Estonia.
  • Thank God for partnership between IFES movements. Pray for more opportunities to encourage one another and share resources.

*name changed

How God used our ministry failure

In March 2018, I tried to start a group for international students in the Bulgarian city of Varna… and failed miserably.

The journey begins

BCSU, the IFES movement in Bulgaria, had already started a group for international students in Sofia, the capital. It was going so well that we wanted to expand the work to another city. Varna was the next logical place. It had a large international student population, and there was no other Christian group available for them.

But Varna was an eight-hour train ride across the country from Sofia, where I and most BCSU staff workers lived. The only staff worker in Varna was already tied up with other ministry responsibilities. So we started praying. And we waited for an opportunity.

From bad to worse

Shortly after that, a volunteer offered to come and spend three weeks in Varna, helping to establish the group. An answer to our prayers! We had a venue ready to host us as well, so I travelled to Varna to join the volunteer.

Publicity was the first job. We handed out flyers and talked to hundreds of international students. And then the night of the first event came… and only three students showed up. It was a bad start – but the other nights were even worse. On one evening there were no students there at all! It was very discouraging. We questioned whether God had wanted us to start a group in Varna at all.

Sarah’s request

Then we got a message from Sarah*. She was one of the three students from the first night. She had enjoyed meeting us and wanted to start going to church. At least we had reached one student! God’s definition of success is different than ours, we thought. Perhaps His plan was for us to help this one student come to faith.

Sarah started getting more involved at the church. She was enjoying what she learned and loved the atmosphere. But Sarah was unable to attend the weekly church Bible studies because she didn’t speak Bulgarian. She asked us if we could help. Using resources from the IFES Breaking New Ground program, and with Sarah’s promise to invite her friends, we decided to try one more time to start something for international students in Varna.

Unexpected results

And this time, in October 2018, the students showed up! And they kept coming back. The group started looking at the gospel of John using the Uncover  material. Amazingly, the group grew and flourished as international students kept inviting their friends to explore the person of Jesus.

Today it is the largest student group in the country! The group currently includes both seekers and believers from countries across South Asia, Europe and Africa. Sarah is still on her journey of figuring out what she believes. She continues to be a big advocate for the group and invites her friends to all our events.

And I have learned that God’s vision for reaching students is so much bigger than mine, and that He can use our supposed failures for His glory.

*name changed

This pioneering work in Bulgaria is being supported by the IFES Breaking New Ground initiative.

Security risks and language barriers

Naomi needs to be careful what she says to her friends. Even a text message can be intercepted by authorities and scanned for ‘Christian’ language. It adds a tension to everyday life she didn’t know before September. Naomi has recently moved to a country to East Asia as an international student to pursue language learning. She reflects:

“I don’t like the effect it has on me. It makes me less inclined to share the gospel because I’m so conscious of the sensitivity of it. But if anything, my response should be the opposite! The gospel desperately needs to be shared here, as many people – locals and internationals – have yet to hear of Christ’s redeeming love and grace.”

Despite the dangers, Naomi is loving the international experience. She explains:

“In a class of 20 there are 14 different nationalities. I’ve met students from places like Iran, Sudan, Nigeria and many more! The number of different languages and cultures represented is enriching and exciting, but can be a challenge in getting to know people deeply and moving past surface-level conversations.”

Join us in praying for Naomi this week:

  • Pray for Naomi to have linguistic fluency, sensitivity and courage to have gospel conversations with friends.
  • Pray that God would open eyes and change hearts of local and international students, so that they would know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
  • Pray for the local Christians facing persecution, that they would continue to hold fast to Jesus and trust in His ways and provision.

Thanks for praying with us!

A knife under the pillow

Niraj* seemed to be a confident, easy-going medical student. But at night, it was a different story. He was haunted by nightmares and always slept with the light on. What he learned in medical school had not been able to help him, so he kept a knife under his pillow to keep the bad dreams away. 

An attractive community 

Niraj is one of around 1,500 students from India, studying in Yerevan, Armenia’s ancient capital city. He’s a regular at the IFES student Bible studies and even attends their prayer meetings, along with other Hindu classmates. He loves the community. It’s a place of escape, away from the Indian international student bubble; it’s a place of acceptance, unrelated to his academic performance. No gossip, no back-biting, no pressure.  

No fear. 

As for the Christian stuff – he could get on board with much of it. Jesus seemed like a good idea, and didn’t seem incompatible with his loose Hindu beliefs. But his Christian friends told him that he had to choose: you can’t just add on Jesus to another set of beliefs. It’s all or nothing. Following Jesus will affect every part of your life. Your work, your marriage, your speech, your money, your free time. 

It sounded a bit intrusive to Niraj. 

Hinduism plus Jesus 

Niraj’s story is not uncommon. Each year, hundreds of Hindu students from India arrive in Armenia. Tuition is cheaper and university places are easier to find. Medical students like Niraj are there for six years – so there’s time to invest in them. And they’re keen to be part of IFES activities and community. But many, like Niraj, adopt a ‘Hinduism plus Jesus’ framework. A whole-hearted leap of faith to trust in Christ alone is hard. Niraj’s friends have been praying for him to come to faith in time. For some, it’s a matter of small steps. 

Recently, Niraj took another small step. 

He no longer sleeps with a knife under his pillow. 

Instead, he prays:

“Jesus, You are with me. You are watching over me. So I’m going to bed.” 

Pray, with Niraj’s friends, that he’d come to trust more and more fully in the God whose ways are better, whose grace is sufficient, whose love casts out fear.