Have we just left the ‘good ol’ days’? You know, the days we will look back on and realize how relatively stress-free it was to be a Christian on campus, when the only things standing in the way to speak freely about our faith were our own fear of rejection and sense of inadequacy.
As we look to the future, it is hard not to be frozen with fear over what may be ahead for followers of Jesus. We may imagine clandestine prayer meetings on the edge campus. But this imagined future does not have to be our realized future. There is no reason why the current and future issues of campus access, persecution and the growing secularization of our culture means our future has to evoke feelings that we are entering evil Mordor, like Frodo and Sam in “Lord of the Rings.”
This summer I had the great privilege to attend IFES World Assembly 2015 in sauna-like Oaxtepec, Mexico. Every four years, World Assembly gathers IFES staff, students, board members, and friends from about 160 movements. IFES is the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, the umbrella organization for individual evangelical movements from countries and people groups around the world, including InterVarsity/USA.
The 1,100 delegates who gathered in Mexico were met with unbelievable hospitality from students of Compa, the IFES movement in Mexico. The IFES representatives spoke different languages and came from different climates, time zones and ministry contexts, but one thing was clearly palpable: we had an overwhelming love for Jesus and a collective call for students to know that love. Soon language barriers melted, contexts seemed less foreign, and there was solidarity in ministry that I did not know we collectively possessed.
Global models for ministry
At World Assembly, I saw that InterVarsity/USA has a lot to offer as far as program and the development of staff and student leaders. Yet there is a lot we can learn from the stories of our brothers and sisters around the world. Their students really do walk the rim of Mordor to overpower the clutch of Sauron—and they are stronger for it.
- The IFES staff and students in Europe told stories of how God gives them great creativity in the face of reduced (or no) campus access to reach a culture that is rapidly becoming secularized. They taught me the strategic importance of strong community, knowing what you believe and why, and showing lavish love to all groups of people.
- I learned from the Eurasia staff about the incredible resolve students have to live a life of integrity regardless of the consequences. I learned that when the gospel is spoken boldly and clearly, students respond. Where it is dangerous to follow Jesus, students count costs and take giant steps. When faced with opposition, they speak bolder, not softer, about the Good News of Jesus.
- My African brothers and sisters showed me how IFES students have become world-changers all over Africa by working to end poverty, remove corruption and make life better for African people. I was reminded of the importance of prayer when they recounted the violent death of dozens of IFES students in Kenya at an early morning prayer meeting and how it spurred on more prayer, not less, among students, .
- My colleagues in Asia lack public spaces to meet, yet lavish hospitality attracts people who come from miles away to learn more about Jesus for days spent outside under tents.
- My friends in Latin America and the Caribbean are partners with ministries working in high schools to develop leaders who know the importance of sharing their faith. In college, these young students lead stronger chapters who need less staff supervision.
- Our South American brothers and sisters showed me new ways to bring scripture to unreached people through art, theatre, and music.
By spending time with my global IFES colleagues, the future of USA college ministry no longer provokes images of smoke-filled skies and dangerous quests. They have experienced limited campus access, faced greater persecution, and watched people in secularized cultures come to the living Jesus and say “yes” to his mission.
Before World Assembly I focused more on my potential problems than on the mission God was calling me to. Now, before a problem occurs, I will develop new skills, try new things and look for opportunities to be pro-active to our changing culture, not reactive.
Thank you to my IFES brothers and sisters around the world who did not get frozen by the fear of what the future may look like. I am so thankful that God has called us, InterVarsity/USA, to be in partnership with other national student movements. I am so grateful to learn from other brave staff and students who are a part of growing God's Kingdom in difficult places.
This semester I will see the state of our culture and our campuses as an opportunity to keep trying and seeking. I know that our circumstances may change, but our call and our mission absolutely remain the same.