Why We Need Our Global Fellowship

One of the things I love about Urbana is the opportunity to connect with many brothers and sisters serving in IFES student movements around the world. But often I am asked, “Why do we need IFES, and why does InterVarsity need to be part it?”

The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) is a global body of 173 indigenous, national student movements. God is wondrously working all over the world, calling students to himself in diverse ways.

Last summer, I participated in the quadrennial IFES World Assembly in Mexico City, along with 50 other USA staff and student leaders. I am convinced that our connectedness and participation in the global body is not only helpful, but it’s a necessary part of our discipleship as followers of Christ.

Here are five reasons why we need to be involved in global fellowship:

1. It frees us from fixed paradigms of church and ministry. As an American fellowship, I have particular philosophies of ministry which tell me that successful ministry must include certain numbers of staff or that staff must focus on just one campus. But as I’ve visited movements in Kenya and Ethiopia, I’ve seen thriving ministry where a few student leaders lead student fellowships of over 500 students on campuses, without any staff support! While serving as a missionary in Mongolia, we saw Mongolian staff serve over 10 campuses at a time, a fairly common student ministry paradigm in many parts of the world.

2. It frees us from our American sacred cows. Students around the world don’t always worship with guitars and keyboards, yet we are tempted to make this into a requirement for “good” worship. Not only is the cost prohibitive in many countries, but the risk of persecution makes worship without loud instruments the norm. Another sacred cow might be the method or way we go about teaching, whether it’s inductive, Socratic or collaborative. However, many cultures still learn through deductive and lecture-style approaches. Being with my international friends frees me up to experience different ways of learning.

3. It frees us from what we believe God can or can’t do. Steeped in a secular environment, my temptation is to have fixed boundaries of what God will do on campus. Our thinking goes, “If I do a certain thing right, then God might bless it. If I don’t work hard or use an incorrect strategy, then God won’t bless it.” But when we relate to the global body of Christ, we see a better picture of the signs and wonders of God, miraculous acts of power happening through students and fellowships around the world. Our faith is increased as we see God speak to Iranian sisters in dreams, as God protects Iraqis and Pakistanis from terrorist attacks, and as revival breaks out on campuses in China. While in Mongolia, we saw students get healed physically from liver disease and eye disease, as well as the casting out of demons from students on a regular basis. God grew us in awe of his power!

4. It frees us from our pride. “Our pride prevents us from true partnership,” observes Daniel Bourdanne, IFES General Secretary. When we interact with the global body, it helps us release our pride. We begin to see rich perspectives of theology, mission, and culture which we miss out on if we stay just in our American bubble. I am humbled when I sit and hear the testimonies of those who are following Jesus in contexts of extreme persecution. My character is challenged when I see the integrity of those following Jesus in contexts of extreme corruption, where they are jailed for refusing to pay bribes. My stewardship of resources is challenged when I see the generosity of those who are following Jesus in contexts of extreme poverty. I need to relate to the global body for my own discipleship.

5. It frees us to learn about specific issues where other national movements are already ahead. During a time when we are struggling with the marginalization of religion from the public square, the rise of secularism, and the suffering and injustices experienced by ethnic minorities such as our Black brothers and sisters, it’s also a time where believers in other nations may have something to teach us. At the IFES World Assembly, I heard from a Palestinian who has lived life as a Christian minority, working towards reconciliation and peacemaking in the midst of religious conflict between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. I was inspired by the way the Kenyan movement lamented and responded to injustice. I saw glimpses of the future of American secularism as I shared meals with European brothers and sisters who are further down the road in seeing Christianity eroded from the public square. Finally, I gained creativity and courage to face the difficult campus access challenges at our universities after forming new relationships with students from certain “high persecution” countries. These students are frequently jailed, or even face death, if they are caught meeting on campus.

If you were at Urbana, then you may have experienced some of what I described above. It's easy to go from an experience like Urbana or World Assembly and then return home to your normal circle and routine. I encourage you to continue stepping out of your cultural comfort zones and make friends with those who come from a different culture. Invest in your own personal growth by being willing to cross cultures and interact with others.

Don't let Urbana stay at Urbana, but bring it home with you in the way you view the world and how you interact with others. 

About the Author
Vice President of Missions and Director of Urbana Missions Conference

After graduating from Harvard, Tom planted new chapters at Harvard and Boston University, worked as HR Director of a Fortune 500 company, and served as Leadership Pastor in San Francisco. Later, Tom served as IFES Director of Mongolia. After moving back to the U.S., Tom served as Regional Director for Central U.S. Currently, Tom serves as InterVarsity’s Vice President of Missions and Director of the Urbana Student Missions Conference. Tom is happily married to Nancy, his wife of 15 years. Together they love going on world adventures with their two daughters, Abby (11) and Olivia (9).