The Best-Kept Secret in World Missions

Some have referred to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) as “the best kept secret in missions.” Quietly ministering on campuses around the world, this network of student ministries in 154 countries has some unique characteristics which warrant examination and duplication.

IFES is a worldwide network of student ministries. This collection of student ministries has banded together to achieve common goals and to provide mutual encouragement.

 A chief goal is to pioneer cooperatively indigenous student ministries in every country. Once a movement is established, the IFES also exists to strengthen and equip the national student ministries. The IFES does not sit in a hierarchical relationship over the student movements. Rather, the IFES exists to serve student movements and to help them achieve their goals.

IFES emphasizes autonomy and indigeneity. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA is the IFES member movement in the United States. The IFES assumes that Americans are best suited to minister to other Americans. Accordingly, InterVarsity is free to identify needs, develop styles and emphasize certain elements according to unique American cultural or theological realities. Certainly, InterVarsity draws on the resources of other student movements, but as an autonomous, indigenous movement, it is responsible for its own government, funding and propagation.

IFES depends on no master plan or individual with a grand vision. It relies on student initiative. Most of the member movements can trace their origins to student prayer groups who took the initiative to reach out to their fellow students. This pattern has become the cornerstone of strategy for the IFES. When one realizes that the emerging student movements in the former Soviet Union were pioneered by 22-25-year-olds and that indigenous student leaders are already assuming significant leadership, one cannot but give credit to God, who alone could make such things happen.

The goal of the IFES is not the establishment of student movements. Its goal is the transformation of societies to more thoroughly reflect biblical truth. This broader goal leads the IFES to focus on developing students’ worldviews, their lifelong commitments to the Church, career choices, lifestyle options and a deep knowledge of and experience in the Christian faith. The IFES has seen that believing students will express their faith in and through their lives. Their salting of society, in government, education, business and the church, promotes truth and justice in the world.

Unlike a “uni-directional”mission which stresses the resources we have to send to someone who needs our help, the IFES is an example of “multi-directional” mission. A multi-directional approach to mission emphasizes relationships and partnership among equals. The key to its effectiveness is enhanced cross-cultural communication and mutual submission.

For example, many Americans are concerned with how to minister in North Africa—a region with many needs, but not particularly open to missionary activity by Americans. In a multi-directional strategy, the question becomes not “How can we get in there?” but rather “Who should be primary and who should be secondary in ministry in North Africa?” And, in fact, the Kenyan and Ugandan IFES movements are leading the way in ministering to students in North Africa.

In this day when partnership is a trendy concept, the IFES has been practicing it for more than 60 years.

John Criswell

(Reprinted from Student Leadership Journal)

Learn more about IFES or how to connect with a national student ministry through InterVarsity's Study Abroad program.