For ten days in early March, I had the great privilege of meeting with the presidents – named “general secretaries” in the rest of the world – from over 130 sister national student movements. The conference, held in Malaysia, was hosted by the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) of which InterVarsity/USA is a founding member. The hospitality was fabulous. The Malaysian staff team is pictured above. Annette Arulrajah, the Malaysian General Secretary, is at left below.
Since I was the only American in attendance who actually lives in the USA, I was constantly in conversation with folk from other nations – a dream come true for an extroverted internationalist like me.
My roommates were Bala Usman from Nigeria (pictured on the right, with Annette) and Fery Pasang (pictured below) from Indonesia. I will never forget the morning that Bala showed me night-before photos of a massacre of Nigerian Christians in his home town. Or Fery’s many stories about planting a new student work in Cambodia.
Every morning, I met with a “family group.” My group consisted of peers from Rwanda, Ukraine, the Middle East and Poland. The Rwandan leader, Syldio Dusabumunemyi, is 39 years old and single.
When asked why he is not married, Syldio told us his personal history. Before the 1994 genocide, he was one of 70 students involved with our sister national ministry on the Kigali campus. Hutu and Tutsi Christians — together — defied their own tribes by continuing to eat together in the university’s cafeteria. During a holiday, 60 of his friends were murdered. So, he is one of only a small group that is still alive today. He acknowledged his “survivors’ guilt” and is single, in part, because he struggles with issues of security/permanence in this life.
It was also my pleasure to spend time with two brothers from Papua New Guinea. They represent the entire staff from their country. With the help of alumni and volunteers, they lead a student movement of 10,000 that saw 1,000 new believers last year. What an inspiration.
I also enjoyed spending time with leaders from the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In 1992 and 2000, I spent time in this region and fell in love with the student movements. It is such a joy to see them sending down deep roots into their college campuses. Kaspars Prusis of Latvia and Stepas Ribokas of Lithuania are pictured at left.
If time allowed, I could recount conversations with peers from Mexico, Ivory Coast, Guatemala and India. Or of the Bangladeshi student who became a Christian in the former Soviet Union, of all places. But I will save my last words for IFES General Secretary, Daniel Bourdanné. It is one of the great privileges of my life to count Daniel as a friend. Wise, visionary, pastoral and grace-filled, we are extremely fortunate to have such a leader overseeing our global fellowship. Thanks be to God.