At its 2007 World Assembly in Ontario, Canada, Dr Daniel Bourdanné of Chad became the fourth General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), succeeding Lindsay Brown. The Fellowship’s primary calling is to proclaim Christ in the world’s universities. Now in its 60th anniversary year, IFES has movements in 152 nations, with only 17 countries still to be pioneered.
A highlight of World Assemblies is the welcome of new national movements into the Fellowship. It can take anywhere from 8-15 years to move from the pioneering stage to formal affiliation. New movements need (i) to have a clear evangelical doctrinal basis; (ii) to demonstrate a commitment to the three aims of evangelism, discipleship, and world mission; and (iii) to be governed by a national board. These movements work in partnership with a national church whenever possible.
At this World Assembly, 18 more movements were welcomed into membership. People clapped loudly: an expression of the Fellowship’s welcome to these movements, and of sheer gratitude to God for establishing a bridgehead into the universities in these nations.
On another morning the World Assembly was reminded of the real danger some members lived with. Three or four years ago in one north African country, a student leader who had been rebuked by fellow Christian students for her lifestyle had reacted to this rebuke by passing on the names of everyone in the movement to the authorities; many students had had to flee the country for safety. Now Christian students are put in touch with only two others for Bible study and fellowship. The staff know of around 500 believers, but the students know only those in their triplet in these troubled times.
At the World Assembly, Peter Kuzmic (Croatia/USA), Jacques Buchhold (France) and Ziel Machado (Brazil) opened the Scriptures each morning with an exposition from Luke. In the first exposition, Ziel Machado, reflected on where ministry is exercised: the table, with its subtext of acceptance, community, and kindness; or the desk, the place of business and achievement. It was a searching question, and it set the tone for the Assembly.
A team of volunteer interpreters provided simultaneous translation into and out of French and Spanish for all the main sessions. It is a mark of the times that these were the only translators needed; Russian, Arabic, and Chinese participants now operate in English.
IFES movements are called to proclaim and to defend the gospel on campus. Evangelism remains the central thrust of its ministry, as was demonstrated from platform talks and seminars. Antoine Rutayisire, genocide survivor, founder of the Rwanda IFES movement and now Executive Secretary of Africa Evangelistic Enterprise, spoke with authority about reconciliation as a governing instinct in life. Stella Kasirye (Uganda) spoke of the need for “new wineskins” in our continuing response to the AIDS pandemic. Becky Pippert, author of Out of the Saltshaker, urged that evangelism be based on a strong doctrine of the incarnation. In seminars, Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF in the UK), Calisto Odede (IFES staff, Kenya), and Grace Morrillo (General Secretary, UCU, Colombia) addressed public evangelism in the university; Nigel Cameron (US advisor to the UN on cloning) encouraged Christian students to engage with fellow students and faculty in areas of science and the emerging technologies.
The mandate of the World Assembly for evangelism was clear. It is to be Christ-centered, reflecting his life, his death, and his resurrection. It is to anticipate his coming again as judge and in glory, and it must engage with all aspects of our multi-faceted student world. Students must be prepared and equipped to proclaim and defend the gospel in personal friendships, in academic disciplines, in university societies, and in the public square. Las Newman (Jamaica), Conference Director, drawing on Malcolm Gladwell’s metaphor, said he trusted the World Assembly would prove “the tipping point” in the lives of its participants.
Foundations for growth
By the grace of God, the Fellowship has established new movements in over 50 countries since Lindsay Brown became General Secretary in 1991. He has taken seriously the biblical mandate to “remember,” that is, to tell of the acts of God for the sake of the glory of God, and his book i>Shining like Stars gives a glimpse into these critical years in church history: years of war and genocide, years in which the post-Communist world has begun to emerge; years in which the weight of Christianity has completed its shift from the post-Christian West to the South and the East. Lindsay’s commitment to biblical truth, to confessional evangelism, and to pioneering have set the stage for new possibilities.
His final words to the World Assembly were based on Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20); Lindsay exhorted each attendee to finish well, with hearts which were soft and not hardened. Our calling is to offer Christ, to offer grace, in our needy societies.
Foundations for change
Daniel Bourdanné gave the closing World Assembly address in French. He and his wife Halymah had both knelt on stage earlier for the laying on of hands and had declared their assent to each of the great truths of the Fellowship’s doctrinal basis, read out by the whole Assembly simultaneously in three languages. Dressed strikingly in pale blue traditional African dress, he spoke with power. Building on the legacy of previous General Secretaries Stacey Woods, Chua Wee Hian, and Lindsay Brown, he proclaimed that the Fellowship is now ready to engage at a new level with the university.
The spiritual life of the movement would never be of greater quality than the personal spiritual lives of its staff. As Daniel outlined the prophetic nature of the role he wanted IFES to play, its rootedness would always be in the same hard work of Bible study and prayer.
He charged the students to be Daniels and Josephs, those who were not afraid, for “he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” The digital century had opened up new ways for students around the world to talk with each other, and he pledged two days a year to listening to students and to talking with them online. The theme of the World Assembly was “In Christ. Into the World.” As staff and students prepared to go back onto campuses, the toughest ideological frontiers, they were reminded that Christ has gone before them, and that all power has been given to him in heaven and on earth.
Julia Cameron served until recently as IFES Head of External Relations; she continues to run its publishing. This article in its original form was written for the UK newspaper Evangelicals Now.