A Birth of a New Student Mission Movement

By Julia Cameron

Julia is the head of Communications for IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) and is based in the United Kingdom.

Editor’s note: This writing is a report on a large student missions conference that took place in Nigeria in November.

It is a testimony to the reality that God is beginning to raise up the younger generation and giving them a vision of reaching the world in our lifetime. May we press on and take a hold of the full inheritance that God offers in this realm together.

Nigerian students converge on the ‘Land of Promise’

The scene: a hot, dry, sandy field 45 miles west of Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital. Three part-built dormitories with no roofs were crammed with mattresses lined up edge-to-edge. Just two water taps served upwards of five thousand students.

The Nigerian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES) is the largest movement in IFES, with some 40,000 student members – many on campuses in the north of the country with significant persecution from the majority religion.

Every three years, NIFES holds a major missions convention. This year the title was Servants to the Nations with a particular focus on North Africa and other countries in the 10:40 window. An exhibition of indigenous mission agencies showed how Nigerian graduates could serve in every sphere.

Following strikes on campuses, and a national strike earlier in the month, university terms were suddenly lengthened and exams re-scheduled.

This hit the conference hard. It started with around 2,000 students but built to upwards of 5,000 as the days went by. Buses and vans left campuses across the country as soon as exams were completed, depositing tired, cheering students at the campsite from early until late.

The Land of Promise

Three years ago, NIFES purchased a 20-acre site about an hour west of Abuja, the federal capital. The sign on the highway reads: ‘NIFES Land of Promise’. Staff and students have given generously to it with a Macedonian spirit, often beyond their ability.

The Certificate of Occupation, allowing building to take place, was received only weeks before the conference started, so there was little chance of much headway before students arrived.

Everyone took the basic conditions in a wonderful spirit. ‘God is preparing us for service’ said one student, with a glint in his eye. There was no complaint, nor any hint of discontent. These students were glad to be there and to make the most of the opportunity.

Awnings stretched over bench-seating on three sides of a square, and a temporary platform was erected. Students listened attentively to Bible exposition from Femi Adeleye, Gideon Para-Mallam and Calisto Odede, African IFES staff. The ‘health and wealth gospel’ is hugely popular in Nigeria, and these men countered it with care from Scripture.

It was striking to see students all with Bibles open on their laps. They listened for hours each day. Sue Brown (Arab World Ministries) brought a focus on the 10:40 window and Keith Walker (SIM) drew lessons from Scripture on dealing with corruption.

Benches were quickly re-arranged for group Bible study, and for seminars. The seminar range was very wide: different aspects of mission; family life; sexuality; spiritual growth. I taught on how to develop writing skills. Several campus groups produce their own magazines.

Opening Ceremony

The formal Opening Ceremony showed the regard in which NIFES is held. Prof Jerry Gana, Political Advisor to the President, represented His Excellency bringing a robust exhortation to the students to share the gospel with others in Nigeria, and to serve nations beyond its borders in the Name of Christ.

The Ven. Prof Nebu, Vice-Chancellor of UNN, the national university, referred to NIFES as ‘the most formidable, articulate, committed and enduring ministry to Nigeria’s universities.

An hour into the ceremony, a large hole appeared in the stage. The mass choir was amassing, and several boards came adrift from their moorings, with 20 or 30 students slipping down with them.

It caused no difficulty. No ankles were broken, and the choir was simply asked to re-amass on the ground. How refreshing to be out of our litigious culture!

Students and World Mission

Ryan Shaw from the USA urged students to look back 200 years to the famous Haystack Prayer Meeting of Samuel Mills and his friends in Williams College in 1806. That prayer meeting – with just a handful of students sheltering from the rain – proved to be the start of a huge missions movement.

‘God loves to use the younger generation’ Ryan repeated from the platform, illustrating his point from Scripture. Ryan is the leader of SVM2 (named after the former Student Volunteer Movement) which is serving and facilitating a current mission movement among the younger generation.

IFES movements around the world hold regular conventions on world mission for each generation of students. The Kenyans have theirs this month; the Mexicans in March. The Koreans and Taiwanese each held theirs a few months ago.

Nearly 200 years after the haystack prayer meeting, students are still going into world mission by the thousands.

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