Anja and Martin Heizmann greet us this morning after a soulful and joyful time of singing and joyful worship. We are entering a business meeting but the worship is powerful and heartfelt. Our voices are now raised in Polish – “Holy, HOly, Holy…” a great old hymn that speaks of the greatness of God and the brokenness of humanity made whole as we hope in His Trinitarian holiness.
“God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity”
Voices are lifted, arms are raised, people move and dance – cultures clash and compliment as the norms of people’s worship stand side by side. It seems there is no offense but just joy in the diversity.
We sit, the auditorium darkness. Rid yourselves therefor of all malice – student start to dance, a group entwined by a red cord try to free themselves from one another. But the tie chokes and ties them to one another – there is no freedom. The music is tense and intense.
A pause – a new tone of music comes. This new beat, this new tune, brings lightness. The group are still bound , covered, one runs out of the group and becomes isolated. Feet are washed – the bind has become a bond. There is Joy now in this group as they dance. They support each other, play together – before there was only tension and pain and now there is life and community. The tie that bounds them together is now the cross.
It was a powerful piece of dance – struck by how this drama and dance is crossing boundaries and engaging the hall. The concentration is not understanding the words of performance buy on what God is speaking through the performers.
Daniel Bourdanne rises to speak. Daniel is the General Secretary of IFES. He’s speaking in French being translated by Tom Parfit, a church leader from Paris. Tom did Relay whilst I worked in the UK for UCCF as Relay Coordinator. He went on to lead the IFES team in Paris for a number of years. It is a delight to see him serving so well in such a key opportunity.
Daniel speaks of sacrifice, of time, money but especially dignity. Those who have been humiliated in the process of applying for visas. He speaks to those who have been wounded in their dignity in being dehumanised in the process of coming to World Assembly. Daniel was deported from the UK at the beginning of his time at Gen Secretary, and when he was travelling back to Africa God spoke to him in the airplane. God pointed Daniel to his identity lying in Christ Jesus, in God’s love. Daniel speaks warmly and with encouragement.
We are living stones – a vision out of 1 Peter. We are living stones built on and by the One Living Stone – we come to Him the living stone. Daniel speaks about his preparation for this event, asking questions: is World Assembly just another Christian Fayre, conference. There are plenty of them – wasting time and money without any difference. What changes will God produce in us? Will we return unchanged? Daniel’s conviction is that this conference will be unique – let us come to God who has called us to be here.
Daniel is unsure what the full content of the message will be to us. We need to be listening to God. We have not come to debate strategies, or great discussions (both though are necessary) we are here, called by God to listen to Him. We come as fellow equals in order to hear God speak. God speak to us, revel your message to us, Lord help us listen to your Word, to what you want to say to us. We do not want to leave this place with the same fears about the secularisation of our world; fear of being persecuted in our universities, fear ofa lack of passion for God. We do not want to go home with the same fears of a fast changing world.
The choice of the theme of Living Stones speaks to us – Peter wrote to a dispersed and vulnerable church: young and susceptible to discouragement, fear and abandonment. The danger and threat of our time is not atheism, not secularisation but the fear and lack of assurance which can lead to withdrawal and self obsession.
Peter addresses those issues – we must listen to God’s Word through Peter’s letter. He uses many images – the Living Stones who can be like babies. Babies need to grow, to become adult. WE must long for maturity in Christ so that we may become wise and grow in depth. One of the solutions to this is the longing for the Word of God as our spiritual food. We must be born again as children of God, we cannot be Living Stones without the new birth. The presumption is that all in this gathering have taken the step BUT IF WE HAVE NOT WE MUST.
Belonging to a group does nothing for our Spiritual Life. We become alive only through the new birth. But once re-born in Christ, we must feed upon the Word of God. This is why Scripture is our major emphasis.
Secondly - the living stones must come to the Living Stone. We must have a living and personal relationship with Jesus. Peter speaks of the stable, consistant and unchanging Living Stone – but it is LIVING – Peter often uses the concept of Life: Living Hope, Living Stone, eternal Life. John 6 – Peter says “To whom else shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”. Jesus is not just the foundation of life: He Himself is Life. Peter says come to Him who is Alive – that we might have life and build a community of life – solid, based on the rock. Unshakable community, living community – the living stones of Christian community, of The Church, are bound together under Christ.
Our world lacks community. We are called to be a new race, a new people, new relationships – community of the elect. We are the community of the elect: sharing, suffering, united, together. This is how we can reveal God to the World.
That is the goal of our mission – revealing the wonders of God in our universities, countries, families, communities. This is IFES’ mission, that we might reveal the wonders of God in our secular universities – true witnesses to God’s glory, together in good and bad times.
Lord we bless you because you have called us to be living stones. Help us to reveal you in every aspect of our lives. may we leave this place without fear and with new passion. In the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
As Daniel and Tom sit down the music team stand and lead us in a song
Take, O take me as I am
summon out what I shall be
set your seal upon my heart
and live in me.
An appropriate response to the call and challenge of Daniel’s message.
Femi Adeleya, Assoc. Gen Sec now takes to the stage. Our vision was not formed in Toronto in 2007 or even Debronn in 2003. The vision arose out of the dark interwar period as the work of God among students grew among students. Through the war years the vision did not die – in 1947 10 movements joined together to constitute the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.
The vision that brought this extraordinary group together (from the book, In the Day of His Power) is:
An evangelising movement
Giving itself to pray
Unambiguous in submitting to God’s Word
A missionary movement
A movement of producing active graduates
A movement committed to national leadership
In 1966 Stacy Wood (1st Gen Sec) warned that a group born in adversity will become complacent and cold in the days of intellectual respectability. In the run up to 2007, 60th anniversary of IFES founding, there was a deliberate and thoroughgoing self-examination.
We need to be careful to avoid becoming an institution where form is kept but the heart is lost. There are 6 areas of priority
In the last World Assembly the focus and impetus gained gave birth to the Living Stones vision. A full copy of this vision statement is found here
This vision is no re-direction, it is not an introduction of new practices but it is a renewel of the communication of the vision which many have lived and died for. It is the same vision which sees people moving homes and suffering, the same vision that sustains work in hard places. This vision is OUR vision. The Living Stones vision is faithful and continuous with the vision of the group of 1947.
Our vision is deeply Biblical, deeply theological and also deeply historical. It is no different from the pioneers of the work – we stand in a single movement under God.
Femi speaks of how this vision is carried out and has been carried out – the vision of Living Stones is not to create a strong organisation, or a name for IFES. Hence it will be found that the students are the focus of our mission – students reaching students, growing and being discipled, in order that they may be released in creative energy and activity.
IFES came into being because God raised up Christian students in country after country. This is our vision – let us embrace it.
Martin Heizmann comes to the stage – to reflect on what has happened and to reflect on the content of the programme.
Take the time to work hard on our conference experience – to pursue fellowship with one another across barriers and hurdles. There are real challenges in putting the programme together. There is a predominance of English – Bible teaching from 8 movements – the majority will be given by people who have English as a second language, 2 will speak in French and only one in English.
The business of the committee can not be overlooked – the meetings are designed to be for all of us here in the conference. There are lots of opportunities for stories being shared, two evenings will be given to this. Martin unpacks the vision for the whole conference meetings and schedule – it is about expanding our understanding of God’s greatness.
John Robb from www.10ofthose.com speaks about the conference bookstall and the vision of making great Christian literature available to the world.
Dieter Brepohl returns to stage to lead the delegates in our reaffirmation of the doctrinal basis of IFES. We stand and read together the doctrinal truths which feed and shape our work. Our vision is born in truth. it is an incredible moment to stand as a world wide fellowship on the unifying truth of God’s word.
I find it moving – to hear English, French and Spanish voices raised in declaring the truths of Scripture which unite us. We are massively diverse and truly united in Christ.