Condensing 50+ years of involvement with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) into 500 words is a challenge for a verbal processor, but I have to start by saying that if I was 25 I would do it all over again. It’s been such a privilege to be involved in student ministry over all this time. Obviously there have been major changes but it is surprising how many of the issues students face are similar if not quite the same – identity and self-esteem, anxiety, exam pressure, relationships, what should I do with my life?
The title for our Galatians talks at the recent TSCF Summit conference was “Grace – freedom in a restless world”. I became a follower of Jesus as a thirteen year-old and had been campus staff and team leader in Ireland for thirteen years before beginning to grasp the freedom part of understanding grace. I was too concerned about my reputation and afraid to let people up close and personal in case they saw how needy and self-righteous I was. What I didn’t realise was that they already saw it and knew it – family, friends, and people in church, colleagues in IFES…. One of the phrases which enabled me to begin living with a greater sense of freedom and confidence is, “cheer up you’re worse that you think, but the cross of Jesus is bigger than you ever imagined. Whether we are first-year students, or in our retirement, the message of hope is still the same – I’m needy and broken, but I’ve found a great Saviour who by his grace (getting what I don’t deserve) and mercy (not getting what I do deserve) has adopted me into his family, made me his child. He set me free to live with freedom and confidence, letting people up close and personal, letting them see where I go for life.
My student ministry verse for all these years has been 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Paul says,
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”
Student ministry continues to be an amazing opportunity for followers of Jesus to live and speak for Him as they live alongside fellow students. Back in 1947 when 10 national movements (including New Zealand) constituted IFES in Harvard University in USA, the goal was to see a faithful witness to Christ in every university in the world – not a bad vision! Now 75 years later the goal is basically the same – “to see students thriving together as communities of disciples, transformed by the gospel and impacting the university, the church and society for the glory of Christ”. By the time you read this IFES World Assembly in Indonesia will have taken place, not sure how many countries will have managed to make it, but IFES now has 164 affiliated national movements and work in another 21 countries. For students and supporters in TSCF, that’s your family…..is that a big enough vision?
Hazel and Cassells have been involved with IFES in a variety of capacities since starting as students in 1971.
Cassells served on staff with the Irish movement and IFES Europe for 36 years and they are now both honorary vice-presidents of IFES