Saturday, December 10, 2005

Students united

In 1780 there was strong suspicion of Methodism and those of Free Church affiliation at Oxford and Cambridge. Those who were suspected of evangelical sympathies had their papers vetted, and in 1768, six students had been expelled from St. Edmund’s hall, Oxford, on trumped-up charges when they had been found meeting for Bible Study.

Quite amazingly, a century later, the Cambridge Intercollegiate Christian Union (CICCU) would be borne – the fruits of a prayer meeting initiative taken a decade earlier, in spite of strong opposition, including from other Christians, who did not see any reason why a gathering of undergraduates needed to take place. From just a few people meeting in a small room, it grew, and in 1874 a lay preacher, Arthur ‘Beauty’ Blackwood (later Sir), in Cambridge to take a meeting, would write to his wife: “Great Hall nearly filled. About six hundred. Deep attention for one hour…daily prayer meeting attended by seventy downright men – a marvellous sight. Then down to the river to see Boat Race. Great fun. Saw one man who wished me to be hanged…” Two years later, CICCU would be founded, seeking to carry on God’s work ”amongst undergraduates by undergraduates”.


I’m always amazed and immensely grateful at the humble beginnings of the CU movement, birthed in Cambridge, and this was brought back anew to me on Thursday, when I volunteered to help out at IFES, who were in desperate need of people to stuff envelopes with Christmas letters. After all, their headquarters are only a 15 minute walk from where I live! It was really nice to do something unstudenty, although ironically, it was for a student organization.

IFES came about in 1947, when the British student leaders invited the participants of the Cambridge Conference (held on the eve of WW2, where student representatives from over 30 countries met) who had survived the War to meet together. Delegates from national student Christian movements from Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, Holland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States agreed to form a federation of national Christian student movements. The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) came into being in August of 1947.

I love the CU movement, and just the idea of so many different students, in different contexts, all united under Christ excites me. The UCCF here in the UK in particular, has been strongly influential in shaping British evangelicalism, since just about every prominent Christian leader here in the UK spent his formative years in the CU (less true in the US). J.I Packer was converted in Freshers’ Week in Oxford, as was the late David Watson, the charismatic evangelical, at Cambridge. John Stott and David Jackman were all moulded by the CU. Many missionaries, including the OMF “elder statesman and woman”, Dick and Rose Dowsett came through the CU ranks.

Just how global the student movement was brought home to me in my 1st year here. Lindsay Brown, the current IFES general secretary, was speaking in Oxford on missions one Wednesday evening to a group of British students, in what was a very typical British meeting, of the “stand-up, sit-down” variety. To my astonishment, when I went back to Kuching that summer, I discovered that Mr. Brown would be speaking in my home church to students, while being hosted by my ex-youth deacon (now an IFES committee member for Sarawak). I decided to go, and it was surreal to see myself surrounded by enthusiastic undergraduates from local varsities (I must have been the only overseas student there), with lots of vibrant singing (very different from Oxford). Perhaps the greatest impression on me was made during the Q&A session, where despite the halting English of many present, there still bombarded Mr. Brown with questions on learning to live for Jesus better, especially in the face of opposition.

It’s so cool to help out and hear of what God’s doing all around the world. For all you Malaysians who just returned from the national FES conference, guess what? There were people praying for you! And it’s quite sobering to hear of stories where students really have it tough, and face actual physical persecution for their beliefs.

Being heavily involved in my CU, I’ve been very frustrated at a lot of things that sometimes never seem to go our way. Yet when I think of 15 Christian students struggling in a French university which has close to 20,000 students, I know I have it good. And in any case, remembering the roots of the CU movement, we know that God can use anything.

So if you received an IFES Christmas letter within the next couple of weeks, I might have stuffed them! Unless they’re badly stuffed of course, that can’t be me…


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Blogger Deborah at IFES said...

Hi there! Good to read about you enjoying the IFES envelope stuffing session. We have received thousands of pounds, thanks to your efforts just before Christmas - so that was time well spent. The money will be going to help develop student ministry in Africa - where there is lots for us to learn about how to do it successfully.... Well over one third of all IFES students come from the continent. Thank you for being so willing to give up your time to us - even if it was still student ministry!

6:16 pm  

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