IFES World Assembly 2023 saw the convergence of over 160 nations represented by 845 attendees, each bearing the banner of their national student movement. I had the privilege of flying out to Jakarta, Indonesia, to represent UCCF in my position as chair of the UCCF Student Council, writes Jai Padam.
A gathering of this significance only takes place every four years. Since the previous assembly there has been a pandemic and worldwide conflicts which prompted the theme, Tabah dan Tangguh, which translates to strength and resilience.
Throughout the week, our mornings were enriched by the Psalms. We began the week thinking about lament; a time devoted to collectively share the pain that tugs at our hearts. As the week progressed, a sense of jubilant celebration grew. To mark IFES’ 75th anniversary, we heard stories about the movement’s pioneers from the 10 founding countries, who put aside their differences to make this global movement possible. We then celebrated three new members, taking the total to 164 countries! I was inspired as I heard about the rich history of the organisation and the commitment from faithful servants.
Together we sang worship songs in many different languages: French, Spanish, Bahasa Indonesia and Igbo just to name a few. It felt like a glimpse of the throne room of heaven where every tribe and tongue will declare the glories of our God. A standout moment was when we sang in Arabic, a language intricately associated with the Islamic faith. What a compelling and powerful experience to praise the name of Jesus in this tongue.
Throughout the conference we heard many testimonies of the work God has done across the globe. One testimony that particularly resonated with me came from a nation marred by conflict and where it is illegal to be a Christian. She shared how the people she is most afraid of sharing her Christian faith with is her family because they would hand her in to the authorities, to be taken to prison and ultimately disappear. She went on to explain that she had been in hiding for so long, without human contact, that she lost the ability to speak because of her prolonged silence. Yet she remained faithful to Jesus. She reflected that in the most horrendous situations, the only thing that got her through was Christ being her refuge. You could sense the whole room captivated and deeply moved by her story.
Mealtimes were times of excitement as connections formed. Gathered around tables were faces from Vanuatu to Venezuela, Lesotho to Latvia, discussing our national movements. I vividly remember hearing from a leader of a national movement of a closed country, where although all religion is illegal, the underground church has been growing rapidly through the building of friendships and group discussions over meals. My usual dinner table talk seems very ordinary now!
Among the week's many blessings, the development of authentic global friendships stood out. This shattered any notion of isolation, showing that any challenges we face here in the UK exist in other countries too. We’re not alone. I’m encouraged that we are a global church and that God is working powerfully throughout the world, in places where being a Christian is a relentless challenge.
I’ve arrived home treasuring this truth in my heart: fear can always find a foothold, irrespective of cultural context. We live in a country with freedom of religious expression; we can all too easily censor ourselves. Rather than taking our freedoms for granted, we must treasure and wisely exercise the freedoms we have. Hearing from brothers and sisters around the world who are boldly proclaiming the gospel even when they have no such freedom has helped me to understand that God provides when we put our trust in Him. He is our fortress and defends us even when it is tough. It is clear to me that God will give us the Tabah dan Tangguh: the strength and resilience to help us finish the race of faith.
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