Following her article in January’s ET, Julia Cameron, IFES Head of External Relations, takes us behind the scenes of two more books on world mission.
The link between students and world mission is strong. Down the years, several great books have nerved students and graduates for costly long-term service. The first was Howard Guinness’ radical book Sacrifice. A few years later Mildred Cable and Francesca French wrote Ambassadors for Christ from somewhere along the Silk Road. Then came Mabel Williamson’s Have we no rights? and Mike Griffiths’ Give up your small ambitions – followed by Bill and Shirley Lees’ Is it sacrifice?
In Autumn 2003 I spread them all out on a table in the office. How many missionaries and supporters had they produced? Only the Lord knows. Through reprints and new editions they had served the Church for 70 years and more.
Breaking new ground
The latest was Robin Wells’ My rights? My GOD? (OMF/Monarch 2000) with its bright yellow cover. It had broken new ground with an audio-CD slipped into the back, containing a masterly track from John Stott on ‘Our Missionary Trinity’. But fashion moves fast, and already the cover looked dated.
I had commissioned this book late in 1998 while serving with OMF. On a gloomy January afternoon in 1999 Tony Collins (Monarch) and I met with Robin Wells in the Royal Commonwealth Society.
We wanted a book that would be useful for both students and graduates; a book illustrating timeless biblical truth with up-to-date stories. Robin set to work with his engaging style of thought-provoking Bible teaching. The book was launched at the UCCF leaders’ Forum conference in 2000.
By the end of 2003 there were few copies around. It was a unique and distinctive book, and I wanted it kept in print. How could we revamp it to justify a new edition? Were there ways its appeal could be broadened?
A new book evolves
I was by now serving with IFES, but as so often happens, the Lord worked through different people in parallel. Unknown to me, Richard Weston, Director of Friends International, had suggested to Robin Wells that a brief biblical theology of mission would extend the book nicely, and Robin had warmed to this.
At the Urbana Missions Convention in December 2003 I mused over just such a plan with Rose Dowsett and asked her if she would write a ‘Part 2’ taking readers from Genesis to Revelation – should OMF and Monarch be willing for a new edition. Rose agreed.
Paul Lindsay of Christian Vocations told me shortly afterwards how useful he found the book for those exploring future service. He too hoped we would not lose it. With these strands of encouragement I talked with Tony Collins.
He was happy to consider a new edition, especially if the new target readership included the thousands of Christian students exploring short-term mission. I was honoured to be invited by OMF to handle the project.
With two additional features (the biblical theology and short-term mission aspect) the book had new wings. Robin worked to update the text in consultation with a range of mission leaders.
The authority of Christ
Over lunch in Oxford with Tony Collins I ventured a change of title to ‘Jesus said Go’. Tony’s experience with book titles led to a split-second response. He liked the strength of it, but the present tense Jesus says Go would be even stronger. At first I felt reluctant to stray from the familiar words in Matthew 28, but Tony was right; this brought home the authority of Christ with clear immediacy.
Jesus says Go, with Roger Chouler’s cutting-edge cover design, was launched at Word Alive in April 2006 and had to be reprinted within six months.
Jesus says Go asks searching questions of short-termers and of those exploring long-term service. There is no better book for anyone who wants to understand the options and challenges facing young missionaries.
Rose Dowsett’s section ‘From Eden to Eternity’ could serve well for home group study. The ‘Interlude’ in the centre – with John Stott’s track in print followed by six other ‘three-minute reads’ – blends doctrine and experience. The Evangelical Missions Quarterly declared it would become a classic. Yes, I believe it might.
More than stories
My third book concerns the power of the gospel in the world’s universities. Lindsay Brown served on UCCF staff from the late 1970s and has led the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) since 1991.
He has a wide and informed perspective on the world’s Christian Union movements, now in over 150 countries. His book Shining like stars has joined Killing fields, living fields and Jesus says Go as one of my favourite books. It was a pleasure and a privilege to edit.
Lindsay Brown draws on riveting stories to illustrate biblical principles and to give a panoramic view (through history and across the continents) of the ways in which God has used students to bring change. I believe it is the first of its kind.
The earliest record of a student Bible study group is in Babylon (modern-day Iraq) led, of course, by the prophet Daniel. We have all followed the war in that land and its terrible aftermath. Praise God that the Holy Spirit is working among students there now.
Shining like stars records stories of immense courage. We read of students in Latin America foregoing wealth and careers rather than accepting corruption. We see how post-Communist Europe has opened up avenues for the gospel which we couldn’t have dreamed of 20 years ago.
We trace God’s hand through the genocides in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo. We meet humble, gifted believers who have been captivated by the eternal Christ. Faithfulness to Christ has often cost students their degree, and sometimes their lives. But this is much more than a book of stories.
Students and strategy
This article started with the link between students and world mission (The Christian Union movements worldwide have produced thousands of missionaries). Shining like stars brings another perspective which we often overlook.
At a strategic level we cannot separate world evangelisation from student ministry. Muslims understand this better than Christians, and have poured money into western universities – because investing in universities is the most effective way of buying influence in a whole culture.
As Christian students take the gospel to their friends, they are holding out the word of life to some of the key people in their nations – the future academics, politicians, industrialists, journalists, research scientists and bio-ethicists. How we need Christian values in these areas! When we think of leaders being nurtured in Christian Unions, we too often only have future church leaders in mind.
Jeremiah Gana from Nigeria was President of Aberdeen University CU in the year 1972-73. Now Professor Jerry Gana is one of the best-known figures in Nigeria, and President Obasanjo’s right-hand man. He has committed himself to shining like a star in public office in one of the hardest countries to govern in the world. You can read his story in the book.
In an appendix, Lindsay asks what student movements have contributed to the wider Church. This is a critical question to which he offers a five-fold answer. While IFES can be made to sound impressive and huge ‘in the world’s universities’, the reality is that we are entirely dependent on God, very fragile, and very needful of prayer. The book closes with a call to prayer, and a short section on how to pray for students.
Rebecca Manley Pippert, author of Out of the saltshaker, says it is ‘like reading a modern-day Book of Acts’. When Ajith Fernando, Director of Sri Lanka Youth for Christ, sent me his commendation, he told me it was all he had read for two days as he didn’t want to miss a word of it.
Let no one think this is only for students and graduates. It is a book about how the Lord is building his Church, and will inspire every Christian.
Robin Wells once said that all Christian books should be ‘commentaries’ on Scripture – in the sense that they should illustrate and throw light on Scripture. If they don’t, then they should not be published.
All three of these books illuminate Scripture and express delight in its authority. They stretch the reader’s grasp of God and of his ways. They also bear the marks of good literature – they are well-crafted, they draw on other writers and thinkers, and they move with pace. I encourage you to read them.
All three titles are available from Christian bookshops. You can find out more about proclaiming Christ in the world’s universities from www.ifesworld.org.