FEUER 2016

The Fellowship of Evangelists in the Universities of Europe (FEUER) met recently in Pescara, Italy.  Here is Michael Ots’ report from the meeting:

It is easy to be discouraged about the state of Christianity in Europe today. Despite its prominence through much of European history, the gospel has been largely rejected and the continent has by far the lowest percentage of evangelical believers of any in the world (according to Operation World it is 2.5%, though even this is probably generous).  However in the midst of the darkness there is at least one very encouraging initiative that is making an impact for the gospel across the whole of the continent. Eight years ago the FEUER (Fellowship of Evangelists in the Universities of EuRope) network was set up by Lindsay Brown (the former General Secretary of IFES) to bring together current and potential university evangelists, with the aim of seeing a rediscovery of confidence in the public proclamation of the gospel in the universities of Europe.

Each November the FEUER network gathers in a different part of Europe for a weekend conference. This year we met in the coastal resort of Pescara in Italy with participants coming from 36 different European countries.  One of the key aspects of our time together was the sharing of reports from the previous year’s university mission weeks.  This means that the network is far more than a conference but a movement that is going somewhere as we build each year on what has gone before.  Eight years ago only the UK and Germany were regularly holding mission weeks; in the last year, discounting the UK, 100 have taken place in more than 30 countries!  The reports also enable us to learn from each other’s experiences and apply these principles to our own contexts. On the final evening I shared 10 lessons that we had learned:

1. Evangelism is difficult everywhere… but the gospel works everywhere, because it is true and powerful.

We can often feel that our own context is more difficult than everyone else’s, but the reality in Europe is that evangelism is difficult everywhere, just for different reasons.  In the Protestant north and west we face the challenges of new atheism and a rampant secularist agenda, but in the Orthodox east and Catholic south we face the suspicion and sometimes opposition of the established church.  Christians in Bosnia, Albania, Turkey and Azerbaijan also face the challenge of being in a majority-Muslim culture.  Yet over the weekend we heard of how people were coming to faith in Christ from all of these different backgrounds!  A recent mission in Armenia had seen students from almost all the above-mentioned backgrounds professing faith in Christ!  Things may be tough but the gospel does still work!

2. The need for creativity in proclamation.

Each day we heard sample evangelistic presentations from different members and we saw how creative elements can be woven into an evangelistic address including music, art, testimony and drama.  While not supplanting preaching (as happened in some places a generation ago), these methods can very effectively supplement it.  We heard of how such elements can be effective and timely in driving home an evangelistic talk and moving people to faith.

3. The benefit of convenient and attractive venues.

The choice of central and well-known venues can make all the difference to the success of an evangelistic event, and it is well worth investing time and money in securing the best one possible. This proved to be the key in Serbia, where church-based events very rarely drew any unbelievers, but a central coffee shop attracted around 100 each night!

We also saw how creating an attractive environment, especially for evening events, is critical. Students rarely want to sit in a lecture room again after spending the day there!  In Dublin they changed a dull meeting room into a café, with bunting and table decorations.  In Durham they hired a marquee, as no suitable room was available, and decorated it to a more attractive standard than you see at a wedding!  Food and music also create a warm atmosphere that helps people relax, and aids them to be receptive to what they will hear.

4. A willingness to adapt concepts and try new things.

One of the key ways that the concept of missions has spread has been through staff and students travelling to witness mission weeks taking place in the UK, although the methodology does not always transfer easily to their home setting.  This was the case in Albania, where the first few missions were small and rather ineffective.  But they learned from their experience, and adapted the model to work better, using sport and faculty-based lectures, and also by preceding missions with practical help around the campus (painting, mending, cleaning etc).  In the UK most missions are preceded by a weekend away to train the Christians; in Armenia they decided rather to try a weekend away at the end, for all those who came to the mission events.  This was hugely successful, with 130 attending – far more than expected – and 98 of them were not yet believers… though that number was smaller by the end as so many had professed faith!  In Germany (by their own admission not a country known for its willingness to try new things!) they held their first lunch bar events.  They had previously felt these wouldn’t work (as Germans enjoy cooked food for lunch) but they managed to make bargain deals with restaurants to provide schnitzels for everyone each day!  Big crowds came and everybody loved it (except the vegetarians!).

5. The value of working in teams.

Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs and in the Acts of the Apostles we see that the normal model for Christian mission was also in small teams.  By working in teams we can share the challenges as well as the joys of mission.  We can also mentor and train younger evangelists.  I myself have learned so much from working alongside others – including Michael Green and Lindsay Brown – indeed, far more than I would have by simply hearing a lecture.  Over the last few years we have seen the establishment of several evangelistic teams in Spain and Italy, as well as the MOET team in the UK. New groups are also being developed in the Ukraine, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Romania.

6. The effectiveness of developing partnerships with others.

As Lindsay Brown explained, ‘the need across Europe is so great that it cannot be met by one movement or denomination alone, so we need all hands on deck’.  FEUER itself is a great example of this, as the members are not all from IFES but a wide variety of organisations and churches.  We also heard testimonies of how student movements had worked effectively with local churches and other organisations to instigate key evangelistic events.  Some of these were quite surprising partnerships, including secular organisations partnering with the Christian student groups in Austria and Ireland!

7. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer!

It is easy to see reasons why things can’t work, but it is another thing to work out how, in spite of the barriers, they could.  It was wonderful to hear of missions in two former Soviet countries that seemed highly unlikely a couple of years ago.  Despite there being legal restrictions on public Christian meetings, with a little creativity and good deal of courage they managed to secure venues and advertise events nonetheless!  In both countries they are seeing significant fruit.  After doing their first full mission week last year, the team in one of these countries are planning to do 11 this year – one in every university city!  It was also great to hear that despite new laws against evangelism in another country, there will be a first mission week there this year.  Sometimes doors seem closed… but we need to push harder and find a way to get them open!

8. The importance of perseverance.

It takes several years to build confidence in public proclamation and develop a culture of missions. Over the last few years we have seen this established in Spain, Serbia and Norway, among others.  It has taken perseverance when things haven’t always worked straight away, and it would have been easy to give up.  Galatians 6:9 tells us that if we do not give up, at the right time we will reap a harvest.  We are starting to see the fruit of faithful persistent ministry that has, in the case of Spain, for example, been going on for forty years.

9. Passion and prayerfulness – the irreplaceable ingredients of fruitful mission.

Last year three students from a CU in Belgium came to the conference.  Inspired by what they saw, and the missions they subsequently experienced in the UK, they organised their first mission week.  Despite little support they ran a very effective mission that drew in good crowds.  They had little experience, but they had bags of passion for Jesus that translated into mission.  Without passion we may run very well-organised events but we will see little of significance happen.  Similarly, in my experience of around 100 mission weeks,  I can see that there is a direct correlation between prayerfulness of the Christian student group and fruitfulness of the mission week.

10. You are never too small!

It is easy to feel that we are too small to have an impact, but we heard wonderful stories of what small groups can do.  The work across the Balkans is small, but they saw thousands come to events at which Nick Vujicic spoke and managed to get on to national TV Channels to advertise the events!  In another instance FEUER’s only Bosnian member, Slavko Hadzic, was disappointed when only one person turned up to an evangelistic event – but afterwards that one person invited Slavko to give the same talk on his national radio station broadcast to tens of thousands!  In Subotica in Serbia a three day mission saw 40-50 guests coming to the events, 15 sign up for follow-up and one student profess faith.  However, this was all achieved by just ONE student – the only Christian student that we know of in the whole university!  God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that we ask or imagine – our small resources are no hindrance to him!

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