‘Googling God’ – Mission Week in Tblisi, Georgia. May 2017

Michael writes:

In May 2016 Michael Green and I spoke at the European Leadership Forum in Poland.  On the first day we did a pre-forum seminar about university mission weeks.  The session wasn’t very well attended, and my initial thought was that it had been a bit of a waste of time coming out a day early to deliver the session.  However, one of the participants that day was David Chan, pastor of an international church in Tblisi, Georgia.  Struck by what he heard, he set about organising a mission week.  We encouraged the church to work in partnership with the local IFES movement, and between them the first university mission in Georgia was brought into being.

As the capital of Georgia, Tblisi is a large, busy city of over 1 million people with a number of different universities scattered across a wide area. The country has a long and proud history and, along with Armenia, claims to be one of the oldest Christian nations on earth.  Today most people still identify as Orthodox Christian but for many students this is little more than a cultural label, and many have very little understanding of the gospel, if any. There are also a large number of international students; the two most represented countries seemed to be India and Iraq, hence there being many Hindus and Muslims to reach out to.

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The mission week consisted of three evening talks in a lecture room of one of the universities.  Before this we split up and went to different universities to invite students.  On the fourth night we invited all those who had come to the talks to come back for a meal in a restaurant and a final talk.

Organisationally the week was, at times, somewhat haphazard.  We set off to hand out flyers on the first day and discovered that so few flyers had been printed that we only had 5 each!  Georgian culture is very laid-back and things often happened later and later each day – not so serious in a prayer meeting, but more difficult when it was a talk, and guests were on the verge of leaving because it took so long to start. The events themselves were very basic – nothing more than a talk at the front of a lecture room with a few drinks and biscuits provided.

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If you judge a mission by the slickness of the organisation and the quality of the events you would have concluded that this was not one of the best.  But if you judge it on non-Christians hearing and engaging with the gospel, then it was actually really good!  Each day we found people very open to chat around the different universities. (Several teach in English which made communication much easier).  Surprisingly, people were willing to travel quite some distance across the city to attend the talks, just from receiving a flyer.  Each event seemed very quiet at first, but somehow, each time the talk began, the room was filled; some people came back each day and even brought friends.

Many students were really struck by what they heard, with it being so very different to their experience of religion growing up.  Amusingly one student thought at the end of the first talk that I was an atheist – not so much because he thought that I didn’t believe in God, but simply because it was so utterly different from what he was used to. In the early church, Christians were also regarded as atheists for similar reasons!  Another commented, ‘this is the most amazing thing I have ever heard! Georgia needs more Christians like you!”  We assured him Georgia already had Christians like us, and encouraged him to go along to one of the churches on Sunday. One girl said on the final night, “thank you so much for coming – this has been the most incredible week – I have found everything so interesting and I will keep on looking into this.”  Another student took away a copy of John’s gospel at the beginning of the week; he commented a few days later, “I can’t stop reading that book – it’s amazing – I have to stop after each sentence to think about it and take it in!”

By the end of the week several students had taken significant steps towards Christ.  We were conscious that, for others, there still seemed to be a great deal of spiritual blindness. It takes time to overcome the works-based theology of an Orthodox upbringing.

Do pray that those who have come along would be well followed-up. Pray also that, as the local students saw how a mission week works, that this would be the first of many similar missions in Georgia.

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