Tampere Round up

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Michael writes:

‘This was the second ever mission week in Finland and the first in the city of Tampere.  Finland, as with other parts of Scandinavia, is a challenging context in which to do mission.  Although the vast majority of people will have been baptised and confirmed into the Lutheran church, for many it is merely a cultural norm and Christianity is just their national identity.  One conversation that I had was a good example of this.  I spoke with one student who told me quite strongly that he was an atheist, he did not believe in God and he doubted the historical existence of Jesus Christ, and yet, after stating all these things, he also wanted to assure me that he definitely was also a Christian.   Sadly, for many people their experience of growing up in the State church will have innoculated them against the Gospel.  It is therefore challenging to get people interested in Christianity when they have already been put off it by liberal theology in their childhood.

Despite the challenging context, it’s wonderful that the OPKO (IFCS Finland) have decided to pioneer mission weeks across the country.  Last year they did the first mission week in Kuopio, and next year they will be doing another mission in the city of Oulu.  Last year we had difficulties with the university authorities  in Kuopio who banned the student movement from even advertising the event on campus, although the ban somewhat backfired as the sensation that this caused led to greater advertising in the student magazine, and greater awareness of the mission.  Thankfully, in Tampere the university authorities were more favourably disposed and although they did not allow events to take place on campus, we were allowed to advertise the mission and to have a gazebo giving out drinks, snacks and flyers to the events.  This helped raise good awareness about the mission, and a good proportion of the student body would have been aware that it was going on by the end of the week.  An attractively presented stand with good advertising and music to attract people to it, can be an excellent way of making people aware of the mission.
Because we were unable to use university buildings there were no lunchtime talks, just 3 evening events in a nearby restaurant.  The restaurant was well known to many of the students, and we were blessed to be able to use it considering the Manager had previously said that no political or religious discussions were allowed to be had on his premises.  However, when he saw the topics of the week he was intrigued by what we were talking about and allowed the events.  Despite the fact that a number of people in the restaurant were not there specifically for the talks, people listened well and we reached a larger audience than we might have done in a more private venue.  The format of the evening events was very simple.  After a period of ice breaker games to get people chatting, I spoke and then we had a time of Q&A.  However, the nice environment of the restaurant encouraged people to stay around long after the talk had finished having discussions and thinking about things further.
Numbers grew as the week went on, and we finished with about 80 people at the last event, which was encouraging considering that the student group regularly gets between 10/15 people along.   It is difficult in such a secularised context with only 3 talks to achieve a great deal, and we saw no clear professions of faith during the week.  However, many people have become very interested and a number had expressed interest in coming along to the Alpha Course as a follow-up.  Do pray that the student group continues those contacts and makes friends out of the people who started to come during the week, many of whom came simply from the flyers.
One of the things that was very noticeable during the week was the value of bringing students to see a mission week in the British context.  Several of the students from Tampere had come to the Birmingham mission week earlier in the year.  Enthused by what they experienced there, they went back with greater energy to plan and implement their own mission week, and they were the most enthusiastic members of the group as a result.
It often takes several years to establish a culture of missions in a particular country or student movement, therefore do pray that missions continue to take root in the Finnish contexts and that students see the value in such sustained and intensive evangelistic programmes.  Pray for the mission week this Autumn in Oulu that it would continue to build on the experiences of the earlier 2 missions in the country.  Pray also for the identification and training of national evangelists who can continue to do this week into the future.’
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