In the last eight years the concept of university Mission Weeks has spread widely across the continent with over 30 countries now having done at least one. However, there are still a few groups in some countries who have not yet put on a mission week. Therefore, in the last year, we have tried to strategically and specifically encourage the IFES groups in these countries to see their value. Finland was one such country.
My first contact with Finland came a year ago, at the European IFES General Secretaries’ Conference. Here I was able to chat with Jussi Miettinen, the leader of OPKO (Finnish IFES). He had seen the way missions had operated in other Nordic countries and was keen to see them take off in Finland too. Off the back of that conversation, I went to speak to the OPKO Staff Conference in the summer of 2016 – teaching the staff and sharing stories of what God was doing across Europe through missions. It was through that conference that I met Pekka, the Staff Worker for Kuopio, who fulfilled nearly every stereotype I had encountered of what a Finn might be like – a long-haired heavy metal guitarist, with a metal-studded Bible! He worked hard and very diligently putting into practise the mission planning manual and the advice we gave. Plans began for a mission in his city, and one of the student leaders came to the mission week in Leeds University, UK, to learn from the UK model.
Pioneering, along with new gospel work, is likely to mean facing battles of various kinds, and this was especially true in this case. At one stage it looked very unlikely that the mission would even go ahead. The chaplain of the university actually blocked the group from doing the mission in the university, on the grounds that I was a religious extremist who wouldn’t abide by the ethos of the university! Despite repeated appeals, they would not change their minds, and so the group set about finding a suitable venue off-campus instead. The sense of opposition was felt in other ways; for example, one of the university staff angrily tore down a large mission week poster, and deliberately ripped it up in front of the students. However, I was very impressed by the students, who pressed on, in spite of the challenges, when it would have been much easier just to give up.
The week was entitled ‘YAWA – You Asked, We Answered’. The students had done a survey, to find out their colleagues’ top questions, and used these as the topics for the three nights. Because we were not allowed on campus, we did not have any daytime events, and had to hand out flyers in the Halls of Residence, and in the centre of town. A ‘Text-a-Treat’ event had also been organised the day before, to raise awareness.
The venue for the three evening events was right in the middle of town – an attractive comedy / jazz club with a capacity of 200. I was a little concerned that, due to the restrictions on advertising, it might be embarrassingly empty. However, my fears were unfounded, as over 100 people came to the first evening event, and by the last event we had 170 – a brilliant turn-out for a small group running their first-ever mission.
To help to attract people to come to the three evening events, the first part of each evening featured a Christian comedian, a band and a solo artist respectively. The group had worked hard to put on an attractive event with attention to detail. Each talk was preceded by a locally-produced ‘Vox-Pop’ video, with students asking people for a response to the question of the evening. In many ways, we felt like we were starting quite far back with most of the guests who came to the events. Being the first mission ever, few had ever before heard the gospel clearly and publicly proclaimed. While there were no professions of faith (that we are aware of), we saw some significant progress being made by those who came, and some attended each night.
There were a few ‘God-incidences’ too, such as one of the English team ending up staying in the same house as a student who was going to be coming to their own town in UK, to study, later this year – they came to every event, and plan to stay in touch! The staff at the venue commented how novel the events had been, and some listened intently to the talks.
One of the biggest encouragements for me was to see the growth in some of the Christian students, who overcame their fears (and their natural Finnish introversion!), and boldly invited their friends, speaking to them of Christ. By the end of the week, many had been encouraged to see that the concept of mission weeks could work in their own context. Each morning Heike and I led the team in evangelism training, and, on the last morning, Heike led a feedback session, where the students shared what they had learned, and what in particular had encouraged them personally. Here are just a few of their comments:-
’I learned that an evangelistic event can really work when it’s done well.’
’Finnish people are more open to the gospel than I thought.’
’Mission weeks CAN work in Finland too!’
’People really want answers!’
’I have more confidence in sharing my faith now. I learned a lot from Michael’s sessions about how to talk to people.’
Praise God for what He has begun through this week! It is amazing that the mission week had happened at all, given the challenges. I felt a real sense of the battle myself throughout the week – despite it being only a three day mission, I came home feeling exhausted! Do pray for the follow-up of those who came. Please pray for the group to build on what they have learned. Please also pray for other groups in Finland, as we start to discuss plans for more missions there next year!