Vancouver Urban Partnership

Thoughts on pigeons from the Vancouver Urban Partnership (May 25, 2014).

Pigeon Park

Inner city neighbourhoods crawl with pigeons. They are kind of gross, eating everything, seen as unclean, avoid them at all cost! The rats of the air.

Doves were the birds for sacrifice. Except if you were poor: you brought a pigeon.

Pigeons are now a sign of Jesus’ presence in the neighbourhood for me.

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Israel Update

From Susan Norman, National Advocate of Graduate Students and Faculty Ministry, May 27th, 2014.

“I am an ex-religious Muslim. I am searching for God but He does not show Himself to me. How can I find Him? –  a Technion student.

“The Koran tells me all I need to know about Jesus. He was a prophet.” – a young Muslim in a Bible study who, despite his opening statement, said he would like to come again.

“I used to be a Christian but I don’t want to follow a lot of rules.” – a medical student

Good questions! Fascinating discussions! I, personally, rarely find such open, serious search for religious truth in Canada. A pastor here told me, “In Israel, everyone believes there is a God. Everything else [what He is like and how we can know Him] is a matter of intense debate and division.” Of course, there are many secular Israelis, but there is a consciousness of Him here, where three major religions co-exist in a somewhat tenuous relationship.

A week ago, after the student conference, we ventured onto seven Israeli campuses in five cities, all feeling a little nervous, more than a little uncertain, but very excited to learn what campus life is like and welcoming the opportunity to go deeper in the friendships we formed at the conference. We stayed with families, in dorms, in student apartments, on the floor of a local Messianic congregation – great ways to mix.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been our discovery that students here are much the same as friends and classmates back home. They have the same longings: to get a good education and find a place in the adult world, to find purpose and meaning beyond themselves, to enjoy the good things that life offers, to know others and be known by them, to love and be loved. Like Canadian students, they may seek for these things in all the wrong places: in drinking too much and indulging in casual sex, in materialism and academic success, in the idols of fame or instant gratification which cannot deliver on their false promises.

We have had great discussions with students with different shades of religious belief: Arab Israeli Muslims, nominal Arab Israeli Christians, Messianic Believers (the word here for Jews who believe in Jesus), practising Jews who don’t accept Jesus and who are suspicious of Christians, lots of secular Jews – who are atheists and agnostics or dabbling in Eastern mysticism. We have joined them in barbecues, Bible studies, discussion groups, for coffee and dessert. We have had the great privilege of visiting in their homes. One student took his new Canadian friends to his village where about 150 of his relatives live in close proximity. They went from house to house feasting, talking in at least two languages, and getting a taste of Arab hospitality!

Benjamin, David, and Sarah on campus at he Technion University in Haifa.

Benjamin, David, and Sarah on campus at he Technion University in Haifa.

I was about to write “The highlight for me was . . .” but then I realised there were many highlights! One was the regular Christian gathering at the Technion, which is one of the world’s leading universities in advanced technology. They have a small group of seven or eight who attend regularly but their invitation to “come meet our Canadian friends” attracted new people, including several Muslims curious about Christianity. We had to keep expanding our circle of chairs. We shared our stories of coming to faith and talked about the difference in Canada between nominal faith and genuine, life-transforming belief in Jesus. The questions were good; the one-on-one conversations afterwards were even better!

The following night, some of our Technion friends joined with the Christians from the University of Haifa for a delicious barbecue on the beach. We watched the sun set over the Mediterranean, sang songs in Arabic and English, and again talked about life and faith. Another highlight was a trip to Akko at the College of Western Galilee. We went with Rasha, who is the staff worker for all of the Arab students in this region. She had been asked by some of the students from the college to start a Bible study. We sat on the grass on the lovely campus and studied the story of Jesus healing and forgiving the sins of the paralysed man. That miracle happened a short distance from where we were sitting. According to Rasha this was the first ever Bible study on this campus. When the lively discussion ended, everyone said they wanted more. Please pray for Rasha and other staff workers, who move effortlessly from Arabic to Hebrew to English, who reach out with truth and grace to newcomers and inquirers.

 

 

Israel Update

One of our Global Partnership teams is in Israel partnering with students in the local IFES movement. Here are their first few updates.

May 18th, 2014

Into the conference centre’s spacious green grounds came bus loads and cars full of Christian students from all over Israel: Arabic speakers, Messianic Jews, and a sprinkling of international students from Korea, the US, Poland, Rwanda, Italy, and Denmark. They were joined by former students of the FSCI (Fellowship of Christian Students in Israel) now graduated and working in various jobs around the country.

Some people, we learned, came with some apprehension. They were in an unfamiliar situation: a place where love for God and his people is stronger than years of ethnic and religious hatred. One Jewish man said he was concerned, not to say frightened, when he found he had five Arab roommates! The same thing happened in reverse to two of the Arab students!  Others were excited and happy to renew acquaintance from previous conferences. Love triumphed!

Together we sang in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. We talked like old friends. We listened to impassioned biblical teaching, given by Arab, Messianic Jewish and International speakers, attended helpful workshops about reaching out and loving people on our campuses (a few of which resonated very deeply with non-Christian friends of the FCSI students). We ate foods both strange and familiar. A small band of dedicated Canadians made over 300 pancakes for breakfast and carefully distributed the maple syrup we brought with us. Fierce – but friendly – soccer games broke out. Frisbees flew.

What drew us together and gave us unity? A deep sense of God the Father’s love for each of us, faith in Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice, and conviction from the Spirit that we must strive to love one another. Our whole time at the conference was a blessing: a foretaste of heaven when we will praise the Lord together throughout eternity.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem.

May 13th, 2014

Jerusalem the Golden, bathed in glorious sunlight! Madly singing birds. An old stone hostel with tall, narrow arched windows, shutters wide open to let in the cooling breeze, and a fig tree in the courtyard. We are in the land of thousands of years of world-changing history and profound religious experience. Jews, Muslims, and Christians have loved and fought for this land for centuries. Our small pilgrim band – four Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship staff workers and nine students from across Canada – sang praises to God as we drove up to Jerusalem through the breaking dawn. We had landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in the middle of the night, some of us from Vancouver, some from Toronto – a long and exhausting journey by way of Poland. Now we find ourselves actually here. Thanks be to God.

The adventure began even before we got here from Vancouver and Toronto. Our stopover in Poland was brief but full. . .  As preparation for understanding the Holocaust and the founding of the state of modern state of Israel, we visited the Warsaw site of the agonizing of 1944 spring uprising and the horror of the ghetto.  It’s odd, our friend who showed us around (an IVCF student from UBC on exchange in Warsaw for the year), studies psychology in the former headquarters of the SS and his residence is inside the old ghetto walls, right next to the platform where 300,000 Jews were sent to their deaths – the world moves on. Of course, it the most cheerful of subject matters but so important to understand as we relate with the people of this land.

 

Bangladesh Update #4

What does suffering for the gospel look like and how do we receive joy amidst suffering?
How do we appropriately engage and grieve issues related to people at our placements?
How do we hold positions of power and authority given to us as foreigners?

These questions and more are what we as a team are asking.  We’ve just passed the halfway point of this GUP. We’re beginning to feel more settled in Bangladesh,  relationships are deepening, and growth is happening and we are also challenged by the poverty that we see and are wrestling with questions as we encounter differences.

We’ve reunited as a team and welcomed back our Rajshahi conference team. David and the 6 students who went with him had an amazing time spending time with BSFB friends, leading Scripture and praying as 40 people made a first time commitment to follow Jesus!

The next 2 weeks will be busy as we reconnect as a team,  prepare for a manuscript camp we are hosting at Grace House, and continue to invest in relationships at our placements and with BSFB.

A recent trip to the Botanical Gardens with new friends.

A recent trip to the Botanical Gardens with new friends.

Camp Partnership: Rapids, Rain, Rescues… Rejoicing

Reflections about the Alberta Camp Partnership from Fran Purvis, Campus Minister at the University of Regina.

Kyle D., Danielle and Andrew staying cheerful on their canoe trip.

Kyle D., Danielle and Andrew staying cheerful on their canoe trip.

As we embarked on our second day of paddling down the North Saskatchewan River, one of our students prayed “Lord, challenge us beyond what we can handle, so we can learn to trust you with everything.”   Well, the whole day we chuckled at this prayer, as one misadventure after another came our way: cold rain, rapids, a rescue of one of our boats, tire-deep mud, keys locked inside a vehicle, a broken Coleman stove… It was indeed a day of learning to rely on Jesus, not only for practical providence and care, but for good spirits and humour.

As part of our team training time, Kyle McLean (Campus Minister at U of Regina), myself, 2 staff from Alberta and our 8 students from U of Regina made our way down the river last weekend on a three day paddling trip, which was part of a camp-campus partnership we are participating in.

Camp Partnership team stopping for lunch on their canoe trip - Sheryll, Kyle, Danielle, Andrew, Hailey, Sarah, Fran, Andrew, Kelsey and Darian.

Camp Partnership team stopping for lunch on their canoe trip – Sheryll, Kyle, Danielle, Andrew, Hailey, Sarah, Fran, Andrew, Kelsey and Darian.

During our trip down-river, our team experienced the love and laughter of the Holy Spirit despite undesirable (and for over half the team, quite unfamiliar) circumstances. Moments like snuggling 12 people into a 4 person tent to read Narnia and tell stories, helping teammates stay warm, the glimpse of beautiful sun on the water, and just realizing that we have it in our will to choose cheer and belief, instead of misery, were powerful experiences of God’s care.

We are now into our 3rd week of the Camp Partnership at Alberta Pioneer Ranch Camp. Camp is a powerful space in the way that it provides both special and life changing “away” experiences, such as our canoe trip, but also because of the endless ordinary moments where students (and their staff!) encounter Jesus through service and community life.

Camp is hard work: it is a highly scheduled, relational and deeply communal environment. Every day we are requiring, asking for and are experiencing in profound ways the strength and joy of Jesus in the simple things like doing dishes, learning new skills, teaching canoeing or climbing to kids, or spending time with teammates by the water, away from the internal and external noise of our lives. There is something about camp in the way that it pushes you to grow, and lets you know Christ’s strength in your weakness. Camp is also fun! It is a place that grows deep and lasting friendships, and where pure joy is to be had.

I’m reminded often of the scripture from Isaiah 12:2 where the prophet declares that God is, “my strength and my song.” God is providing daily not only the bread we need to get by, but far more: the rich fare of relationships, joy and growth that make life delightful and good! Our days at camp have already been so full of growth and life, we’re excited and expectant for what Jesus has for us as we do life here the next 6 weeks!

Fran (second from left) and her students Sheryll, Kelsey and Hailey sitting around the fire on their canoe trip.

Fran (second from left) and her students Sheryll, Kelsey and Hailey sitting around the fire on their canoe trip.

 

Vancouver Urban Partnership Update

Students and staff on the Vancouver Urban Partnership are spending four weeks living and experiencing the urban realities of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Here is an update from Christa Smith, the director of the partnership:
Students and staff resting on a beach in Vancouver.

Students and staff resting on a beach in Vancouver.

We are two weeks in, halfway! Between shelter-sleeping, public showers, line-ups for food, countless encounters and diverse partners, the heart of the city is deeply impacting our own hearts. Daily in this neighbourhood, we experience the overwhelming presence of Jesus and His shalom, and daily we experience the overwhelming absence of Jesus and His shalom.
Amos implores the Israelite people to let justice roll like a river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. We are feeling confronted with a deep longing for this be true while seeing the lack of it in our own lives and communities.
In the midst of these questions and tensions, we find hope and joy in the promise of Jesus as the Fulfiller.
Please pray for the second half of the month:
  • Pray against apathy and complacency to our surroundings.
  • Pray for deep learning about community, holy discontent, stewardship and suffering.
  • Give thanks for our partners who work faithfully year-round in this neighbourhood with the marginalized.

 

Bangladesh Update #2 and 3

Since the beginning of May, we have sent out a few of our Global Partnership teams halfway around the world! These teams of university students and campus ministers will participate in cultural exchange, partner with local International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) movements, and they actively learn about God’s mission in the world.

Take a look at what our Bangladesh team has been up to these last two weeks:
Blog Bangladesh 2 and 3

TEAM UPDATE #3 (MAY 19, 2014)

we’re starting to see little sprouts…

Continuing in our agricultural theme, we’ve now just past our first full week in Bangladesh, and its been a busy week!

We began placements this week with our team dividing into 4 placements that we’ll visit and partner with for the next 4 weeks. We’ve been stretched as we have taught English classes at the SFC, visited and encouraged teachers at a HEED Bangladesh school, and grown in our capacity to love and share in the sufferings of the women and children of CUP and CTRDW. We visit placements 5 days a week, and we’re starting to see trust grow in these new relationships.

We also sent and received Queen’s University Campus Minister Ashley RS and her small group who visited and partnered with the BSFB ministry in Khulna. As well, Queen’s University Korean Christian Fellowship Campus Minister Ashley Chan’s small group traveled and participated in the Chittagong Regional Conference!

This week we’ll be sending 7 members of our team to the Rajshahi Regional Conference, continuing with placements and continuing to invest in relationships within our team and our new Bangladeshi friends.

Please pray that we’ll:
– continue to send and receive each other well and hear each other’s stories.
– ask good questions as we encounter cultural difference.
– continue to invest deeply in relationships despite language barriers, jetlag, heat, and sickness.

TEAM UPDATE #2 (MAY 9, 2014)

Mustard seeds are small.  Tiny.  Minuscule. Totally in the “if you blink, you’ll miss it” category.
 
But someday they’ll become bushes of epic proportions.
 
We’re in the mustard seed phase of this GUP.  Things are just beginning—exploring Dhaka, language lessons, the first hang-out with local students.  And a few inaugural bowel troubles. Pretty basic, pretty standard. 
 
But oh so ripe with Kingdom potential.  Already students are discovering their need for Jesus to come and interpret their experiences as they begin this cross-cultural journey.

We’ve got a full week ahead of us.  There are culturally-appropriate outfits to purchase, placements to start, and some much-needed language lessons.  Our first conference team heads to Khulna on Monday.

It’s bound to be an eventful and challenging week.  But certainly one where Jesus will meet us and begin to reveal the seed-locked potential of this team.
 
So please pray for us.

–Thank God for a safe arrival in Dhaka after over 24 hours of travel 

–Ask God for health and wellness as we orient ourselves to this new context
 
–Pray for a quick willingness for the team to seek Jesus as they encounter much that is new and foreign.

For more stories, you can also visit this student’s blog on the Bangladesh GP.