Bangladesh Update #5

Bujhi na.

It’s become one of my favourite phrases here in Bangladesh.  I use it everywhere. As I navigate transportation in the city, when I’m hanging out with Bangladeshi students, and every morning at placement.

At any given point you can likely hear someone on our team say it, usually prefaced by “Oh no.”

Bujhi na.  It means “I do not understand.”

It’s because there are still a lot of things that we do not understand here.  Things about culture and gender and issues of justice. Even the massive language gap attests to how very much we do not understand on a daily basis

But in spite of our constant state of “bujhi na,” I’m amazed by the depth of relationships that have been built here in Bangladesh. Surely these are signs of the Kingdom, growing among us as we partner with our Bengali friends.

Today, the team went to placement for the last time.  After a month of building friendships at various locations across the city, it’s a sad and hard day.  But also a beautiful one. Together, we have witnessed the power of love and intentionality, especially when it’s in the name of Jesus. No matter how big the language barrier, there were many tears, a clear sign of the lasting impact these relationships will have in our lives.

As we enter our final five days in Bangladesh, there will be many more experiences like today.  These days will be filled with goodbyes, as we reflect on the ways that God has grown our love for the people of this country.

So It might be true that there is much we still do not understand, but our hearts have been irrevocably changed by this experience.

As we navigate this season of ending, would you please pray with us:

Pray for our placement locations—the students at the Student Friendship Centre and the HEED Arts School and the women and children at the Children Uplift Program and Centre for the Training and Rehabilitation of Destitute Women.

Pray for our team as we grieve and process this time of transition.

Pray for our Acts manuscript camp, as we  head into two full days of scripture study with Bengali students.


Israel Update: A (miraculous?) early morning encounter

One shouldn’t use the word “miraculous” casually. Within the natural order, many strange coincidences occur: the unexpected and the unlikely happen often enough but they still cause wonder. People of faith know that God our Father is the great choreographer in the dance of the universe.  And  we are in Israel, the land of many miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus, who was dead and in the grave and is alive forever more. So I will describe for you what happened and you can tell me what you think.

The student conference was over – it had been intense. As you would expect! Israel is a land of profound ethnic, religious and historic divisions. Students from many shades of belief and unbelief had gathered in the firm conviction that God’s love is for all people. The unity in diversity had been powerful. Now they had scattered back to their universities and families.

We – the thirteen Canadians – were exhausted and happy to have an evening to de-brief and rejoice. Dom announced that she was feeling unwell. Something she ate? Over-tiredness?  A flu bug?  She grew worse and took to her bed. The big danger in such a hot climate is de-hydration and she could not keep anything down.

At 3:30 am Ian decided to take her to the hospital and set off immediately, not sure where to find a hospital in nearby Tel Aviv. The roads were very dark and very deserted. Ian pulled into a gas station, uncertain if anyone would be there. Suddenly, a man appeared – he had been putting air in his tires and Ian asked the way to the hospital. The man replied in English, “I am a doctor. Can I help you?” Really?  A doctor? On an empty country road at 3am? Even, as a final twist of humour and assurance from God, the angel-like doctor was a Canadian from Montreal now living in Israel!

After careful questioning, he recommended that they not go to the hospital. “They have much more urgent cases. Give her lots of water and she should be fine soon.” Back to bed for Dom. Back to much needed sleep for Ian. All around relief.  And great thanksgiving to God. The doctor was right. Three more people had this slight flu and all recovered quickly. We went on our way rejoicing.

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.

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.

Celebrating the life of Yvonne Woods

“With the passing of Yvonne Woods, we say farewell to a faithful partner and significant contributor to the story of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of Canada,”  says President Geri Rodman.

Yvonne, the widow of former Inter-Varsity Canada General Secretary C. Stacey Woods, died on Monday, April 7, 2014 at the age of 98. Throughout her life, she was actively committed to student ministry in Canada and around the world through the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES).

A memorial service will be held Tuesday, April 15 at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA.  The service begins at 11 a.m. EST and can be viewed via podcast. Her remains will be buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto at a later date. For more details on the service scroll to the end of this story.

80thCelebration 357

Inter-Varsity Canada President Geri Rodman with Yvonne Woods at the 80th anniversary of the Canadian movement.

Yvonne Katherine Richie grew up in Toronto in a home where Inter-Varsity’s ministry was greatly supported.   Her mother, Joyce Ritchie, directed Girls’ Camp at Ontario Pioneer Camp and served on the camp committee in the 1930s. Inter-Varsity staff worker and Order of Canada recipient Cathie Nicholl lived with the Ritchies when both women were in their teens.

Yvonne was a student leader in Inter-Varsity’s University of Toronto chapter in the early 1930s, reporting to the board in 1934 that prayer meetings on campus continued even through exams. When Stacey fell in love with Yvonne, he offered to resign from his position as General Secretary, concerned that the organization would not be ready to support a married couple. The Inter-Varsity board quickly welcomed Yvonne as Stacey’s partner and refused his offer of resignation.

Yvonne and Stacey married in 1938, beginning a life-long partnership in student ministry. Stacey would often refer female students to his wife, believing it best that males be counselled and discipled by males and females by females. Together they led many students to Christ and mentored many more to faithful discipleship in Jesus Christ.

Even when Stacey and Yvonne left Canada, the couple continued to be connected and supportive of student ministry here.   When Stacey passed away in 1983, Yvonne continued her active interest and support of Inter-Varsity and IFES.

Yvonne rarely missed an opportunity to celebrate milestones and important events with Inter-Varsity in Canada. She was a special guest at both our 60th and 80th anniversaries and at the IFES World Assembly held in Canada in 2007.

When introducing Yvonne at the 6oth anniversary celebrations, Inter-Varsity Canada staffworker Cathie Nichol commented that the Woods’ “combined teamwork in the student field was just tremendous. Stacey would start one thing after another and he was ably supported by Yvonne.”

“With Yvonne’s death,” said Geri Rodman, “a chapter of our history, going almost back to the beginning of our ministry, comes to a close. But the legacy left by both Yvonne and Stacey continues today as we see young people committing their lives to Jesus Christ.”

Read a tribute from IFES General Secretary Daniel K. Bourdanné here.

For details on the memorial service, click here.