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Roughly 15% speak it daily as their first language of choice. Consequently, the most likely way any of these people will meet Jesus is going to be proactively and lovingly, in and through, the medium of the Welsh language.
The Welsh language is integral to Wales’ culture and society. It is the only language that is de jure official in any part of the United Kingdom (with English being de facto official).
It is estimated that 25% of the Welsh population now speak the language, with roughly 15% speaking Welsh daily as their first language of choice. Consequently, the most likely way any of these people will meet Jesus is going to be proactively and lovingly, in and through, the medium of the Welsh language.
In universities across Wales there are tight clusters of Welsh-language speakers. At most Welsh universities there are halls of residence reserved exclusively for Welsh speakers, thereby perpetuating a close-knit community of ‘Cymry Cymraeg’ (Welsh speakers). Furthermore, all universities in Wales teach courses in the language, with many degree programs offered in Welsh. Students also have the right to submit assessed work and sit exams in Welsh, even if the course was taught in English.
Typically, these clusters of Welsh-speaking students are often identified by a robust patriotism marked in part by a distaste for all things anglophone, a deep-rooted, cultural (nominalistic) Christianity and a penchant for excessive drinking. English-speaking Christian Unions (CU, an association of Christian students in a certain university) have limited fruitfulness in reaching these Welsh speakers.
Therefore, the majority of gospel labour must be carried out by the small Welsh-language CUs around Wales (there are currently just three), generously supported by local Welsh-speaking evangelical churches.
An often-used method for presenting Jesus is by harnessing Welsh culture. Luned Gwawr Evans, former CU president at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, fondly recalls CU open-mic nights for student musicians to come and showcase their work. A Welsh pastor who observed one of these events comments, ‘It was amazing to see the whole room engaged and listening throughout the night! It was really special and we could clearly see God at work. By using Welsh culture through the medium of Welsh music we were able to reach a specific audience that could hear the gospel.’
Luned also recalls hosting dinner parties with a selection of Welsh-speaking friends, Christian and otherwise, with the aim of talking about a specific topic that was pertinent in Wales. ‘Welsh students are very engaged with the culture and are usually open to sharing their thoughts. However, because there is often a background of “Christian Morals” in Welsh-speaking homes it is hard to convince them that real Christianity isn’t what they think it is – a dying religion steeped in traditions that belong to another century. It’s a battle to show them how relevant Jesus is to them today.’
Also of great importance is trying to run events close to the clusters of Welsh speakers. Bangor CU member Carys says, ‘We’ve really noticed that going to Welsh-speaking halls or events run by the Welsh Union is much more effective in reaching Welsh-speaking students than expecting them to come to a venue such as a church or café. Our events at the halls of residence this past year have been very popular.’
For the most part, Welsh-speaking CU members are also members of their larger English CU counterparts, who can support them in their outreach. For several years in Aberystwyth, the English speakers worked in the kitchen doing the cooking and washing up for Welsh-speaking events to free-up Welsh students, allowing them to invite and interact with their friends. Similarly, former Bangor Relay Worker Rebecca Gethin says, ‘Some of our “Tea and Toast” wouldn’t have been possible without practical help from the English-language CU to make the toast so we (Welsh speakers) could be out speaking to the Welsh-language students on the Welsh society evenings.’
Supporting, resourcing and encouraging these small groups of Welsh-speaking believers in our universities is vital. Wonderfully, there has almost always been Welsh-speaking staff on the UCCF Wales Team (there are currently two first-language Welsh speakers on team). For the past six years we have also had a member of staff dedicated to serving the Welsh-speaking CUs.
Uncover Luke and John have been translated into Welsh (‘Datgelu Luc’ and ‘Datgelu Ioan’), and work is underway to translate Uncover Mark. These resources have been used to good effect amongst Welsh-speaking students. Carys reports with great delight how a friend of hers came to know Jesus through reading Datgelu Luc. Having the text and studies in her mother tongue made such a difference.
Because of their grasp of the language coupled with their love of Wales, a high percentage of Welsh speakers often take up prominent culture-shaping roles in Wales: in the civil service, education and the arts especially. Therefore, the potential impact of Welsh-language outreach is significant.
Welsh-language outreach isn’t just for Welsh speakers – please join us in praying for this work. In particular, pray for an increasingly effective ministry amongst Welsh-speaking students in Wales.
Owen Brown, UCCF Wales Team Leader.
This article originally appeared in UCCF’s September 2018 edition of Impact. Re-published with permission.