The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
It has been great to see how students in Europe have gained new confidence to proclaim the gospel publicly.
10 years ago as I headed to Austria for the first ever FEUER Conference I had no idea what to expect. (I also had no idea about catching trains abroad, and ended up at the wrong end of the country, having missed 4 different changes… and eventually arrived 8 hours late– but that’s another story!).
The name FEUER (The Fellowship of Evangelists in the Universities of EuRope) is a slightly tenuous acronym, using English words to spell the German word meaning ‘fire’.
It would have been hard to imagine back then how significantly the new movement would affect the whole continent of Europe. I also had no idea how it would over the years massively affect me personally– up until I had ony worked within the UK – now, 10 years later, at least 50% of it has spread across the rest of Europe. I have learned that we certainly follow a God who is able to do above and beyond what we ask or imagine, and this has certainly been the testimony.
As nearly 200 of us gathered together in the autumn sunshine of Spain it was a good time to reflect back on what has been achieved through FEUER.
1. A rediscovery of confidence in the public proclamation of the gospel
In the book of Acts we see how the gospel took the 1st Century world by storm – it involved a combination of one-to-one, small groups and public evangelism. However, as many student groups across Europe are small in size, many had previously felt that they couldn’t organise anything public, and mainly focused on evangelism through small groups; this had limited impact, and was often hidden away. It has been great to see how individuals have gained new confidence to proclaim the gospel publicly. Even in highly secular and atheistic countries like the Czech Republic we have seen hundreds of students gathering for public lectures on science and faith.
2. The massive growth of mission weeks happening across Europe
10 years ago the UK and Germany were the only European countries where university missions were regularly happening. This year, around 200 will take place, in nearly 40 countries! This explosion of growth has been quite remarkable.
3. A growing number of university evangelists
The purpose of FEUER was to identify, train and release a whole team of evangelists across the continent. University evangelism requires unique gifts and those known to be using these gifts have been quite few and far between. It’s been a joy to see this number grow.
4. The birth of National Training Networks
In UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Ukraine national networks have been developed to train students and graduates in public evangelism. It was a special joy to hear from the Danish movement that they now have 100 students in their network – many of who are now speaking at missions. Being local, they connect well to the culture and are able to be appropriately involved in the ongoing follow-up.
5. Christian academics being equipped for evangelism
In the last three years a new wing of FEUER has begun – identifying Christian academics and training them to use their positions and expertise for the gospel – just like people such as John Lennox have modeled already over many years. This is a great help in many countries, where these individuals can open doors within the university where it may have been hard for other evangelists to find entry routes. It also demonstrates how the gospel is connected to all areas of life, and encourages students to see the connections between their subjects they study and the gospel.
6. Courageous evangelism despite opposition
When FEUER started there were certain places where it was felt that it would be very difficult to hold a mission. In one European country such unauthorized public gatherings remain illegal. It was moving to hear from a leader of the Christian movement there, as she shared how they have now held missions in nearly every student city in the country. However, this hasn’t been without opposition. This year she, and several other staff, were arrested and charged, after police raided one of the mission events. This hasn’t stopped them though! With some minor adjustments they have continued to hold successful mission weeks across the country!
7. Perseverance in the face of discouragements
In some countries, such as Albania, it has taken several years to discover a model of mission that works in their own contexts. The first few missions in Albania did not work so well, but, over time and with perseverance, they have, more recently, seen great fruit. Similarly, in the Netherlands it is taking some time to mobilise the large in number, but sometimes introspective, student groups. In both cases perseverance comes from the conviction that Christians should publicly proclaim the gospel because it is Biblical, not just because it works. This belief gives the ability to cope with disappointments, and to persevere, until a breakthrough is finally seen.
8. A rise in creativity within proclamation
While proclamation is central, it has been good to see how this can be supplemented (not, note, supplanted) with creative elements - such as music, drama, testimony, poetry etc. A number of good examples of these approaches were modeled during the FEUER weekend.
9. Better follow-up
Alongside the growth of missions there has also been an explosion in the use of the Uncover seeker-Bible-study resources. A parallel track commenced last year at the conference to train people in using this resource, and to help them become mobilisers in their own countries. By giving students training and resources in this area they are much better prepared to follow-up effectively those who become interested in the Bible through the mission events and talks.
10. People coming to faith!
Ultimately the greatest joy of all is seeing that, across the continent, people have come to faith in Christ. A real highlight of the conference for me was interviewing someone who had come to faith through a university mission last year. Since then they have graduated… and become a staff member of their local movement! However, we long for more to come to faith in Christ, and for a real breakthrough in responses in Europe in the years to follow.
5 REASONS WHY FEUER HAS BEEN SO EFFECTIVE
FEUER has always had a clear focus – the public proclamation of the gospel in the universities of Europe. To attend the conference all delegates are required to be committed to being involved in at least one mission in the following year, and to be at least exploring if not practising a gift in public evangelism. Numbers offered this opportunity of attending FEUER Conference are therefore deliberately limited. Numerical growth beyond a certain level is not always helpful, and FEUER attendees have benefited from its limited size, not least because it has, over the years, maintained a sense of community, and this has fostered deep relationships which have led to fruitful gospel partnerships.
No speaker gives more than one talk at the weekend. This stops the conference having any kind of hierarchy. Seasoned evangelists pray, share and mix with undergraduates who have come for the first time. This has very much been modeled by the humble leadership of Lindsay Brown.
While FEUER is an IFES initiative it is not limited to IFES staff, and benefits from having some of the most gifted people in Europe from a number of different organisations and churches. The need in Europe is so great that we need ‘all hands on deck’. FEUER is about the proclamation of the gospel; not the promotion of any one organisation. It is ‘partnership in the gospel’ in its fullest sense.
My highlight of the conference each year is hearing reports of missions from around Europe. Each meeting begins with several testimonies of these exciting and encouraging mission reports, first hand. There is an atmosphere of joyful thanksgiving and wonder as we hear of faith-filled ventures… and students turning to Christ! This, in turn, is a great motivation for all, for their year ahead, and sparks new, creative ideas. Momentum gathers, year after year…
Younger evangelists have benefited so much from having the presence and Godly example of the more senior evangelists sharing their lives over the weekend. Sadly, Michael Green was unable to be with us this year, for health reasons, but it was a joy to hear extended interviews with Samuel Escobar, Dick Dowsett, and John Lennox. Their example is a great inspiration.
Finally, on the Saturday evening of the conference we joyfully celebrated 10 years of FEUER together, with a birthday cake (though, due to a spelling error, we instead inadvertently celebrated 10 years of ‘FEVER’!). At the close Andy Mayo poignantly sang a song that he had written for the occasion, based on Paul’s words at the end of Romans 11. They reminded us that, for all that we have seen, we give God the glory!
‘For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen!’ (Romans 11:36)
Michael Ots, evangelist.