Tempo di lettura: 3 minuti

Emanuele Berti tells us about his experience with the “Mission Week” that the GBU Florence group organized from March 11th to the 14th.

PREPARATION

Preparing for the week, for me, was a process that was as challenging as it was formative. It began several months ago and has proved to be an ongoing challenge. The choice of the theme and its development were particularly complex. Each time I found myself doubting the outcome, and I had difficulty figuring out what was an appropriate approach to engage students. Initially, I explored concepts such as victory and defeat, and the meaning of life, focusing on the reality of university students.

Later, under the Lord’s guidance, I oriented the theme toward dissatisfaction. In collaboration with other coordinators and staff, we looked for ways to address this topic with students. However, we opted for a direct approach with students through questions, which we often use in the GBU to initiate discussion. We also used a poster board, which summarized the concept of dissatisfaction through two key phrases: 

  1. “Human beings are often dissatisfied not because they want too much, but rather because they want too little.” By C.S. Lewis
  2. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will thirst no more.” John 4:14

I have realized in this preparation how constantly revisiting and reworking ideas is a challenging and tiring process, but I have also realized how essential and necessary it is; not only in preparing for an evangelistic week!

THE WORK IS IN YOUR HANDS

We planned the evangelistic days with personal prayer during the mornings, and then devoting the afternoons to evangelism and interaction with the students. On the first day, we gathered for an analysis and study of the Gospel, exploring its meaning and how to convey it to the students. The enthusiasm and joy I felt during the first day of preparation was so intense that the next day I found myself in bed with fever, nausea and sore throat! I spent two days in bed.

Initially, I was sorry that I could not attend, but then I felt great joy in knowing that others were at the university, sharing the Word of Jesus with students. I realized that the Word and the Gospel are free, not imprisoned, and continue to spread, despite our limitations.

WE ARE STRONG ONLY IN THE LORD

On the last day, after much prayer, I was able to find the strength to get out of bed and reach the university, joining the others. Although I was still sick, voiceless, with some fever and tiredness, I experienced how the Lord works in our very weakness. The warmth of the sunshine and the encouraging conversations lifted my spirits. To attract people, we had decided to use a little door and a ball. At first, they did not arouse much interest, but once we figured out how to make use of them, the Lord acted in an extraordinary way. We proposed a game in which, in exchange for a prize (a candy), people had to answer a question. In addition to the main poster board, we displayed another one with the pattern of the two ways of living, represented by six pictures illustrating the gospel. It was surprising to note that almost all the people, at least a dozen, understood the meaning of the gospel on their own after I asked them to try to understand what the pictures meant. It was a real miracle, and some people even agreed to come to the Mark Drama.

SATISFIED

These days have made me realize even more that only the Lord Jesus can truly satisfy. We can find many religions, ideas and sources of entertainment, but only Jesus can reconcile us with God. He is the only righteous one, the only sinless one, the only one who can redeem us and give us eternal satisfaction, a satisfaction that knows no end. He is the water that quenches our thirst — forever! Through His mercy, God welcomes every student, whether they have been a lifelong blasphemer, an arrogant person or an atheist. If they repent and believe in Jesus, they can be reconciled and God awaits them with open arms, rejoicing for the lost sheep who has been found, for the one who had died and has come back to life.

Emanuele Berti, GBU Florence student

Tempo di lettura: 4 minuti

By Aoife Beville, university researcher and former GBU student

Ahoj!

Ahoj! – that’s how they say ‘hello’ in Slovakia, where I visited at the beginning of October. I’m Aoife (pronounced Ee-fah), I’ve been involved in different IFES groups: Cork (Ireland) where I’m originally from and where I was co-coordinator of the Christian Union during my BA; Bologna, where I did two years of InterAction, an IFES international voluntary work programme where I supported the students of the local group; Naples, where I was co-coordinator of the group during my MA. Now, I am back in Naples and still at university, but on the other side of the lectern! I research and teach in the field of English linguistics. You may be asking yourself ‘what does Slovakia have to do with it?’ Good question!

Good News for the University

Last year at an IFES conference I met Sara, a VBH (GBU) staff worker in Slovakia. We started talking about the usefulness of having Christian academics involved in the work of national movements. I believe that the gospel is good news for the university and I would like to be able to support and serve GBU students as I do my work. I told Sara about my research on irony as a persuasive strategy in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. A linguistic and literary study that, due to the nature of the text, touches on various interesting topics (apologetics, atheism, etc.). Sara invited me to come to Slovakia to give a lecture at the university on the topic of this research.

“The Trouble about Argument”

Aoife and Sara at lunch in Prešov

So, through Sara’s contacts I was invited to give two lectures in the English Language and Anglo-American Literature courses at the University of Prešov. The lectures were entitled: “’The Trouble about Argument’: Irony and Rhetoric in C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters” and presented the stylistic analysis of the text. The text, for those unfamiliar with it, is a sardonic epistolary novel consisting of letters from one demon to another with detailed instructions on how to ensure the eternal damnation of a human ‘patient’. Linguistically, it is a fascinating text that makes use of neologisms, irony, bureaucratese and other peculiar stylistic features to persuade the reader of the intellectual and spiritual validity of Christianity. Written more than 80 years ago, during World War II, it presents a lucid and surprisingly relevant critique of the objections to the Christian faith. The lessons went well, the students participated actively and I had the opportunity to chat with both them and their professors.

Aoife giving her lecture at Prešov University

A Polarised Society

My lectures in Prešov took place during election time, a time of high tension and strong division in the public debate. Given the themes of the lectures, the local student group also invited me to participate in evening activities in a café near the university. We advertised these evenings under the title ‘Polarised Society’ and while handing out leaflets our team had some interesting conversations about it with students on campus, the topic certainly attracted their attention. At the café we welcomed guests with ice-breakers and questions for discussion in small groups. Following this, I was interviewed using questions from attendees that arrived via app (Slidoo; highly recommended for similar events!). The discussion was wide-ranging and touched on various topics: my personal journey to faith; tips for healthy debate in a divided society; questions on the validity of the Christian faith. In fact, even after the official end of the evening we stayed chatting for so long that we had to order pizzas to feed the crowds. As a good adoptive-Neapolitan perhaps it is better if I don’t comment on Slovak pizza!

One of the Cafè nights

Good News for GBU

The VBH is a national movement with different challenges than the Italian GBU. For example, there are only two staff workers – Sara and Graham (also Gen Sec). However, the vision is the same! The events in Prešov were part of an attempt to revive the group after a slowdown caused by the pandemic. It was encouraging to see some students better understand the purpose of the local group – not simply a club for young believers but a space to welcome those who would like to know Jesus. The students seem to have been empowered and encouraged by the events we held together, their feedback has been really positive. Many Ukrainian students – who are now studying in Slovakia because of the war in their country – came to the Cafè Nights. It was a joy to see the Slovak students welcome them and offer them the kind of community – safe, hospitable and friendly – that they so badly needed. I am grateful to the Lord for the experience and for the blessings we received during those days. I also feel that no local group or national movement is too small to think big and organise such events!

Tempo di lettura: 2 minuti

by Simona Squitieri, GBU Parma

In the beginning God created. If I had to sum up this GBU training weekend (Formazione), it would be like this. 

But let’s start from the beginning. About sixty people from Trentino to Sicily, after overcoming long journeys, trains, buses, cars, arrived in Umbria, in a little house with a view of Lake Trasimeno, to participate in GBU Coordinator Training 2023. 

In the beginning

As the acronym GBU (University Bible Groups) suggests, we looked to the Bible again this year to address the challenges we should face. Organizational challenges, practical and theoretical, intellectual and social challenges, for which we prepared ourselves by looking at, interpreting and applying the first three chapters of God’s Word. Starting, therefore, right “from the beginning”!

Moments of praise to the Lord and prayer refreshed and accompanied us during the intense daily program of seminars, reading and study of the Word. The Staff worked hard to provide us with the tools to better serve the students of our local groups, but especially the yet unreached students within our universities. Through Bible studies, then, we noticed how in the beginning God had thought of everything, neglecting no detail, planning and arranging everything perfectly, including us, descendants of Adam and princesses from the beginning. 

God created

These two words highlight the relationship that we are called to have with God, even before we make any commitment to Him and to others: the relationship of Creator and creature. It is essential to recognize God the Lord as the creator of the universe and of our lives; and that before everything was, He already was. 

But the words “God created” also highlight God’s creativity. Everything we study, from physics to art, from literature to medicine, have the same creative origin here in these two little words.

After creating, in the beginning all things, light, waters, bright stars, animals and plants, after the creation of man in his image, God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

A perfect plan for us today

So, was I able to understand what place I have in all this? In all this “good”? Coordinators from all over Italy, did we understand what place we have, together with the students and our local groups?

Adam and Eve lived in God’s presence and had a purpose, stolen and ruined by sin.

But in the beginning God created a perfect plan for us today: to save us through his son Jesus and ask us to share with others this Great Creator, who wants to come back to reconcile with us through Jesus. To share him from student to student. 

Ready, set, go!

Delegazione italiana alla World Assembly
Tempo di lettura: 4 minuti

by Marco Piovesan, GBU student

“… once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10a)

Would you have ever imagined that 168 different cultures could coexist in one kingdom? Well, that is how it works in God’s kingdom. Yes, sometimes we think back to the fact that in Christ we have been called from every people and nation, but often we cannot really conceive the magnitude of this reality. The IFES World Assembly is, on the other hand, a way in which we can touch upon the authentic meaning of being one people, members of the one body of Christ.

The World Assembly is an event held every four years with the goal of bringing together delegates from all national movements that testify to Christ in the university as a ministry (e.g., GBU in Italy) to make decisions for global fellowship. The bureaucratic aspect, however, is little more than a pretext for experiencing a week of sharing and edification among brothers and sisters who share the same mission.

This year the date was set for early August in Jakarta, Indonesia. Participating in this event as a GBU student was something God used in an incredible way. One article could never contain all the spiritual richness that God was able to provide me, however, I cannot help but share some basic teachings from World Assembly.

We are not alone in our zeal 

Among GBU students, I think several times we have faced the immense mission of sharing Jesus to the students at our universities, but we have also been discouraged from seeing something beyond our reach. In fact it is beyond our human reach. In light of this discouragement, after the initial enthusiasm in which we are full of ideas and initiatives, we find a balance in which to settle in as we go forward.

From here, we get to know other students and see the zeal for God with which they are filled with, has completely changed my way of seeing these difficulties. Yes, they too see this mission as something vast, but they have God at the center of their hearts, to the point that they think of every second as an opportunity to talk about the gospel.

This of course often requires them to commit their evenings to events, Bible studies, organizational meetings and face-to-face meetings, but the desire to see Christ glorified outweighs the personal desire to have time for themselves. In short, I saw in these students the full realization that God is worth sacrificing for and that the true way to reason, is to reason with an eternal perspective

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

We are not alone in serving

One struggle I have experienced as a student over the past two years is wanting to organize some events at the university, but always finding too few people in the GBU group to make it happen.

At the World Assembly one evening I shared this struggle with the people I was sitting with at the table, and the response I received was immediately, “Invite us, we can come as help from abroad to participate and organize a week of events.” I was taken aback by the simplicity of this phrase, but it made me realize that being one flesh in Christ does not just mean greeting each other and telling each other good experiences once every four years: we can use this immense privilege to work closely together, meet each other’s needs, and toil together to see God’s kingdom advance.

At this point, I feel entrusted with the responsibility to make appropriate use of such a precious gift of having true co-workers in Christ with the same perspective.

We are not alone in our sufferings

No doubt different challenges are being faced in every corner of the earth: World Assembly was inevitably an opportunity to hear stories of struggles and suffering specific to different nations. We discussed issues of social justice, mental health, and stress created by the university setting.

However, I think what should cause us to reflect the most is the persecution (not just psychological) that so many Christians are subjected to. To find myself eating at the table with believers who literally every day expose their lives to death for the sake of Christ has raised many questions in me. The only way they can live is by embodying the gospel in their lives by their behavior to the point that this can trigger in people around them a desire to ask questions about the Christian faith

I wonder if, in the Italian context (in which we are far from having to risk our lives) I have the same desire to impersonate Christ in every area of my life. I wonder if I really am willing to make the same sacrifice for God that these brothers are exposed to everyday. I wonder if for me, as for them, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). 

There is, however, something extremely incredible about these examples: Christ is so precious that it is worth giving our very lives to stay together with Him.

We are not alone because God is with us

Admittedly, World Assembly was not only rich in all these broad teachings, but it was also an opportunity to reflect from a personal point of view. Speaking of which, there is one concept that was reiterated so many times and which I cannot do without anymore: becoming aware of God’s presence in our lives.

So many times in the Bible God’s promise of “I will be with you” appears, but we often fail to consider this in our daily lives. I had a chance to talk with several people who have served in IFES for decades, and one thing each of them insisted on after so many years of ministry is that a personal relationship with God is the basis of everything we do. We cannot think of serving God without being in fellowship with Him. We need to seek Him and His presence: being aware that He is with us can radically transform the way we live for Him.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The Christian life and even Christian service is a continuous walking side by side with God.

Tempo di lettura: 3 minuti

How easy it is to lose or squander an inheritance. If you type the words “squandered inheritance” into Google a series of stories come up, one sadder than another:

“Woman inherits a fortune, squanders it all and ends up living on the street.”

“My brother squandered my mother’s money and now he won’t even contribute to the funeral expenses.”

“She spent 92,000 euros a month. The squandered inheritance of Lisa Marie Presley – daughter of Elvis.”

This year at the Festa GBU we thought about the legacy of the disciple of Christ, of what awaits the believer in the future. For those who live by faith in Christ today, the best is to come. It is not here in the present, it is in the future; and the disciple simply has to look up to contemplate it. 

We studied 3 passages to meditate on this secure future: 1 Peter 1:3-5, Hebrews 12:1-3 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5.

The characteristics of this inheritance

Peter urged us to rejoice in the fact that we are a guarded people for a guarded inheritance, all because of the Lord’s great mercy. Three words are used to describe this inheritance: incorruptible, spotless and unchangeable.

Incorruptible – Isaiah describes our existence as covered by a veil – a veil that covers the face of all peoples (Isaiah 25:6). Death. Any organism living in this world today is subject to the corruption of death that consumes and defiles everything. Except the believer’s inheritance. It is incorruptible!

Spotless – blemishes, impurity, darkness. It is perfect in every sense; it is the definition of beauty and can never be infected by our sin. It is spotless.

Unalterable – it is protected from death, and protected from wickedness and is also protected from time. It is an inheritance that does not grow old. The woodworm, the moth cannot destroy it. The rust, the sun will have no effect on it.

An inheritance guarded in heaven by the Lord for a people guarded by the power of God – the power that created the sun, the stars, the black holes, the Himalayas, the Mariana Trench. The power that raised Jesus from the dead! That same power is functioning as a shield around the heirs to bring them to the end of their journey. Let us celebrate the certainty of our inheritance!

The gaze fixed on the champion!

Instead, the author of the letter to the Hebrews explains that God’s children are a people who persevere to the end by fixing their gaze on Jesus. They run with perseverance, convinced of the possibility of finishing the race, throwing off every distraction and destroying every sin that would like to deceive the heir. They persevere with their eyes on Christ, the model, the means and the medal of faith.

The model, the example of how to run with perseverance. Look at his courage: he did not give up. Observe his conviction, focused on the goal. Reflect on his submission to the Father’s will, and note the chronology of faith: suffering now, joy in the future, cross first, crown later.

The means, because of his running, because of his perseverance, the believer today can run in the race of faith, confident that the road is no longer blocked by his sin. He can go all the way to the presence of the Father, thanks to Jesus!

The medal is what awaits the athlete of faith at the end of his run. Jesus himself is the prize of faith; he is the inheritance. The believer does not run to win a gold medal, or a yellow shirt, or the shield, or the world cup. The believer will receive at the end of this race, a much, much more precious thing-Jesus himself, incorruptible, spotless and unchangeable! We win him and he wins us!

Passing the baton

Paul with his last words implores his son in the faith, Timothy, to pass on the message of inheritance to the next generation. The heir is sure of his inheritance, sure that he will make it to the end of the race through God’s power and through his perseverance, is called to preach the word of inheritance to his and the next generation. And he is called to do so with urgency, with patience and with suffering.

Discouragements, disappointments, frustrations, obstacles, attacks and opposition are part of the believer’s life. Shame in the present, glory in the future. Cross today, crown on that day. Suffering now, yet our inheritance is incorruptible, unblemished and unalterable at Christ’s return. This is the living hope of Christ’s disciple! God will bring us through faith to that day and so let us run with perseverance, eyes fixed on the prize, on Jesus, proclaiming the Word to all.

Tempo di lettura: 5 minuti

By Davide Maglie, GBU Chairman

In the last few weeks I have been struck and deeply disturbed by news stories which have to do with the context in which the GBU operates. On the 1st of February news reached the press and national media about the suicide of a student at the Iulm University in Milan. A young woman whose name we do not know was found dead in the university toilets. Just over a month later, on 3 March, came the dramatic news of the suicide of a student at the Federico II University in Naples. Her name was Diana.

The student from Milan left a letter of farewell to her family, in which she tried to explain the reasons for her gesture. They can be traced back to a general sense of failure, to her not feeling equal to her family’s expectations and sacrifices to make her study. Instead, the student from Naples had constructed a false narrative about her course of study, and may not have been able to cope with the sense of shame or guilt. She had announced that she was close to graduating, when she was not. Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. In the last three years, ten university students have taken their own lives. And these are just the known cases.

A challenge for the GBU

We must not underestimate the situation and take seriously the mental health of the students the GBU ministry deals with. On the 15th of February, following the shock of the suicide in Milan, Emma Ruzzon, President of the Student Council of the University of Padua, said during her speech at the opening of the academic year: “When did studying become a competition? When did training become secondary to performing? All we know is that a good life, a dignified life, is not ours by right, but something we have to deserve’. Words that should make us pause.

We must engage ourselves as a ministry and thus equip ourselves and raise awareness of our co-workers, especially our front line, to pay proper attention in recognising the signs of discomfort, of existential malaise, the non-verbal or indirectly expressed signals. But I want to add something personal, which may explain the reasons for my emotional upset at the news I am reporting.

My personal experience

I was a university student who experienced traumatic interruptions in his life: the person with whom I shared my exam preparation, my academic alter ego, was a friend, her name was Cristina, and she lost her life in a car accident on New Year’s Eve 1992. We had said goodbye to each other a few weeks earlier, in mid-December, with the commitment to resume the preparation of the exams of the common syllabus when we returned from the Christmas holidays. All the exams we had prepared together had gone well and we were encouraged by the results. This news produced an emotional upheaval in me, exacerbated by other traumas that had occurred, and made me unable to concentrate on studying.

At that time, I was “kept afloat” by active involvement in a church ministry, which occupied my days. However, guilt and feelings of inadequacy were burrowing inside me: I attended classes, but could in no way concentrate on reading the study texts. On several occasions I left the house to take exams, but I did not reach the classrooms where I was supposed to take them. I could not accept the death of that sensitive, intelligent and generous girl. I was angry with God and had entered a kind of black hole; and even if on the outside I smiled and said ‘it is all right, the Lord is good and will provide for my needs’ inside I was emotionally torn apart.

Eventually, the love of my biological and spiritual family helped me to redirect my life in a healthier and more satisfying direction. I overcame the acute phase of the crisis and managed to complete my studies. But I could never have done it alone. I remember well, even though I never spoke about it willingly and never in public, the frustration, indeed the depression, the anger, the sense of self-pity that had held me back and prevented me from progressing in my studies. 

Around us, bearers of hidden challenges

Dear staff and students who participate in GBU activities, I want to encourage you to look at those who relate to you as potential carriers of hidden challenges. If they feel judged by you, they will not truly open their hearts. If you present only normative models of high spirituality, they may smile at you and say “amen”, but you will not reach them where they are, at the heart of their conflicts. Be able to welcome and encourage, without judging. Bring out their sense of failure, their insecurities, their challenges by sharing your own. You do not have to recount every detail, just be honest and open, genuinely interested in their lives. 

I believe these words from Ecclesiastes can help us:

There is a time for everything,     and a season for every activity under the heavens:     a time to be born and a time to die,     a time to plant and a time to uproot,     a time to kill and a time to heal,     a time to tear down and a time to build,     a time to weep and a time to laugh,     a time to mourn and a time to dance,     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,     a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,     a time to search and a time to give up,     a time to keep and a time to throw away,     a time to tear and a time to mend,     a time to be silent and a time to speak,     a time to love and a time to hate,     a time for war and a time for peace. What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 

Ecclesiastes (3:1-11)

These words have an enormous magnetic force, a poetic flow that continues to shake us, to not leave us indifferent.

Within human existence lies both what is desirable and what we would gladly avoid, within a chronological cycle that takes the form of the oscillation of a clock, or rather a pendulum.  Qoelet/Ecclesiastes is not an idealist who optimistically hopes for a period of peace and celebration that can erase the less desirable dimension of existence. As the biblical scholar William P. Brown reminds us: ‘Every activity has its season and the seasons have their place in the rhythm of the eternal rotation, it is not appropriate to dance in time of mourning, weeping does not suit celebration, silence when the rights of the oppressed are at stake. Even hatred has its time, as the psalms of imprecation remind us.” The real challenge of the wise man is therefore to “recognise what time it is that you are living in.  Discern the appropriate and inappropriate time to say certain things, to perform certain actions.

An appeal

Dear reader, when “sharing Jesus” be open to the lives of the people you are addressing. You will need wisdom and discretion, at certain stages and moments; but you will also need courage and resourcefulness, when you have to ask “the questions that matter”, the most difficult ones, in order to reach the students where they are and really help them, in the stretch of the journey you will make together. There will be a time to walk together and then you will have to let go. This separation at the end of the study cycle is also natural and physiological.

Of course, we hope to find those students again later, having become mature and aware men and women, capable of picking up the baton and passing on to other generations that sense of wonder and awareness of life. Within a divinely inspired and Christologically oriented wisdom and, who knows, collaborators in various capacities of the GBU. But “there is a time for everything”, recognise the time you are living in and remain listening to God’s plans for your life.  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  (Jeremiah 29:11).

Tempo di lettura: 3 minuti

By Giovanni Donato, Staff GBU Siena

A new academic year has begun and, like every year, the GBU has organized  Formazione (Student Leaders Training Conference) –  which is attended by all those who will be student leaders for GBU. This year, I was asked to preach from the book of 2 Timothy, which I was honored and pleased to do!

2 Timothy is probably one of the most suitable texts for such a retreat, the purpose of which is to exhort, train, and challenge the GBU coordinators (student leaders). I say this because that is precisely what Paul wishes to do with Timothy in writing of this letter, and every exhortation, every rebuke, every challenge that Paul issues to the young leader Timothy is easily applicable to young student leaders who are about to begin a new academic year with enthusiasm, but not without concerns.

In our four days together we were able to consider and meditate on the entire letter, however below I would just like to highlight two main lessons from 2 Timothy:

The call to Christian leadership is a call to suffering

Several times in the four chapters that make up 2 Timothy, Paul mentions the word suffering; he encourages the young leader to be ready to suffer for the sake of the gospel (1:8) and to patiently endure the suffering he will encounter in ministry (2:3, 4:5). Paul reminds Timothy that he too is suffering unashamedly for the sake of the gospel (1:12, 2:9), that he is also patiently enduring suffering for the sake of the elect (2:10), that his entire ministry has been marked by suffering (3:11); he informs him of the fact that he has been abandoned by all those who had been close to him up to that point (1:15, 4:9-10, 4:16) and how he had been violently attacked by someone whom he had until recently considered his friend (4:14-15). He makes it clear to Timothy that all who choose to be serious about God (“living piously”) will necessarily face persecution (3:12). Wow, put like that the call to leadership does not sound very inviting… However, Paul in this letter is not only saying that the call to leadership is only a call to suffering (thank God!), but it is also a glorious call!

The call to Christian leadership is a glorious call

In his letter, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the importance, honor, and even beauty of serving God. He reminds Timothy that the holy call to serve the King of kings is not received because of good conduct, but solely because of the glorious grace of God (1:9) that has been manifested to the world through the appearance of our Savior Jesus Christ (1:10). He explains to him that such a glorious calling is worth suffering (1:12) and that God is the one who will uphold us by his power (1:8) and guard us carefully until the day when we can lay down our arms (1:12). He exhorts young Timothy to invest time and energy into people who would one day take his place so that the flame of the gospel could continue to stay burning and be passed on throughout the unfolding of history (2:2); he urges him to watch over, care for and protect the body of Christ (2:14, 3:1-9), watching over it with love, humility, patience and consistency (2:15-16, 2:22-25). He called on him to preach God’s inspired Word faithfully and passionately (4:2), to use the gifts God had given him (1:6), and to faithfully fulfill the service the Lord had entrusted to him (4:5) because at the end of this great adventure, entry into God’s heavenly kingdom (4:18a) and the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous judge, would award to all those who joyfully awaited Jesus’ return (4:8)

Through the study of this letter we were able to do what Paul desired to do with Timothy through the writing of this letter: to exhort young Christian leaders to faithfully serve the Lord, not to be surprised or upset when they encounter suffering in their journey, and to always remember that the holy call to serve King Jesus is a glorious call that has been given to us by the grace of God and for which it is worth even suffering and dying, waiting for the day when we will meet him in glory.

Happy New Year and happy service to all GBU coordinators and to all those in the body of Christ who hold leadership and responsibility!

Tempo di lettura: 2 minuti
Elena Montaldocoordinator of GBU Torino 

As someone who studies Primary Education (ed: education = training), the word “training,” has a special value.

Its meaning is not summed up in the systematic transmission of knowledge, but indicates a desire to render someone competent. In other words, they are able to rework and apply that same knowledge that they learnt in the context of reality. This is possible only if there is a social network that provides those being trained, stimuli to which they can respond.

Student Leaders Training

This year’s Student Leaders Training meant all of the above to me and even more. It was  more than a context where students from all over Italy gathered for three days in Florence to listen to teaching, study the Bible together and participate in various  seminars. Here I even had the opportunity to lead an inductive Bible study, a prayer meeting, as well as planninng events and meetings for the new GBU students and to share GBU with university students in Florence itself.   

For the first time as a coordinator, after years of participation in the GBU, I felt that I was an irreplaceable part of a project that has Love as its engine and People’s Lives as its goal.

The theme

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul speaks as a father who, shortly before his death, addresses his son. The very one who had been the author of massacres, violence and persecution of Christians, after meeting Jesus, finds himself writing in prison, abandoned by all and condemned to death because of his faith in Him. 

An absurd decision in the eyes of many, but not to his own who saw joy flowing from his suffering. With his life, until his last breath, Paul had in fact led many souls to receive the salvation that comes from faith in the One who first gave His life and rose again to give them Life forever.

Reading and studying his words together with other students who, like me, received that same news and chose to believe and live for this same reality – I felt like the recipient,  together with Timothy, of that same letter. 

Let’s start again

During our Student Leaders Training we coordinators were confronted with an example of faith that laid bare our fears, insecurities and worries that anyone, in living to the fullest an ideal that goes against the grain, faces sooner or later, and then removed them. Together we understood the deep meaning of the ministry we believe has been entrusted to each of us Christian students within the GBU.

I realized how much courage and strength it can take to consistently maintain this life choice. At the same time, I realized even more deeply how worthwhile it is to live it out fully so that more and more people will know the Love and grace that the God of the Bible has shown, through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, in order to have a personal relationship with each of them.

Now we are ready to begin again, each where he or she lives in Italy. This time, however, with the knowledge that everything we do in our own small way has a common goal and a joy that springs even in suffering.

Tempo di lettura: 3 minuti

After two years in which the FESTA GBU (National Student Gathering) was held online (due to the pandemic), this year we were able to meet again in person. From Trento to Messina, we university students, graduates and staff rejoiced, studied and spent a few days together surrounded by the Florentine hills at Poggio Ubertini.

THE THEME

Stefano Mariotti guided us and shared with us some reflections on Peter’s first letter written “to the elect who live as strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). This is precisely where the title of the Festa comes from, “Far from Home“, an expression very familiar to us students. In addition, among other activities, there were some seminars that gave us the opportunity to cover topics such as interacting with the university, using social media to share the gospel, organising evangelistic events, and inviting a friend to read the Bible.

TWO ENCOURAGEMENTS FROM 1 PETER

During our studies, I loved it when we would break up into small groups. We would read a few verses, share our observations, and begin to ponder their meaning with the help of some  guiding questions. Afterwards, we would all gather together and Stefano would delve into some of the themes more specifically. In the first chapter of his letter, the Apostle Peter talks about two important topics: joy and suffering. Personally, it made me think a lot when Stefano asked us what we rejoice in, and particularly when he said that sometimes we make our joy dependent on a circumstance, an event, or often a person; consequently, our mood will depend on how things turn out. I immediately thought of the verse from Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I repeat: rejoice.” It was important for me to remember to base our joy in God because He is our safe haven and He is faithful.

Another thing that encouraged me was when the Apostle Peter argues that the sufferings the recipients of his writing go through are necessary and that we should not be surprised; in fact, he says, “ Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Through these words and thinking about how God sustains us even during difficulties, I was spurred on since He is our “cornerstone” (1 Peter 2: 6), essential and necessary for our lives. Sometimes difficulties are needed to grow and help others to grow, as Stefano shared, our hope in Christ.

TOGETHER TO SHARE JESUS

The Festa GBU was also important because it was an opportunity to continue cultivating the friendships that were born and that continue to be born in GBU. Building relationships that you can count on is really precious. Talking to other students and staff, sharing the activities carried out in your local GBU group over the past months, the events that have been organised and those that will take place soon, the ideas but also the difficulties that you encounter… These conversations really encouraged me  to continue to bring Jesus to the universities. When I think of the GBU as a group made up of so many students and friends with the same objective, it gives me courage.

To conclude, I can say with certainty that that weekend was a blessed time, expectations were greatly exceeded as God used so many people to support us, to show us once again the love he has for us, how precious we are to him and how much he cares about our lives. We were encouraged once again to be a light in our faculties and talk about Jesus to our friends and fellow university students.

Giada Coppola (Coordinatrice GBU Parma)

Tempo di lettura: 2 minuti

There aren’t many contexts like university, at least spiritually.  Every day we’re assaulted by the assumption that every “good”, even the best “goods”, can be reached if we humans just put in enough effort.  In today’s university departments, there’s little room for the spiritual: at most, it gets relegated strictly to the private, personal realm that has little or nothing to do with civic life or academic progress.  In our lecture halls, therefore, the socio-physical world and the spiritual world are completely separate, removed from one another.

 For both the aggressive atheist and the typical disinterested uni student, someone who wants to entrust themselves completely to Jesus seems strange.  Maybe too strange – crazy, even.  Academically, faith is often seen as weakness, a shortcoming, something that gets in the way of knowledge, that holds humanity back from reaching our true potential.  How then can someone belong to Jesus and at the same time swim in these cultural waters?  It’s easy for a believing student to feel like a fish out of water, to feel truly far from home.

But this experience isn’t at all unique to the modern university

From the very beginning of Christianity, believers have been considered “outsiders” by their society – from the very beginning it was clear to the world that there was something different about these “Christians”, that their allegiance wasn’t the same as those around them, the majority of their society.  For this reason in the early years, the church suffered greatly at the hands of those around them.  The problem was so serious, that the apostle Peter wrote a letter to the first generation of believers – calling them “sojourners and exiles” on this earth – encouraging them to not give up, but to endure, to keep going, even to rejoice in the midst of their sufferings, because of the great blessing that they had received from God.  This letter will be our launching point for the long-awaited FESTA GBU!

What does it mean, though, to be a sojourner and an exile?

What does that imply for today, to be far from home?  This will be the main theme for this year.  We’ll have two very special guests joining us: Stefano Mariotti, the pastor of the Chiesa la Piazza in Budrio (BO), who will share with us some reflections from 1 Peter on this theme.  We will also have with us Lindsay Brown, former General Secretary of IFES, the global movement that includes the GBU.  Linsdau will be sharing some of the lessons he has learnt from his over 40 years of experience in student ministry.

 But wait, there’s more!  The FESTA GBU also represents the primary moment of the year when students from all of Italy can gather together IN PERSON for 4 days of workshops, prayer and praise to the Lord, music, sport and plenty of time face to face – what a joy that we’ve been missing for nearly 3 years!  It’ll be unforgettable, and absolutely unmissable.  

Be there!

Simon Cowell
(Staff GBU Bari)