I have been involved with GBU for 15 years now. Throughout these years our mission has not changed, but the world around us has. For us to share the Gospel effectively, it is always helpful to understand these changes.
Today the Italian university is changing, not as an organism in itself, but separate from the context in which it grows and develops. It is changing in relation to what is happening in our country, or, even moreso, in relation to the winds of change blowing through Europe.
About three years ago I was invited to take part in a major event that was to be held in Poland in 2020. It was a continent-wide conference that would bring together about 1,000 evangelical leaders from across Europe. The Lausanne Movement, promoter and organizer of this event, has now existed for nearly 50 years to further the advancement of the Church’s mission in the world.
But 2020, the year of cancelled events, forced the organisers to postpone the event to 2021. In fact, perhaps a bit naively , they hoped that we would soon be able to return to holding major events in attendance (easy to say in hindsight!), a luxury that the coronavirus, to date, is not yet allowing us. Lausanne Europe 20/21, then, turned into a major online event (another one!) that took place in November between the 17th and 20th and brought together online more than a thousand leaders from across our continent to reflect, pray, learn and plan for the advancement of Christ’s mission in Europe and to the ends of the earth.
After the Cape Town Global Congress in 2010 and the Young Leaders Gathering in Jakarta in 2016 (both sponsored by the Lausanne Movement), I also had the privilege of attending this event, and doing so in person. How so? How can one take part in person in an online event? Well, the answer lies in the fact that I was asked by the organizers to be one of the hosts of the different sessions, and this required gathering in person with a small group to attend the event in the city of and from which the event would be streamed in Southampton, UK.
There were many inputs, as can be expected from an event of this magnitude. For instance, there were a number of different speakers on “stage” who brought to our attention to which major challenges and opportunities are facing the European Church right now and which ones we may face in the coming decades. Here I would like to highlight three challenges that I found particularly relevant to us as we carry out our Christian ministry among university students:
Europe is becoming increasingly international and the church must respond to this trend
Our cities are changing their look, many people from all over the world are coming to Europe in search of work and a decent future. As society changes, so does the university and it follows that our GBU groups are also becoming more international. Our group here in Siena (to give one example) is made up of about 60% foreign students. This brings with it new challenges, such as having to deal with different cultures and ways of doing things and holding meetings in English, etc. It is not always easy to do all of this, but it is one of the challenges we face in the new Europe. Let’s try to do our best!
Making room for the next generation of leaders
Luke Greenwood, one of the many speakers, challenged us to consider and make room for the next generation. This has always been a strong point of student work, which sees its groups led by very young people who are new to the concept of leadership. GBU Italy follows its student coordinators, invests in them, gives them confidence, trains them and encourages them to carry out their role. What a privilege to be able to work alongside very young people and see them take their first steps in Christian ministry and leadership!
Giving voice to people whose voices have long been suppressed
One morning we were encouraged (and admonished) to listen to those whose voices have been suppressed by European Christians. Among these is the voice of women who for too long have been overpowered by that of men. GBU Italy is attentive to giving space to women, involving them at the forefront of ministry among students on a par with male students (at the moment, more than half of the student coordinators in Italy are women!). How wonderful to see female students flourish and grow as they put to use the gifts God has given them in service to the gospel!
May God bless Europe, the European Church, and the evangelistic ministry among college students in an ever-changing Europe.
Giovanni Donato (GBU staff worker in Siena)