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Shining Like Stars: Conclusion

Lindsay Brown’s work, sub-titled “The power of the gospel in the world’s universities”, documents how members of IFES (the International Federation of Evangelical Students) travel the globe, this way and that, to promulgate the Christian faith on campuses where this is often a perilous thing to do. To date, IFES has affiliated organisations in over 150 countries, listed in an appendix in Brown’s book. Countries missing from the list include, unsurprisingly, the dictatorships Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and the failed state Somalia. Korea is listed as such (not South and North) and one wonders whether IFES activity has …

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IFES pioneers work by contacting committed Christians on the campuses they are sent to and with such sometimes very small groups (cells would be the operative term in espionage circles) they work outwards, attracting uncertain or wavering or just plain curious students to lunches, prayer meetings, hymn-singing sessions, Bible study groups and so on. And the numbers grow, exponentially, spectacularly. Brown is keen on numbers and his tracking of these as they expand, at first hugely impressive, does become a little repetitive and wearing. Also it would have been great to be able to sit in on a couple of the sessions (language barriers notwithstanding; for how many of his readers can understand Pashto or Bulgarian or Setswana? It would, nonetheless, have been terrific if the book had been issued with an accompanying DVD or CD so we could see and hear how things go).

Shining Like Stars is pitched as an inspirational text, and so it should be. Here’s a flavour of the way IFES activity works: “In 2001 Sudanese Christian students held a conference on world mission, hoping for six hundred participants. The venue was an Islamic youth centre in Khartoum. Did six hundred come? No. More than twice that number poured in! From the first meal, two students had to share each bowl of food. By the last day, it was three students to a bowl!”

The second chapter of Brown’s book is on courage. The courage, for example, of Elena, from a Muslim Bosnian family (Elena the only Christian among them), carrying out the IFES work in Hong Kong. Back in Bosnia, the police arrested and interrogated her. Her grandfather and her brother, both Muslim, vowed to kill anyone who harmed her.

Then there is a 26-year-old Vietnamese student who was offered the chance by American troops to leave with them when the USA retreated from the Vietnam war, but declined, remaining at home to carry on with evangelical work. In Peru the murderous Maoist insurgent group, Sendero Luminoso, arrested two students and ordered them to throw their Bibles to the ground and spit on these.

“One student did and the other didn’t. They shot the student who spat on his Bible and released the other, telling him, ‘You can go free because you stood by what you believe.” As is often said, God works in mysterious ways. A story from post-civil war Burundi is even more spine-chilling, but too complicated to tell here. (Underlying message, get hold of the book!)

As Shining like Stars progresses, there is a wonderful passage in which Brown outlines how evangelical students can learn from the practice of Jesus himself. There are four principles here: 1. he mixed with a wide range of people; 2. he was a good listener; 3. he asked questions; 4. he had enough understanding to weigh up what he heard from others.

Then comes what is to this reader the most crucial chapter in the book, Chapter 5, “Making a difference in society.” This begins with a quotation from Sir Fred Catherwood, former IFES Vice-President: “To try to improve society is not worldliness but love. To wash your hands of society is not love but worldliness.”

Brown illustrates what he is getting at with a diagram, a triangle with its longest side at the base, and divided laterally into four strata or layers, each smaller than the one below as the triangle narrows: the bottom layer occupied by street cleaners, politicians, lawyers; the next layer up, social workers and aid workers; next up, teachers and doctors; at the top, missionaries and preachers. Brown captions the diagram: “Some Christians wrongly perceive the scale of spiritual significance like this.”

The chapter proceeds to give examples of IFES members combining their evangelical work with work to ameliorate their people’s living conditions, in other words, with social commitment. Spot on, comrade Christians, and, further, to the barricades!

Shining Like Stars is such a fine, life-enhancing book. It’s published by 10 Publishing in the UK, who can be contacted <info@100fthose.com>. Maybe readers can persuade the Maseru Book Centre on Kingsway to stock it, or the NUL bookshop, if that’s still up-and-running.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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