The band have started playing, quietly – worshipful jazz contributes to the atmosphere that the blue-lit LED backdrop is creating. The countdown hits the screen, music pumps out, hands clap – anticipation builds. 10.. 9… the crowd counts it out.
Mirek Pieszka welcomes the congregation – in the name of ChSA, the Polish IFES movement. He emphasises the welcome is primarily in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Few would have dreamt that IFES could have gathered at a World Assembly in Eastern Europe – but this unacheivable dream in the soviet era has become a reality under the Sovereignty of The Lord Jesus.
Now the band really start. “All you people, All you nations… sing unto the Lord…” We sing with joy, with confidence, of the beauty of Jesus. A local pastor with a name I dare not try to spell comes and prays for us – a representative of the Polish church. He prays in impeccable English and it is striking – I would have loved to hear him pray in Polish too.
Mirek speaks of the rich history of Poland – introducing the diversity too of Polish culture from the Polish coast through to the varying landscapes. A video of Polish cities and people. The landscape and people are celebrated. The darkened stage is bathed in red as a violin is played: evocative, stirring and beautiful music stills and stirs us. The piano duets with the violin – bass and soprano voices speaking of sorrow and suffering, of victory through dark days. Polish music plays out and touches multinational hearts.
Ewa Pieszka comes to the stage with a member of ChSA Board, Darek. They bring an official welcome to Krakow. This was a huge challenge for the movement. There has been a lot of business and a lot of activity. ChSA have been praying not just that the conference would happy but would also be an opportunity to meet with Jesus.
Ewa spoke about how her and Darek, as those leading the preparations, both lost one of their parents earlier this year. The welcome comes through them from a strong team who have supported each other and worked together. Darek thanks God that we are all here, that we each have beds and food to eat! Their smiles speak powerfully of how God has answered the many prayers and proven Himself faithful in the run up to this event.
A message received from the president of the European Parliament is read – it commends us for unity through diversity, for a movement of volunteers and a movement which seeks to change societies. It is a warm and full message.
Mirek now speaks of how freedom in Eastern Europe could not be assumed, gathering for worship and teaching was not always possible due to the oppression of communism. Orwell’s “Animal Farm” speaks the truth about communism of how the few decided for the many how life should be shaped. Life behind the iron curtain was not an easy life, Mirek’s voice breaks, “but God did not abandon these countries”. Christianity stood as a denial of the Marxist ideology – state, party and ideology are relativised by the God who is sovereign over all systems and even over death. For Christians the ultimate sanction of the state was merely the doorway to fellowship with the Sovereign God. It remains true today. God, today still, does not and will not forsake those who are suffering under hard regimes and circumstances.
The oldest customs of welcome is bread and salt – bread represents trust and salt represents endurance. A fitting welcome after being reminded of the suffering of all in Eastern Europe under Soviet oppression.
Now the stage is filled with a Polish dancing and whistling group. The welcome it seems, involves piercing our ear dreams. They sing, dance a Polka and whistle a lot more, as a band play. I’m mistaken – some of the piercing noise I took for whistling is actually the ‘singing’ of some of the women. It really is PIERCING. But not unpleasant. The dancing progresses to just the men – acrobatic jumping, feigned arguments and fighting: more piecing singing/whistling. Now the girls and boys are chiding each other – quite flirtatiously at that. It is a brilliant show.
The parade of nations video involves no flags, but a small group of people form all over the world talking about how the work of God through IFES has shaped their lives. It is simple and powerful – the message: God can and does change lives. It moves me and many others to tears. I hope to post it here later.
Now the stage is filled with Polish students: it is funny, slapstick and quick. The argument is between the two positions – The Lord of the Universe or the Lord of the University. A divine telephone descends and the issue is resolved – The Lord of the Universe & the University.
BRILLIANT piece of homegrown drama! Nothing imposed but organically grown out of the Polish context.
Dieter Brehpohl, comes and introduces the theme of the conference.
“Jesus: Lord of the Universe, Lord of the University. We are the people of God, a Kingdom of priests under the great high priest. Jesus was and is and will be forever: he is above all things.The Worship band return to the stage. Negotiating the wall made during the drama. We are invited to stand and to pause and reflect. We raise our voices in song in Spanish, French and English
The universities were formed because of Christian faith – they have grown to become places of learning, enquiry and repositories of knowledge. This is also a huge challenge. Secular universities have become antipathetic to Christian truth. John’s vision of heaven in Revelation opened up the reality that all creatures will acknowledge the great Creator for who He is. We respond to the great creator, many do not do so. We submit our knowledge and limited capacity to His greatness as we gather together to His great glory.
As the vision unfolds, the Sovereign One holds a scroll that is apparently unopenable – John weeps, there is no hope: God’s control is challenged. The scroll contains the answer to human history: God seems not to be Almighty. It seems so today, God’s potency is challenged, the vulnerable are exploited, violence is elevated and evil is multiplied. Our Universities are places where the truths of God are opposed, neglected and even suppressed and derided. God looks unable to open or change the power of the unfolding of history.
John is told to stop crying by one of the elders in the vision – he is commanded to do so. The Lion of Judah is the One, this Lion is the Lamb – the lamb who was once dead but is now alive. The Lamb who was broken for the purchase of the peoples and the nations. God’s reign is shown, God’s victory is proved, in the reign of the Lamb who is worthy to open the scroll.
Jesus Christ is Lord of the Universe, Lord of the Human Story, Lord of the University. We need to think deeply about what God has revealed through John’s vision. God reigns and reigns in the face of evil and suffering.
As Mirek said – many years ago people could not meet openly. The work still went on – through ‘holy spies’ who travelled secretly, looking for students. Here we are NOW in Poland, confident that History is under God’s Sovereignty. Communism is now destroyed in Europe and the reign of Christ will rise.
Our first call is to make disciples and then to live as the presence of God in the places he plants us. We are here to redeem the university, to return it to it’s roots – the study of science, philosophy, sociology, engineering… and so on… – to call people to repentance toward God, to then be salt and light in the heart of the university.
Our primary task is to shine the light of Jesus into the universities and colleges where there is darkness and not light.
The generations have passed and now we face the new challenges and opportunities of Generation Y/the Millennials. Jesus IS the Lord, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb who was slain, the Alpha and the Omega. May God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – lead us as we speak, live and believe. Amen. Alleluia.
The evening is closed by Mirek as he delivers the obligatory notices: everything from name badges to prayer meeting and the security of delegates from countries that are closed to the gospel.
The evening closes out with a great video of today’s activities – people arriving, stage being set, venue being set up. Mirek prays God’s blessing on us and we leave.