Bus loads have left, the buzz is gone. Hearts and heads are set toward home. Those hearts and heads are pretty full as we head back into our respective areas of ministry. Some are staying - flights to some parts of Africa and Asia are not as frequent as to the major population hubs in the world.
It is now over a week since I left Krakow, most of us are now home. I know at least one delegate will still be walking, patiently, through tough terrain and in dangerous circumstances. He will be walking for a number of days yet - avoiding the authorities that will imprison, torture and kill him if they understand the work he is actually doing. Others have returned to the comforts of consumer driven societies, others to the chaos of countries torn by civil unrest and political turmoil. I've returned to New Zealand, caught up in the excitement of the approaching Rugby World Cup. This is my second full day back 'at the desk'.
I'm missing friends from around the world; aching for the excitement of World Assembly - for cameraderie, for fellowship, for hearing different languages, for the power and presence of a multicultural people united under the Lordship of Jesus. But IFES World Assembly was akin to the Transfiguration of Jesus - a glimpse of something to come but not a place to set up home. Like the transfiguration that glimpse of glory is to empower us in ministry and send us into the campuses, contexts and churches of the world. We gathered only to go; to return.
The use of the expressive arts
Often it is said with real truth, that evangelicals are boring. We are - at least en masse. However it was a relief and a powerful challenge to our straighlaced tendancies (to be soberminded is no bad thing, but to be dull is a terrible curse) that the drama and music at this IFES World Assembly were powerful and relevant, contributing to our engagement with and preparedness for Scripture, and opening our hearts and minds to the claims and glory of Jesus. Without this element we would have worshipped with less full hearts and engaged with duller minds.
The power of visual media
Tim Pieska produced some amazing videography during the assembly - others too contributed to photographic and videographic presentations during the assembly. These images didn't simply provide eye-candy to amuse and distract, but they moved hearts and engaged minds. These were more than video summaries they were presentations of Gospel truth: and powerfully so. The week was emotionally charged and I found myself in tears listening to scripture read and preached, wetfaced in conversation and in prayer but too in watching and being ministered to by these visual presentations of truth. Without this element we would have lacked a language to express the truths we were learning and being called to.
The opportunity provided by social media
This blog received over 1000 visits from 240 cities in 57 nations during the 10 days of World Assembly. Twitter traffic from our gathering reached around the world in multiple languages. This is the most globally connected IFES World Assembly that there has ever been. Several nations were unable to have representatives at World Assembly because of Visa issues, others just weren't able to make it because of numbers or finance. Social Media both enabled greater engagement in the auditorium for those present but also opened the opportunity for men and women around the world to read, see and hear what happened. The IFES media page will contain increasing amounts of audio and video from the assembly. http://www.ifesworld.org/media SO the opportunity continues. Without this element the World Assembly would have been parochial, irrelevant and disingenuous in a world where we can communicate across the globe as easily as we can with our next-door neighbour.
The engagement with ideas and ideals
We talked about the nature and character of gospel ministry, examined prejudices and challenges, explored new media, gave students the platform for the day and opened up the thorny issues around social engagement and gospel proclamation. We explored the claims of Christ's Lordship over our lives, the universities in which we are serving Him and the universe in which we live. I heard people discussing the socio-political impact of the gospel as well as exploring the personal implications of the call to repent of sin. I had conversations about architecture, scripture, culture, academic integrity, social media (of course), marriage, death, singleness, cross-cultural communication, sexuality, the love of God, sociology, integrity in leadership, international commerce, dealing with disappointment, parenthood, dealing with persecution, speaking in tongues, the importance of student leadership, art, beauty, tattoos, graduate ministry.... the list goes on and on. Every and anything was up for open, direct and Christ-centred discussion. The length, depth and breadth of discussion encapuslated the absolute clarity of the call to engage with all of life with the whole Gospel. Without this element we would have been shallow in fellowship and restricted in our focus.
The close bonds of fellowship in service
Conferences are easy places to forge friendships but sitting at table with many men and women who had been friends for many years I was struck by how important these friendships are in encouraging and sustaining gospel ministry. I was especially struck as I spoke with good friends who are serving around the world - years and thousands of miles had stretched between our meetings and yet our fellowship renewed my love of Christ, reminded me of His call on my life and lifted my heart as well as broke it a little. Add to this new friendships, which surprised me as God used them to challenge me afresh and call me anew. It was a delight too to see the students of the Polish IFES movement, ChSA, serve the delegates as a team of friends. Without this element the World Assembly would have just been a business meeting, as it was it turned out to be a family gathering.
The importance of student leadership in student ministry
This World Assembly had the largest number of students in attendance (both sheer numbers and as a percentage) than ever before. IFES is a fellowship of student ministries - student lead, student focused and student powered. I was taken aback that we also appointed the first two student representatives onto the IFES International Executive Committee. I was also taken aback to hear that some present were not entirely encouraged by student involvement. The TSCF students (Josh, Michael and Charlotte) were told more than once that World Assembly is really a "staff gathering". Students started the work of IFES, students and recent graduates began to staff the work as a means of resourcing students and the work has most often been founded on courageous men and women, short in years but great in faith, who have acted faithfully and joyfully in the face of adversity. Ramez Attalah spoke on the student day of World Assembly about the important lessons he learned in success and failure as a student. A testimony that rings true in my own life: a testimony and vision that drove and called me to the work of IFES in the UK and now here in NZ and will keep me in the work as long as the Lord allows. When IFES student ministry loses it's focus on student leadership it becomes an organisation concerned with effectiveness and numbers and loses sight of the power of risk and the hope of transformation. Without the element of student leadership World Assembly would have become an exercise in strategy whilst losing sight of the most strategic opening God has placed before us: students reaching students in the student world.