We met in the supermarket. Sahib* had come to Eastern Europe as a post-graduate from the Middle East, to study engineering. He started coming along to our club for international students. Then one day Sahib heard about our IFES national conference coming up. He wanted to come too.
“This club is for students of different backgrounds and beliefs,” I told him. “But the conference is for Christians.”
But Sahib came anyway. The only Muslim out of nearly 200 Christians. During those three days he heard the gospel preached over and over. He even came to a talk about sharing the gospel with Muslims! What on earth is he going to think? I wondered nervously. But at the end of the conference, Sahib shared his story with me:
Several years ago, Sahib’s brother had died tragically in an accident. His father, who never recovered from the grief, died six months later. Sahib’s nephew (his late brother’s son) went to live with him and his family. Then last year, while working in a military camp, he and his nephew were just metres away from the explosion of two ISIS cars. Sahib miraculously survived, but tragically, his nephew didn’t. Having lost three of his closest family members, Sahib sunk into a deep depression. He wondered why he was still alive. In desperation he had decided to move overseas to study again.
But then at the conference, he told me, something had changed. He’d suddenly felt the darkness and depression lift. He felt like he’d woken up. “It’s not an accident that you’re alive today, Sahib”, I told him. “I believe God saved your life for a reason.”
Soon after that, Sahib joined his local IFES group and has started going along to Bible studies and church services. Sahib still hasn’t accepted Christ, but we believe that God is at work in him.
The decision to become a Christian has huge implications for Muslims. It might not be possible for them to return to their family or home country. If they do return, they could face extreme persecution, a serious lack of fellowship, and limited opportunities for career and marriage, as well as painful rejection from family members. It’s not appealing — and yet, to leave the people you love behind…? This was Kasim’s* dilemma.
Kasim is from Central Asia. Every international student from his particular country is monitored closely during their time overseas, and when they return their phones and luggage will be checked. While studying overseas, Kasim met Christians, got involved in our international fellowship group and started reading the Bible privately with a local pastor. Wonderfully he turned to Christ, and soon after got baptised in secret. Despite the dangers, he started to share the gospel with his friends in his dormitory. Then came a turning point.
Kasim had a dream to move to a western European country to do a Master’s degree. He’d even been studying the language of that country! But increasingly he felt convicted that he had a responsibility to go back to his home country and tell his people about the most important gift he had found here. If he moved overseas again then who would tell his people about Jesus?
So now Kasim is back in his home country, completing his obligatory service in the army. Praise God that, so far, he is doing well spiritually. We pray that in the future he’s able to help pioneer student ministry in his country.
The opportunities currently open to us across Eastern Europe are unparalleled. Students from 17 different countries attended our Christmas evangelistic event. Many of them are from desperately unreached places. Our own context is not without its challenges, but it is more open here than it is in many of these sending countries.
Each week we organise activities where international students can come and socialise together, enjoy friendships in a safe environment, learn about local culture, discuss different topics, improve their language and, if they are keen, open the Bible with us. We pray on that many more students in this generation would, like Kasim, come to know the Lord.”
Reflections from an IFES staff worker serving students in Eastern Europe
Open Doors records the persecution of Christians in its World Watch List. The ten countries where persecution is the most severe sent a total of 220,647 students to study internationally in 2016, according to UNESCO statistics. Pray with us that these international students would meet Christians, hear the gospel during their time studying overseas, and return home to share their faith with those living in darkness.
* name changed