From Aberdeen to Plymouth, tens of thousands of students have been given the opportunity to hear the gospel and respond to the claims of Jesus Christ.
UCCF students, staff and supporters have recently been at full capacity with nearly 90 large-scale missions impacting campuses up and down Britain.
One of those missions took place in February in the heart of Oxford, a city fabled for its dreaming spires and impressive alumni: Wesley and Whitfield, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and 26 British Prime Ministers. UCCF and IFES have recently co-purchased Blue Boar House (BBH) from Oxford City Council. Set between the Town Hall and Christ Church (which is both a college and a cathedral ) — bang in the centre of Oxford — BBH provides UCCF and IFES with headquarters and a centre of excellence that will impact student ministry across the world.
On Friday evening (February 3), following seven months of continuous building and decorating, we waved the builders off site and on Monday morning (February 6) greeted the huge OICCU (Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union) mission team who would occupy BBH as their base camp for the tri-annual mission. The event was led by Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, well-known church planter and New York Times best selling author of The Reason For God.
Each morning the team of 80 CU Guests met for prayer and planning in the ‘Inter-Varsity room’ while other volunteers made hundreds of sandwiches for the 500 plus students who poured into the Town Hall each lunch time to hear Mike Cain’s lunch bar talks. Mike is the minister of Emmanuel Church, Bristol, which he describes as ‘a church for people who don’t go to church’, and the author of Real Life Jesus.
On another floor of BBH, a team of trainee European university evangelists (committed to starting CU university missions across Europe) were given a week of expert classroom teaching from the likes of John Lennox, Michael Green and Becky Pippert. This was interspersed with tutoring from Lindsay and Ann Brown and lots of opportunities to observe and drink in the OICCU mission in full flow.
In the evenings so many students attended the Tim Keller talks that 200 extra chairs were squeezed into the Town Hall and on several nights a video relay was set up for those unable to find an empty seat.
Plenty had been going on in the background to make sure students were ready for the opportunity. Becky Manley Pippert (who is working closely with UCCF for the next couple of years) spoke in St. Aldate’s Church just before the mission and afterwards was approached by a student with tear-filled eyes. He chatted with Becky and said: ‘I really do believe this. It makes sense of reality. I want to become a Christian right now’. This brand new Christian then proceeded to bring a good number of his mates to the various mission events. That one story is a great snapshot of the immediate impact a new Christian can have on his circle of friends. Over 100 students signed up for the ‘Questioning Jesus’ follow-up course, 87 of whom turned up the first week. Do pray for the brand new Christians and the impact they might have in college and back home over the Easter break and for the ‘nearly there’ students — that they would come right through to clear faith in the coming weeks.
Significance of CU witness
Tim Keller took time out from the mission to speak at an afternoon tea in Blue Boar House — to thank some of UCCF’s major donors for providing BBH and to share with them and various Oxford church leaders the significance of Christian Union witness. Tim observed that the rooms of BBH bore the names of some of the great leaders of UCCF and IFES, many of whom were also the leaders of British evangelicalism. He spoke of his personal debt to what he called ‘UCCF evangelicalism’ during his formative years in the 1960s, of how the likes of Howard Marshall, Stott, Packer, Lloyd-Jones, F.F. Bruce et al had nurtured him and many of his US contemporaries.
In speaking of the importance of UCCF CUs, Tim described the missional need for a united witness of evangelical students on campus. The UK is so secular that few people know Christians personally. If churches would actively encourage their students to join the united witness of the university CU, he said, then we will stand a chance of reaching a tipping point when many non-Christians are in relationship with Christians. But if students are not encouraged by their churches to be part of this united witness at the heart of where they live, work and play, then they will, Tim said, increasingly become atomised and disconnected from each other and this fantastic opportunity will be lost.
Tim Keller drew the analogy of Manhattan churches co-operating to reach the whole city by encouraging the artists and musicians (who are best placed to reach their peers) to meet together as Christian artists from across the spectrum of city churches. He warned that these specialist mission communities can never replace churches (not least so their members can go deeper into their faith in a church tradition they are fully comfortable with), but nevertheless they must be encouraged to meet together to be a visible witness and help each other to stand for their faith if the university or city is to be reached.
Working with others
‘If I want to reach the whole city for the Kingdom of God, then I want the people in my church to be working with others — across the barriers — to live and speak for Jesus effectively where we are. In Oxford this is obvious — it’s the colleges. And the students have got to come together. They’ve got to be part of a church, but also to be part of the CU to reach their peers.’
Tim was delighted that the ongoing OICCU lunch bars and many follow-up events would be happening in BBH. He acknowledged that while Blue Boar House had not been his dream, simply seeing it in operation was indeed a dream come true. He saw BBH symbolising the unifying ministry of the OICCU in Oxford and prayed for the building to be filled with ‘open hearts’. He said: ‘OICCU has a unique door into Oxford that no church or new organisation has — we must pray the door stays open’.
It was a remarkable week. The buzz of BBH and the sheer numbers of students coming to events was significant, but so was the sense of unity, expectation and confidence in the truth, beauty and relevance of the gospel to such a proud and secular city.
The attractiveness of Jesus
Across Britain, UCCF students, enabled by staff and prayed for by supporters, have been running these kinds of events. Such as at Leeds University, where 37 students gave their lives to Christ and a further 130 signed up for follow-up. Or at Sheffield where members of the CU started around ten Uncover seeker Bible study groups. It has been both the simplicity and brilliance of these studies that have given Christians the confidence to hand them out to their mates in their flat, hall of residence or even in a coffee bar and do the first study then and there. One of the many students converted through Uncover had a background in Satanism, but could see no reason not to do the study with his mates. He almost immediately saw the attractiveness and power of Jesus who stepped off the pages of Luke’s Gospel to meet him and change his life forever.
Leaders of the future
Something is happening at the moment and we need churches up and down the land to come alongside and pray that Christian Unions (imperfect and disorganised as they can sometimes be) would continue to produce leaders of the future whose confidence in the gospel was fashioned during these formative days.
Let’s also take to heart Tim Keller’s encouragement to support actively the Christian Unions and give these unreached young people of our land the best opportunity they will ever have to know a community of Christians. If more and more churches catch this vision of directing their students to the CU (however strange and uncool it might seem at first), then we might just reach that tipping point — I do hope I am around to see that day.