The third degree from Pod Bhogal of UCCF: 38,000 attend CU missions

Third Degree

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UCCF Staff Workers report that around 38,000 students attended a Christian Union (CU) mission week in 2014.

The 2014 figures represent a 19% increase from 32,000 students in the previous year. The figures include both CU and non-CU member attendance at lunchtime, evening and small group evangelistic events spread across 115 university missions.

Nottingham University Christian Union (NUCU) reported that 160 people have requested some form of follow-up, with at least 54 stating that they’d like to become a Christian during their events week. Jason, an international student, went to the wrong location for a lecture. He found a seat on an upstairs balcony overhearing the lunchtime CU talk on ‘Science and God’, and ended up asking a CU mission guest how to become a Christian. He has since been connected with a CU member, a small group and a local church.

UCCF Midlands team leader Tim Dennis said, ‘we have been encouraged that, so far, a handful of people have indicated that they would like to become Christians at Birmingham CU mission, and around 30 more have indicated that they would like to find out more by meeting up with a Christian or coming to Christianity Explored’.

Ready to become a Christian

Ryan Baxter, a student at the University of Central Lancashire said: ‘In my second year at university, I decided to go along with Jamie to an Uncover [seeker Bible study] session hosted by the Christian Union. Ben [the leader] encouraged me to ask anything I wanted. He prepared an hour-long session for me each week and tailored it to my queries. I decided I was ready to become a Christian and ever since then, I have felt free, like a massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders’.

Hannah Butler is in her first year at Exeter University, where she is studying English and German. She is not a member of the CU, but commented on her experience of Exeter CU’s events week, Life to the Full. ‘Life to the Full put forward Christian perspectives on some of life’s tough questions. The events proved an eye-opening experience, encouraging me to question my own beliefs. The Christian Union demonstrated an incredible openness and generosity which allowed students to explore new ideas and beliefs, and the week was a credit to everyone involved.’ Hannah has since attended a seeker course, has been given an Uncover Gospel and said, ‘the ideas are slowly falling into place, which is incredibly exciting’.

The Revd Richard Cunningham, National Director of UCCF, believes that while overall church attendance in the UK is dropping and the church nationally is lacking teenagers and those in their 20s and 30s, on campus, interest in exploring faith has never been higher. He said: ‘Across Britain, our student Christian Union leaders are reporting unprecedented interest in exploring issues related to faith, requesting Christian literature, and attending CU events. It seems that aggressive secularism is leaving today’s under 25s with a genuine spiritual hunger for something authentic and lasting’, adding, ‘Many will go on to attend follow-up courses, one-to-one Uncover seeker Bible studies and join a church for the first time.’

Pod Bhogal writes ‘The third degree’ column for EN.He is head of Communications, UCCF: The Christian Unions —

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This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

The third degree – from Pod Bhogal of UCCF: Long-term vision

UCCF has a rich tradition of sending students into the world for mission.

In 1928, Howard Guinness, a student at London University, was commissioned by his fellow students to establish a CU movement in Canada. From here he travelled to Australia. In 1947, UCCF was one of ten founding members of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

UCCF’s continuing commitment to our global vision — to give every student in the world an opportunity to hear the gospel — has meant that in 2013 UCCF sent over 100 students, staff and Relay Workers on 18 short term summer mission trips and many former UCCF Staff, Relay and students have gone on to commit to long-term overseas work. Jonathan and Dawn Clark were on UCCF staff from 1999-2004. They have been planting a CU movement in Greece since 2007. I’ve been talking to Jonathan about it.

PB: How were you involved with CU as students?

JC: We look back with fondness and deep gratitude to God for our Christian Unions in the mid-90s. We arrived as Christians but it was the CU (and later, Relay) that shaped and honed our convictions and set us on our path of service ever since. Both of us found ourselves welcomed into a vibrant community of students who had been given — perhaps for the first time — a vision of the gospel that was global, biblical, Christ-centered and gripping.

We grew to love the weekly Bible teaching, the training in evangelism and the outward-looking fellowship in small groups. We had the privilege of leading for a couple of years, benefiting from regional and national Forum, and applied to do Relay to continue our training.

Beeston link

PB: Did you always want to do long-term mission?

JC: I’d been thinking seriously about long-term cross-cultural mission for a decade by the time we ended our stint on UCCF staff. We were sent by our church in Beeston, Nottingham, to IFES Greece in 2007 to help establish a student movement effective in evangelism and discipleship. We’re planning to be here as long as it takes to equip Greek believers to lead a movement that reaches all of that spiritually barren nation’s universities with the good news.

Dawn’s path was different: in her own words, she’d always thought missionaries were losers who just wanted an escape from British culture. This was challenged head-on at Relay 2, Edinburgh 97, and from then on she was able to gladly say that living for God’s glory and being shaped by his agenda meant not ruling anything out, including going overseas.

PB: How did UCCF help?

JC: Not a week goes by without a conscious recollection of things learned, enjoyed and grasped during our time with UCCF. Carrying on in long-term mission would not have been possible without the foundations that were laid by our UCCF Staff Workers and Team Leaders in the Midlands and the North East, and by our partnership with fellow students in our CUs.

It’s a privilege to work with IFES — but it’s slow, with more frustrations and obstacles (funds for staff, Christians reluctant to live in the world and a local culture immunised against Christ) than breakthroughs and visible progress. There are signs of gathering momentum. We’ve planted new groups in two northern towns, one of which saw a young man converted before Christmas. This is so rare in Greece. We have a new director, two young graduates formally starting as associate staff this term and a nucleus of undergraduates who are beginning to get the vision. We are so glad that UCCF trained us to believe in doing the right things, not the quick and easy things.

Loving the people

We miss England, we miss our home church, we miss Cheddar cheese and real ale. But there are great things and people in Greece that we love, and we know with deep conviction that in the end it’s not really about where one is but who one listens to. And the great thing is that we know that the weak-looking seed of the Word will in the end bring a great harvest, because the one who speaks it will do exactly as he intends through that weak-looking word. That’s a lesson we began to learn in CU.

Pod Bhogal writes ‘The third degree’ column for EN.He is head of Communications, UCCF: The Christian Unions —
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The third degree – from Pod Bhogal of UCCF: Theology, mission and ‘The Good God’

Mike Reeves is Head of Theology for UCCF: The Christian Unions. We caught up for natter about theology, mission and his new book The Good God.

PB: Mike, you work for UCCF, which is a missionary organisation. Why is it important for UCCF to be theologically rigorous?

MR: Let me give an example (and we could do this with any part of our Christian belief): our talk about God.

Without being rigorous and specific about which God is God, which God will we worship? Which God will we ever call others to worship? Given all the misconceptions people have about ‘God’, it simply will not do for us to speak abstractly about some general ‘God’.

And where would doing so leave us? If we content ourselves with speaking of God only in terms so vague they could apply to Allah as much as the Trinity, then we will never enjoy or share what is so fundamentally and delightfully different about Christianity. No, we want to be very clear about which God, which gospel we believe in and proclaim. Only that way can we distinguish the true gospel from false gospels, the majesty of the living God from that of idols.

PB: What has theology to do with mission?

MR: Theology — thinking through how God has revealed himself to be — provides the essential light for all our mission. We learn to proclaim what is true. Quite simply, then, if our mission is not theologically driven and shaped, it is not Christian, for it is not shaped by God’s truth.

But theology also provides the vital heat for good mission. The Puritan Richard Sibbes once said that a Christian singing God’s praises to the world is like a bird singing. Birds sing loudest, he said, when the sun rises and warms them; and so it is with Christians: when they are warmed by the Light of the world, by the love of God in Christ, that is when they sing loudest. The knowledge of the living God and his grace warms us so that we want to make him known and, as our understanding of his kindness deepens, we begin to share his passion for the lost. Good theology both informs and fuels good mission!

PB: Tell us about your latest book, The Good God. What inspired you to write it? Why should students — and non-students — read it?

MR: I certainly didn’t write it as an intellectual game: I want people to taste and see that the Lord is good! The thing is, it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God — and that is what I want to get out there. I want students — yes, and non-students! — to know God better so that they might love and enjoy him more fervently.

That, of course, will make for more hearty, faithful and winsome evangelism, but it also affects everything: the triune nature of God affects everything from how we listen to music to how we pray: it makes for happier marriages, warmer dealings with others, better church life; it gives Christians assurance, shapes holiness, and transforms the very way we look at the world around us. No exaggeration, the knowledge of this God turns lives around. That’s what I’ve tried to unpack in the hope that it will refresh many.

The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit by Michael Reeves is published by Paternoster, £9.99, ISBN 978 1 842 277 447.

Pod Bhogal writes ‘The third degree’ column for EN.He is head of Communications, UCCF: The Christian Unions —
Follow Pod Bhogal on Twitter:
Follow UCCF on Twitter: — and on Facebook: