Tom and Nancy Lin

Leading a Global Missions Movement among University Students and Faculty (@tomlinnow)
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About 650 Christian leaders from 150+ nations are gathered this week at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, for the quadrennial World Assembly of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.  I am leading a delegation of 44 InterVarsity/USA staff who feel honored to be here.  What’s perhaps most encouraging is the presence of 130+ student leaders from movements around the world!  See my World Assembly reflections on InterVarsity’s blog and yesterday’s Mission Network News report.  Or listen to a six-minute interview, where I share on-site reflections from Krakow.

Getting around Kolkata will either make you a saint or a mean, crazy son of gun. I’m serious. I see a lot of saints and last night I was one crazy son of a gun. We left home at 1:00 pm to travel from the North to the South to help YWAM folks give a program at an AIDS Hospice. We got home at 10:00 pm. For this 2 hour program, it took 2 subway rides, 1 taxi, 2 cycle-rickshaws and 5 auto-rickshaws. Add 98% humidity, the temp at over 30 degrees, diesel fumes, and never a place to sit that wasn’t squashed next to another sweaty body for close to 6 hours.  Also you have to add sounds of honking horns at all times, a political rally leader yelling at full blast, and the constant task sound that Indians make with the side of their mouth to show they are frustrated. Parked cars, construction equipment and people bulge into the already inadequate driving space because there are no rules for where you can and cannot park, and most sidewalks are filled with hawkers. When we arrived home, our host mother said, “you look tired” which I took as a compliment because I was so filled with rage at the inconceivable inefficiency and over-stimulation that I felt ready to rip someone’s head off. But I was too tired for violence and so we ate dinner quickly and headed upstairs to bed.

Days like this is exactly the reason why people come home from trips like this and say pithy statements like “It made me so thankful for what I have”. Because before coming here, we didn’t think to be thankful for the fact that commuting for a church service takes only 5 – 20 minutes rather than 4 hours. Nothing I do at home in Vancouver requires as much effort as getting anywhere, to do just about anything in Kolkata. And I even walk to get my groceries in Vancouver! Other mission teams from Western Countries get around this massive irritation by renting large Air Conditioned Buses that drive them door to door where they are going to serve. It’s easier, more comfortable and more efficient, depending on strikes, traffic and what the cows are doing that day. But after raging for awhile, here are my 3 thoughts on why my soul (and everyone on the team’s souls) are all better from the experience of local transportation:

1. All of our souls really are on a life-long path to being more of a saint or more of a mean maniac. Towards God, love and peace or away. The difficult circumstances of life, those that make us most uncomfortable, help rise to the surface the stuff of character, which produces perseverance, which produces hope which produces faith. That’s somewhere in the bible I know it.

2. Certain kinds of transport can only get you certain places, part way of a larger journey. We may want to get to Kalighat, but first we have to stop at 3 other places, each with their own unique feel. Just like we may want to get to intimacy with God, but we have stops of self-awareness, and skills for loving others and disillusionment that come along on the trip to intimacy with our Creator.

3. Each mode of transportation has it’s own unique feel and way. Just like personal prayer feels different than public worship, or journaling feels different than service. Each mode is good, but not complete in itself to get us to the end of the journey of experiencing the fullness of God.

While I think scripture commands us to be thankful for what God gives us, I also think we have so many other commands to consider when we realize our position of privilege. I can choose to go home in 2 weeks to traffic lights and walking to church, but my friends here cannot. And how do I steward that choice when I follow a God who didn’t stay up in heaven and be thankful that he never had to step in cow poop on a crowded street in Kolkata? It’s not clear what my choice should be, which I suppose is why I have a few more stops and rickshaws to take on my journey with God.

- Today’s Reflections from an InterVarsity Staff who is leading the Kolkata Trek

The following is from an American student at the Lima site on InterVarsity’s Global Urban Trek: “Meet Carmen… A loving wife and mother of two young boys. Together with her husband, she has started a non-profit ministry aimed at helping children develop into leaders for the future in their churches and their communities. When asked, Carmen details how she would like to expand the program to offer more, but the only people who fund it are Carmen and her husband, selflessly giving everything they have even while raising two growing boys.

"Meet Luis… A pastor at a local evangelical church that is overflowing on Sundays and has four church branches in the mountains. Despite a continually growing congregation and typical services with around 100 people attending, he is still in despair. When asked about programs the church has for children, he sadly says that there are no programs, yet dozens of children, because of the lack of resources. No one can give time, either, as members struggle to help their families eat on a daily basis.

"Meet Isabel and Elena… Unpaid directors of the comedor, these two women work tirelessly so children in the neighborhood can get free, nutritious lunches during the week— perhaps the only balanced meals they get. Neither young woman knows how long to remain at the comedor, as working there means that they cannot get a job to help support their families. Selflessly, neither woman has decided to leave, because quitting means that 40 children go without meals.

"These are just a few of the examples we have seen— people sacrificing what little they have and dedicating their lives to raise a generation of confident children. But in every case, I witness such a lack of resources. These programs and many more that we have worked with are noble causes that help the youth in the community. It’s difficult to see so little being offered. Being an American and having the “if there’s a problem, fix it” mentality, I’m at a loss with how to help here. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Coming in with the mindset that I, in my own way, can help fix this problem.

"I’ve learned here that the problems run much deeper than it seems on the surface. Issues of drug use, abusive relationships, child neglect, gang violence and others run rampant in the streets where we work and live. I’ve taken a learning posture in this experience by sitting back and taking in as much as I can. The more I see, the more questions I seem to have. What has caused people to be in their current situation? How can I help? Can they get out of it?

"I’ve learned that the answers aren’t clear. The sad reality is that the people we’ve met can work extremely hard the rest of their lives and still be consumed by poverty.

"Present among the poverty, the waste, the hungry, is truth: God is here. I see it in the kindness of the mothers’ hearts and the sheer joy on the children’s faces. God is bigger than all of this and gives Peruvians and me a reason to hope for the future. With him, anything is possible, and because of that, we can be truly grateful, even when answers are unclear."

(All names have been changed in this post.)

I’m currently writing a talk on “Hope for the Next Generation in World Evangelization" for over 700 U.S. leaders at a Lausanne Consultation in Orlando.  There’s much that gives me hope, but let me start by some encouraging things we’re seeing in just a small slice of the U.S. Church — InterVarsity.  We’ve had an explosion in evangelism over the last 5 years, so we just launched a new follow-up curriculum called “Launch”.  And here are some encouraging statistics:

    • More students have become Christians than during any 5-year period in our 70-year history
    • There are 11,767 non-Christians participating in our IV chapters, which a 133% increase in 10 years
    • The number of students checking out Christianity in our “Groups Investigating God” grew 27% last year
    • The number of students participating in cross-cultural missions projects (e.g. Katrina Relief, Inner-City Chicago, Cairo Urban Trek, East Asia lingua-cultural projects, etc.) each year is more than double the number in the 1990s

And I haven’t even mentioned Urbana ‘09, and the tens of thousands of students who have caught a vision to serve God in impacting this world.  There’s a lot to be hopeful about!

Lastly, without going into too much detail about my talk, there are 3 significant contributions (there’s actually more, but I’m going to limit myself to be brief here) that I believe the next generation can make in global missions — Global Engagement, Communal Collaboration, and Entrpreneurial Action. I’ll leave it to your imagination to discern where I’m going to head with each of those topics!


Here are a few encouraging statistics:

1. More students have become Christians in the last five years than during any 5 year period in our 70 year history

2. Conversions have grown – 18% for one year; 23% for two; 68% for 5 years

3. 11,767 non-christians are participating in our chapters – 133% growth in 10 years

4. 2,642 new believers last year – 1390 new believers fall semester this year

5. Number of non-Christians in GIGs grew 27% last year

The New York Times profiled last weekend’s Greek InterVarsity Conference, where 475 fraternity and sorority members gathered for mission.  Read the full story here.

With 45+ staff gathered in Missouri, I gave my last address to my team last month at our Regional Staff Conference.  It was an encouraging time of celebrating God’s work in the Central Region, and a meaningful “send-off” for Nancy and me.  Some reflections are in our recent Prayer Letter DECEMBER 2010. We also celebrate stories in InterVarsity’s 2009-10 Annual Report. On page 1, one of the chapter plants I supervised is highlighted – Creighton University.Creighton represents our Region’s first foray into Nebraska since 2000, an intentional goal I had as I began my Regional Director role in ‘07.  As I now transition into my new role as VP of Missions and Director of Urbana on Feb. 1st, I look forward to working with a new and gifted team focused on the same compelling vision of InterVarsity.

 The IV chapter at U of Missouri, Asian Christian Fellowship, was recently highlighted in the campus newspaper with the headline, “Fellowship Group raises money for trafficking victims”.  It gave students the opportunity to share the vision of InterVarsity on campus and practically practice mission both to the campus and to the world… Student leader Asha Xu gathered her small group which sponsors a Christian justice project every year.  “One of our main goals in Asian Christian Fellowship is to share Christ’s love through community…Our point of view is that Christianity isn’t something that should be there Sunday morning,…It should be everywhere in their lives,” she proclaimed.  What a powerful witness!  Go Asha!

Beza Threads began after several InterVarsity students from Drake University in Iowa lived one summer in Ethiopia, working with an Ethiopian ministry. I had the privilege of joining the IV students on the project.  The idea for Beza Threads arose after we walked through a prostitution district. Seeing the social injustice and abuse of young girls, our students’ hearts grieved for children living in sex slavery. The students devised a plan to help the children… The following school year, they purchased handmade scarves from girls rescued by the Ethiopian ministry and sold the colorful scarves on campus.  All the profits they sent back to Ethiopia. Led by our IV alumni, today Beza Threads continues as a successful ministry to vulnerable African children.  This is exactly what we yearn to see in our IV ministry — American students whose lives are transformed on campus, who graduate and become world-changers!

(Below: My visit to Addis Ababa in July 2009)

Truth - North Korean Testimony | The Lausanne Global Conversation.  INSPIRING!  This testimony from an 18-year old North Korean student was by far my favorite testimony in Cape Town, one of only two speakers to receive standing ovations.  It’s moving and inspiring (and very challenging).  I’ve dedicated the last 15+ years of my life towards developing students, believing that students indeed are tomorrow’s future leaders and greatly impact the world we live in for Christ.  This testimony gives confirmation of that, and gives us hope for the future, doesn’t it?