Word Alive 2022 and Students Under Pressure

Fresh from a week at Word Alive 2022 in North Wales, where he led the international student track, we spoke to Friends International staff worker and evangelist Peter Teagle, about international students living under pressure.

What was your inspiration for this series? 

From the first time I read ‘God’s Smuggler’ by Brother Andrew (John & Elizabeth Sherrill, Open Doors / Hodder & Stoughton)  in the late ‘80s, I have been impacted by stories of the ‘suffering church’. Although I may never have to pay the price for my faith that countless others have, stories of ordinary believers showing great courage and faith in the face of serious opposition, their testimonies of God’s goodness and supernatural joy have been instrumental in reminding me that, for much of the Church’s history, suffering is the normal Christian experience.

What challenges are international students facing and what questions are they asking?

We often have only a basic idea of what students might face, or if we do have a good idea of what those challenges might be, we have usually not walked the road they will have to. We are necessarily distanced by geography and culture, and patriotic or cultural loyalty often makes it difficult for some to hear implicit criticisms of their country or culture’s record on freedom of religion.

Each time I address the cost and realities of following Jesus at the Word Alive, there always seems to be an unspoken question lingering in the room: “Yes, Peter, but you don’t understand… in my situation I have no choice

For Word Alive this year we collected together some stories of what it means to live as a faithful believer in a hostile world. One account told of a promising PhD student who was denied the ‘ideal’ job in his field precisely because, in the interview, he admitted to being a Christian. Others told of being rejected by family or criticised by angry parents. Another international student described how his community constantly faced threat of attack from Muslim militants. These true stories seem to strike a chord with many. 

You chose to use 1 Peter as the basis for your teaching programme. How is this relevant? 

The apostle Peter could assume his readers would have some background knowledge in the Old Testament (the Temple, priesthood, sacrifices etc.), but this Peter (me) could make no such assumptions and had to teach everything from scratch. But the apostle’s audience and mine were not so dissimilar: a wide range of people from many backgrounds who were likely to encounter a range of persecution and opposition, from minor discrimination to direct threat to life.

What seemed harder to communicate, however, was the counterbalance of Peter’s letter: that unimaginable and overwhelming joy is also the normal Christian experience (see 1 Peter 1:8). Those just starting out on their journey of faith were just beginning to grasp the full measure of what Jesus has achieved for us. 

What benefit did the international students take away from the week?

What I hope the students would have gained from the teaching this year is something of the fact that, as believers in Jesus, we no longer belong to the world quite as we once did. As we said several times through the week: a Godly exchange has taken place; whereas once we belonged to this world but were strangers to God, we now belong to God’s family but have become strangers to the world. We pray that everyone who attended the track will have tasted something of the overwhelming joy that the apostle Peter describes, and that to know Jesus is more precious than anything this world can ever offer.

Friends International Staff Worker, Ivan, talking to international students at Word Alive 2022

To find out more about the Word Alive conference, go to: www.wordaliveevent.org

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