Campus Lights: students living and speaking for Jesus around the world

(Book review: Cawley, Muddy Pearl, 2019)
Disclaimer: As well as knowing the author, I received this book as a free review copy from the publisher, ahead of its release in July. This by no means changed my view of the book or meant that I ought to give it a positive review.

One of the things I love about travel, is the stories one hears from people from all sorts of backgrounds. From adventure stories that thrill us as we start to wonder where truth stops and fiction starts, to heart-breaking tales of messy reality that leave us deeply moved and wondering whether we should be acting differently. Stories inspire, illustrate and capture hearts and minds.

I was looking forward to this book for that exact reason – stories of God at work from campuses around the world. I know the author, Luke, having worked alongside him in UCCF (IFES in Great Britain), and I’ve always appreciated the power in his communication, and his ability to think independently. And I wasn’t disappointed – the opening chapter was of a student evangelistic gathering that was stormed by the Police in a far-off country, and leaders arrested. Boom – I was gripped!

But I was also wary. Have you ever met a traveller who never shuts up? Or someone who really thinks they’ve got incredible tales to tell, but leaves you stretching for you drink to hide your yawn? Having worked in student work and attended conferences and gatherings across Europe and beyond for over 7 years, it’s not just entertaining stories I am after – there are plenty of them around already! But thankfully this book is different.

Launched this coming week at The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) World Assembly, each chapter is carefully chosen to tell of the values that make a great student movement. But when you’ve only 12 or so stories to pick, it could be easy to pick the best, funniest and most glorious that paint IFES in a wonderful light. But Luke doesn’t. And the book is all the more wonderful for it. Here’s just a whisper of what it contains:

Chapter 2: Tales of Proclaiming Jesus (Indonesia and Middle East)
“Proclamation doesn’t work in our culture” is quite often what I get told in various settings where I visit. Setting aside the easier context of Europe, where tens of thousands are hearing the good news proclaimed through small CUs running high profile events and week of events, and where the IFES Europe “FEUER” conference is training hundreds to do so, Luke takes us to the most unlikely of places. Highly relational, highly Islamic settings, where openly discussing evidence about Jesus being God is forbidden. So how might proclamation of good news there work? In its own messy way, Luke tells us!

Engaging the University – what does Jesus say to what we study or to the culture around us?

Chapter 3: Tales of Promoting Justice (Guatemala and USA)
“We don’t have any justice issues here – we just need to preach the gospel” is a line that I again, often hear on campuses in Europe. But somehow in the south of Ireland, one of the largest Christian denominations is largely Nigerian, yet we see few Nigerians in our Christian Unions – why? And somehow in the north of Ireland we claim that we want everyone to meet Jesus, but we’ll refuse to shape our lives round ending the segregation in society to make that possible. Justice matters. Everyone expected Guatemala to be in the chapter. But no-one thought the USA would be here. Luke tells the controversial story of #blacklivesmatter and how Urbana tackled it – was it wise?

Chapter 4: Tales of Engaging the University (Sri Lanka and Great Britain)
If “reaching every student with the good news of Jesus” becomes our mantra, where is the place of equipping graduates to have a full-orbed worldview, a whole-person discipleship, that looks to have Christians in every sphere of campus life, making a difference and living for Christ? Vinoth Ramachandra (Sri Lanka) has been a long-term advocate of this, though it is not his story that is told. This chapter brings a wonderful depth to a good news that ought to impact every area of life, through humanly insignificant ways of lone students and academics.

Chapter 5: Tales of preparing graduates (Kenya and Romania)
The Kenyan tale was great. A business-man creating a prayerful, spirit-led stir across corporations and borders. The Romanian one, I’d wondered whether Luke (based there) had just written about his Romanian mates (a few of whom I’ve met). But out of the fog, came insight. A story that I wondered about where it was going, turned into God using failure, ‘wrong’ decisions and more, to grow something from nothing. The raw authenticity of the story made it utterly relatable to so many stories here in Ireland. Perhaps a model for pursuing life as graduates.


Training leaders in Ireland.

Here the book takes a turn in emphasis, taking convictions of a student movement, and figuring out to make them sustainable:

Chapter 6: Tales of Leadership Development (Solomon Islands and Mongolia)
What a joy to read something of two messy movements. Both works of God in hard places, but for utterly different reasons. How do we grow leaders from being consumers (or non-Christians) through to leading such movements? Here lies two great examples at varying stages.

Chapter 7: Tales of Financial Sustainability (South Korea and Burkina Faso)
There reaches a stage in every movement where finance is an issue. Luke takes one country that is highly “Christian” but sharply in decline, and another that is used to depending on others for support and shows how things can be sustainable in both, despite challenges. Or rather he doesn’t show us. He tells their stories, and leaves us to work things out – a far better way to help us contextualise!

Chapter 8: Stories from the future (St Kitts)
And before I knew it, 16 hours later (not all spent reading), I’d finished the book. Gripped by many a story. Challenged anew by what I’d read. Even made to think by the way Luke handled the passages he turned to in each chapter in fresh ways.

A new generation of student leaders in Belfast

This was certainly not what I thought it would be – “Shining Like Stars 2″ – a sequel to Lindsay Brown’s great account of God at work across campuses. Nor is it a history of IFES, although it does contain snippets.

But it is both a stimulating read for the thinker, and a call to action. A tale of God working through weakness, and a springboard for us to be used similarly. A collection of apparently random lifestories from round the world, yet of intimately connected, diverse family members who all have a family name written over their doors. And the name is not IFES. The name is Jesus.

I’d encourage any staff member to pick this up and read it, but also any student who wishes to be encouraged by God at work, and challenged by some convictions which they might help shape CU life. And for those of past CU generations? Come, celebrate what God has done and is doing!


Peter is a Team Leader with Christian Unions Ireland in Munster and Connacht and normally blogs on faith and travel, which increasingly overlaps with the culture of the campuses he works on. You can find his book “Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP 2018) in ebook or physical format from any major distributor.

God’s Biker: motorcycles and misfits

(More about this forthcoming title can be found here)

This book felt like a letter.  A letter written to me.  But that would be silly, given I’d never heard the name Sean Stillman, nevermind known him enough to receive correspondence.  Or at least it was a story that resounded deeply within me enough that I felt someone had developed mind-reading technology to know the questions that were on my heart.  It’s a story of a travelling man – a man who journeyed much by motorbike.  But it’s the story of someone who’s story seems so ordinary, so normal, yet achieved (and still achieves) so much.  It’s someone whose life-story resonates with what life is really like.

Sean’s personal story, of how he grew up through frustrations of church, coming to loveGod's Biker motorbikes and also to follow Jesus, was a gripping yet ordinary tale like many others we might have heard before.  But from there, story after story tell of a life well-lived, using his passions, gifts and upbringing to best try and fathom how to take seriously Jesus’ call to make disciples in a broken world.

What do you do when you’re a biker, who spends many hours on the road in your squad, and hangs out with the most unlikely of company to ever enter a church building?

With many from traditional churches who engage with me about travel, they would want to tell Sean to stop travelling and settle down.  To not risk so much.  Perhaps even to cut his hair and keep better company.  But Sean’s missional heart longs for the biking community who aren’t going to respond so well to the “average” church evangelism (whatever that means), and sees that to engage these people with the good news, lived out in community in word and deed, is what Christ is calling him to.  He grasps that in the post-modern travelling world, the travelling, biking community, may not be able to be reached (or would be far harder to be reached) by staying put and knocking on their door.

Equally, through seeing folk from within these communities come to faith, he realises that crossing a threshold of a church building for them, is about as foreign as most of us entering a hangout of a biking squad!  A different language is used.  Different topics of conversation.  Different ways of expressing themselves.  Different hobbies.  A different life.

Throughout the book, Sean tells heartwarming stories that honour the Lord Jesus, tell of his own struggles and provide the ways he has attempted to get round these “problems”.  What I thought at points was going to be a rant against institutionalised religion was actually very constructively put struggles, longings, and questions, with obvious attempts to take what was Scriptural about church life and apply it in his own context.  His ordination within Anglicanism and description of Zac’s Place services (that sound remarkably similar to many churches I know!), are obviously signs that in all his wrestling, he didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but has helpfully guided us step by step through how and why he has done everything he has done, with other people.

harley

Realising that even within the diverse biking communities, that God calls people to be church with far more than “people like us”, he shows a love for such diverse people that goes far beyond the biking community, overflowing into other “unlikelies” within society. but also through to those more typically associated with much of our middle-class evangelicalism too.

All in all, Sean paints a picture of church, that many across our cities would say “if all church were like this, I’d be there in a flash”.  But it’s a story that goes far beyond Sean, to other communities up and down the UK and beyond, all resembling warm communities that embrace the outsider, love the unlovely and are truly good news in motorbike form.

You may not agree with every minor way Sean takes his fresh expression of church-life (though do we ever agree with anyone fully?), but what this book will do, is warm your heart on the inside, by showing you an ordinary person, who was transformed and equipped by God to faithfully live out the ordinary command to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

What marvelous ways God uses us in the world to do His works!  And what wonderful lessons we can all learn, from the easily-read pages in this book.  You don’t need to have interest in motorbikes to find principles that we do well to apply to any demographic of the population who would struggle to enter our church gatherings.

A Sunday afternoon reading, well spent.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

(Ephesians 3, outlining how such weak things as church to the human eye, are actually God’s chosen means to bring about His eternal purposes)

[I must confess being given an advance proof copy by SPCK of this book and asked to review it, although by no means am I expected to therefore give a favorable review]