25 Sep Re-think UESI
As an IFES movement raised by God in India, UESI has made significant contributions both to the Church and the society. The vision of the pioneers has been kept ablaze by students, graduates, and staff alike and it is commendable. And, yet, it would only be healthy to examine our modus operandi to see if we have been caught unaware of the changes around us. In this regard, I would like to set down three changing paradigms against which we need to evaluate ourselves. UESI and all IFES movements do not see themselves to be just a campus or even more so – youth ministries (sic). UESI is a University Movement and our call is to ‘Engage the University’! Secondly, UESI has been looked upon as a sending agency for missions, but the very concept of Mission has never been understood in its integral and holistic dimension. Are we aware of this and change appropriately? Finally (limiting the scope of this article), UESI needs to evaluate how relevant she has been to a world that has become “postmodern,” where there are no absolutes.
UESI: A University Movement The moment we label ourselves as a University Movement, we have the universities in view.
They no more give us a picture of youth but intellectuals and hence we strive to move beyond the “basic devotionals to a substantial intellectual fare.” Our Christian discipleship would no more be limited to Quiet Time or Personal Bible Studies; rather we rethink on Christian discipleship in the field of Arts, Sociology, Commerce, Economics, Law, Natural Science, Medicine, and so on. If so, what would Engaging the University constitute? Vinoth Ramachandra, suggests that ‘engaging the university’ involves, at least, 3 dimensions:
(1) Understanding the “culture” and dominant worldviews of the modern university, and how these shape the characters, values, priorities and lifestyles of students and faculty (Christians included).
(2) Forming learning and witnessing Christian communities, comprising students, researchers, faculty and administrators, who engage holistically, prophetically and dialogically with the diverse conversations, academic and non-academic, that constitute university life. This will naturally include what is traditionally called “evangelism” and “apologetics.” But it goes beyond them to being willing to learn from others and to make Christian contributions to study, research, administration and teaching.
(3) Seeking to influence universities so that they become more humane & just institutions, instruments of the Kingdom of God rather than of Mammon. This implies that we care about the moral, intellectual, & spiritual flourishing of individuals and also of groups & systems.
In UESI-Delhi, we are learning the need to change. The North Delhi ICEU & EGF have set the road map for Delhi in their efforts to engage; be it the world of Technology, Economy, Polity, Music, Arts, Sciences, etc., with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. A six week Intensive Summer Study during this Summer brought in more than 40 students and graduates to study issues ranging from Theology, Hermeneutics, Decolonization and the Leaders Who Made Asia, Basic concepts in Globalization and Postcolonial Theory for the Asian Christian Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living, Developing Christian Character, A Fresh Look at the Problem of Evil, Bioethics, Brief History of Western and Eastern Atheism, Economy and Culture/ Religion, Envisioning 21st Century Post-modern Church Human Rights & Human Dignity, Islam & Hinduism, Understanding Poverty & Deprivation, Science & Religion, Secularism, Multiculturalism & Clash of Religions, Technology & Religion. Study was interspersed by video lectures by Scot McKnight, Leonard Sweet, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, Sundar Krishnan, Ramachandra Guha, P. Sainath, Os Guiness & Rev. John Yates and others. Participants also viewed a movie on Martin Luther. For such an engagement, we need to prepare staff and graduates who would be ‘genuine intellectual experts as speakers! Staff of the movement would no longer be just theological graduates but also experts in the relevant fields they would be willing to engage. The impact of such efforts is ‘not only to think christianly in the chosen academic discipline; but also to think through how God wants us to apply what we learn to the real world. Vinoth Ramachandra, makes this point as he talks about a conversation with a Christian engineering student from India. ‘He told us that he wants to work with the US military because they were doing “cutting-edge” research. I asked him if he had ever thought of using his knowledge to re-direct technology towards global justice issues and the needs of the poor in India or elsewhere. He looked at me with incomprehension. The thought had never entered his mind.’ I best close this section allaying fears that would creep for such a paradigm shift. Let me quote John G. Stackhouse, “It is proper, of course, to fear a conceited and endlessly diverting intellectualism; a syncretistic and thus heretical liberalism; and an all-too accommodating, and thus non-evangelistic, relativism—which, I agree with many others, first perverted and then killed the Student Christian Movement, and a number of chaplaincies and other ministries of mainline Protestant denominations. But it is also proper to fear their counterparts: an anti-intellectual amalgam of mysticism, moralism, and oversimplification; a narrow and fiercely insular fundamentalism; and a self-righteous and brittle dogmatism. Scholarship can indeed interfere with communicating the faith to students, but communicating a faith without scholarship, particularly on campus, is to hand on something badly attenuated.
UESI: Mission as Integral We have sadly limited mission to ‘full-time’ workers. What about the rest? Do we see our education as mission, our work as mission and even “engaging holistically, prophetically and dialogically with the diverse conversations, academic and non-academic, that constitute university life” as mission? The very realization that a graduate’s work, which involves building infrastructure, healing the sick, running the railways, teaching mathematics passionately, pleading for a case dispassionately, etc., does constitute Mission will determine how we prepare our students for mission. Missio Dei (Mission of God) is His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. SO OUR PASSIONATE INVOLVEMENT ON EARTH IS HIS MISSION! Rene Padilla states that “mission is ‘to participate in the mission of God by giving an integral witness to the Gospel, by living an inclusive Christian spirituality, by carrying out a stewardship of creation which would put material reality at the service of the spiritual and use power for the well-being of others and for the glory of God, and by promoting reconciliation among races, social classes, sexes, generations, and the environment’
As, UESI Delhi, we could not be oblivious to the ‘mass killing / missing of the girl child’ (gendercide / femicide) right in Delhi and other parts of the country. Hence in partnership with Salt Initiative, we have taken into the campuses the awareness of this evil. Let Her Live, as this campaign is called, has widened the Mission dimension among our students. It helps them to meaningfully engage with the rest of the student community for a common cause! It helps them break all barriers and initiate conversations. We believe “UESI’s active engagement on this issue would raise generation of students who would bring healing into our nation in this area of brokenness and would help creating a transformed society that ensures the dignity and equality of women and girl children.” Students are already in mission!
UESI: in a Post-modern World Postmodernism is defined by four features: the loss of metanarratives, the collapse of absolute truth (or scepticism about absolute truth claims), scepticism about history and the general loss of meaning. Have we ever realized that our Bible studies could seem for the participants a ‘description of long back’ with no relevance to their personal lives? We are trying to make believe people into a narrative (doctrine/truth) that
is no way connected to them. In a video interview on What is the Gospel?, N.T. Wright states that every generation has to chew the Gospel afresh and none of us can live on what has been done before. . . because culture, language, and pressure points for people are always changing! A post-modern world needs no theory or an idea, yet, ‘postmodernism reintroduces the value of both stories and experience in life, allowing for a measure of worth and fulfilment in daily life.’ During the recent GSTP session in Delhi, participants heard Leornard Sweet engage them the fact that we may be missing the moment!. In the Sovereignty of God, he has chosen us for this moment, to serve this present age; we are called to learn the language of this culture. Participants were also called to lead worship each day by reflecting both the Scripture and newspaper. It was an eye-opener that our spirituality was so much disconnect to a real world!
UESI, we need to Rethink!
About the Author
Sathish Simon, Staff with UESI based in Delhi. Married to Mini (Teaching at Faith Academy) and blessed by two daughters Stuthi & Diya.