Population: 11.14 million (6.3 million in Flanders, 4.8 million in Wallonia; 2012)
Official languages: Dutch, French, German
Major religions: Christianity
IFES movements: Ichtus (Flemish speaking) and GBU (French speaking)
Belgium is a peaceful pluralistic country with a solid Roman Catholic background. Freedom of religion gives opportunities to talk about and share God’s kingdom, however ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’ are highly valued only as long as ideas and beliefs stay within their social borders. About 31% of people claim to be atheists or have no religion.
Flanders is an official region in the north of Belgium, where Dutch is spoken. To accommodate the linguistic and cultural differences in Belgium there are two IFES movements – Ichtus in the Flemish north, and GBU in the French south.
- 29 tertiary institutions in over 10 cities; only 8 cities have an Ichtus group
- 1 full-time, 2 part-time staff, 5 volunteers
- graduates ministry, still on a low level
- currently no high school ministry
- biggest group is in Leuven, about 60 students
- smallest group is located in Bruges, about 6 students
Student involvement has grown in the past few years. Students have taken initiative in several evangelistic events. They are more open to share the bible with their friends. Groups are looking for ways to be more accessible to students with different worldviews.
Through Ichtus, many students have been able to see how following Jesus relates to their studies and to their lives generally. Faith becomes practical, social, environmental and tangible. Yet for most Belgian students, their main goal is to get a diploma within the shortest time possible, so it often is hard to get them committed or involved in leadership within a group.
View from the inside
Tom De Craene, General Secretary of Ichtus Belgium, writes: ‘Working with and for students always gives a beautiful variety of challenges. The mix of working behind the scenes and supporting students in growing and reaching their fellow students is exciting and keeps me grateful.
‘I’m inspired by Psalm 33:3 – “Sing to him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy!” This gives me confidence to reach for quality. To reach students with the love of Jesus I can (and need to) use the skills God has given me. But it goes beyond that. The purpose is: to him and the instruction is: with joy. In the end this applies to many aspects of life and work.’
- for students to discover God’s freedom and perspective in their studies and social life;
- for students to find purpose and confidence in being a student, so that it becomes much more than just a necessary stage before you get a job.
- 5 main universities
- 5 cities have a GBU group, largely unattached to one particular university
- 4 full-time staff (three of them from the IFES InterAction team), 1 part-time
- biggest group in Brussels, about 30 students
- smallest group in Charleroi, about 3 students
Historically GBU has been a small movement, in part due to the engrained Roman Catholicism of the culture, but also as a result of an effectively absent campus life, a phenomenon one often encounters in smaller countries. The university is where you study, and then you go home, so with many students commuting to school, growing a group ministry is very difficult. GBU is in the process of evaluating how it operates and trying to discern how to tailor the ministry to the Belgian university culture.
Overall, participants are happy to be involved in the movement and acknowledge its importance for their stability and growth in faith. They are encouraged to think about how to translate their faith into their daily, public lives, rejecting the mantra that faith is a private concern.
View from the inside
For former General Secretary Erwin Ochsenmeier, Paul’s exhortations to believers in Romans 12:1-2 to live for God with a renewed understanding is a fundamental text, and he has been encouraged by former and present students in hearing from them how much the GBU have helped them as believers.
- for vision for how to better adapt the ministry to the contemporary situation of Belgium;
- for students to find ways to articulate and live their faith in their academic context.