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ss nucleus - summer 1999,  In the Lion's Den

In the Lion's Den

Tim Hinks, medical student at Oxford, gives an inside view of the CMF National Students’ Conference at Swanwick on 22-24 January 1999.

Excellent! This year’s CMF National Conference was brilliant, but don’t just read about it here. I expect you know someone who went, so if you couldn’t go this year, grab them and ask them about it. Go on, now!

Well, maybe you’re reading this in your room and your friend isn’t around right now, so in the meantime I’ll try and give you the gist of what they would tell you (but make sure you ask them!).

Medical school is, quite frankly, a nightmare. Christians are aliens in the world. Not in the little-green-man-from-Alpha-Centauri sense, but because our whole worldview is so radically different from the prevailing philosophies of post-modern British culture. Our beliefs conflict with the ideas of our colleagues and friends in regard to ethics, eternal life, sexuality, possessions and life priorities. In every aspect of our lives we are under pressure, from lecturers we respect or close friends whose opinions matter to us, to conform to the prevailing culture.

So we don’t fit in. We never really will because our real home is in heaven. We might as well be Martians, yet God calls us to serve him as medics, to be salt and light in medical school, and to love and be involved with the wonderful friends he has given us. It’s not easy. So where better to look than the book of Daniel?

Daniel was just like us, a bright, young student, in a small minority of believers at university in Babylon, facing great pressures from his colleagues and from the dean. In two excellent Bible addresses David Cook showed how Daniel adapted to hard work and city life, whilst making a stand for God. Daniel’s experience proved the truth of his words that, ‘the God we serve is able’ (Dn 3:17) to help us make this stand.

This was the recurring theme of the conference. So many other students taught me that even in the hardest situations, the God we serve is able to help us live for him, and to turn human problems into opportunities to reveal his glory. This was particularly true of the international visitors. For example, an Albanian medic consistently comes bottom in his exams, despite studying all hours, simply because he won’t bribe his examiners. His friends laugh at him, but what a witness he is, amongst students destined to become leaders in a community formerly renowned as the world’s only atheist state!

Fifteen superb seminars gave very practical advice on applying our faith to the trickiest issues medics face, including infertility, homosexuality, suffering, psychiatry and evangelism. We’re often depressed by the difficulty of maintaining Christian ethics in our work, but I learnt so much from the seminar leaders, experts in their fields, who spoke from personal experience of exactly how the God we serve is able to help us make a compassionate Christian response.

For me, the ‘Ishmael my Brother?’ seminar was the conference highlight. Whilst four out of five UK churches are shrinking, the media portrays a disturbing global rise in Islamic extremism. But with humility and an infectious passion for Jesus, Jay Smith sees the challenge of Islam as a crucial opportunity to share the gospel with people zealous for truth and eager to discuss the claims of Jesus. This is something in which many of us can be involved, if we are better informed and firmly committed to humble, patient discussion and prayer for our friends. As someone commented: ‘all the seminars were excellent, but Jay Smith’s knocked me for six. He has such a positive response!’

But Not Another Christian Conference!

I confess I’m one of those die-hard conference types. People rightly question the need to spend another weekend in a holy huddle, enjoying life away from the real world. Shouldn’t we be out there, getting on with serving God, through excellence in work, sport, and friendships? Definitely. There are many valid calls on our time, and lots of us are committed to fellowship with other students, and regularly receive good quality Bible teaching. So we need to strike a balance. But I can recommend next year’s National Conference precisely because it explicitly aims to equip us to serve God in the specific situations medics face.

Each of us will spend five years studying medicine, and 40 years practising it, which makes a weekend at Swanwick seem like a good investment. Even if you aren’t a conference type, why not come next year? The event is consistently outstanding, which is probably why, as word about it gets around, the conference grows each year. This year numbers were up by 80 as over 360 students from the UK, Europe, and Africa congregated in Swanwick. Or perhaps it was just because they heard about the barn dance?

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