The Inductive Bible Study Method
Ajith Fernando was born and raised in Sri Lanka in a devout Methodist family, and he wanted to study theology from the age of 14. One of his childhood faith heroes was a preacher from India, Dr. Samuel Kamaleson, who had graduated from Asbury Seminary. So when Ajith was in his early 20s, he chose Asbury Seminary as the place to study his faith.
Ajith arrived in Kentucky in February of 1972, the middle of winter. “I had never experienced a cold like that. But the warmth of the studies made it so happy for me,” says Ajith. “It was a period I consider one of the happiest in my life.” As he worked towards his M.Div., he became enamored by the Inductive Bible Study method, which he learned under Dr. Robert Traina. Ajith still uses Inductive Bible Study today when he reads and teaches the Bible.
Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka
Before seminary, Ajith had been an active volunteer for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, and he planned to go back and work for them after his M.Div. Yet Ajith’s friends and professors told him he was making a mistake by going back to Youth for Christ. “You should go to a church or to a seminary,” they said.
Ajith sought counsel from those he trusted back home in Sri Lanka. Ajith’s pastor from his teenage years advised Ajith to go back to Youth for Christ and grow the church by sending youth to the church.
And this is exactly what Ajith has labored for in Sri Lanka since graduating from the Seminary in 1974. “We have hundreds of leaders in churches who have come from our ministry – over a hundred pastors,” says Ajith, who was National Director for 35 years and has been Teaching Director for 12 years in his semi-retirement. The church in Sri Lanka has grown because of Youth for Christ (YFC), and many pastors of new churches are first generation Christians.
There are about 15 YFC centers in Sri Lanka. YFC works with unreached youth – youth who have no contact with a church – primarily functioning as a neighborhood ministry with places to play sports, free tutorial classes and study halls for poor youth who need educational assistance, and a huge camping ministry. Youth come to their camps, hear the gospel, and are coming to Christ. Some parents have even come to Christ through the witness of their children.
A Need for Deep Discipleship
Through his role as Teaching Director, Ajith mentors and teaches staff, leaders, and pastors in YFC and the wider church. “Many Christian leaders in the church did not grow up in Christian backgrounds. They were caught up in the feverish mission of a growing church after conversion. With time they answered the call to the ministry. But they haven’t had spiritual fathers and mothers to nurture and love them, and they haven’t had adequate teaching on biblical values,” he says. Ajith’s role in their lives is essentially the work of discipleship, and he has a lot to say about the topic. An award-winning author of 21 books, Ajith even wrote a book about discipleship: “Discipling in a Multicultural World.”
“Discipling is something that everyone talks about, but very few people do it. And a reason is that they don’t have the time,” says Ajith. He points out that Jesus’ method of discipling was spending hours and hours of time with His disciples. “I have found that many of the deep-down issues of a person come after a long time of talking,” he says. “Conversation takes time, and we are in a generation that doesn’t have time for conversation. I think digital communication has replaced conversation.”
Honor and Shame
Ajith has observed additional challenges to discipleship. One of them is that people do not respond positively to the idea of objective truth, which makes it difficult to get scriptural truth into their hearts. To help overcome this, Ajith looks to the Bible. “One of the methods the Bible uses to inculcate Christian values is to show how honorable these truths are and how shameful sinful behavior is.” In Ajith’s part of the world, right and wrong are defined mainly by whether they bring honor or shame to one’s community. Modern society’s new criteria for honor is whether something is “cool,” and shaming is taking place a lot on social media. According to Ajith, we must therefore create alternative communities where people love and accept each other and find the biblical ethic honorable and sin shameful.
Ajith’s decades of stewarding youth into the Christian faith through YFC means that the work of discipleship is never over. “As long as God gives me the strength, I want to spend my time ministering to these servants of Christ,” he says. Ajith’s grassroots ministry has primarily been with the urban poor. He and his wife Nelun are active in a Methodist Church, most of whose members are first generation Christians. Additionally, Ajith is on the translation team of a new Sinhala Bible, and he serves as an adjunct lecturer at Colombo Theological Seminary. He and Nelun have two children and four grandchildren.
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