Youths/Students as Vanguards in the Harvest Force

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The mobilisation of youths for missions is very strategic at this time because of their mobility globally and their active presence in the cyberspace.
harvest force youths on missions

Over the ages, youths and students have played a highly strategic role as vanguards in missions movement. The term ‘vanguard’ applies to any form of struggle for control in the face of threatening opposition, as well as being a military term. A vanguard is the forward element of an advancing military formation. A vanguard party is also a political party at the forefront of a mass action, movement, or revolution. A synonym study of the word gives further insight into their roles. Advance guard, front position, revolutionary, ahead of its time, forward-thinking, forward-looking and radical are synonyms of vanguard.

In the military enterprise, vanguards are “unstoppable and utterly fearless.” They “…wade into battle wearing advanced heavy armour. They are the first and best line of defence…. These steadfast soldiers ignore personal risk, deliberately stepping into the line of fire to divert danger from allies and innocents.” (author unknown). Such vanguards have always played vital roles in the missionary enterprise in the past. Young people have always played strategic roles in re-awakening the church into spiritual fervour during a period of lull. Typically, youths, due to their physical strength and fervent search for ideals in their age, tend to demonstrate a greater commitment to ensuring that the fundamentals of the truth of the gospel are demonstrated for all to see. Hence, they have potential to be strong spiritually and are often God’s instruments for the advancement of the gospel.


In the history of modern missions, youths and students have played strategic (vanguard) roles. The modern missions movement has been divided into three eras. Each era began with a new approach (to the missions movement) that was forward-thinking, forward-looking and usually contrary to the prevalent thinking of that time. This is usually led by an adult. However, in response to the new thinking, some young people volunteer to participate in the new move and they usually build up its momentum. Then, the era reaches its peak before a new era began. As the new era also gathers momentum, it challenges the prevalent thinking of the previous era and presents a forward-looking approach and focus that moves the missions movement forward and the cycle is then repeated. The commencement of each of the three eras were characterised by the strategic involvement of youths in tertiary institutions. Their strategic participation provided foot.

The approach and focus of the first era was pioneered by Willian Carey but the momentum was supplied by the participation of five Williams College students (led by Samuel J. Mills) who gathered in a field to discuss the needs of unreached people living in Asian countries at that time on a Saturday afternoon in August, 1806. This led to the famous Haystack prayer meeting. The second and the third eras were also strategically moved by the Students’ Volunteer Movement and the Students Foreign Missions Fellowship respectively.


In response to revival amongst Nigerian students in the seventies, missionary vision was stirred up especially amongst the tertiary institution students and several of them became pioneers of the missions movement in Nigeria with the formation of indigenous missionary organisations like Calvary Ministries in 1975 and Christian Missionary Foundation in 1982. In 1988, the Go-Festival known as GoFEST’88 held at the Redemption Camp along Lagos-Ibadan expressway. A significant of the current Nigerian missionary force were mobilised from this conference. Furthermore, the number of Nigerian students who travel abroad for studies or immigration purposes have greatly increased. This is an opportunity.

Youth Empowerment in the Gambia

However, several of these students are not interested in Missions. There is therefore a need for strategic mobilisation of this potential workforce. In response to this lethargy, 35 key leaders and influencers in Campus ministry Organizations, Mission Agencies and churches gathered between 22nd and 25th of August, 2007 to seek how to re-dig the well of revival in our campuses and infuse the emerging generation with a vision, hope and expectation of the completion of the great commission in their lifetime.” According to David Oluseyi Ige, in his report on the SVM2 web page titled ‘Building the Nigerian Student Mission Movement in THE STUDENT MISSION MOVEMENT’, Some of the hindrances identified as responsible for this missiocentric lull amongst Nigeria tertiary institution students are:

  1. Lack of genuine discipleship relationship among the emerging Nigerian student.
  2. A low standard of commitment to and promotion of long-term cross-cultural ministry among the unreached.
  3. A general lack of a unified prayer movement focused on the fulfilment of the Great Commission though different organizations pray for this.
  4. Fear of how to make both ends meet if they commit their lives to going as mission bearers.
  5. A general lack of equipping resources to empower students to pursue God’s purpose for their lives and mobilize their peers for long-term ministry among the unreached.
  6. A general lack of a connecting point for students and leaders of student ministries with a passion for student mobilization for mission to network and share information, ideas and effective resources.

Several other mobilisation efforts have been made and over the past few years, there is a gradual re-awakening amongst the students. Several of them have been involved in short-term missions and the interest is increasing. The efforts of the Students’ Missions Club is yielding some fruits in this regard.


As we advance further into the twenty-first century, what does the future hold for students’ involvement in Missions? With 53 unreached people groups in Nigeria, about 1,239 remaining in the whole of Africa and 7,279 globally out of the 17,314 people groups on earth (Joshua Project, 2024), there is need to be more strategic especially with the rapid socio-cultural transformations going on globally. Although the world is changing, the great commission is still same. There is still need to go physically to the nations. In Nigeria, the rise in Islamic militancy greatly limited the missionary activities of the Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship (NCCF). However, the mobilisation of the Nigerian youths and students for missions is very strategic at this time particularly because of their mobility globally and their active presence in the cyberspace where internet evangelism can contribute to missionary efforts. Several Nigerian Christian students who travel abroad on scholarship or by other means also get employed across cultures some years after graduation. If they are well discipled and mobilized for missions, they could contribute greatly to the missions movement in the nearest future.

In the face of global dangers, students and youths are still needed as vanguards today. These are the days for the valiant at heart who will obtain a good report by their faith and valour by the grace the Lord. Phil Butler said, “History has shown that throughout the ages, whenever the Kingdom advanced, someone first had to pay a terrible price.” Let us say with Jim Elliot, “hasten, hasten glory of heaven, build thy kingdom, enthral thy creatures.”

Written by Deji Adepeju

Deji Adepeju is a practising architect and lecturer. He is a passionate follower of Christ and a balanced counsellor who has a passion for youths. Every time spent with him exudes deep thoughts and insights to living. He has a granary of wisdom very relevant to this generation gained from finely brewed encounters he has passed through in life himself.

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