Southern California Students Ignited for Frontier Missions
The History of an Exciting Trend
"How can we share a vision for the world with college students like ourselves?" A few students were returning to Southern California after completing the 1974 Summer Institute of Intemational Studies (a six week missions conference that evolved into the Institute of International Studies, IlS). Out of prayer, a bold new idea was born: why not plan and host a missions conference especially for college students, challenging them with the same awesome privilege and responsibility given to the 12 disciples.
The vision was daring. Students forming the core planning group faced a grueling academic schedule at the California Institute of Technology. Could they get fellow students to join the effort, given the tremendous time pressure everyone faced? Irresistibly, the vision caught on. With help from local missions resource people and Inter Varsity staff, the first Student Conference of World Evangelization ("SCOWE") drew 350 students to Caltech's Beckman Auditorium in January, 1975.
SCOWE H and 111 continued in the tradition of SCOWE I, giving students invaluable experience in working closely with mission personnel and in motivating many local college fellowships to incorporate a global vision into their campus ministries. From SCOWE Ill and IV, a special directory of mission organizations with offices in Southern California was published, called A WORLD TO REACH. It was designed to appeal to the particular interests of college students and encouraging students to get involved with established mission groups.
SCOWE IV, V, VI, and this year's VII have been held on campus at the U.S. Center for World Mission. Because of its relation to the U.S. Center and InterVarsity, SCOWE has traditionally had some of the nation's key missions spokesmen, including David Bryant, David Howard, Sam Kamaleson, Don McCuriy, Larry Poland, Don Richardson, Ralph Winter, and others.
As a missions conference, SCOWE is unique in several ways. Its evolution reflects unique trends developing in the student world:
- The vision for SCOWE came from students themselves. In this way, SCOWE is an expression of a "grass roots" interest on the part of students; not only do they want to know about the world and their role in reaching it for Christ; they also desire to share that vision with their peers.
- Pure attendance trends at the conference indicate a burgeoning concern among the students of Southern California. This year's SCOWE VII, held February 19 20, actually turned away last-minute registrants; campus facilities were creatively stretched to accommodate the 500 plus participants gently pressing its limits.
The nature of the delegates who come to SCOWE is evolving. Originally, SCOWE was a sort of "missions conversion" conference where students who knew little or nothing about missions came to discover the wide range of activity and need in world evangelization.
But beginning in 1981, SCOWE became a two level conference to accommodate the growing number of students who have grasped a global vision, have made a basic commitment to involvement with world evangelization, but need more specific guidance as to their next step. At SCOWE VII, 55 per cent of the delegates came with some missions background and a basic level of commitment. They attended the "Obey the Vision" conference because either they had been to an Urbana or to some other missions convention, or had been in a missions prayer and study group and needed practical tools to enable them to obey the vision they had grasped. The other delegates attended "Catch the Vision," a conference patterned after the very early SCOWE's.
- Since its inception, SCOWE has always focused on the need for missionaries to the Hidden Peoples of the world. Students have been challenged with nothing less than a radical commitment to frontier involvement either going themselves, or implementing a simple lifestyle in order to inable others to go. In fact, it is this radical challenge which draws students. This is not surprising: college students still have the major decisions of their lives ahead of them. They have historically been the group of people most open to having their motivations challenged, their future plans redirected.
God Has Miraculously Guided the Development of SCOW
Throughout recent history, God has used students to effect significant leaps in world evangelization. C. T. Studd and "The Cambridge Seven," Samuel Mills and "The Haystack Five," and John R. Mott and the Student Volunteer Movement are but a few of the many examples. Similarly, God has provided for the development of SCOWE in miraculous ways. Some of these have been:
In the early years of SCOWE when it was held at Caltech, financial solvency was always difficult because of the high cost of renting a secular college facility. One early SCOWE ran up a debt of a few hundred dollars, without foreseeable resources to cover the loss and provide seed money for the next year. Unexpectedly, a very mission minded local church, Lake Avenue Congregational, generously picked up the slack; SCOWE was able to pay its bills! God has continued to provide in abundance for ensuring SCOWE's continuation.
Provision for Personnel
With the high turnover rate in the student world, SCOWE was a questionable event for each of the first 4 years. Its execution depended upon the existence of a core of committed students willing to spend almost all their free time away from students working on conference organization. In 1978 there was no SCOWE because not enough students were able to make a commitment. But despite the lack of involved undergraduates in 1979, God still intended SCOWE to occur. For the first time, two graduate students played key roles in the administration of the conference. At SCOWE IV, the base for SCOWE operations moved to the USCWM, with files established for conference organization and a stabilized address. No longer is SCOWE a "maybe, maybe not" event.
What is SCOWE Like Today?
As a two day weekend conference, SCOWE is like a "missions retreat." Plenary talks Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday night typically cover topics such as the Biblical basis for missions, the progress of Christian missions so far and the task still • remaining, and practical ways to build a vision for missions in local churches or schools.
Seminars offered on Saturday afternoon allow students to interact more personally with missionaries from particular fields, asking questions about the special challenges peculiar to their situations. Mission booths encourage students to explore the possibilities of short term or long term service with a mission agency.Invariably, SCOWE participants leave the conference with a desire to move on in their missions involvement. Some SCOWE participants go on to apply for short terms overseas. Others continue their missions education and expansion of personal vision through courses such as the Institute of International Studies.
Your School and/or Church can Sponser a SCOWE!
A growing burden to reach the world's lost is not a vision meant to remain regional. SCOWE type experiences can be a catalyst for missions involvement anywhere and they can be organized by any group of praying, interested people committed to seeing a frontier vision sweep today's student world. What is needed?I) A core group of conference planners. Depending on the projected size of the conference, a core group can be anywhere from 3 8 people, none of whom have to be working on SCOWE full time. 2) Backing of a local church, campus, or other facility where the conference can be held. To keep registration costs down, it is best to find a location sympathetic to the cause. 3) Contacts with local churches and schools. Focused on the student world, the desirable constituency is college students and college/career fellowships of local churches. 4) If we at the U.S. Center for World Mission can be of any assistance to the development of a SCOWE in your area, please contact us at the address below.
What about it? Is a SCOWE possible near you? When a half dozen full time, inexperienced undergraduates at Caltech thought about hosting a several hundred person conference, they, too, were overwhelmed. But "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong," (I Cor 1:27).
Do you feel excited but a little scared by the possibility of a SCOWE in your hometown, at your church or school? Perhaps, then, you are the best person to round up a group of SCOWE organizers. For more information, contact SCOWE Office, do Koleen Matsuda, 1605 Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104 or call (213) 797 1111.