Students share how Urbana 2000 transformed their lives
Coming to the Urbana Student Missions Conference shook Dan, a graduate student from California, in ways he never expected. "There's no reason I should I assume I'm stuck in the United States, is there? I find I'm suddenly willing to 'go.' I thought I'd stay here in the States and try to be a good witness through a nice job in the Silicon Valley, but the desire has disappeared. It's like a big water balloon has been dropped on me."
While God may lead Dan overseas eventually, he's learned things that are applicable in his life today. "For example, I'm realizing there's no place in my life for insensitivity to injustice. I eat out a lot, too, and that needs to change. When you are alone, what is the point? Instead, I should learn to cook! It's so easy for my friends and me to go out and buy stuff instead of feeding people who have nothing."
For students like Dan, attending Urbana built exposure and awareness, laying a foundation rather than bringing a specific call to ministry. "I was sort of expecting when I came to Urbana that people would tell me to sponsor missions," he says, "but instead they are talking about changing the way I live my life."
Ruth, an Urbana delegate from New Mexico, is interested in being a missionary, but knows that first she has to surmount one of her generation's most common obstacles. "I'm working as a teacher now, and I really love it. Teaching really suits me. It would be great to take that overseas. But I have huge student debts, and strong convictions tell me I need to take care of that first."
While the size of their debts discourages many students from seeing themselves in ministry any time soon, Ruth is looking for ways she can serve in ministry while earning the money she needs to repay her loans. "Before I came to Urbana I prayed that God would help me find a paying position here [with a ministry or mission agency]. I've left my resume in several places at the conference and there are some good options; I think I might be able to get a job as an administrative assistant."
Heather from Nevada is one Urbana delegate who feels God has been leading her to a specific commitment: "I've felt called to be a teacher since I was six years old. I've also been very interested in missions. For some reason I didn't put the two together. I've really appreciated what the speakers have said about God not showing you the whole picture, just the next few steps, because I'm the person who likes to plan out everything. But I think God has shown me here that I'm going to teach missionary kids." But Heather, like Ruth and Dan, has some other things to take care of first. "For now, my job is to finish my teaching degree," she says.
"It would be an understatement to call this a life-changing experience!" says Andrew, from Vancouver BC, with enthusiasm. "I don't know where God will take me; I'm willing to go anywhere and do anything."
However, like many delegates, hearing Urbana's call to reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding challenged Andrew to look inside himself. He discovered areas in which he needs to grow if he wants to touch the world. "I've long been interested in missions, but have realized my lack of love for people. I've only been interested in reaching out to people I find attractive. Here God has challenged me to see all people as He does."
When this generation of students thinks of missions, likely as not, short-term projects come to mind. Many of those with whom we spoke had been overseas as many as half a dozen times with short-term mission teams. The cheers that erupted when an Urbana presenter mentioned the countries they had visited were nearly as loud as those following mention of a home-town or college. Because of their short-term experiences, students may now identify with the experiences of long-term workers. They also want to give others the expanded understanding of the world and experience of trusting God that He's given them so graciously through their short-term projects.
Amid the proliferation of short-term mission projects for young adults, several delegates were asking, "Do you have any short-term missions for adults?" "My wife and I feel called to Kazakhstan," explained one young man. "I had done mission projects before, but when I went to Kazakhstan, people from my parents' church were really behind us. They're so excited that now they are looking for short-term mission options for themselves!"
While the majority of short-term projects from the U.S. still serve and attract young people, more options are available for all generations. The Finishers Project, a ministry to help retiring and transitioning "Baby Boomers" find new roles in ministry, would like to help an older generation discover what God has for them in the same way Urbana has served the student generation. A "Finisher's" brochure distributed at the Urbana conference said "Here am I; send my parents!"
More than 1500 missionaries came to Urbana, many representing and recruiting for their organizations as well as teaching workshops and seminars to the eager students and other delegates. "It's encouraging to see this many missionaries in one place!" says Rebecca from Illinois, "And people of different races, from different places around the world. My fellowship at school has only 15 or 20 people at most, so this is a touch of heaven. Only in heaven, we will be able to see the One we are worshiping.
"A friend told me about Urbana, and I didn't think I'd come. But when I prayed, I could almost hear God say 'I want you to go, because I have some things to tell you.' The heart for ministry and the surrender I've experienced here--it's for a lifetime, and that's not to be taken lightly.
"It's so easy to say, 'in the future I'll live for God, but for now I'll live my life.' Someone in last night's session said we shouldn't be looking for God to reveal his whole picture to us, and I think that's right. Even when He only shows us the next three steps forward, we are called to be faithful.
"I'm studying music at Julliard, and I know music and mission can fit together," says Rebecca. At Urbana she was able to meet missionaries who could help her see how that might work on the field. "This afternoon I went to a seminar on ethnomusicology and learned more about how it can help missionaries 'get their feet wet' and get into another culture so they know the people before they share the gospel. Learning another people's music and using it can be a powerful tool in ministry."
Vanessa from New York says the Urbana experience has continued what God has been teaching her for some time, and she's excited to see others catch a vision for the same things. "I took a mission trip to Honduras this summer. We raised the money to come to Urbana at the same time. I didn't know much about Urbana, but it was a package deal. After Honduras, my InterVarsity chapter started several mission groups. I've been part of the social justice mission team. It's really cool to see how God's heart for justice has been emphasized here, too. All these people are here to learn, and they heard about God's heart for justice!"
Katie from New York spent last summer in Mongolia and leads the short-term mission program at her Christian college. Last year they sent 63 students to 17 countries. "I'm familiar with many of the organizations here, but I came to learn and get a bigger perspective on the world. Because I go to a Christian school, seeing this many Christians together isn't so amazing for me, but to see so how excited they are is another thing. The speakers have also challenged me and built my faith. I graduate in May, and don't know what I'm going to do next, but God has been telling me, 'Katie, your life is in my hands; you don't have to worry about it.'"
Marti Smith works with Caleb Resources in Littleton, Colorado, as part of their Advocacy and Research team. She studied magazine journalism at the University of Oregon. In 1996, Marti co-edited the book Praying Through the Window III: The Unreached Peoples.