I went to a Christian missions conference two years ago, and it changed my life. That sort of thing tends to happen at this conference. It sounds so trite, but it is so true.
The conference was in St. Louis, MO and is called Urbana. It is a conference attended by thousands across the world, is affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and is primarily focused on Christian global missions and evangelism. It lasts nearly a week, and starts a few days after the Christmas holiday. Thousands of students flock into the city of St. Louis and run it over. We met for plenary (the time where EVERYONE met together) in the Edward Jones Dome, the stadium of the St. Louis Rams.
Urbana 09 changed my life. I miss it a lot, and I really want to go again in 2012. Let me explain:
- It was a surreal encouragement to be in the company of a body of believers. These were 18-22 year olds, men and women my age, who shared an equal zeal and desire for Jesus Christ. These were boys and girls who also went to universities and colleges and desired to see Jesus become relevant to their peers. The sensation isn’t exclusive to Christianity; any conference will elicit similar feelings. When that feeling is elicited, however, it is a clear measurement of your passion for the content of the conference.
- There were a lot of pretty Asian girls. This is the shallowest reason I will give, but, if I am to be honest, it is a small reason why I enjoyed Urbana. I love my Asian heritage. I didn’t talk to any pretty Asian girls, though. In fact, I was rather introverted. I skipped dinner because I wasn’t hungry, but also because I didn’t want to be around people. That is my only regret about the conference; I wish I had met some new friends.
- It was beautiful how the Gospel was presented in different art mediums. And these mediums were effective too. Like any endeavor, you should seek to be effective and powerful in your presentation. I will scoff if your performance is gawdy, but if your act is phenomenal, I will be all the more impressed and all the more likely to consider the depth and meaning of your show. Just as the secular theatre can strive for effective show, so can the Christian. I am not that fond of worship through song, and I was very pleased with Urbana’s diverse worship forms.
- The universality of the Christian God was evident. One of the most touching songs that Urbana introduced to me was a Hindi song, Bhajo Naam. It was full of Eastern aesthetic and sound, and, though a new sound for me, I loved it. It was beautifully composed, and the shape of the lyrics was so mysterious. It was a unique peek into the perception of Jesus by my Indian brothers and sisters. Urbana immersed the attendees in a global experience of Jesus: from Egypt to China, Pennsylvania to Zimbabwe.
- The testimonies and stories of those who were doing global mission work for the kingdom was convicting and inspiring. The main expositor shared about the families and children who lived in the landfills of Egypt, and how he and his wife moved into the landfill to be among them, to be the embodiment of “the Word [becoming] flesh”. Oscar Miriu shared the story of his ministry in Kenya. And, probably the most touching story and testimony, the moment when tears took to the wells in my eyes, and the sensational shiver was sent along the hairs of my skin, was when Dr. Patrick Fung shared the story of his visit to a library in London. In the library was a large archive where there existed a file for thousands of individuals. Each file belonged to a deceased missionary who lived among the Chinese people, people who gave their life to the Chinese people for the sake of the Gospel and for the love of God. Dr. Fung recognized a few of the names in the archive, but the majority were unfamiliar. “I am convinced that,” he told the Urbana audience, “some of the most important workers for the Kingdom, [in] the 21st century, I believe, are the Nameless People. They make Christ visible — not themselves.” At Urbana I was learning about people who were doing Work. Dr. Fung reminded us that there are thousands that do Work, but are not recognized — and they need no recognition from Man, only from God. “Live to be forgotten.”
- Information wasn’t central to the conference — challenges were. It’s easy to make information and awareness the goal of a conference, but Urbana did more than that. Learning was paramount, but the challenges were the pinnacle. We learned about a vast set of experiences in the field, but those sharing sessions were capped with a challenge. Will you commit to experiencing as he or she did? Even if there was no capped challenge, the testimonies were a challenge in themselves. Here was a student who committed a summer to cross-cultural immersion. What were you doing with your summers? ((This is not to say that everyone should go to a slum village in the summer. Just don’t waste the summers.))
I like to say that only two people have changed my life: Jesus Christ and Michael Jackson. If I’m speaking about events, though, I think Urbana 09 was the only thing that changed my life — I mean, I’m writing about it nearly two years after.