Just as most other folks will be playing with their new Christmas toys, Jon and I will be taking down our tree and going to the craziest post-Christmas party ever — InterVarsity's triennial Urbana missions conference! We will join about 20,000 other students, staff, and missions-minded adults at the University of Illinois in Urbana for five days of worship, teaching, and conversations about God’s heart for the world.
To be honest, Urbana can be an overwhelming experience. Some have likened it to trying to take a drink of water from a fire hydrant. But even though drinking from a fire hydrant is somewhat difficult, you can definitely quench your thirst effectively! This will be my third Urbana missions conference, so I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and share some musings from my journals about past Urbana experiences.
At this Urbana, I was 21 years old, in my senior year at Northwestern, and getting ready to do my student teaching. I had decided to apply for a position with InterVarsity, and was praying for the students at DePaul, trying to sense if God was calling me to minister there.
This was my first Urbana missions conference. I was determined to go because I passed up the chance to go to Urbana 93 during my freshman year and regretted that decision when I heard what a great time everyone had.
I got lost the first night on my way to the dorm I was staying in, but after wandering around with a few bags for about 15 minutes, I found where I was going. It was at this conference that I discovered the blessings of earplugs — one of my ten roommates was quite a snorer!
Here are a few highlights — they are small events in the scope of Urbana, but they had a very big impact on my Christian development:
Quiet Time Revolution
I distinctly remember going to a seminar entitled "Keeping Your Identity in Christ, Not in the Ministry." It was led by Tamar Silverman, who is a Messianic Jew, and I believe a missionary to Jewish people in Israel. I think I was especially eager to attend this seminar because I was interested in Jewish evangelism (isn’t it amazing that one of the key leaders at DePaul now is a Jewish believer in Christ?).
Tamar talked a lot about quiet times, but in a way that I had never heard before. She emphasized the need to keep quiet times creative, including a variety of activities (poetry, songs, walking, write a psalm, draw, paint) — and to always include an element of prayer and Scripture. My soul longed to hear someone say this! During college, I was extremely diligent in my quiet times, but I was getting a bit weary of my sterile-feeling method of Scripture study and intercessory prayer. I needed permission from someone to get a little creative in my times with God — and Tamar was that messenger to me. This started a whole movement in my life (which has since spilled over into my ministry) of experiencing the freedom to engage with Jesus in a variety of ways.
I also wrote in my journal at that time, "I need to be diligent in reading and memorizing Scripture — put them on the dashboard?" I did, in fact, tape Bible verses on the dashboard of my 1985 Blue Honda Accord. There is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus.
Jeanette on God’s bigness
We watched a video about poverty that was quite graphic and extremely upsetting to me. I was overwhelmed with the amount of pain that I saw in that video, and I just couldn’t grasp how to respond to it. Jeanette Yep, in her incredibly pastoral way, stepped to the podium after that video and said, "Isn't it amazing that God's heart is big enough to hold all of this?" It was so freeing to remember that God is the one who can care about all this pain, even with I’m too small to even begin to absorb it. I’ve held that concept with me ever since.
Thoughts on being a minister
At this point, I was thinking about the implications of ministering to college students professionally and wrestling through my insecurities about it. Excerpt from journal:
In another part of my journal, I wrote about the need for Sabbath. I didn't want to get "caught up in the need, working so much that we run out of God's love and end up pouring our human compassion, which is nice but it doesn’t save souls." Someone at Urbana must have said this next statement, which I recorded: "We are not made to be Energizer Bunnies!" I longed to be grounded in my love for Jesus and to minister out of that.
I also noted that God was beginning to shape my understanding of racism and our response. After one Urbana session on the topic of racial reconciliation, I wrote, "God is changing my heart so that I actually looked forward to this [session] instead of just thinking it was a politically correct thing. I am seeing the importance." I went on to write about how one speaker encouraged us to be learners — to pray for a friend of a different race, to read books explaining another culture. I took this very seriously and read many books in this next year about the African-American experience: More Than Equals, The Autobiography of Malcom X, and Roots (which I actually couldn’t finish because it was just too emotionally intense for me to handle).
I am so grateful for these messages — God used them to shape me as a minister of the gospel.
At this Urbana, I was 25 years old. Jon and I had been married for only two months! I was so glad that Jon could attend the conference with me. This was my first Urbana as an InterVarsity staff worker. I had heard about how hard InterVarsity staff needed to work at Urbana — and I discovered that it was true! When Jon and I returned from Urbana, we both promptly got sick with colds.
Here are two highlights from this Urbana experience:
Gloria Steinem & the Christian Life
I read quite a bit of a
Gloria Steinem book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, at
conference. Our jobs required us to sit and wait a lot,
and I had just received this
book for Christmas, so I took advantage of this time to
read and journal.
Steinem’s bold attitude complemented the things I was learning through the Urbana conference itself. I was motivated to begin my journey of putting aside my desires to be viewed as a "good person" or a "good staffworker," and instead to listen to what God wants me to do and then do it. I received increased courage to go back to campus and be more directive in my staffwork. I had renewed confidence in my God-given skills and abilities to lead the chapter, and this was of great benefit to the DePaul InterVarsity chapter.
There was a great emphasis on racial reconciliation at this Urbana conference. I committed myself anew to be an advocate, a champion for those who need a voice. I wrote, "I want to teach students about this and do it myself too. Such joy and freedom — like the decision to go on staff!"
By God’s grace, I have seen fruit from this commitment — many relationships with students of color, much learning about justice in my own life, and great personal healing related to this issue. I see fruit in my students, too — they love singing songs from different cultures, two students attended the Chicago Urban Program this past summer, and many conversations and much education has occurred.
I thank God for the good fruit I’ve seen in my life and in the lives of DePaul students since Urbana 2000.
This year I am 28 years old, I'm in my seventh year on staff, and Jon and I have been married for three years. I'm at the point when college students think I'm old (!). :) And I'm looking forward to seeing what God will do this year at Urbana!
Jon and I will be very busy, as usual. I will be working in the InterVarsity Press store — selling, stacking, and organizing books. Jon will be telling interested people about InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministries in the exhibit hall. You can pray that we will have servant hearts and boundless energy.
We have nine DePaul InterVarsity students signed up for Urbana 2003. There are also be quite a few DePaul students who are involved in the Gospel Choir, although I do not know their names. Pray for them! Here are the first names of the students from the InterVarsity chapter:
May God use this conference to further his purposes in the world and on campus!
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