by Various FPC Ubana Attendees
This was my third time to experience Urbana. The first was 34 years ago. I heard Billy Graham, Elizabeth Elliot, Ray Bakke and Joanne Shetler. David Bryant lead us in a concert of prayer during which we prayed for the most closed country anyone knew about at the time, Albania. It powerfully propelled me into my first short term mission trip to Eastern Europe in 1985, after which I began to consider leaving my position at Head Start to somehow be engaged in more eternal work.
My second was 1993. I was newly hired at FPC having just just finished my MA in Cross Cultural Studies from what was then the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. In my role as the Director of Mission Involvement, I accompanied 20 + college students from our church. Among them were Greg Ehlert, Amy Helzer (now Stolte), and Cindy Haley (now Sterling). We heard Ajith Fernando, Ravi Zacharias, Issac Canales, Tom Sine and Steve Hayner. It was powerful.
Every three years since 1993, I've been committed to inviting & assisting college students from FPC to attend InterVarsity's 5-Day mission conference. Some years the groups have been small, others have been large. It's always been worth it. What joy to attend with the group again this year. It was my first St. Louis Urbana experience. (Since 1948 the conference had been held at the University of Illinois - thus the name Urbana. Moving to St Louis in 2006 allowed for 22,500 to attend. It's been held there ever since.) I came away with a great sense that the gospel is in good hands. I trust you will enjoy these reflections from three of our attendees.
You might also enjoy watching this video we showed in worship earlier this year.
Urbana 2018 was so life-changing! I feel so incredibly blessed that I got to experience it. It was amazing to be in the same place with so many diverse Christ-followers the same age as me. Worship in several different languages made me feel like I was part of something so much bigger than me, and it was one of the best glimpses of what the Kingdom will truly look like that I've ever experienced. I got to be stretched by seminars about SSA/Q ministry, Southeast Asia human trafficking, prophetic praying, and loving your atheist neighbor.
The thing that changed my lifestyle the most was probably a chapel we had about the concept of "Babylon" mentioned often in Revelation. We were asked what our own "personal Babylons" were (what convenient/comfortable lifestyles do we trade for God's righteous and hard call on our life). After a while in prayer, I felt like God was called me to a couple of things to live a more fruitful (but harder) life: He led me to give up makeup, buying new clothing/coffee/other products (unless they are fair-trade), and subscribing to Amazon Prime (who has been known to exploit low socio-economic employees).
Urbana made me reflect on how I see the Kingdom of God, and how much I am willing to get rid of the things that the world tells me I need in order to have a good life in order to accept the fruitful lifestyle God offers. Jesus called the early church in Revelation to be different and not of this world, and He calls us to the same thing. We are to be people who sacrifice our comfort for the justice and love of others and to stand firm against compromise.
Coming to an Urbana convention has been on my "bucket list" since becoming a Christ follower in my college days (40 years ago). So being finally able to come was literally a dream come true for me.
My biggest take away was the experience I had of worshipping our amazing God with 13,000 other like-minded, grateful and praising people from so many nations and people groups around the world. All of them lifting voices together, and reaching out with their whole being to the one who brought them eternal life. It is not easy to put words to that experience, other than it seemed to me to be a little taste of heaven itself.
My other take away (on the other side of that scale) was the presence of the "wolves" demonstrating outside of the convention, that were seeking to sow doubt into the minds of the young tender hearted participants who are trying to figure out what it could mean to follow Jesus. They were promoting a works-based salvation, mixing the old and new covenants, and basically accusing the protestant movement of being gnostic in nature. It just reinforced to me the need to preach Christ, and the good news of grace, the gift of God that is foolish to those who wish to justify themselves.
Honestly, I was a little daunted to go to Urbana. The way everyone was preparing me, I expected to see my life plans obliterated and the clouds parted and an angel handing me a scroll with imperative directions, "SELL EVERYTHING AND MOVE TO PAPA NEW GUINEA" on it. So, as you would expect, I was on the edge of my seat in every session, waiting nervously for the heavens to break open. SPOILER, they didn't. I sat down in the Worship; Reflection Prayer room and tucked myself into a tiny corner. I'm naturally reflective, and the layers of new people, booths, organizations, countries, ministries, opportunities, sessions, and seminars was a little more than my head could process. My head swam with questions screaming for clarity. Should I go to college? Which one? Or what about that ministry? Or that organization? Wait! If I do that, then that means X, Y and Z will need this. Or if I go there, will that get me to where I want to go? Where do I want to go? Hello?
I sat with my journal and Bible open. I was determined to meet Jesus and get my answers. Jesus met me, but he didn't have an answer. He had another question for me. It pierced. "Amelia, are you here to arrange your plans, or to meet me?" Oh, I laid down my journal and stared at the other hundred students in this room. Oh, Jesus, forgive me. "Do you trust me?" He pursued. In all honesty, I didn't. That's why I've been trying to make my own 'travel plans.' That's why I spent way too much of my time weighing every option and trying to pry open ways for me to go. Because at the end of the day, as much as I loved, adored, obeyed Jesus. I trusted him about as much as I trusted my golden retriever to stay out of my socks. "Let me have your fears, just stay here with me a little longer." His gentle whisper settled my soul with peace. "Okay." I exhaled and let everything slide away. I stayed there for two hours and prayed with a heart open to Jesus.
Urbana was an incredible experience to me, because, during a massive conference, there was still space for an intimate God to find each of us wherever we were in our walk with him, and to see our steps redirected accordingly.