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What’s Urbana? I can hear you asking.
Urbana is a missions conference sponsored by Intervarsity. The conference takes place every three years between Christmas and New Years on the campus of the University of Illionois in Urbana/Champagne, Illinois. The conference is specifically geared towards college students, and the conference is designed to challenge students to consider missions.
I actually had the opportunity to go to this conference twice – once in 1990 during my freshmen year in college and once in 1993 during my senior year in college. I have great memories of both times. In a way, Urbana ’93 came at a more critical time in my life as I was processing what to do after graduation. Maybe I’ll share more about that in another post.
Urbana ’90 was an eye-opening experience. In a way, it felt like I was being thrust into a more adult existence during this conference as I faced big issues and wrestled through challenging topics with other students. My dad was there, but I didn’t seem him often as he stayed in a different dorm and participated in different activities geared towards pastors. At Urbana ’90, I stayed with three other friends from my home town in Mt. Holly, NJ – Andy Travis, Paul Braun, and James Harton (pictured above).
Together, the four of us spent the conference listening to great speakers, worshiping with 20,000 other college students, talking to missionaries in the exhibit hall, and debriefing in a small group in the dorm (with the guy standing behind us in the picture). In between all these activities, we walked around the snowy University of Illinois campus.
One of my favorite speakers from Urbana ’90 was Isaac Canales (funny that my son is named Isaac). His message was hilarious, but it was also powerful in challenging my heart. I can’t find a video feed of the message, but I found another video of Pastor Canales that features some of the same elements of his message at Urbana. If you have a few minutes, you’ll enjoy listening to Isaac Canales:
It’s kind of interesting that none of us became full-time missionaries. Andy is a scientist, Paul is a professor at the University of Illinois, James is a musician, and I’m an engineer/manager. I think the term missionary carries a certain expectation that can miss the mark. When we hear the word missionary, we expect to hear about someone who has gone overseas and who works full-time for a missions organization serving others and spreading the Word of God. God can still use us right where we are. We can be missionaries in our neighborhoods, in our places of employment, and in our other activities. I think this must be one of the messages that I came away with when I left Urbana.
As I remember this conference which took place over 20 years ago, I’m thankful for the springboard towards missions that took place. I still have an interest in missions overseas, but I’ve also realized that God calls us to be missionaries right where we live and work. You can read some of my thoughts on this in my post: Where Is Your Xenacoj? Missions has definitely become a focus in our family, and I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes us as we continue to serve Him.
If you are a college student, I would highly recommend that you check out Urbana. The next one is coming up this year – Urbana 12! For more information, click here. (I just discovered that the conference is now held in St. Louis, Missouri – still worth the drive!)
Have you ever been to a conference that changed your world? Tell us about it.
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