After I attended my first Urbana Student Mission Conference in 1973 as a 19-year-old college sophomore from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, I returned home exhilarated: the size of the conference, the caliber of the speakers, the awesome worship, the array of workshops and exhibits, and the small group interactions combined to make that conference one of the greatest experiences of my life to that point. At the “anywhere-Jesus-says-I’ll-go” challenge, I stood and dedicated myself to go wherever God would send me in the world. My wife, Christie (who I did not meet until 1977), did the same.
I came home from that conference exhilarated, enthusiastic, exhausted and overwhelmed:
- How do I communicate to others what I’ve learned and seen and experienced?
- What do I do with all of the information gleaned?
- What are my next steps after my commitment?
- How can I filter the mega experiences into tangible applications for the year ahead?
I learned in 1973 (and since then at eleven other Urbana conferences) that the post-Urbana period requires that I make time for significant reflection and processing. Otherwise, Urbana can simply be an awesome ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience.
So, with a few Urbana conferences behind me, I offer here my way for filtering through, reflecting and processing Urbana 15. Our categories might be different, but I hope my suggestions serve as an example for taking the amazing Urbana 15 experience and putting what we learned into action.
5 Big Memories
Thinking through the entire conference and identifying my five biggest memories gives me a handle on how to report the experience to those that were not there. Nobody wants to hear my day-by-day, minute-by-minute experiences, but if I report on my greatest memories, it helps me identify what God was saying to me.
David Platt’s challenge to prioritize love for Jesus over service for Jesus brought me back to worship. Christina Cleveland and Michelle Higgins challenged me to “cross the room” and listen to the pain of my sisters and brothers in order to bridge ethnic and racial divides. Remembering those who are persecuted reminded me to pray daily for brothers & sisters in Iran. Seeing over 5,000 stand and commit their lives to cross-cultural service challenged me to remember the commitment I made in 1973. And the call to take risks from Allan Matamoros from Costa Rica will stay with me for the rest of my life.
What are your big five?
4 Messages or Workshops to Revisit
Recordings of most of the general sessions and seminars at Urbana 15 are available on urbana.org for viewing, listening and downloading. General sessions are here and seminars are here.
What messages, testimonies or workshops do you want to hear or see again? For me, I want to watch Patrick Fung’s Bible Studies and several of the other plenary speakers so that I can listen more slowly and take notes. And looking through the workshop listings again, I know there are several that I could not attend but I want to hear now.
Which four seminars or general session talks do you want to listen to?
3 Books to Read
I hope you took advantage of the amazing bookstore and the inexpensive books-of-the-day (I read one of these before I even arrived at Urbana J). But now that we’ve bought all of these great resources, will we read them?
Having benefitted greatly from past Urbana conferences, I try to come home with three books to read, one in each of three categories:
- an inspirational book (biography or testimony) that reminds me that God uses broken people like me to achieve his global purposes;
- a book designed to help me go deeper in my understanding of God (theology) and my understanding of his mission in the world (missiology);
- and a book that helps me understand and respond to a global issue (for example: understanding Islam, working together towards racial reconciliation, advocating for the persecuted church, etc.).
What are your three resources?
2 new contacts for prayer, learning, involvement, or networking
I always celebrate the sheer size and diversity of the Urbana crowd—16,000 attendees from every state in the Unites States, every province in Canada, and dozens of other countries! And these are my brothers and sisters. My family enlarges at Urbana.
But I learned long ago that I cannot possibly stay in touch with all the new and diverse people I meet at Urbana… so I try to come home with at least two: one from my own culture and one from outside my culture. These contacts have become our prayer partners, our outreach associates, and our hosts in other lands.
My wife Christie and I met a Nigerian participant at the Kenyan “Urbana” in 1991. We stayed in touch as I served in a church and he served in student ministry. We met when he came to visit the United States. He and his wife hosted us in Zimbabwe and later Ghana. We’ve ministered together in Nigeria and Ethiopia. Femi Adeleye and I had a rich reunion at Urbana 15 with our friendship of now almost 25 years as we both led workshops.
Who do you want to stay in touch with from Urbana 15?
1 Significant Life Change
I’m still processing this one. On a personal level, was there a significant area of my life where I was convicted of sin and the need for change? David Platt challenged my purity when he pointed out the hypocrisy of fighting the sex trade while at the same time funding it through sinful behaviors. Michelle Higgins challenged my commitment to getting more informed and involved with combating racism. I’m still listening to the Lord about a primary area of growth after Urbana 15.
Perhaps the life change is related to ministry and outreach. After Urbana 81 I committed myself to learning about the other world religions. After Urbana 87, I concentrated on urban ministry. Urbana 2000 challenged me to integrate my commitment to cross-cultural mission with my personal and corporate commitment to worship. Urbana 12 challenged me towards greater cross-cultural outreach locally.
What’s God saying to you? Looking for one significant life change may be less than God wants for you. Maybe there are several takeaways that he has spoken to you about. Take time to listen to God, process what you heard and experienced, and move forward.
I pray that the learning, worshipping, praying, and experiencing of Urbana 15 will change your life. Maybe a few of these launch ideas can help.