Dishwashing and Urbana?

It was one of those times every college kid dreams of: those four plus weeks when the papers are done, textbooks are forgotten, and the biggest thing you have to worry about is what to buy your family for Christmas.

After a busy first semester at Eastern Michigan University, Carrie was relishing her winter break back in 2012. She’d taken the chance to make a little extra money babysitting and had just gotten the kids settled down for the night.

Returning to the kitchen, Carrie sighed and rolled up her sleeves before starting in on the mountain of dirty dishes overflowing in the sink.

“Carrie, I want you to go to Urbana.”

Carrie nearly dropped the plate she was holding. She turned around, looked over the counter. No one was there. But still she’d heard those words even though she didn’t know what an Urbana was. She waited a second to hear if there would be more of a message. Nothing.

Carrie looked over her shoulder again, half-expecting someone to pop out of nowhere. After half a minute, there was still nothing, just the sound of water splashing into the sink. She returned to scraping away dinner’s leftovers, feeling a little unsettled.

After what seemed like forever, the dishes were done, and Carrie grabbed her laptop, logging on to Facebook. She scrolled through a couple posts, watched some random videos, and then came across something that sent chills down her spine.

It was a video about Urbana.

“Carrie, I want you to go to Urbana,” the words echoed through her mind again. She clicked on the link without even thinking.

Music began to play as pictures of thousands of students lifting their hands in worship flashed across the screen followed by speaker after speaker—some powerful, shouting with others more quiet, thoughtful—all talking about serving God as missionaries and responding to his call.

Carrie felt goosebumps prickling her skin and the tears welling up in her eyes. She had more questions than answers at this point, but she knew one thing for sure. She was supposed to go to Urbana.

Then the end of the video brought a cold dose of reality. Urbana 12 was happening at the end of December, and it was way past the deadline to register.

Forcing back a wave of panic, Carrie began to pray, “Father, if this is what you want for me, you have to provide because Urbana is in like two weeks, and I have zero dollars to make that happen on my own.”

The next couple days saw Carrie getting in touch with her campus staff minister to learn more about Urbana and to see what it would take for her to go. Settling back into work mode, she set up a PayPal account and wrote up an email to all her friends and family, explaining how she felt called to go to Urbana and that she needed to raise close to $500.

With shaky hands, she hit the “send” button and then waited, feeling helpless. As she sat there, memories started returning. She remembered being a young girl, hearing the awful news that one of her parents had lost a job, wondering how everything was going to work out, feeling helpless just like now.

Carrie did her best not to check her account every five minutes, waiting to see if someone had given yet. Little by little, money started trickling in, and with it her excitement about going to St. Louis began to grow.

After three days, she stared down at the screen in shock. She had the money. She was going to Urbana.

Those next few days flew by. Christmas arrived with lots of laughter and presents, caroling and celebration. And then the day finally came when Carrie walked in to the America’s Center in St. Louis, the huge Urbana banner in the front lobby welcoming her in.

Everywhere she looked, students were flooding the building with bright smiles and a contagious buzz of excitement. The expectation that God was about to do something amazing only grew in Carrie’s heart.

She walked into the main auditorium and just stood there staring for a second at the thousands and thousands of students who’d come seeking God’s will for their lives, watching the flashing, glowing lights, and hearing the excited murmur and lively music blend together. 

The first session began, and the worship team led the crowd in song after song, filling the stadium with praise and carrying Carrie away along with it. As the expositor Calisto Odede took the stage along with so many other passionate speakers, Carrie felt God calling her to surrender to his plans.

While listening to the messages, she suddenly had a flashback to ten years earlier at summer camp. As an eight-year-old, she had been sitting in the old red barn, a cool breeze blowing in from the open doors. A young woman had stood up, explaining how she would be leaving soon to be a missionary in Indonesia.

She then began talking about passages from Isaiah and Samuel, about God calling out to people to surrender to him and to go into the world with his message. In that moment, Carrie suddenly felt God speaking into her heart, “That’s what I want you to do.”

“But I’m only a second grader! I can’t be a missionary now,” Carrie silently exclaimed. “I have school.”

“Not now. I will remind you of your call later,” came his response.

Surrender. The word drew Carrie back to the present. At Urbana, she’d heard the word so many times from so many different speakers, and she was hearing it again now.

At that moment, Carrie couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. The reminder of her first being called to be a missionary as a child, the way God had brought her to Urbana, all she’d seen and heard here—it was just too much for her.

“If this is what you have for me, I’ll do this, I’ll go. I surrender,” she whispered, lifting her hands. 

She didn’t know right then what being a missionary would look like, where it would take her, but God’s call was too clear not to respond.

The idea of telling her parents about what had happened at Urbana was both exciting and terrifying, but when Carrie finally did, her mom just nodded, saying she’d never forgotten about Carrie’s summer camp experience.

In the coming days and months, God began to make Carrie’s calling more clear. At first, it was the chance to study abroad in Spain and witnessing to her host family about Christ. Then Carrie served on the global program in Bolivia at a summer camp for girls in danger of the sex trade. Most recently, God led her to joining InterVarsity staff in Florida.

“That first initial call has continued to resound throughout my life,” Carrie reflected back on what happened at Urbana 12. “Even if you’re not clear about why you’re being asked to go, I would say that if you have an open mind and an open heart, God can do so much with that. All God asks for is to have open hands and to say, ‘Yes,’ to what the next step is. It can be scary to think about five, ten, twenty years down the road and what that could mean, but that’s not what he’s asking you to focus on. All he is asking and inviting you into is this next step.”