Paul Borthwick first attended Urbana 73, where he and his wife both committed to joining God’s global mission. Since then, he has returned for 11 more Urbana conferences as a speaker, missions expert, guest, advisor, and friend. Throughout the years, each Urbana has been uniquely, intentionally designed to call the present generation of students into a lifetime of mission. Even so, Paul has noticed some common threads, Urbana’s DNA, interwoven within each of the conferences he’s attended.
1. Urbana Is Inspirational
Grounding itself in Scripture, Urbana invites global voices to share the Lord’s encouraging, convicting message. Past Urbana speakers include Billy Graham, Elisabeth Elliot, Francis Chan, Ajith Fernando, David Platt, and Brenda Salter McNeil. They, along with many others, have inspired students to expand their view of God to a global scale and recognize the triumphs and challenges of believers across the world.
2. Urbana Is Directional
Many come to Urbana with no idea about what God wants them to do with the rest of their lives. Others arrive with a strong sense of calling but cannot see its connection to the Great Commission. Wherever participants find themselves, Urbana offers a sacred space to step away from the busyness of life to seek the Lord’s leading.
While God calls some students to change majors and locations, he also uses Urbana to remind many that their gifts and passions qualify them as missionaries right where they are. Just as one example, #Hack4Missions, Urbana’s hackathon, has confirmed many in their interests by showing how technology can spread the gospel and address many challenges that missions organizations face.
3. Urbana Is Relational
With thousands gathering from across North America, it seems inevitable that many students end up feeling lost in the crowd. But Urbana designs intentional spaces to foster community and deep personal connections, including Daily Debrief groups every night for participants to reflect on their experiences, and also prayer ministry, where students meet with prayer counselors for discernment and intercession.
4. Urbana Is Informational
Urbana hosts 200 seminar speakers—distinguished thought leaders, experts in the corporate world, and veteran missionaries—to mentor students and provide practical guidance. Through seminars, many have been equipped to start their own organizations or make existing ones even more effective in God’s global mission. Others have learned the next steps in fulfilling their calling or have had their eyes opened to tangible ways they can join Christ’s kingdom work.
5. Urbana Is Experiential
Whether it was a life-changing sermon, an invitation to join a missions organization, or what seemed to be a chance encounter, thousands still remember how God moved in their lives at Urbana even decades later. The worship with its rich variety of cultures, worship styles, and languages, has inspired many, giving them a glimpse of what it will be like to one day praise the Kings of kings with people from every nation, tongue, and tribe. While online streaming can give a taste of the Urbana experience, nothing compares with worshiping, learning, and growing together with thousands.