WHAT NOW? Returning from Urbana 18 and Launching into 2019

January 17, 2019 │ By Paul Borthwick

After I attended my first Urbana Student Missions 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 seminars and exhibits, and the small group interactions combined to make that conference one of the greatest experiences of my life up 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, wondering:

  • how do I communicate to others what I’ve learned and seen and experienced?
  • what do I do with all the information that I gleaned?
  • what are my next steps after my commitment?
  • how do I follow through with ministries I met at the exhibit hall or learned about through the Urbana offering?
  • how can I filter the mega experiences into tangible applications for the year ahead?

I learned in 1973 (and since then at 12 other Urbana conferences) that the post-Urbana period requires making 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 up my way for filtering through, reflecting, and processing Urbana 18. Our ways of reflecting may look a little different from each other’s, but I hope that my suggestions can serve as an example to help you put the amazing things you learned and experienced at Urbana into action.

Since Urbana 18 featured many exhortations to go into the world, I’ll use the illustration of a rocket launch—Urbana 18 started the year 2019 by launching us out into missions. With this launch theme in mind, here’s my 5-4-3-2-1 countdown, just like the way we all entered 2019 counting down the new year.

FIVE 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 who 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. 

  1. Sarah Breuel’s call to commitment reminded me to prioritize love for Jesus over service for Jesus.
  2. Our Revelation 2 Bible study on the church in Smyrna awakened me again to the reality that rather than delivering us, Jesus takes us through tough times.
  3. Remembering those who are persecuted reminded me to daily pray for brothers and sisters to be faithful witnesses in places like Iran or the Sudan.
  4. Seeing hundreds hold up their white flags of surrender to Jesus exhorted me to make sure that I’m doing the same daily.
  5. And witnessing thousands kneel and pray to commit to God’s global mission challenged me to remember the commitment I made in 1973. 

FOUR Messages or Seminars to Revisit 

The great thing about Urbana 18 is that recordings for most of the general sessions and many of the seminars are already available online for us to revisit. 

What messages, testimonies, or seminars do you want to review? I know I want to hear René Breuel’s expositions and several of the other plenary speakers’ messages too, so I can listen more slowly and take notes. And after looking through the seminars list again, I see several that I could not attend but still want to hear.

THREE Books to Read 

I hope that you took advantage of the amazing bookstore and the Urbana Books of the Day. (If you’re still looking for books, InterVarsity Press is a great place to start.) But now that many of us have bought all 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 these categories:

  1. an inspirational book (biography or testimony) that reminds me that God uses broken people like me to achieve his global purposes
  2. a book designed to help me go deeper in my understanding of God (theology) and my understanding of his mission in the world (missiology)
  3. a book that helps me understand and respond to a global issue, for example, understanding Islam, working together toward racial reconciliation, advocating for the persecuted church

TWO New Contacts for Prayer, Learning, Involvement, or Networking 

I always celebrate the sheer size and diversity of the Urbana crowd—over 10,000 participants from the U.S., 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 contacts: one from my own culture and one outside of my culture. These people have become our prayer partners, outreach associates, and hosts in other lands. 

My wife Christie and I met a Nigerian participant, Femi Adeleye, at the Kenyan “Urbana” in 1991. We stayed in touch as I served in a church, and he served in student ministry. Over 25 years, we have visited each other and ministered together in several different countries. And we had a rich reunion at Urbana 18 as we both led seminars and sat together to welcome in the New Year.

ONE Significant Life Change 

I’m still listening to the Lord and processing this one. Was there a significant area of my life where I was convicted of sin and the need for repentance and change? Scott Bessenecker challenged my assimilation into affluent middle-class lifestyle and pointed out the “Babylons” in my world. Student testimonies about outreach on their campuses provoked a new dedication to reaching out to my neighbors with the love of Jesus.

Perhaps the life change is related to ministry and outreach. After Urbana 81, I committed myself to learning about the other world religions, and after Urbana 87, I concentrated on urban ministry. Urbana 2000 challenged me to integrate my commitment to cross-cultural missions with my personal and corporate commitment to worship. Urbana 15 intensified my commitment to be intentional and take initiatives toward racial reconciliation.

What’s God saying to you? Looking for one significant life change may be less than what God wants for you. Maybe he has several takeaways in mind. Take time to listen to God, process what you heard and experienced, and move forward.

I pray that the teaching, worship, prayer, and experience of Urbana 18 will change your life.