This December 27-31 is Urbana 09, InterVarsity's 22nd student missions conference. So right now I'm in the midst of sending a slew of Urbana-related books to the printer and helping to plan things for the onsite bookstore. If you're thinking of attending, registration fees bump up on Oct. 17, so now is a good time to register. Urbana is an amazing, life-changing experience. Below is a testimony I shared with my IVP colleagues in 2003 in anticipation of Urbana 03, reflecting on my experiences at Urbana 93:
I went to Urbana 93 as a senior in college, and it was a defining experience in my life. I got scholarships from my InterVarsity chapter, college and church, which combined was enough to cover all the convention fees and travel costs! So I knew God wanted me there.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry for Monday, Dec. 27, 1993: “The auditorium was packed to the hilt with over 18,000 students singing ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.’ The worship experience brought me to tears. The theme for this year’s Urbana is ‘God So Loves the World,’ with the focus being on God’s extravagant love for us. And wow, I was overwhelmed with a tangible sense of the power of God’s ultimate, infinite love. All of the thousands of us joined hands in prayer for us to know the love of God, for it to be infused into our lives, and for it to empower us to minister to this world. It was just awesome.” And then I note, “Afterward I picked up a packet of books.”
The next day I discovered the IVP bookstore. I was already an IVP Book Club member and literature coordinator for my IV chapter, so I already had lots of IVP books. But a whole store of IVP books! And all these bargains and specials and packages! Kid in a candy store. My journal entry from Dec. 28 says, “After lunch I journeyed to the Armory, where exhibits of mission agencies and organizations were set up, and the awesome coolest thing was a huge IVP bookstore with thousands upon thousands of IVP books on dozens of shelves. I was in IVP heaven. I bought over 30 IVP books for $93.50. I just went nuts and hauled back a huge box full of IVP books. It was awesome cool.” And my journal says that I didn’t make it to any seminars that day because I spent all afternoon in the Armory. And that was just the first day. The bookstore was selling the BSTs with the old covers at clearance prices. I bought them all. I bought every bargain book available. And this was the year that the books of the day were these shrink-wrapped packages with four books and a video. I bought every package. You know how they say that Urbana is like drinking from a firehose? In my case, it was a firehose that was spewing IVP books. All the money that the scholarships saved me? It went to IVP.
Then there was the convention program itself. Several things hit me during the plenary sessions. First, a tentmaking missionary in China talked about how she had gone to the most isolated village in China. They had gone as far as the train would go, then by car as far as the road would go, then on foot as far as they could go to this totally remote place. When they got to this village, the kids came running up and said, “Americans! Are you Americans? Do you have Coca-Cola?” And they said, “No, we don’t have Coca-Cola. We’re here to tell you about Jesus. Do you know who Jesus is?” They shook their heads and said no, we don’t know who Jesus is. Then the missionary said, we were in the remotest part of the world, and people had heard the name of Coca-Cola, but they had never heard the name of Jesus Christ. Wow.
Then on Thursday the 30th, there was an offering for IFES. The person leading the offering time challenged the delegates by saying, “Many of you have bought things for yourselves this week. We challenge you give as much to this offering for others as you have spent on yourself.” At that point, I had spent over $150 just on IVP books and a sweatshirt. So I wrote a check for $150 for IFES.
A few more journal entries. Dec. 31. “I went to a seminar by Dr. James Sire, whose IVP books I have a lot of. But I was just so drained, I fell asleep during the session.”
Jan. 1, 1994. “I just celebrated the new year and the end of Urbana with 18,000 people! Tonight’s worship closing session was absolutely awesome. Thousands have committed themselves to lives of Christian ministry, service and mission, across the country and around the world, on campuses, to students, to children, to Muslims, Arabs, homeless, poor, urban centers, Buddhists, everything imaginable. It’s just staggering to think about what kind of impact these 18,000 people can have on this world and for the kingdom of God.”
And after I got home, Jan. 2. “I showed Ellen my Urbana stuff and gave her an Urbana NRSV Bible, an Operation World, and an IVP book on dating that I also got for myself. I figured it might be nice for both of us to have. I showed her the Urbana summary video and told her all about the week.”
On my commitment card, I’d committed to getting missions training and reading books on missions. All week I wrestled with how God might use me in missions. Little did I know that three years later, my job would be to help plan the IVP bookstore at Urbana 96! God is good.