Friday, June 09, 2006

Urbana as a Mobilization Tool

If you haven't heard already, this year is an Urbana year. Urbana is InterVarsity's triennial student missions conference. The first conference started in 1946 and since then, Urbana has seen over 220,00 students be a part of the conference. From the Urbana website: Urbana has sought to accomplish four objectives:

1. Declare God's character and mission as revealed in Scripture (missio Dei).
2. Inform participants about the current realities in global missions.
3. Call all participants to join God's mission.
4. Motivate participants to serve in global and crosscultural missions.

We have sent some college students from GCC to Urbana ever since I can remember. In 2003, I helped coordinate our group that went. Although I have never been to Urbana, I think it can be a great mobilization tool, given the right environment and context. If you are thinking of sending a group of students, or even going yourself, I offer the following ideas to think about:

1 - In order for there to be real, sustainable transformation, your students should have someone to guide them through the experience. This is a large scale event with this year's estimates being 20,000 students, 200 seminars and 300 mission agencies. If you love information about missions and the state of the world, I'm sure Urbana has the best, most recent statistics, trends and figures [something this blog loves by the way.] But information alone does not transform and big is not always better.

Ideally, each group would have a mentor-type of person go with them, that would organize a time for the group to come together every day or other day, simply to interact about the information that the group has gathered.

2 - Do they have a calling to vocational missions? Our last group included a group of 5 guys that knew they wanted to serve short term within the 10-40 window. They had essentially already assembled a team, had a fix on a locality and had some thought out goals. At the mission agency fair, or whatever you call it, they had recruiters chasing them down. That summer, the spent 3 weeks in Kazakhstan. If your students have a call to full time vocational cross cultural missions, this would be the context to make a great connection. If they don't, they may have to wade through a lot of options.

3 - Follow up with the group. Similar to a reentry or debrief, people that go to Urbana need to process what they have experienced. In 2003, we hosted a party for the students that went, which served to give them time with each other just to talk about the experience again.

To give you a feel for our experience, in 2003 we had about 22 people from GCC go. A small group of these students had gone before in 2000 and were going for the second time. Roughly, 12 of this 22 did some kind of cross cultural experience since then - 4 of them with SPACE including this coming summer. Not all of that was missions either, some of them studied abroad. Out of the older group that went to Urbana in 2000 and 2003, a few of them decided to go for a year or more in the 10-40 window and are there right now.

So far, I don't think anyone in this group has chosen to be career vocational missionaries, although some are very close. But most of them are definitely people that live on a mission, that know that God chooses to bless others through them. Urbana didn't do that exclusively for them - but it certainly gave them the means to live some wild experiences in another culture.

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