A friend of ours - Paul Borthwick - who wrote the intro to our latest book, Through the River, just shared key observations about this Urbana. Here is his facebook post reprinted with his permission:
URBANA 2009 – Borthwick’s Top 10
Upon returning from Inter-Varsity’s Urbana 2009 Student Mission Convention (more at www.urbana09.org) in St. Louis (December 27th through January 1st), I reflected both personally (to Christie) and publicly (to our Facebook “Team Borthwick”) that I thought Urbana 2009 was “one of the best ever” Urbanas that I’ve attended (and I’ve been at 10 since 1973). Immediately the question came back, “Why?”
Objectively, it was not the largest Urbana on record: the 16,000+ attendees this year is still remarkable but I think that Urbana 2000, 2003, and 2006 were all larger.
Subjectively, I missed being there with Christie as in past Urbanas. And Urbana 09 was not my most significant public ministry role. Nothing will compare to the awesome privilege of giving the call-to-commitment address at Urbana 2000, and though I taught seminars and participated in the Pastor’s Program in 09, I wasn’t in charge of anything. (My friend Ken Fong [Bible expositor, Urbana 2000] & I wanted to start a group of “Urbana has-beens” but no one cared J)
So why one of the best ever? Here are my combined objective-subjective highlights – with a little prioritization:
HIGHLIGHT #10: Convergence. For me personally, God deeply encouraged me by helping me see how the ministry of developing leaders with Development Associates International (DAI) serves the other networks we touch – like Gordon College, Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and Urbana. At Urbana 09, I met at least half-dozen college-age children of our peers and DAI support team. I saw former and future Gordon students who are preparing for overseas service. I interacted with leaders DAI has served or will soon be serving in Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, and more. And I met international leaders who have been DAI trainers or students (or both).
HIGHLIGHT #9: A true kaleidoscope of cultural diversity (Revelation 7:9). We were led in worship by a multi-cultural team who led us into a different cultural “neighborhood” in each session. Speakers and teachers came from around the world – Kenya, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Costa Rica, Rwanda, India, and many, many more. One estimate reported that attendees came from more than 100+ countries.
HIGHLIGHT #8: In Christ Alone at communion. Bringing in the New Year with a 16,000 person communion service is always a highlight, but this year was exceptional. While singing “In Christ Alone,” students around us spontaneously stood and lifted their communion cups towards heaven as they belted out the crescendo: “No power of hell; no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.” Given the dangerous places God will call these students to, it was a profound moment.
HIGHLIGHT #7: Managing tensions of ministry in the modern world. Greg Jao, a brilliant emcee and primary Urbana host, summarized each session by articulating the tensions of living as salt and light in the world. He noted the complexities related to Kingdom living – the Gospel preached and lived, incarnational ministry in the tough places, and balancing our "this world/next world" motivation. He challenged students to wrestle with the Scriptures as they address these global and local realities. One vivid illustration sticks in my mind: one speaker is a zealous advocate of pacifism, but another ministers to gang members and carries his own gun. No easy answers indeed!
HIGHLIGHT #6: Seriously reflective, passionate students. Any Urbana attendee will tell you that the worship is a highlight at every conference, but this year seemed different. Rather than the emotional response of standing ovations after a challenging message, students seemed quieter and more contemplative – as they pondered the meaning for their own lives. Workshops filled to over-flowing, even on the last day. As York Moore (http://tellthestory.net/) stated in one of his reports:
Many Inter Varsity staff who have been to Urbanas for decades have said this is the most spiritually hungry group of Urbana students they’ve ever seen. Seminars have been pouring out onto adjacent halls and floors, long lines to get into Bible studies, and students weeping in the main session as speaker after speaker challenged them to live for Christ!
HIGHLIGHT #5: “Live to be forgotten.” Dr. Patrick Fung, International Director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship, told the story of learning of the hundreds of name-less men and women who sacrificed their lives to bring the Gospel to his native China and many other places. Maybe it’s just because I’m 55 and sometimes feeling like a ‘has-been,’ it was a powerful reminder of living with a “Jesus must increase; I must decrease” value system. [For any who have heard the “Make Me a Footnote” sermon on Ananias, it was a loud Amen!]
HIGHLIGHT #4: Connected to history. Maybe it’s just my age again, but I deeply appreciated the intentional commitment to and honoring of those who have gone before us, so that students understood that our contemporary ministry opportunities in the world have often been made possible by others who paid a price. Patrick Fung paid tribute to the sacrifices of Hudson Taylor and the early missionaries to China. Ramez Atallah honored leaders like Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar for their prophetic call for a holistic Gospel. On decision-day, Dave Howard – who attended the first “Urbana” as a student in 1946 – got front page coverage as he testified to living out the decision he made 63 years ago.
HIGHLIGHT #3: Testimony from Disciple X from Y. I can’t tell you a name nor a location, but I think this testimony – of a family living for Jesus in one of THE most difficult places on earth since the 70’s – was the most profound challenge to long-term obedience that I have ever heard at Urbana.
HIGHLIGHT #2: Jim and Beth Tebbe’s decision. I’ve had the privilege of working with Jim and Beth since he started working with Urbana 2003 as Urbana Director and now V-P of Missions. BUT they provided one of the greatest memories at Urbana 2009 when Jim announced on the call-to-commitment night that they will be leaving Inter-Varsity to go as cross-cultural workers in a very tough place. Jim & Beth are in their later-50’s, but they vividly reminded everyone that openness to God’s call is a lifetime commitment.
HIGHLIGHT #1: Manny. The last time I had a college-age roommate at Urbana, I was 19 years-old myself (Urbana 73). But Manny Arango(see http://thisisthething87.blogspot.com/) , a senior at Gordon College, accompanied me this year. It was great to see things from his perspective, to learn from him about the challenges young people face, and to let him interact with people I know. We actually got to talk 1-on-1 with Disciple X as well as with David Howard (and actually hold his [now-laminated] 1946 Decision Card!). It was great to be with a young leader who is gifted, understands brokenness, loves Jesus, and is looking for God’s direction for the “what’s next?” of life. [It also helped that we have very similar commitment to laughing loud and often!]
Talk to me in a week and I’m sure my list might be a little different, but that’s it for today.
As always, thanks for your prayers, interest in us, and financial support.
Paul Borthwick (January 3, 2010)