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urbana day 2

It’s the first full day of Urbana 09, and already it feels like everything is settling into its rhythm for the week. In hotels across St Louis, students and staff began their day with manuscript bible studies, before gathering back at the Edward Jones Dome for the morning session with teaching from Ramez Atallah, and more audio-visual treats and thought-provokers. The teaching revolved around the story of Nathaniel’s conversion in John 1: 43-51, concluding with this thought: “Go and make known the one who knows you.

After an ingeniously planned lunch break (to make sure none of the city’s restaurants had too many thousands of hungry students arriving at once!) we were back into an afternoon of seminars, meetings and times for reflection. Delegates are invited to choose from a huge range of themes from Domestic Poverty to Environmental Stewardship, Business as Mission to World Religions.

By the early evening, the hallways of the America’s Centre were thronging with dinner-seeking students, and the catering operation to get 17,000 diners through in 2 hours had to be seen to be believed! We then gathered once again in the Dome for an eye-opening evening.

We heard the testimony of Cheryl Bear who is travelling around the USA and Canada in a motor-home to share the story of Jesus with all First Nations communities… Patrick Fung, director of OMF, shared his thoughts on living to be forgotten… Ruth Padilla DeBorst spoke passionately on forced migration, and challenged us: “love does not reach from afar – it demands incarnation.”… we saw a film on the statistics of trafficking and forced labour… York Moore spoke movingly about his ‘conversion within a conversion’ to the fight against modern day slavery at Urbana 2000… we witnessed a powerful dramatic monologue about Rahab… we left once again full of thoughts and challenges to bring before God… and Day 2 of Urbana 09 came to an end.

urbana day 1

Since yesterday, the quiet streets of downtown St Louis have been undergoing a dramatic transformation. From all corners of the United States (and the world), thousands of students, staff workers, exhibitors, media and more have been arriving for InterVarsity’s 22nd Urbana Missions Conference. Among them are 40 IFES delegates – here to teach, encourage, learn and grow in God’s plans for them.

It’s hard to describe how big this conference is. Main sessions are taking place in the Edward Jones Dome at America’s Centre – a 21-storey tall arena which can seat up to 67,000 people. Around 16,000 Urbana delegates gathered there for the first main session this evening but the space felt full as God’s people joined together in worship and thankfulness after some difficult journeys.

The theme of Urbana 09 is ‘He Dwelled Among Us’ – we’re exploring the idea of incarnation, of God ‘moving into our neighbourhood’ – and what this means for mission. After a rousing introduction from Jim Tebbe (Director of Urbana 09), Ramez Atallah took to the stage to explore John 1. His message for the week about incarnation is this:

  • it is the means by which God reaches out to us
  • it is the message God wants to communicate to us
  • it is the model for how we should minister

As well as teaching and sung worship, the evening session included a fantastic word and movement piece based on John 1 by Urbana’s Theatre Arts team and film pieces by InterVarsity’s 2100 Productions. As the night drew to a close, thousands of students spread back out across the city to where they were staying with heads and hearts full of images, impressions and inspiration. Urbana 09 has begun.

an unexpected evening in Chicago

It sounds a lot grander than the rather more mundane reality.

With heightened security at Heathrow – following a failed terrorist attack on a United Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit – and a generous helping of snow in Chicago and across the mid-west, our connecting flight to St Louis has been cancelled, and we now face the unexpected and exciting prospect of a night spent at O’Hare International Airport.

By this time I had anticipated having checked into our hotel and the opportunity to enjoy a restful evening in preparation for the start of Urbana tomorrow. Instead I am left wondering how our other colleagues from Oxford, and around the world, are faring in their travels.

Ah well, it’s adventures like this that remind me that life, despite our best plans, is often not straight forward for many of our IFES friends around the world. This is very little hardship compared to what some students will endure to get to Urbana, and the reality many face on a daily basis, for the sake of the gospel.

I wonder what lessons God might be teaching us through these minor inconveniences, and will be teaching us in these coming days.

the international urbana movement

Urbana has been an event that has changed many lives across North America, and indeed the world, as students hear God’s call to be involved in God’s work, where he has placed them – be that in the office, on campus, or living cross-culturally in another country.

I wonder how this fact sits with students as they plan to come to Urbana – how is God calling you, and to where?

The international impact of Urbana is felt amongst other IFES student movements, who run similar missions conferences around the world. Two years ago I was privileged to spend time in Rwanda, as the IFES Region of Francophone Africa held its first regional missions conference. You can read more about that here.

In a press release from earlier this year, the impact of Urbana in spawning similar events around the world was considered:

The influence of InterVarsity’s Urbana student missions conference, the longest running student conference in the world, is being multiplied by a wave of new Urbana-type conferences in many other countries. What began as a movement of North American students in 1946 in Toronto is being increasingly owned by university students from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Urbana 09, InterVarsity’s 22nd triennial conference, will be held in St. Louis December 27-31, 2009. More than 20,000 attendees are expected to come to Urbana to learn more about God’s mission in the world and how they could be a part of it.

The number of men and women who have gone onto the mission field, or even the number of lives that have been redirected, because God spoke to them at Urbana, is uncountable. Some began preparing for their mission immediately after their Urbana experience, others answered God’s call only after years or even decades had passed. But in recent years a multiplier effect has been observed. Some who have attended Urbana came to see how they could replicate the conference in their own country.

Lindsay Brown, former General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), has stated that “The spin-off of other conferences may have a greater impact on the spread of the gospel than all of the American missionaries sent overseas from Urbana.” These conferences are growing in number, frequency, and impact.

The missions offering taken at each Urbana conference has traditionally been directed towards student ministry in other countries. Sixteen percent of the $1.2 million offering from Urbana 06 was dedicated to nurturing other student missions conferences. Here are some of the conferences that benefitted from the Urbana 06 offering.

Nigeria: The Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students 2007 Missions Conference was attended by 6,000 students and graduates.

Rwanda: The Francophone Africa Missions Conference over Christmas 2007 drew more than 400 students and staff from 14 countries.

Kenya: Commission of FOCUS Kenya met over the Christmas holiday in 2008. The conference was delayed one year after the horrific events following the 2007 election; it was enthusiastically attended by over 2,500 students.

Nepal: The South Asia Student Leaders’ Missions Conference, scheduled for Bangladesh in December, 2007 was relocated to Kathmandu, Nepal in January, 2008, due to devastation caused by tropical cyclone, Sidr. Sixty student leaders from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal attended.

Mexico: VIVE 2009 was presented by the IFES student ministry, COMPA, April 4-9, 2009, in Guadalajara, Mexico. About 700 students from Mexico and neighboring countries, gathered along with 200 professionals and church members.

Indonesia: Indonesian Students for the Harvest, held in July 2007, called on over 500 participants to make local missions their lifestyle and part of their daily walk with God.

Germany: The Mission-Live 2006 Conference was held in Herrnhut, Germany. Students attending Mission-Live came from eastern Germany, the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe. About 350 attendees decided to become missionaries.

Argentina: The second South-American International Mission Conference, CIMA2010, will meet in Cordoba, Argentina next January. The organizers, CEC (international and inter-denominational workers among local evangelical Latin-American churches), anticipate 2,000 students attending from countries in the ‘Southern Cone’ of Latin America.

urbana: the tradition continues

Next week, we will be joining 17,000 students at InterVarsity’s 22nd Urbana convention.

Urbana is the missions conference for North American students, hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of Canada.

Generations of college students have gone to Urbana to hear about cutting edge issues in missions and to respond to the call to participate in God’s global mission. During the five days of Urbana, participants will experience multicultural worship and drama, dynamic speakers, in-depth Bible study and prayer. They will also be encouraged to explore short-term and vocational opportunities as they interact with representatives from more than 300 mission agencies and educational institutions.

I will be attending Urbana as an IFES delegate, primarily in my role as Digital Services Manager, as well as helping to host the other IFES delegates who will be travelling from all over the world. During the conference I aim to post updates to twitter and this blog, and to include some video updates too.

I hope to learn lots, not just about North American student culture and the work of InterVarsity/USA and Inter-Varsity Canada, but also to gain an insight into how digital services are used to cover an event as big as this. The last Urbana was in 2006, when facebook was still in its infancy and twitter just a distant dream. I will be interested to see how the event organisers, students and exhibitors will make use of social media at an event like this. I have already connected with SIM USA via twitter, and look forward to meeting with them at the event; it sounds as though they have quite an interesting digital strategy.

Do keep an eye on this page, and let me know of any areas of the conference you would like to know more about, or see covered in various ways.

Here is the latest press release from Urbana:

College students want to change the world, today more than ever. The study-abroad statistics from the Institute of International Education indicate a growing desire for a global perspective. More than 262,000 Americans studied abroad in 2007-2008, an increase of 8.5-percent from the previous year and four times the number of just two decades ago. Changing the world is what Urbana 09 is all about.

Urbana’s Global Perspective
The growing number of students with global experience who will attend InterVarsity’s Urbana 09 Student Missions Conference is reminiscent of the returning veterans who attended InterVarsity’s first Student Missions Conference in 1946. They had acquired a global perspective as they traveled across the globe during World War II and were preparing to return overseas, taking the gospel message with them.

In the years since 1946, as student populations have changed in many ways, InterVarsity’s triennial Student Missions Conference has maintained its global perspective. In 1948 the conference relocated to the campus of the University of Illinois, where it came to be called Urbana. Then in 2006 it moved to St. Louis, Missouri, for Urbana 06. Urbana 09 will also be held in St. Louis, December 27-31, 2009 at the Edward Jones Dome and The Americas Center.

Not Just Another Conference
Since that first conference 63 years ago, more than 240,000 Urbana attendees have been challenged to consider God’s call to global missions. Urbana has become one of the longest-lived, regularly scheduled events within evangelical Christianity, and its impact on each generation of college students is widely known and well respected. Pastor Rick Warren, the author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life and a speaker at Urbana 06, said, “You can’t afford to miss Urbana. If you are serious about not wasting your life, do whatever it takes to get there.”

Urbana is focused on mobilizing men and women for global missions, but the conference’s influence is broader. Author and theologian John Stott, who spoke at six Urbanas, said, “In my travels I have met many missionaries and other Christian workers whose lives were profoundly changed by the Urbana experience.”

Urbana’s Ripple Effect
In a growing number of countries the Urbana conference has been a stimulus for Christian student groups to sponsor their own student missions conferences in locations as far-flung as Nigeria, India and Ukraine. “These events represent a growing missionary vision across the world,” said Lindsay Brown, former General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Urbana has contributed to this vision.” About two dozen international guests will be on hand at Urbana 09 to gain an insider’s perspective on hosting their own student missions conference.

The best way to experience Urbana is by attending the multitude of seminars, and by developing new contacts and new friendships. But today the explosion of electronic media and the internet means that the message of Urbana 09 will be shared in many new ways.

Urbana and Social Media
Videos of the general sessions will be posted online at within hours after each session. Audio files from general sessions and news conferences will also be made available, as well as news releases. But unofficial, participant-produced reports from Urbana will also be populating online social media, on sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr. Urbana 09 will be the first Urbana conference that can be followed on Twitter (use the hash tag #urbana09).

“At a time when students are thinking globally and are open to what it is that God may be saying to them, we’re showing them what God is doing in the world, and then inviting them to be a part of that,” said Jim Tebbe, the director of Urbana .

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is an interdenominational ministry to university students in the United States, with over 32,000 students involved on 550 campuses nationwide. InterVarsity is a founding member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, which is advancing Christian student work in 150 countries.

digimission – my thoughts

Having posted my expectations before the event, were they met? Well actually no, they were far exceeded. Having not been sure whether to attend this event or not, I am so pleased I did. Many of the questions I posed were answered at the broadest level; which is just what I was after – to grapple with the big questions of how best to engage with digital technology and social media in a way that is wise, faithful, and resonates with the breadth of our humanity.

I think one of the event’s greatest strengths, second possibly only to the high quality of the talks, was something I wasn’t expecting: the breadth of age, experience and engagement with social media by those present. There were those, myself included, who were ‘live tweeting’ from the event (search for #digimission on twitter to see some of that stream), to those who have taken a Godly, principled decision to not use facebook. With this breadth of engagement came some searching questions that might easily be lost with a room full of ‘techies’ and professional enthusiasts like me.

I sat on a table with three guys from a church in Canterbury: pastor Eric, youth-worker Dan, and Mark, responsible for turning their vision into a technical reality. I was impressed by their collective concern to engage with culture in a meaningful way, in the spaces people are and using language they will understand. I will look with interest to see how their church continues to implement what they learned during the day.

Afterwards I managed to get a couple of audioboo interviews, with Mark Meynell of All Souls Church, and Russ Bravo of Inspire Magazine, capturing their reflections of the day.

One question that has remained with me, following an excellent presentation by Jonny Baker of CMS, is this: in an increasingly ‘connected’ world, where traditional structures often struggle to keep up with the pace of technological – and its associated sociological – change, how can we look out for and care for the disconnected? Surely this is key to the gospel call, and something I know that I find hard, as someone who likes to engage in the places people are; who will look out for the people on the margins, to connect the disconnected to the community, and ultimately, to God?

So, as a member of my local church, and in my role with IFES, how will this event change what I do? I certainly have a lot to think about, ponder on, pray through. Digimission renewed my enthusiasm to apply the gifts God has given me in a meaningful way, and I look forward to continuing the discussion with others. As well as being excited by cool features in the web apps and the tools we develop, perhaps this event has reminded me to love the people these tools are created to support, and to pray that we might truly serve the individuals and communities behind them.

Big thanks to Krish and team for putting on such an excellent event – I look forward to the next one!


So, I’m in London for an EA event called ‘digimission’. What do I expect from today?

- To see another organisation do a live broadcast using ustream, including participation from a speaker in the US.
- To consider some of the issues that should and will shape digital strategy in church and mission, and how this relates directly to my role with IFES.
- Perhaps to explore the idea of ministry to online communities; where do we need to be particularly careful, how can we express kingdom values online, and is it possible to care for people’s needs as expressed (sometimes more honestly) online?
- What challenges and opportunities are presented by greater visibility of individuals and personality that might help us in mission, e.g. everyone has a ‘voice’ online, so how can we encourage people to live for Jesus and speak for Jesus in their online communities?
- What tools can we make best use of to increase collaboration amongst the Christian community?
- What about a ‘Christians in Tech’ space?