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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.

the 10-year-old digital native

An interesting article over on the Guardian website, on “Murdoch’s diverting tiff with Google”.

I found the following paragraph quite striking:

And then there is the demographic change that is about to bear down on us like an enormous tidal bore of obliteration – the rise of the 10-year-old digital native. Children under 10 are our first generation who will grow up in a predominantly screen-based interactive culture. The first generation who will have grown up with high-speed broadband access in their houses, whose educational experience will struggle to keep pace with their own new learning strategies and make sense of their new communication techniques.

You can read more at:

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?

bing, from microsoft

Looks like Microsoft are launching their next attempt to try and steal a slice of the search market from Google.

Quotes below are taken from the BBC’s Darren Waters.

Microsoft’s expensive experiment in search reflects the insatiable appetite of chief executive Steve Ballmer to take on Google.

I can say that Bing is very aesthetically pleasing, and that its design feels intuitive and practical. It groups together relevant information quite well and could improve on the paradigm of searching that we have all become used to.

There are some concerns, however. Microsoft decides which associated and relevant information it will show you – based, in part, on partnerships with local content providers.

This may well be the best related information; it may well not. Who decides, and on what basis?

» read more: Microsoft’s bada Bing (BBC)

google wave

Google Wave is a new model for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year.

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

» read more: about Google Wave

the foresight of google

This article embodies such much of my recent thinking as we plan to develop the IFES website into what we hope will become an industry-leading example of the appropriate application of social media.

“Google provides a platform and network that enables others to succeed – and when they succeed, so does Google”.

You can read the full article here:

Source: The Guardian