Urbana: What?!

I’m just getting around to publishing this entry… So imagine you are reading this in the past.

Update: Read the “After Urbana” post!

There is a very large mission’s conference put on by InterVarsity, called “Urbana”, coming up at the end of December (December 27th to January 1st). Urbana is a tri-annual conference which “seeks to compel this generation to give their whole lives to God’s global mission.” It draws around 16,000 people.

From Urbana’s website:

Together with other students listening for God’s call on their lives, participants are challenged by speakers, are able to speak with hundreds of missions organizations, get to attend an amazing selection of seminars, participate in unique tracks, worship together and view performing arts, receive prayer and study the Bible inductively.

The idea of attending Urbana – an intense conference with the purpose of learning and developing the skills and next steps to learning about the needs of people around the world and serving God – is not something that I would have thought of 2 months ago – or even 2 weeks ago. It’s a “God thing”.

I had never heard of the conference. One of the “opening doors” was when my Pastor invited me to a dinner this past Friday with a missionary from France that our church supports. I accepted the invitation. That alone was an example of God working. Two-months ago, I would probably not have accepted that invitation. Not that I was hardened to God or the church, but very simply, I would have preferred to do something more comfortable or, what I thought, would be more entertaining with my Friday night. But God has been softening/opening my heart to the opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and glorify Him in what I do with my time and life in a greater way than I have been.

That Friday night, the missionary (Pete) spoke about how he got into missions work – and he referenced his attendance at Urbana as one of the first steps in that direction. (He went to Urbana with his then girlfriend. They both made a commitment there to go into the missions field later on.) As I was cleaning up after the dinner, my pastor casually said, “you know, Urbana is coming up soon. It might not be a bad idea to check it out.” It stuck with me. I went home pondering it and researched the conference online. I prayed. I talked with a good friend. I met with my pastor who offered more encouragement. I prayed some more. I came to the conclusion that if God provides a way for me to get there, I will step out of my comfort zone and, in faith, follow Him, and let Him work through me. Of course, I needed to do my part, but God certainly opened doors – but there were also some curve balls thrown in that really had me frustrated and doubting this was what I was supposed to do.

Had I known about this opportunity months ago – I could have prepared better. But God has been working in me now – so here I am – 2 weeks out from the conference. I’m not trying to “test” God… but the idea of doing this – 2 weeks out – is not logical. It’s actually pretty complicated (between money, travel, lodging, and frankly “meeting” people).

I shared my hearts desires with a few people from my church – it got around and I received an amazing response from several church family members: support, encouragement, prayer. All so quickly and suddenly. It was so encouraging to see this come together.

I contacted nearly every campus Intervarsity Staff leader in the Baltimore area to figure out travel arrangements and see if I could get hooked up with a group of people. The response I got back was as equally a “God thing” as hearing about Urbana – nearly everyone contacted back and tried to offer their assistance and encouragement.

I received encouragement from people I didn’t even contact!

From a pastor at a local church:

I wanted to follow up with you and see what you’ve decided to do about Urbana. I went to Urbana a few years ago. I am naturally an introvert and I took a big step and got on a bus with 60 people I didn’t know to attend a conference of 20,000 I didn’t know. It was a pivotal moment in my life and I will never regret that decision! So, anything I can do to help you…please let me know.

This is what I wrote back:

While I don’t know that I’m called to be a “missionary” to the third-world per say… – I have very recently felt God leading me to do something greater for Him with my life right now – the “what” isn’t clear, yet. Urbana came on my radar very quickly out of nothing that I was personally looking for. I said that I’d step out of my comfort zone and pursue it as long as God kept opening doors..  The pieces of actually attending have fallen into place. It really seems like it will be a great time of worship and learning about the world’s issues and how I may be able to do some small part in in advancing God’s Kingdom and bringing the message of grace to those He puts in my path

It’s been stressful and busy trying to plan the logistics of this trip – especially around Christmas. But with simply stopping, stepping back, and prayer, it’s getting done. After dozens of emails and several conversations later, I’m registered, I’ve got a flight, and I’m looking for a place to stay.

Having not even yet attended Urbana, I’ve already seen God respond to faithful prayer and simply an open heart for what He might do with me in this life. That in and of itself is huge for me. My prayer is that God would, first, continue working in me, healing me, refining me, showing me the next step, and giving me the strength to, in faith, follow that direction – however “trivial” or huge that might be.

Specific for Urbana: I want to worship God there, use it as a stepping stone in growing deeper into my relationship with Him, and come out a more confident and strong Christian. I hope to learn more about the issues in the world outside of my little bubble, hear about the work that missionaries are doing around the globe to further God’s kingdom, learn ways and have a stronger desire to bring that knowledge and desire back to Baltimore and apply it in my local church and community first, and then see what else God has in store for me in this life.

Dream bigger. Start smaller.

-JPalm
Ephesians 2:8
When I could only see the floor,
You made my window a door,
So when they say they don’t believe,
I hope that they see You in me