by Ian Bridgman
Some of you know I had the opportunity to attend Urbana 2012 this year in St. Louis. Urbana is Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s national missions conference, held every once every three years during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. This year, 16,000 believers, almost all between 18 and 30 years old, descended on the downtown area for 5 days of worship, preaching, Bible study, workshops and seminars, all of which were specifically focused on missions and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.
It was a tremendous experience for many reasons, one of which was being surrounded by so many other Christians, after having almost no contact with other young believers for over 3 years. It was exciting and encouraging to see how God is working on college campuses both in the U.S. and in other countries, and to see how these students are committed to using their talents to spread the Gospel.
One specialty of this conference is that just about every imaginable facet of ministry is represented. This year’s attendees came from all 50 states (the ukulele-toting Hawaiians were in my hotel) and over 100 countries. The speakers and seminar leaders are made of up everyone from college and seminary students to professional musicians and athletes; from church planters and Bible translators to micro-loan entrepreneurs and film makers.
It’s true that at Urbana, the crowd is big, the lights are bright, and the music is loud. But the content is far from being all hype and glitter. Before ever being asked to commit to missions, we were repeatedly reminded to count the cost of being a disciple of Christ. One of the main speakers was a woman whose husband was gunned down along with the rest of his team of doctors two years earlier. The seminar leaders emphasized the discipline and preparation required to fulfill a missionary calling. They were honest about periods of testing, feelings of failure, and burnout.
I came away from Urbana having discovered a new appreciation for studying the Bible, and encouraged by the diversity of those at the conference and the wealth of opportunities on the mission field. For every set of abilities and personality, there is a role to play in fulfilling the Great Commission. I knew this, but desperately needed to be reminded. I also came away feeling very aware of the incredible amount of work to be done, and that there is not a second to lose.
The lights are now turned out, the instruments are unplugged, and the crowd is gone. The Edward Jones Dome will go back to its usual function of being home field for the St. Louis Rams. Urbana is over, and now the hard part actually begins. Long flights and lonely hotel rooms, penny pinching and mundane teaching routines (yes even in “exotic” islands life can be mundane), distractions, temptations, etc. Some of you I know pray for me on a daily basis. I do not take this for granted. Please continue to do so. Pray that I will be disciplined, both spiritually and physically, that I would make the most of my remaining time here in Martinique. Pray that I will retain what I learned at Urbana, and that I would keep my focus on what God has for me to do here on this island. God has placed me in a unique role in a unique environment, and even in Martinique, there is an incredible amount of work to be done, and not a second to lose.