Urbana 22: A Global Feast
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was searching for the right gift for my husband. He has a slew of hobbies, ranging from archery, painting, and playing board games, to reading fantasy, listening to music, and playing soccer. But when I contemplated what might bless him this year, I was drawn to look for a concert or a retreat. My hope was for an experience that would refresh his soul and deepen his relationship with Jesus. Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t find a concert he would enjoy or retreat close to where we are living.
On Christmas Day we celebrated as a family by attending morning Mass. Our children opened up their gifts, and we feasted on our favorite foods. Even so, I was feeling deflated because I hadn’t found the right gift for my husband.
God has saved us and has called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours but according to his own design–the grace held out to us in Christ Jesus.
-2 Timothy 1:9
But The Infant Child was teaching me a lesson in humility. It wasn’t up to me to find the perfect gift for my husband. He already had one. And, it far surpassed anything I could have done on my own.
Three days into the Christmas season, my husband, our eldest daughter Josephine, and I drove to Indianapolis to attend Urbana 22. We had been invited to attend this ecumenical missions conference by a dear missionary brother, and God had overcome every single obstacle—financial & logistical—to get the three of us there. And eight other FMC missionaries met us there, too!
The theme for The Urbana 22 conference was Rise Up! Through daily prayer, multicultural worship, inspirational keynote talks, and a vast array of workshops, Urbana aims to equip college students to be empowered witnesses of Christ Jesus. People from all over the world had come to share collective wisdom and their lived-out experience in the mission field. It was a real global feast!
At the opening plenary session, we joined alongside 6,000 Christians gathered together from every corner of the globe singing worship and glorifying God in a wide variety of languages. Here we stood among a vast multitude, offering our voices, musical gifts, our hearts and extending our hands in resounding praise to Jesus. It took your typical concert experience to a whole new level: heavenward.
All you nations, sing out your joy to the Lord!
Joyfully shout, all you on earth,
Give praise to the glory of God;
And with a hymn, sing out his glorious praise:
–All You Nations by Lucien Deiss
FMC was one of more than 250 organizations represented in the Exhibition Hall. It was both refreshing and strengthening to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. These are people who have a real, living relationship with Jesus Christ and have taken to heart His Great Commission: “To go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18)
No longer were we spending time justifying the “why” of foreign missions, we were diving deep into the “what” and “how” to do it well. This brotherhood is a rare treasure, indeed.
One long-time missionary in Asia was drawn to our booth and lingered long. He was captivated by our charism of gospel poverty and repeatedly asked us to pray about partnering with him in bringing the gospel to Muslims in Turkey.
A retired missionary couple was drawn to the FMC booth because of our backdrop photo. They recognized the Virgen del Panecillo statue in the image because they lived in her shadow while raising their family in Quito, Ecuador. At first, the wife was dismissive when she found out we were Catholic. She didn’t understand how we could be missionaries, since Catholics would tell others to worship Mary and the saints. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit inspired fellow missionary Mr. Andy with a gentle and straightforward explanation of how we venerate The Blessed Mother and the Saints as intercessors.
“Just as you could ask me to pray with you as your brother Christian, we ask Mary and the Saints to pray for us. Think of how powerful their intercession is when they are right now sitting face to face with Jesus in heaven,” Mr. Andy explained.
I stood by and watched in amazement as the woman’s frown melted away and her heart softened to this truth. She, too, lingered long and exchanged contact information with us.
Our 16-year-old daughter Josephine didn’t know what to expect as a student participant at Urbana. But she quickly found her stride among peers in the daily Bible Study. They met each morning, reading and reflecting on The Acts of the Apostles. She bonded with the other Asian American students in her group, going out for lunch and attending breakout sessions together in the afternoons.
By gaining new friendships, she felt valued and supported. During one of the silent prayer times, she heard the Lord tell her: “you are not alone.” One week after the conference, Josephine had her first day at a large public high school. She carries with her the courage and confidence she found at Urbana to be herself, an Asian American TCK (third culture kid) missionary student.
For my husband, this conference was transformative. As a multicultural Asian American, he felt both seen and understood as well as a real sense of belonging among this diverse community of faithful believers in Christ Jesus. He was able to encounter and learn new skills from several individuals who are committed to building up the Kingdom of God.
And, we brought home a box full of books to continue to learn and glean wisdom for our vocation in missions. One book, titled Pray for the World, provides simple prompts to pray for specific people groups across the world to come to know Jesus for the first time, or in a deeper and more meaningful way.
Ultimately, attending Urbana 22 fed our faith and affirmed our family’s call to missions. The Holy Spirit was moving in powerful ways in us and in those we met. Thanks be to God, we feel renewed in zeal and recognize how our Christian brothers and sisters are allies and co-laborers with us in bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
The words of St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews illustrates the value of seeking renewal and being built up by other believers:
We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness
for the fulfillment of hope until the end,
so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who,
through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises…
We who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged
to hold fast to the hope that lies before us.
This we have as an anchor of the soul,
sure and firm…JESUS.
-Hebrews 6:11-12, 18-20
If you are feeling sluggish about your faith, take a moment to listen to keynotes Claude Alexander (he begins at 59 min) or Prashan De Visser (he begins at 51:30) from Sri Lanka. Then, find a few breakout sessions that pique your interest. Urbana has them recorded and available to listen at no charge. Put on your loose pants and start sampling this global feast!
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