Worldwide mission conference calls young people to serve and disciple others

Sunday, January 13, 2013
Sarah Jones holds onto one of the AIDS caregiver bags at URBANA 12 on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, in St. Louis. The students had complied the kits for those who are suffering from AIDS in Swaziland. Urbana 12 is InterVarsity Chritian Fellowhip's triennial Student Missions Conference. World Vision will distribute the 32,000 kits that students compiled, that contained medical and hygiene items such as gloves, soap, and water purification tablets, and a personally written work of encouragement and blessing from the packer. (AP Photo/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, Paul M. Walsh)

Editor's note: The following is a guest column by Aaron Picar, news clerk for the Southeast Missourian. Picar recently participated in the Urbana Student Mission Conference in St. Louis.

By Aaron Picar

Southeast Missourian

Over 16,000 attendees from more than 100 countries descended upon St. Louis, Mo., for the tri-annual Urbana Student Mission Conference Dec. 27 through Jan. 1.

Urbana is organized by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and college Christian ministries. It was held at the America's Center and throughout downtown St. Louis, with large morning and evening sessions held in the Edward Jones Dome.

Tom Lin, director, addressed the conference on the opening night.

"Surrender your plans and allow God to surprise you," he said. "God's invitation may be unexpected."

On Dec. 29, during the evening session, the attendees filled 32,000 HIV caregiver packs for WorldVision, a relief agency, to take to Swaziland, Africa. The caregiver kits will help give basic medical care to over 800,000 HIV/AIDS patients. Swaziland has the highest percent of HIV/AIDS infections, with an average life span of 29. There are orphan-led households due to the epidemic. Allison Egley, of St. Louis, said helping pack the caregiver kits was the most meaningful experience of Urbana.

Greg Jao, emcee, said it was the largest medical kit build to date.

According to him, caregivers were praying months ago for God to send help.

"We are part of the way God is responding to these caregivers' prayers," Jao said.

The session was introduced by the testimony of Shortie Khumalo, a caregiver in Swaziland. She said, one of the most important items included was latex gloves, a scarcity in Swaziland.

"Friends, you just witnessed what it looks like to love like Jesus," Khumalo said in response to the session.

Urbana saw over 4,000 people commit to serving in global missions, 6,000 commit to leading evangelical Bible studies, and 800 commit their lives to following Jesus for the first time.

The official twitter hashtag -- "#u12" -- trended worldwide on the social media outlet throughout the conference. More than 2,000 staff, volunteers and stewards worked behind the scenes to make Urbana run smoothly.

Lin talked about how he never believed he would be a missionary growing up; his plan was to pursue comfort and safety. He said he was in reach of his goals until he attended Urbana '93, when he felt God challenge him to become a missionary to Mongolia. While he initially resisted, Lin found saying yes to God was a great blessing. He challenged students to "find their Mongolia."

"God's invitation extends further than you ever imagined," Lin said. "God's invitation extends to the forgotten and marginalized. His invitation is to people groups who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ."

The theme of Urbana '12 was "The Great Invitation," taken from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus told a parable of the rich man who held a banquet and invited people to attend. In the text, when the intended invitees decline the invitation, he sends out his servants to invite the poor, the oppressed and the alone from far away to come.

"This generation is so obsessed with partying. It is all plastic, it is all imitation. It is not real, it is not authentic, it is not genuine," said speaker Calisto Odede, preaching from the text. "When the real party the Lord is offering them appears they will dismiss it and not even pay attention."

Odede is the senior pastor of Nairobi, Kenya, Pentecostal Church and provided much of the exposition of the text throughout Urbana.

David Platt, author of the book "Radical," challenged attendees with his message on Luke 9 during one of the evening sessions.

"We do not have time to waste our lives coasting in comfortable Christianity," Platt said. "All of us are commanded to make disciples, and our calling helps us carry out our command."

Large group sessions also featured testimonies, drama, dance, special music performances and more. A highlight was multicultural worship, which blended traditional hymns as well as contemporary praise with music from other languages. Songs were sung in 10 different languages, including Spanish, Swahili and Hindi.

The Bible says that one day people of every tribe, tongue and nation will sing before the throne of God. The multicultural worship gave attendees a taste of that. Missionaries often say that a person comes to faith in God after hearing the Gospel in the heart language. Multicultural worship allows people to do just that.

Outside of the large group sessions, time was spent in small group Bible studies, attending informational seminars, shopping for resources at the IV Press Bookstore and more. More than 250 organizations such as WorldVision, International Justice Mission, Hope Seeds Inc. and the Salvation Army, among others, had exhibits.

Attendees were challenged not just to see missions as work done in church, but to use the arts, business, teaching, health care, media, technology and other outlets to spread God's word. Anyone can be used by God to spread the Gospel and challenge such evils as HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, poverty, slavery and more.

Urbana began in 1946 when 575 students from 151 schools attended at the University of Toronto. In 1948, the conference moved to the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana and found a new home in St. Louis in 2006. Some noted speakers from previous years include Billy Graham, John Stott, John Piper, Rick Warren, Jim Elliott and others. Since 1946, more than 250,000 people have committed to global missions. The U.S. Center for World Missions called Urbana the largest sending force for missions of this generation.

A former homeless man named Mr. Eddie shared his testimony via video. He talked about how he served the people he once slept in parks with.

"For someone to really, really deeply know what a banquet is, they have to first know what hunger is, and then be offered such an abundance of food," he said.

Attendees were challenged to invite others to experience the love and grace of Jesus both at home and abroad. The great invitation is to follow Jesus and go where He goes.

"Let us go out, with boldness, with the message we were sent to give. Rise up and go, the Master is inviting," Odede said.

The next Urbana is scheduled for Dec. 27 to Jan. 1, 2015, in St. Louis. For more information, visit

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