Urbana 18 will be my 6th Urbana
My Urbana journey has been a long and winding road—a lifetime of lessons learned and callings embraced. As the “InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—Vice President | Urbana” I find myself in the most challenging and most rewarding role of my life. For those of you who know me, you know that’s saying something. Am I right?
Here’s a peak at that long and winding road using the frame of the five InterVarsity Student Missions Conferences that I easily refer to as #myUrbana.
I was a second year high school teacher who had just spent my summer teaching English at the Henan Teacher’s College in Zhengzhou, China with ELIC (English Language Institute of China). ELIC invited me to work their booth at Urbana and I said “yes.” Urbana 87 gave me language to use as I was growing to understand my own experiences—past and future—on mission with God. Urbana 87 stirred my imagination to consider ways I could mobilize others—especially my high school students—to join God on mission, to see the world as beloved and his, and to dare to dream of all that God might have for them. Urbana 87 provided me with a set of cassette tapes of the platform speakers which I wore out on my commutes to and from school. Those talks are now available here.
After 11 years of teaching, God moved me to be on staff with my local church in Indy — a church whose leadership and missions family included a number of InterVarsity staff. Living and serving in this missions fanatical community of Faith, God had been working in my heart and mind to move me to step out in a new obedience that I was pretty sure would include global missions. In October of 2000, God invited me to Urbana. He made it clear to me that his invitation was to join him at Urbana. To BE with him in community. To WORSHIP and to be restored and refreshed. I did not know when i registered that I would be arriving at the U of Illinois, carrying grief from my mom’s death just one month prior. Two months after returning home, at the end of February 2001, I called Wycliffe Bible Translators and asked them what I needed to do to join them. One year later, I moved to Orlando to serve Wycliffe as a graphic designer.
Urbana 03 & Urbana 06
I waved my hand enthusiastically indicating my desire to serve on the Wycliffe team at Urbana 03, but was told I didn’t fit the demographic of who they were looking for. I interpreted this to mean that I was too old. As Urbana 06 approached, I was serving as VP for Communications. I raised my hand again. Perhaps they didn’t see it.
Through a series of decisions that I won’t outline (but that do contribute to the longness and windiness of this road), it was determined that I would steward Wycliffe’s Urbana strategy. By this time I was serving as a Senior VP and we were identifying ways to change some key aspects of Wycliffe’s culture. With a scarcity mindset plaguing some parts of our organization and a desire to move us solidly to a place of abundance in our thinking and practice, Urbana gave us a space in which to pull off a quick and significant pivot to a new way of being and working. To test some ideas of how we could be responsive and generous.
I remember telling friends and colleagues after the good and hard work of Urbana was over that it had one of the best weeks of my life. The combination of what “we” had accomplished as a small exhibitor team and what we’d been a part of was energizing and challenging and transformative.
For Urbana 12, Wycliffe’s first of 4 team goals was that Urbana would be successful. We were living into this way of working and thinking—a way that leans into the abundance of God and is not motivated by fear born out of a scarcity mindset. And, because that posture was beginning to permeate other areas of our organization, we could lean in further still.
Wycliffe’s corporate focus toward values-based planning continued to develop, making it a no-brainer for me to say “yes” to Tom Lin’s invitation to serve on an advisory committee for Urbana 15. It would be Tom’s second Urbana as InterVarsity’s VP for Missions and Urbana Director. Urbana 15 became a another “best week of my life” experience for multiple reasons—a delight that was magnified because I had glimpsed behind the Urbana curtain.
While I was aware that my love for Urbana was growing, I surely didn’t see what was coming next—that I would be living behind that curtain as InterVarsity’s VP Urbana. The long and winding road of this journey is one that is far more apparent in the rearview mirror.