by Jim Reapsome
But to capitalize on this opportunity, missionaries will need to get ready now.
Urbana ’84 is fast approaching and missionaries from all corners of the globe will be converging on the University of Illinois campus on December 27, along with thousands of students. What a strategic opportunity to present the grand vision of world evangelization to the greatest reservoir of potential missionary talent assembled in one place!
But to capitalize on this opportunity, missionaries will need to get ready now. They will need to find out what questions students are asking about missions. They will need to have facts at their fingertips about opportunities all over the world. They will need to give counsel about training, experience, and preparation.
For many students, Urbana represents their initial encounter with the church’s missionary enterprise. They will need simple answers to simple questions. The more complicated the answers, the less they will grasp. Urbana is not the time to wax eloquent about debatable missiological issues.
For veteran missionaries, many of them perhaps removed from North American campuses for several years, it’s hard to come back to kindergarten where the students are in their knowledge of missions. Missionary counselors at Urbana cannot assume that students know even the basics about missions.
The convention itself will, under the blessing of God, stir thousands of students to consider God’s call to missionary service. Students will come under conviction. Believing God has indeed called them to enlist, they will come to missionaries asking how to get started.
Primarily, many of their questions will concern basic practical matters: What do you think I can do? Where? With what agency? What kind of education, skills, and experience should I have? Of course, some of the more knowledgeable students will be asking pointed questions about what the missionary’s agency has to offer, what its policies are, what kinds of work it is doing, and so on.
All of these questions will be inspired by the convention speakers. During Urbana ’84 students will be told to think about their skills, interests, and training in the context of the church’s world mission. They will be thinking about unreached people groups, about pioneering church-planting efforts, about relief and development work, about literature, medicine, radio, teaching, and so on.
Missionaries will find that, by and large, the students who come to Urbana are serious in their quest for God’s will and his place for them in the world. Some will flit from missionary to missionary, like bees tasting nectar from a variety of flowers. Some will be carried along with the excitement of the week. Some will seem more interested in hanging around with friends.
But missionaries should know that on America’s college and university campuses a new mood of seriousness has set in. Most students study hard. They are worried about jobs and about nuclear war. They can ask questions that might at first glance appear to be irrelevant, but missionaries should not be put off by that.
The Urbana ’84 crowd will cover the gamut of churches in America. Students don’t hold to many of the old traditional church and doctrinal dividing lines. They like to be informed, they want to know where the action is, and they suspect that living the life is more important than knowing the right answers.
Urbana ’84 director John Kyle says, "The purpose of this missions convention is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by helping students find God’s place for them in world missions, and thus to serve the church in strengthening her ministry in world missions." The counsel of missionaries is vital to the achievement of that goal,
"We see the presence of experienced missionaries and mission agencies to be a vital part of the program," Kyle said. He hopes that the agencies will come to Urbana"with the desire and capability" to recruit qualified young people, "including those of various ethnic origins, such as Hispanics, blacks, and Asians."
To do the best job, agencies should plan to send their best people, not only to the convention itself, but also to the follow-up meetings around the country for those students who make decisions at Urbana. They will be held between January and April, 1985.
Years ago, when teaching a missionary journalism course at a Christian college, I asked the students to write about the visiting missionary who impressed them most. It was striking to see the same person appear again and again. It was revealing to see why he was chosen. One reason stood out above all the others: he was genuine. He came across as a real human being, with problems, able to identify with the students in theirs. He was not a pompous organization man, given to glib answers. The students saw him not as a super salesman for missions, far above their own concerns, but one with them. He was not on a pedestal, but he told them about life as it is on the field and the lessons he had to learn to make it. They liked his honesty and forthrightness.
It would help the missionary going to Urbana to have some time with students before the convention, just to listen to them and to appreciate their feelings about missions. By asking careful questions, and by listening rather than talking, missionaries can soon learn a great deal.
Pray for wisdom, common sense, integrity, and honesty. Students have accurate radar about adults. They won’t put them down just because they are older, but they will tune them out real fast if they suspect their answers aren’t genuine.
Pray for listening skills, for compassion, for humility. Ask God to give you the special word that "fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).
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