by James W. Reapsome
The title of this article is important because impressions of Urbana ’70 are likely to be as diverse as the people who went there. People there were plenty of: 10,937 students from 48 states and 72 countries and 50 denominations, plus 406 missionaries and 961 “miscellaneous.”
The title of this article is important because impressions of Urbana ’70 are likely to be as diverse as the people who went there. People there were plenty of: 10,937 students from 48 states and 72 countries and 50 denominations, plus 406 missionaries and 961 "miscellaneous."
There were 1,103 students who did not tell what kind of schools they came from, but among the rest 5,624 were from public colleges and universities, 2,178 from Christian colleges, 810 from high schools, 434 from Bible institutes, 401 from seminaries, and 387 from schools of nursing.
The sheer numbers alone were impressive. Who would have thought that so many college students – supposedly more interested in reforming or destroying "the system" than in giving up vacation time for something as archaic as missions would have sat through four days of more or less traditional missionary conference meetings?
Of course, the "pull" of missions can hardly account entirely for the dramatic upsurge in Urbana attendance over the years since these conventions first began in 1946. While Urbana ’70 was billed as the "Ninth Inter-Varsity Missionary Convention," it would be hard to prove how many students went there because of a specific interest in foreign missions. There is a clue, however, in the fact that prior to the convention 5,300 students did complete an "interest profile sheet" for Intercristo, an organization which "matched" these interests with mission board personnel needs.
As with many "missionary" conventions, Urbana is probably more accurately to be described as a combination of evangelistic and discipleship ministry aimed at the student’s own commitment to Jesus Christ. Such ministry is an obvious necessity when confronted with such a diverse audience, the spiritual "pulse" and "temperature" of which axe exceedingly difficult to ascertain.
And yet Urbana ’70 did manage to confront students with an enormous amount of thought related to missionary "problems" and the execution of the church’s missionary mandate. Speakers at plenary sessions grappled with definitions of evangelism, social concern, racial tensions, revolution, vocational options, preparation for overseas service, the local church and the national church.
What is more, more than 100 foreign missionary sending agencies manned special exhibit booths provided by Inter-Varsity so missionaries could talk to students for two to three hours every afternoon of the convention. Each mission board received from Intercristo a computer printout giving the names of students whose "interest profiles" matched that mission’s personnel needs.
Perhaps the most challenging and demanding sessions – on the missionaries, that is,— were the 150 half-hour discussion sessions. These dealt with every conceivable aspect of missionary work. In fact, the subjects had been proposed in advance by the mission boards and missionaries, so Urbana ’70 gave them all a chance to plug away at their own special interests.
Finally, there were 40 elective workshops— repeated each of three days— in broad categories of missionary work: aviation, agriculture, education, dentistry, and so on.
Impressions of all of this – from the rousing sessions in the Assembly Hall to the private conversations over missionary literature tables – are that this generation of students is looking for and finding spiritual vitality centered around the person of Jesus Christ. That is a more important quest than finding one’s vocational niche. In fact, many students hardly knew enough about "missions" in the technical sense to ask the right questions. Missionaries at Urbana usually find it a drag to spend so much time dispelling gross caricatures of missions that students have picked up along the way.
Significant, it seems to me, was the overwhelmingly favorable response to John Stott’s systematic Bible expositions and to Paul Little’s talk on personal guidance – how to know God’s will – in which he took all of the elementary steps and tips and presented them so that the huge throng hung on every word. Whatever the effect of youth’s so-called "counter culture" may be, Urbana ’70 showed that finding God’s will in Scripture and obeying it in one’s life are still important to thousands of young people.
Nonetheless, many students revealed a high degree of sophistication and emotional involvement when it came to discussions of contemporary issues in the world as a whole. Perhaps they were ahead of the missionaries in this respect.
However, attempts to polarize the convention between the "activists" and the "pietists" fizzled. There was simply too much enthusiasm for getting on with the job of turning Christ loose in the world.
Such enthusiasm faintly resembled adulation of Jesus as a revolutionary folk hero. Some students undoubtedly don’t want to be bothered with theological niceties, but they are able to generate enormous personal feeling for attempting to apply the love and power of Jesus Christ to the serious problems people in the world face today.
One could get the impression at Urbana that old-time missionaries were somehow remiss in this respect. They took their lumps for being afraid of social involvement, for enforcing "monasticism" and for "distorting" the message of the Gospel by not applying it to all walks of life.
However, the scales were balanced when David Howard pointed to a ,group of missionary veterans on the platform and said, "Thank God for what he’s done through these men."
Yes, although Urbana ’70 and previous Urbana conventions have been noted for raising questions in a somewhat accusatory way, Inter-Varsity’s basically sympathetic stance toward missions is something that can be proved – not only by quoting the program – but more importantly by looking at students whose lives have been changed at Urbana. Who knows what place nine Urbana conventions shall have in the final reckoning of instruments used by God in the fulfillment of his purpose?
Urbana conventions essentially run on two tracks: the somewhat avant-garde, nonconformist approach to missions which scares and disgusts some missionaries, and the traditional selling of and recruiting for mission boards that happens anywhere and everywhere at churches up and down the country.
But beyond that, Urbana is one place – and Inter-Varsity is one organization – where yon can raise questions and listen to people challenge the status quo in missions with the freedom and the security that come from an unequivocal confidence in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If he is at work, and if we believe we are really doing his work, then no twenty-minute paper that chides us for supposed failures we don’t think we’re guilty of is going to mean the collapse of that work.
It could be that what we’re afraid of at Urbana is the very thing we need to save us.
Tom Skinner: It is the purpose of God in this hour of revolution to take you and me, as the church and make us the vehicles through which he does express himself. We’re not here necessarily to take sides with the revolution; but we’re here in the midst of this revolution, to say to you what the principles of the Kingdom of God are-Real revolution lies in allowing the common clay of your humanity to be saturated with the deity of Christ and for you to go out in open display as a living testimony that it is possible for the invisible God to make himself visible in a man. Urbana ’70.
Byang Kato: The battle in the mission field will be theological within the next decade. A missionary going abroad, should therefore be acquainted with major theological issues of the day…A missionary should be in possession of knowledge that could contribute to the economic progress of a country to warrant his presence in the country. Possessing a college degree or a professional certificate is a status symbol and a key to many opportunities for witness. The days when just anything will do for the foreign field are past in many countries. Spirituality is no substitute for ignorance. The greatest missionary that ever lived was among the "Who’s Who" in his days. Probably this is why we have more than half of the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul.— Urbana ’70.
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