A New Gateway to World Missions at Urbana 06

St. Louis, the gateway to the American Frontier, will become the gateway to world missions for nearly twenty-five thousand of Christians who attend InterVarsity’s twenty-first student missions convention this month. The theme of Urbana 06 is “You Have a Calling” and it will be held 27-31 December 2006 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

InterVarsity leaders announced in 2004 that the triennial convention was moving from the University of Illinois campus to St. Louis in order attract more students and offer more comprehensive programming. Jim Tebbe, InterVarsity’s vice president for missions and the director of Urbana, says, “I believe a new location gives Urbana a different lens through which to see God’s heart for the world. A new venue helps us explore new possibilities and redesign the event with fresh vision and energy.”

Those who come to Urbana 06 will be immersed for five days in the world of cross-cultural missions; the event will include testimonies from missionaries, Bible exposition on Ephesians and seminars led by missions practitioners from around the world. Urbana 06 will also host the largest gathering of representatives from missions organizations and seminaries in North America.

Speakers at Urbana 06 include Ajith Fernando, national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka; Brenda Salter McNeil, director of Salter McNeil & Associates in Chicago, Illinois, USA; Lisa Espineli Chinn, director of InterVarsity’s international student ministry; Oscar Muriu, pastor of Nairobi Chapel, Nairobi, Kenya; Ray Bakke, founder of International Urban Associates in Seattle, Washington, USA; Saul Cruz, founder and director of Armonia Ministries in Mexico City, Mexico; and Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, USA.

2006: An Important Year for Missions
Paul Borthwick, a missions professor at Gordon College, notes that 2006 is an important anniversary in the history of missions and student involvement in missions. Several key events are being commemorated:

  • Fifty years ago five missionaries were martyred in Ecuador, an event depicted in the move End of the Spear, released in January 2005. All five missionaries cultivated their passion for lost souls while they were college students. One of the men, Jim Elliott, had attended InterVarsity’s first student missions convention in Toronto.

  • Sixty years ago InterVarsity held its first student missions convention in Toronto. Two years later it was moved to the University of Illinois and became the Urbana convention.
  • One hundred years ago the Azusa Street revival began, which launched the modern Pentecostal movement.
  • Two hundred years ago the Haystack prayer meeting was held at Williams College in Massachusetts, launching the modern missions movement in the United States.

InterVarsity’s Urbana student missions conventions are a part of the legacy of the Haystack prayer meeting. But Urbana itself has created a legacy. Borthwick said that he will be attending Urbana-like student conventions in Taiwan, Indonesia and Nigeria in coming months. “All of these are testimonies of the fact that through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit students are mobilizing for a great advance into secular culture, into Muslim culture, into Buddhist culture, into the world that we live in and the world beyond ourselves,” he said.

Ephesus: Paul’s Gateway City to Asia
“You Have a Calling” is based on Ephesians 4:1, where the Apostle Paul wrote, “As a prisoner of the Lord then, I urge you to live a life according to the calling you have received.”

The book of Ephesians describes God’s purposes and the place of the Church in his eternal plans. Paul wrote this letter from prison to ordinary people who were a small religious minority in the midst of a powerful empire. Paul masterfully addresses the tension between the victory of Jesus over all things in heaven and earth and our lived experience of waiting for the consummation of God's reign over all things.

Fernando will speak on portions of Ephesians during Urbana 06 plenary sessions. Participants will study the remaining four sections together in manuscript Bible study format. Manuscript study is an inductive Bible study technique, in which a group focuses on the text of the passage itself, devoid of editorial comment, textual notes and cross-references. Starting with a fresh “manuscript” allows the reader to approach the Bible with a clear perspective. Participants learn to observe the text, ask questions, interpret what it means and find ways to apply it in their lives.

Each morning at Urbana 06, trained InterVarsity staff will guide attendees, divided into small groups, in manuscript study. Participants will have a transformative communal experience in the scripture while at the same time learning this powerful inductive method of study, which InterVarsity teaches students in its campus ministry.

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Thousands of students are expected to attend Urbana 06.

Urbana: For Everyone Interested in Missions
Although the focus of Urbana is college-age students, men and women of all ages who are interested in learning more about God’s call to the nations through missions are welcome to register and attend.

George Stulac, pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, is working to get as many people from his church as possible to attend Urbana 06. “It is the best event that I know of to draw people into missions and to give them training and vision for it,” he said.

“There isn’t any parallel to Urbana on that scale, bringing together all these different mission boards and agencies under one roof. The Christian who is asking God, ‘What is your calling for me?’ can go and be instructed faithfully from scripture about God’s calling to evangelize the world.” 

Missions Through the Lens of AIDS
The United Nations reports that nearly forty million people in the world are infected with HIV/AIDS. In some countries in southern Africa, one-third of the population is infected. In light of this suffering, InterVarsity will offer an AIDS track at Urbana 06.

Urbana’s AIDS track will be led by Dr. James Thomas, director of the Program in Public Health Ethics at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. The leadership team includes Emmanuel Katongole, associate professor at Duke Divinity School and Grace Tazelaar, missions director for Nurses Christian Fellowship.

Participants will look at the AIDS epidemic as a means to foster mercy, compassion, justice, reconciliation, humility and unity, which are all characteristics that God desires for his Church. AIDS offers American churches an opportunity to relearn biblical views about sexuality, the role of women in societies and racial reconciliation. Track participants will be encouraged to approach the suffering of their brothers and sisters with humility, sensitivity and God’s love.

Open for Business Conference at Urbana 06
The forces of globalization that are breaking down cultural, economic and language barriers around the world are also opening new doors for the gospel. Christians are identifying incredible opportunities for business to be a force for economic, social and spiritual vitality, changing both individual lives and entire communities. Many consider business to be the missions strategy for the twenty-first century.

The Open for Business conference at Urbana 06 is a specialized track for those who have a passion or growing interest in business and global missions. It will build, mobilize and equip a multi-generational network of business practitioners who seek to harness the potential of business to contribute to the global advance of God's kingdom around the world.

Open for Business participants will attend special plenary sessions with business as mission leaders who will illustrate how business can help alleviate poverty, transform lives and bring healing and spiritual renewal.

Business as mission means releasing business people to use their gifting in business, integrated with biblical principles, to transform their own communities and nations and to carry the good news to the ends of the earth through commerce.

Business as mission works both within a business setting and through its purposes and capacities. It seeks to harness the power and resources of business for intentional missions impact in the community, nation and world at large (adapted from the Lausanne Occasional Paper 59). Business as mission includes, but is not limited to:

  • Starting a business as mission enterprise in the Developing World which impacts a community economically, socially and spiritually.

  • Enabling such enterprises through training and availability of capital (e.g., microfinance).
  • Infusing Christian values and perspective into the global conduct of business (e.g., ethics, Christian leadership principles).
  • Ministering to counterparts in the marketplace with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Slum Communities of the Developing World
The world has moved to the city; the mega-cities of the globe are bursting at the seams as people flock to them to find work. More than one billion people live in make-shift housing and another billion are on the way. (Read October 2006 issue of LWP for more on this.)

The slum communities track has been designed for those interested in urban transformation in the Two-thirds World. Urban church planting, economic development, waste management, child labor, prostitution, housing and other critical areas will be addressed within this track.

International Students Track
God desires to see Christian international students impact the world in extraordinary ways. This track is designed to provide international students with a unique opportunity to hear God's call to join his global mission in the context of a smaller international community. It seeks to enhance the attendees’ understanding of what it means to be kingdom citizens in a multicultural world. International students, North American students who are friends of international students and those working with international students are invited to join this track.

Pastors and Church Leaders
Urbana 06 also includes a program designed for pastors and other church leaders who are seeking ways to help their churches have a more dynamic missions ministry. Seminars will discuss how to effectively engage with the emerging postmodern culture, inform about current world missions issues and discuss ways for Christians across the world to partner in the spread of the gospel. The track is open to all current pastors or other church leaders.

Worship and Drama
The Urbana 06 worship team is lead by Daryl Black, a St. Louis (Missouri, USA)-based worship leader, singer, songwriter and producer. Sharing worship with twenty-five thousand others who gather to seek their place in global missions will be an unforgettable experience.

The theater team is led by artistic director Patrick Sims. The diverse team of artists will help attendees understand and apply the message of Ephesians—and view God’s world and his people through fresh eyes.

Goal is Mobilization
With total attendance of over 220,000 since InterVarsity’s first student missions convention in Toronto in 1946, Urbana has mobilized thousands of men and women onto the mission field and into Christian vocations. Urbana 06 will continue the tradition. InterVarsity believes the new location in St. Louis will allow Urbana 06 to serve the global Church by motivating more people than ever before into global missions.


Gordon Govier is a journalist in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. He is employed by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.