What’s an Urbana?

Video

Many of you have probably heard that Matt and I went to Urbana a couple weeks ago, and some of you might be wondering, “what’s an urbana?” That’s a valid question.

Urbana is a missions conference that InterVarsity hosts once every three years. It’s been going on for the past 70 years, and has been equipping and challenging students to live lives of mission and even serve in long term missions for quite some time (even students like Jim Elliot went to Urbana!) This year almost 16,000 students gathered in St. Louis to attend.

The video below will serve as a great intro, to give you a glimpse of what Urbana was like…

 

While at Urbana, students got to hear speakers like David Platt (author of Radical), and several missionaries, church pastors and non-profit founders, all involved in God’s global mission. One evening when students were expecting a main session speaker, IV partnered with World Vision to answer the prayers of AIDS caregivers in Swaziland, Africa, by assembling 32,000 kits with basic medical supplies. Students got to hear from one of the actual caregivers named Shorty who came from Swaziland to speak about the need of her community, and students were able to humbly respond through prayer & action.

Seminars were held during the afternoons so that students could hear about a wide range of topics from Spiritual Warfare in Missions, to Women in Academics, to What it Takes to Transform a City. They also gathered each morning to study the Gospel of Luke in traditional IV form through an Inductive manuscript study of the Scripture. Urbana also hosted a couple hundred various missions organizations & seminaries that students could visit and talk with about future partnerships and opportunities. The worship even challenged students to think about what it will look like one day for every tribe, tongue and nation to be worshipping the Lord together in Heaven, and to experience a tiny taste of that here on earth.

Near the end of Urbana, many deep commitments were made by students:

  • To serve at least two years in missions – 4,224 (2,676 in 2009)
  • To lead an evangelistic Bible study – 6,434 (5,034 in 2009)
  • To follow Jesus for the first time or to make a recommitment – 96 & 3740

Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity USA said about Urbana, “While we can’t fully comprehend the extent of the Spirit’s work among us, my sense is that this was a very special Urbana. I suspect that twenty years from now, Urbana 12 participants will be spreading the Kingdom of God all over the globe – proclaiming the Good News, healing infirmities, fighting injustice, and discipling new believers.”

Amen. I went to Urbana as a student in 2009, and was deeply moved. I came back to Urbana as an IV staff three years later, and was again met deeply by the Lord, with a renewed call to His global mission on campus, and thirsty for students & faculty to be transformed, campuses to be renewed and world changers to be developed.

 

A God of Justice

Justice is one of those tricky words to nail down.  You think you know exactly what it means until you’re asked to give a definition for it.  Our generation’s confusion over whether or not there is absolute truth or morality further complicates this. 

Rather than attempt to address that struggle, I’ll simply borrow a definition from several online dictionaries for this post.  Justice is, “Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness.”

As a Christian, I find it very significant that God chooses to identify Himself as a God of Justice.  If you were to elevate me to a position of infinite knowledge and power, I would still lack the attribute of Justice because, as life has proven to me, I would be completely unable to hold a morally consistent standard for myself.  In fact, the power and knowledge would probably just enable me to be increasingly morally inconsistent, again, as life experience has taught me about myself.  But God is not like this.  

This thought embodies much of what the Biblical call to justice is.  To be, and to do right, especially when we are in positions of power, wealth, or influence.  And the UNC students that we work with are certainly in positions of influence, power, and wealth in proportion to most of the world.  If you’re reading this on a computer you own, then you probably are too.

So how do we as a community seek to live out this Biblical call to justice?  

First, we seek to be aware of the ways that we individually need to repent and seek after justice in our own lives.  For UNC IV this has looked like, hearing talks about racism that exists systemically in our country, as well as personally in our lives.  A big eye-opener to me has been learning about white privilege, and all the ways that I have blindly not valued or respected other ethnicities around me – shout out to my friend Joe Scott for helping me to see this in my own life.  As a community we’re still learning how to respond to this truth, but we’re grateful to have taken the first step to actually begin dialoguing and learning about it.

Second, we as a community are seeking to care for the poor, the powerless, and the underprivileged around us.  This has happened in a variety of ways: students in small groups volunteering at one of the homeless shelters in Chapel Hill, one of our students choosing to move to an impoverished neighborhood in Richmond and teach and tutor there post college (see http://www.chatrichmond.org/ if you’re curious about it), through canned food drives to provide food for the poor around Chapel Hill and through participating in human trafficking walks to raise awareness for trafficking in the U.S. and around the world.

We’ve still got  along way to go in figuring this “justice” thing out.  But most of all we’re grateful that God, in all of His power and perfection, has cared for us in our spiritual and moral poverty.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

 

 

 

10 Reasons. #thankful

There’s a song that has been playing in mind lately and one of the verses goes like this…

“You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name”

It’s called 10,000 Reasons and it’s just a daily reminder of the manifold blessings that the Lord gives to us. And every day, but especially on a day like today, we’d like to take a minute to give 10 reasons why we are singing praises of thanksgiving this afternoon.

1. For the mighty grace & love that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ gives to us everyday

2. For both of our wonderful families who care for us, laugh with us, and encourage us

3. Now I can’t speak for Matt, but I’d like to say that I’m deeply thankful for him as my husband. It’s been 3 months, and I’m excited for every additional day, year & moment that the Lord gives us.

4. For our housemates at JMU (esp. Soupbowl-ers!!), fellow PPPs/Octagon guys, & IV community at JMU that have shaped us in so many ways & are still a huge blessing to us

5. Every single one of our donors who has enabled us to serve college students & do what we love. Thank you!!

6. For our Gathering family who taught us how to love murder mystery parties, Korean games, & who helped us see more of how Jesus is at work at GMU

7. For our fellow co-workers Jordan & Emma at UNC Chapel Hill, and our amazing students who bring us great joy on the regular

8. For our wonderful bridesmaids & groomsmen who have loved and supported us through our new marriage. Special kudos to Ryan, Mike, Lindsey & Chelsea who gave some hilarious & witty toasts at our wedding 🙂

9. For Robert Griffin the Third — from Matt, who is especially psyched to watch the Redskins play today

10. For my brother & Matt’s brothers and sisters, who have taught us generosity, friendship, the importance of having fun as well as how to have a music-jam sesh #thanksEric.

We love you all and are thankful for you today and everyday. Happy Thanksgiving!

So Why Should I Pray?

Happy November! It’s surprising to realize how long it’s been since our last blog post. The month of October was gone in the blink of an eye, between everything we’ve had going on here at UNC, and all of our weekend travels to see many a friend get married in the past month. To put things in perspective, we have actually been traveling every weekend for the past five weeks except one. 

Last weekend, we didn’t get to watch any of our friends tie the knot, but we did get to go to Black Mountain, NC with about 80 of our students for Chapter Retreat. It was a really fun weekend that our senior class planned for everyone in the chapter. The theme was identity, and senior students gave talks out of Colossians, gave testimonies about finding freedom from sin because of their identity in Christ, and led small groups which further explored having a Christ-centered identity. There were times for students to hang out, times of worship, and also a few different times for prayer.

Speaking of prayer–remember a few weeks ago, when Matt posted about taking 4 weeks to talk about each of the 4 focal points [Evangelism, Prayer, Multi-Ethnicity & Justice] of our vision for IV at UNC? Prayer is the second characteristic of that vision that we want to hit on today. 

It’s been really encouraging to be here at UNC, where the students have made it a priority to grow in their love for prayer. We take time at large group to pray Scripture corporately, or to pray aloud as a group, with everyone praying aloud in the same room at the same time. We pray to discern God’s wisdom in leadership meetings, and then have space to share what we believe the Lord said. And we make space on retreats, like Chapter Retreat this past weekend, to pray individually and also to pray together in smaller groups. 

And we do this because we believe that a relationship with God is similar to a relationship with a friend. That God actually cares what is going on in every single one of our lives, and wants us to talk with Him about it, and tell Him how we’re feeling about life and all the various things we have going on. If I had a friend who I never talked with, I wouldn’t really consider that a friendship, but I think I would consider that person to be more of an acquaintance, than an actual friend. God wants to engage with us. And the thing about prayer is that it’s meant to be a two-way conversation. So if I got coffee with another friend, and talked the entire time at her, without ever listening to let her speak, that would be quite rude. And it’s the same with God. God has things to say to us too, and prayer is when we stop, when we talk with God, and when we allow ourselves to listen and hear what He has to say to us. 

There’s a story in the Bible of a young boy named Samuel, who grew up in the temple of the Lord, learning how to be a priest under the tutelage of the current priest, Eli. And Eli groomed Samuel well for priesthood–teaching him everything he would need to know about how to be a priest in Israel. Except for one thing. 

He didn’t teach Samuel how to know God. And so Samuel is busy working for the Lord, in the house of the Lord, and yet He doesn’t know the Lord. And so one night, God comes to the temple of the Lord and he calls Samuel’s name. Three times, he calls for Samuel and three times, Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him. When Eli realizes that the voice is actually God, he tells Samuel to lie back down and if the voice comes again to say, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” 

So Samuel lies back down, and the the Lord speaks to Samuel a fourth time, and what is Samuel’s response? “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” And thus begins a lifetime of a relationship for God and Samuel, where Samuel not just works in the house of the Lord but actually knows the Lord, and hears Him when He speaks. 

I want to be a person who knows the Lord, and truly hears Him when He speaks. To pray and really have conversations about life–because God cares about that stuff. And to allow our relationship to be a friendship, a two-way conversation between me and God.

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. 

 

Let’s be honest…We’re all uptight about evangelism

Over the next couple of weeks, Renee and I are going to post about the four values that UNC IV is pursuing growth in – justice, evangelism, multi-ethnicity & racial reconciliation  and prayer.  We’re going to share a little bit about how we’re growing individually in these areas, and how the chapter as a whole is pursuing them.

So, evangelism.  I think that author Rebecca Manley Pippert says it well in her book Out of the Salt Shaker & Into the World, when she writes, “Christians and non-Christians have something in common: we’re both uptight about evangelism.”  I don’t know about you, but I can definitely relate to this.  My greatest fears in evangelism revolve around the fact that I don’t want to be inauthentic, unloving, and push my non-Christian friends away when I seek to “evangelize” or share the Gospel with them.  Even the term “non-Christian friends” strikes me as weird – these friends are my family, childhood best friends, even groomsmen in my wedding.  People that I love very deeply.  They mean a lot to me and it scares me to think that they might feel like they’re just christian “projects” to me, if I were to try and talk with them about my faith or Christianity.

And yet I live within an awful tension.  Because I also believe that as humans we were created to know and be known by the perfectly righteous and holy God whom created us.  This is both a wonderful and scary thing.  Wonderful because there is great beauty, purpose, and truth in the recognizing that there is something greater than us whom created us and means to live in relationship with us.  Scary because if this is true, we all must face the reality that who we are, and the lives that we live, are offensive to such a holy and righteous God.  Thankfully this Creator is loving as well, and chose to, in love, come to the world as Jesus Christ, and bear the offense of our actions, thoughts, and disposition, so that we might receive the life and relationship to Him that we don’t deserve.  But He does not force us to accept this mercy.  We are left to the hell of eternal existence apart from Him and all the external manifestations of His goodness to us if that be our choice.

Perhaps you disagree with this.  Many do.  You may even find this view offensive – after all it makes much of a God whom we have not physically seen, and claims that we humans are a desperately broken and needy people.  Alas, I do not have the power to convince you either way.  Love does place the tension of a responsibility on me to both respect you in your disagreement, while at the same time desperately wishing for you to know the God I believe you were created to know.  Especially in light of the future consequences.

Renee and I  are seeking to live within this tension well, and to help the UNC InterVarsity chapter to live within it well also.  For us personally, this means that we’re spending time with our neighbors, growing in love for them, and seeking opportunities to have spiritual conversations with them.  We also spend time prayingfor those we love to come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior, and receive the relationship we believe that they were created for.  For the chapter, it means growing as a witnessing community in a few key ways: small groups, proxy stations, and maturity in relational evangelism.

Small groups are designed to be God-centered witnessing communities centered upon studying God’s Word, and living lives of witness and worship.  Renee and I have the awesome opportunity to meet with small group leaders weekly to talk about how to become more invitational and loving towards the students on campus that haven’t yet chosen to accept God’s offer of relationship with them.  Our prayer is for these groups to become places that students whom aren’t Christian will feel comfortable entering into and belonging to the community before they have to believe what it stands for.  Proxy stations are student run, interactive stations on campus, where passing students are invited to have spiritual conversations with InterVarsity students.  Our prayer is for these stations to be a blessing to the students of UNC & to evoke questions about the God who desires to know them, and for many to  come to know Jesus Christ through them.  Lastly, as Renee and I disciple different students here we are praying for them to become the kind of people who will live well within this tension, and reach out boldly to engage their friends in conversation about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Please join us in praying for all of these things, and if you have any thoughts on the subject we would love to hear them!

Justice, Evangelism, Multi-ethnicity & Prayer

Happy Monday Morning! To all of you who are checking your email and getting all set for the week ahead, we hope that this blog post provides some much needed distraction amongst your daily Monday morning routines. Monday, for Matt and I, has typically become a “stay in the office, get paperwork, reading, writing, and anything else office-related taken care of for the week” sort of day, and today is no different. 

It’s crazy to think that this is actually the sixth Monday that we have had since living in Chapel Hill! It’s only been 6 weeks, and we have learned so much by interning at UNC [and still have a great deal more to learn]. One of the things that we have learned recently has to do with vision for an IV Chapter, and what it looks like to cast vision, and then put steps into place to reach that vision.

The students at UNC IV have a vision to see, “students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed and world changers developed.” Four ways that the new leadership team decided that this vision would be lived out are through: prayer, a commitment to multi-ethnicity & racial reconciliation, justice and evangelism. 

And it’s been exciting to see students seeking to live out these 4 focus points, to bring their vision to fruition. Issues of justice and racial reconciliation have been discussed at large group meetings regularly. Prayer is vital to our large groups, as well as to our smaller leadership meetings where we are seeking direction from the Lord, and at the various retreats our students attend. Evangelism is becoming a focus for our small groups and their members to be invitational with their non-Christian friends on campus. 

It has been the chapter’s hope that we would reach out to more students who are typically not reached by Christian ministries on a college campus. This goal is not easy, but the steps the students have taken already have made some headway. We’re only 6 weeks into the semester, but Matt and I are excited to come back and share what God has accomplished through these students’ diligent commitment to see the kingdom of Heaven come to bear on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.

Please pray for the students as they take steps toward this vision. Pray also for our small groups, as Matt and I are working more and more with them to enable our small groups to be true witnessing communities on campus. We hope that through them, many more students would see the unique Christ-centered community we have, and want to become a part of it, and over time, want to know the God that our communities are centered upon. 

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New Student Retreat

Every year, a couple of weeks into the semester, new students at UNC are gathered and invited to a weekend away at the beach for InterVarsity’s New Student Retreat (NSR). Students choose to go on it for a variety of reasons.  For some, they have nothing to do and a weekend at the beach sounds like the most exciting thing they’ve been invited to yet. For others, the weekend represents a chance to actually get to know people on a deeper level for their first time since coming to college.  Others still, feel like they need a weekend away to help them consider who they’re becoming at this new place, with these new friends, and in this new season of life.  Perhaps as you’re reading this you might remember what the first month of school was like for you.

Regardless of how your experience was, I think that you might have appreciated what these new students encountered.  Over 40 upperclassman volunteered and spent their weekend serving and welcoming the new students into the community.  19 new students came and were placed into small groups to get to know one another, and compete with each other through different games over the weekend.  Eating competitions, rap battles, time on the beach and much more were enjoyed by all.

All of these activities gave students opportunities to bond and get to know one another, but none perhaps as much as the personal testimonies.  Five different upperclassmen chose to share with the students about how the Lord invited them into a deeper relationship with Him during their time at UNC.  I was impressed by their authenticity as they shared about their struggles with eating disorders, severe family conflict, substance abuse and perfectionism.  A common theme ran throughout them all though.  Each of these students experienced freedom as they fell more in love with Christ, and entered more deeply into the community of His people.

Renee and I had an incredible time on the retreat. It was so encouraging to get to know students on a deeper level, and to see the students receive such a powerful message of freedom.  Thank you to those who through prayer and giving, made such an opportunity possible.  Please continue praying for these new students to both experience freedom, and bring it to the campus as they grow in faith!  Here are some fun pictures from the weekend.

Renee’s small group!

My small group!

The whole group together

And lastly, the staff!  Jordan and Emma are on the right