So I pretty much spent half of my break at Urbana 09 instead of playing through Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru Episode 5. On the bus ride there, I did manage to get through Bungaku Shoujo and that will be the extent of my animu-related consumption while I was there. More on both of those another time.
I went to Urbana with the promise that I’d come away from it with a better understanding of what my role would be in God’s global mission. And I did. Did God give me a specific calling? Nope. Did I have a firm enough idea of what I’d be doing that I’d be able to make a commitment via decision card? Nope. What Urbana did do for me was that it reaffirmed a lot of the stuff that I’d been hearing about over the last few years and a lot of my own suspicions about what I think I should be doing and how things should be.
I’ll be honest. I was (pleasantly) surprised at the big topics that they focused on in the evening sessions. I was expecting a huge emphasis specifically on evangelism (focus on people groups or specific issues). What we got was migrants and displaced peoples, money, environment, and divisions between peoples. Beyond those particular sessions, I felt that instead of just focusing solely on evangelism, the big issue was social justice.
The theme was “He dwelled among us” and the focus was on John 1-4. Essentially, the incarnation of Christ is the model that we’re supposed to follow in missions. This is interesting, because it’s something that my pastor at my home church has talked about before. Why did it seem like our faith really grew and we could see God moving when we went away to university but nothing happened back at home? The answer is in being incarnational: living in the community you’re trying to serve and becoming a part of it.
Most of the seminars I went to were on advocacy: a lot of stuff on how to advocate on behalf of the poor, both urban and third-world, or the oppressed. Essentially, it was about how to use our incredibly privileged positions as well-educated citizens of a first-world democracy to change things around for those who can’t escape poverty or oppression. This is the kind of stuff that I’m looking for in an answer when I ask how I should put my degree in computer science and mathematics to use. I’ve always felt that the things we study and our occupations should and can be used to further God’s kingdom beyond the standard cop-out answer, that we’ve been placed in our workplaces so we can evangelize to our co-workers bla bla bla bla zzzzzzzzz.
I think this speaks to how much we don’t understand how blessed we are. We have so much influence and so much opportunity within our grasp and the only way we can advance the Kingdom is by sharing your faith with your coworkers? Really? We have exponentially more talents than the majority of the world, but so much of the time, we’re using less than or equal to those who have much, much less, using one or two here and there and burying the rest into the ground.
We’re very familiar with the concept that sharing the Gospel isn’t just shouting the book of John at a random guy. We’ve come up with clever and creative ways to present it and we know that different aspects appeal to different people. This is exactly the same with combating poverty and oppression. You don’t need to go and hand food to the poor to help them. Like I said before, where we’ve been placed in society gives us unique ways to do stuff like advocate for the poor and the oppressed.
Something that stuck with me about missions was from my short term missions trip a long time ago. Essentially, our purpose is not missions, but worship. Why is this? Missions is temporary. There will come a point in time when Christ returns and missions will no longer be necessary. In the same way that Christ told us to go and make disciples of all nations, he told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and to visit those in prison. Like missions, all of these things are temporary, because, well, there aren’t really going to be any oppressed after Christ returns, are there?
And I think that something that’s been keeping us from thinking bigger and about the world is our inability to use our gifts in a way that isn’t obvious. One of the things that really made me think about what’s going on in other parts of the world are the accounts and stories of the church in other parts of the world. They’re facing incredible challenges that we can’t even imagine and they’re still able to do what we can barely do here, in our comfort and wealth. And those are just those who are oppressed and know Christ. Imagine living in slavery or poverty and not knowing Christ!
Something that Urbana does very well is remind us that there is a world beyond our immediate vision. Being forced to worship in a different style and language is a very easy way to get across the point that God and his church is much, much bigger than we often realize. And once we notice that there’s an entire world out there and we’re overwhelmed with the enormity of this realization, Urbana is ready with resources to guide us towards taking creative and daring, but realistic and manageable steps to impact not just the people around us, but the world.
So where does that leave me? Well, I have a much greater awareness and understanding of the kinds of things I want and need to be doing. At this point though, I’m still unsure what it is exactly what I’ll be doing. If you know me, then you’ll know that I love theory but hate application. I guess that’ll be the struggle I’ll be facing in the next couple of months while I continue to digest the things I brought back with me from Urbana.