ST. LOUIS (BP)–With various global issues challenging the body of Christ, leaders of the 2006 Urbana Student Missions Conference are calling the next generation of students to be the catalyst for a missions reformation. During the Dec. 27-31 conference in St. Louis, global Christian leaders called the 22,000-plus collegians and youth to strike a balance between traditional evangelical missions strategies and the social justice necessary to address such issues as urbanization and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Urbana 06 director Jim Tebbe called on the students to integrate political action and missions for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
“Our need to leverage for greater influence in the structures and systems in this world may not be the message you were expecting at a missions conference,” Tebbe said, “but let me remind you of a couple of things in Scripture. The Apostle Paul was not afraid to assert his Roman citizenship for the cause of the Gospel. The prophet Daniel was an advisor to a pagan nation and so were Esther and Joseph.
“The history of the church is full of examples of those whose faith in the risen Christ compelled them to exercise authority for the sake of the Gospel,” Tebbe said.
With some of history’s greatest reform movements spearheaded by Christian men and women, Tebbe asked Urbana attendees to “incorporate a compassionate concern” in their daily walk with Christ. “We cannot be silent in the political and social arena. Our voice, a voice motivated by a love of Jesus and a desire for His Kingdom to come, must be heard. We must use our influence among the power holders in this world for the things that so rend the heart of God, like desperate poverty and AIDS.”
Citing tremendous power in global partnerships, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, spoke to the students during the conference’s “Community Night.” Warren presented them with a catchphrase for their generation: “whatever, whenever, wherever.” “To dedicate your life and sanctify your life, you are going to have to become familiar with three very important words: whatever, wherever, whenever,” Warren said. “Because that is what it means to be fully consecrated to Christ.”
Warren invited the students to begin a reformation of missions. “We don’t need to move the church forward; we need to move it back to the first century and do it the way Jesus did,” he said. “You are the reformation generation. You must be those who bring in the reformation in world missions.”
In response to the changing mission field and the need for new mission strategies, Urbana attendees immediately put hands and feet to their faith by raising $1.257 million for missions during the five-day conference. Setting records over previous years, the offering will fund missions around the world, AIDS programs and urban ministries.
John Smith*, a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, sees key opportunities for the current generation of students beyond previous generations.
“They are the most important generation in history. We don’t expect enough of them, and oftentimes we don’t send them out with a big enough challenge. I think some of the things they saw at Urbana opened their eyes to the challenges of the world,” said Smith, who currently is serving in a country closed to the Gospel. “They are stepping up and will do some things that maybe people from a past generation could not do. With a little bit of mentoring and leadership, they can do anything.”
In looking at key societal changes brought about by globalization, conference speakers highlighted trends usurping traditional methods of evangelism successful in previous years. During the conference, church leaders, AIDS activists, missionaries and international pastors urged students to develop new missiological approaches to the challenges ahead.
With new people groups migrating to urban centers in both the United States and abroad, oceans and mountains are no longer separating churches from the international mission field, said Ray Bakke, plenary speaker and academic dean at Bakke Graduate University.
“We’re moving away from a world of about 200 nations and [toward] a world of interconnected city states. It is changing in your lifetime and mine,” said Bakke, a leader in urban ministry. “We are shifting from an Atlantic world to a Pacific world, and the frontier is the city not the jungle. And so missions is no longer across the ocean, mountain, across the desert — it is across the street. It is the greatest bargain in world missions. They are coming here at their own expense, and it’s happening on all six continents.”
In looking to Scripture for a model of urban ministry, Bakke cited Psalm 107. “We notice that not only is the world in motion with the Southern Hemisphere coming north, East coming west, but everybody is coming to the city,” he said. “But it may have missed your attention who is to blame for bringing the multitudes to the metroplex. [In Psalm 107,] the people were wandering out in the wilderness without hope, and they cried out to the Lord in their misery, and what did our gracious God do? He led to them straightaway to the city to dwell in.”
God has provided a unique opportunity for students to involve themselves in missions in city neighborhoods, Bakke said. “In 1800, 2 percent of people lived in sizeable cities. In 1900, 8 percent. But a month or so after 9/11 in 2001 you may have felt the tectonic shift as, for the first time in human history, the majority of this planet lives in sizeable cities. It has happened in your time and mine.”
Southern Baptist missionary Jim Douglass* has watched the process of urbanization open doors for sharing the Gospel as well as raise up obstacles to missions.
“Because people are migrating to these centers, they are outside of their local culture and support network. They are almost like foreigners even though they are still in their own home country,” Douglass told Baptist Press. “But they are more likely to listen to the Gospel. It has become easier to reach remote people groups when they are outside of their local network and culture.”
Douglass said students are going to the mission field in spite of the crises of globalization. Attending the conference to recruit students for mission activities, the 25-year-old missionary discovered a hard-sell for missions wasn’t necessary.
“Most of the students that I talked with were either in seminary or planning on going to seminary or interested in being a Journeyman [two-year post-college missionary]. And most wanted to go to places that have not been touched by the Gospel yet and wanted to use their degrees to meet human needs while sharing the Gospel,” Douglass said. “We weren’t like other organizations in trying to recruit people. Most were Southern Baptists and knew of the IMB through the Lottie Moon Offering and through their ministers. They were coming to us ready to go and with a specific location in mind.”
Douglass said the students desired to respond to the practical needs of the world’s population while sharing the Good News of the Gospel.
“A lot of missions organizations have strayed on meeting needs and focused solely on evangelism. We will need to move back toward the middle to be the hands and feet of Jesus as well,” Douglass said.
Highlighting the dilemma in which many missionaries find themselves in the fight against global diseases, Douglass said common ground must be found regarding the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the mission field.
“My generation really needed to be exposed to that because in North America the perception of AIDS is very different than in the developing world where there are not even ways to screen blood to see if it is infected,” Douglass said.
With 39.5 million people living with AIDS at the end of 2006 and 15 million children orphaned by the disease, Urbana organizers urged students to look beyond the statistics to a mission field of opportunities. Special exhibits, testimonies and worship sessions were dedicated to educating students on the staggering needs present by AIDS on the mission field.
Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren and an Urbana plenary speaker, shared her story of traveling to Rwanda to meet with AIDS victims. “HIV offers you and me the opportunity to do the most powerful thing in the world, and that is to make the invisible God visible,” she said. “Our world doesn’t understand God until you and I make him visible.”
Giving a face to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Princess Kasune Zulu, a Zambia native and AIDS activist with World Vision, shared her testimony of losing both her parents to AIDS and becoming infected with the disease.
“I remember when I tested HIV-positive, I wanted to share my story in the congregation. And the first thing that the local pastor of my church said is, ‘You cannot do that,’” she recounted. “And I did insist that I wanted to share, because if I as a Christian cannot stand up to say I may have this incurable disease — if I hold on to my faith, I know that God is faithful even in this situation and [will] give hope to those already dying because the reality is there is no cure. Who else can be in a better place [to share]?”
Speaking at a news conference Dec. 30, Rick and Kay Warren acknowledged that evangelical support for the fight against AIDS has been polarized in previous generations. But both agreed that social justice and traditional evangelism must go hand-in-hand.
“Those who argue that there is only way to evangelize, that is like only dropping one hook in the water,” Rick Warren said. “ As a church that has baptized 20,000 new believers in the last 10 years, I repudiate that vision and would say I imagine some of the churches that are doing social ministry are seeing greater results than even those who have limited themselves to one form of outreach.”
Having recently forged an unlikely coalition with political figures such as Sen. Barack Obama and Mark Dybul, an open homosexual, at Saddleback’s recent AIDS summit, Warren rejected the schism between the church and the political arena in battling HIV/AIDS.
“You do not have the right to demonize someone just because he is different than you. Jesus said not only love your neighbor, but also your enemy -– that is radical love,” Warren said. “If you could only work with people you agree with, you will rule out the entire world because nobody agrees completely with you. But you can disagree without being disagreeable. And you can have unity in certain issues without having uniformity.”
The church must become known for what it is for rather than what it is against, Warren said. “One of the things we are for is what Jesus is for -– for the poor, sick, uneducated [and for efforts to counter] any corruption, sex-trafficking, the misuse of people and slavery which is still a real issue in some parts of the world.”
Steve Haas, vice president of World Vision, said more Christian leaders are beginning to incorporate a response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic into their mission strategies.
“There are a lot of people in the tent who don’t appear to agree on everything. But we do agree on God’s love for the world. We do agree on the fact that He loves every individual. We do agree on the fact that AIDS can be prevented. We do agree that it takes our voice to stand up for people who have no voice,” Haas said. “That is where we start. That may be different than some people’s understanding of what ‘evangelicalism’ is. It’s not to say anyone is watering down anything. It’s just to say there is a wealth of things that we need to be talking about and have a great deal of similarities in. Let’s start there and just see what God does.”
Kay Warren said she believes the power to eradicate AIDS and bring the hope of the Gospel to the world resides with the current generation of students attending Urbana.
“In my generation, we were given an epidemic that we allowed to turn into a pandemic. And so to the next generation, the 22,000 students who are sitting here today, we are handing them a pandemic that we have failed to stop.
“I encourage them to care and have the heart of God. That is the only hope of stopping it,” she said.
*Names and locations omitted for security reasons.