Earlier this year, I visited friends who are serving the Lord in very difficult, Muslim contexts in Turkey and Bosnia. As I heard their stories, I was not only in awe of how God changed the trajectory of their lives as college students, but how they continue to hold on to convictions they gained even 20 years later.
One friend shared how God “lifted my eyes up to the nations,” something which he hoped this student generation would also do. While not to minimize our local challenges, he shared, “The world has bigger problems than the first-world problems I typically hear from my American friends. The Church has issues in America, but we don’t even have a single church here, nor even a group of Christians to gather!”
The Church here in our local neighborhood and local city certainly has its set of challenges. We hear stories of mismanagement, moral failure, and lack of missional zeal. We need bigger buildings and better worship experiences. We need greater generosity and reconciliation in our church communities.
We do have serious issues in our local churches and our local context, but my friend’s words are still ringing in my ear… “We don’t even have a single church here, nor even a group of Christians to gather.”
What does it look like to lift our eyes up from the everyday, to lift them up to see the nations?
While in Turkey and Bosnia, I met with another missionary couple serving under constant threat. Their car was recently vandalized by Islamic extremists, who graffitied on their windshield, “We know you have children, and we know where you live.” But this couple continued to persevere in following God’s call and serving in a part of the world which is often forgotten and unknown to many of us.
I asked her a question as our time concluded, “If there’s one thing you could tell this generation of students and young adults, what would you say?” She didn’t hesitate. “I want them to know that we need people to come here and die for Christ.”
I continue to ponder those words from these dear friends. How can we lift our eyes up to the nations? What does it mean to challenge this generation to literally give their lives for Christ?
I have the privilege of being involved with several significant legacy ministries in global missions — Urbana, Lausanne, Missio Nexus, and Wycliffe Bible Translators. Many often ask me, “The past was great, but is there any hope for the next generation? Will they contribute anything at all to the spread of the gospel?”
As I look at this student generation and the next generation of missionaries, I have hope. I have hope because I see 100,000s of American students who are committed to evangelism. In the last decade, InterVarsity has seen more students make first-time decisions for Christ than during any decade in its 72-year history.
I have hope because students have always led the way in changing the world, from 19-year old Samuel Mills in 1806, launching the North American missions movement from Williams College, to
The Lausanne Movement’s first Global Leadership Forum, held in Bangalore in June, drew together 350 participants from over 60 nations, selected from the public arenas, churches, agencies and the media. Its main work was to assess progress in issues identified in The Cape Town Commitment, and to stimulate further collaborative action towards the goals of its ‘Call to Action’.
There’s so much to be thankful for as I reflect on the Urbana 12 Student Missions Conference. I’m so proud of my team and the 1,500+ InterVarsity staff across North America, who rallied together around a vision for this Urbana to be clearly connected to its historical vision, clearly rooted in Scripture & the Gospel, and clearly contextualized to the language & culture of this generation.
Many robust reports, articles, videos, and stories will undoubtedly be circulated in the coming months, but for now, I’d like to share 10 PERSONAL highlights from Urbana 12 (in no particular order):
How can we take Urbana’s best learning and share with a wider audience about the lifelong journey of missions? Together with my colleague Nikki Toyama-Szeto, we worked with some outstanding authors and co-edited 6 mini-books, just published and now FOR SALE. Titles include Deepening the Soul for Justice, The Mission of Worship, Partnering with the Global Church, Spiritual Warfare in Mission, Your Mind’s Mission, and Pursuing God’s Call.