ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Urbana 2006 students packed their bags and traveled hours back to their homes on New Year's Day after closing out five intense conference days.
"Three years ago, at this point of the conference, I was completely exhausted but deliriously joyful," said Donna Dong, national director of the Multiethnic/Multicultural Ministry for InterVarsity in Canada, at the concluding session of Urbana Sunday night.
From morning Bible studies to hundreds of seminars and from active worship to messages into the night, at the end of the week more than 22,000 college students were still left with the energy to sing "Lord, you are good" out onto the streets after the close of Urbana on New Year's Eve.
Although many desired to stay even longer, Urbana emcee Greg Jao told them, "We don't want to stay here. The world needs your voice ... your action. Don't settle at Urbana."
College students from 144 countries came to the triennial Urbana conference to renew their relationship with God and discover their missions calling. Many are still unsure about the path they expect God to lead them into as catalysts for changing the world, but they know, nevertheless, that they have a calling to follow.
"No matter where you come from ... God has a plan for your life," Terrence Nichols, pastor of New Hope Community Church in Vallejo, Calif., confidently told the young crowd.
Whatever the missions plan, Nichols noted that it isn't going to be an easy task.
"You may sense that the task is daunting and that the responsibility is demanding," he said. "You have assessed the challenge correctly."
And the young students at Urbana are up to the challenge whether it means following a divine calling that could place them in the slum communities in the United States or in a foreign country altogether.
"Just being here has opened my eyes to missionaries not just leaving the country but being missionaries to people across the street from you because that's how diversified everything has become," said Regis Whaley, a senior at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who aspires to be a pastor in the states.
Whaley is looking to pass on his Urbana experience to an even younger crowd – his youth group.
"My new year's resolution [is] to mobilize the youth group that I'm leading now to get them into a more Christian worldview kind of mindset where they recognize too that there is a whole world out there, that we really literally need to go out there and make disciples of all nations and not just stay in our little comfort zone and worry about our own church," he said.
Urbana 2006 moved to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo., for the first time to fit a growing audience. The triennial conference drew a record high of more than 22,000 people, surpassing the previous high of 20,700.
Urbana 2006 director Jim Tebbe noticed a different caliber among these students from those in past conferences.
"It seems that there’s a different tenor to it than even 2003, the last Urbana,” he said. "There’s a serious of purpose here that has surprised me."
Brenda Salter McNeil of Salter McNeil Associates expressed a similar impression she got from the students.
"These are people who hear the Word of God and then immediately want to respond to it," she said. "I’m extremely impressed."