ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The idealism of the millennial generation is that they are optimistic, mission-focused, and global, said InterVarsity Christian Fellowship President Alec Hill on the first day of one of the world’s largest student missions conferences.
"This generation is more connected. It is a smaller world for them," Hill told The Christian Post on Wednesday, shortly before a press conference for Urbana 06. The student ministry head noted how student registrants of the triennial convention are the "going" and "doing" generation.
As expected, a record number of over 22,200 delegates from all across North America came under one roof on Wednesday for the beginning of the five-day conference in St. Louis, Mo. Sponsored by InterVarsity, the Urbana conference is one of the largest gathering of missions organizations in the world. About 275 exhibitors — seminaries and missions organizations — are expected to make themselves available to conference attendants. This year’s Urbana is the first to be held in St. Louis in gathering’s 60-year history.
"God’s calling is bigger than anything you could have ever imagined," Jim Tebbe, InterVarsity’s Vice President of Missions and Director of Urbana, proclaimed to tens of thousands of delegates during his opening speech at the general session. "It is about God meeting you."
The theme of Urbana 06 is "Live a Life Worthy of the Calling."
"Urbana has been, and we pray will continue to be, a water-shed event for thousands of students to make life-altering decisions," said Hill, describing the convention as being the catalyst that is capable of having ripple effects on thousands if the case of global mission is presented effectively.
"It’s not a world missions convention, but it’s a missions convention for North Americans between Canada and the U.S., and we believe that everyone is to be a part of God’s missions. Our job is to challenge the churches and this generation of youth," noted Tebbe.
In light of the shift taking place in global Christianity – where there is a role-shift of mission works between Westerners and non-Westerners – Urbana will address students over the next several days with new realities through plenary sessions, teach how they can go about doing it through seminars, and further direct them to agents through exhibit hall sessions.
"What is it that God is trying to say to us and to this world?" posed Tebbe. The Urbana director insisted that it takes a new generation to see the paradigm.
"We are in a position of inquiry rather than saying ‘we are absolutely sure, so follow our position.’"
This year, the Urbana convention will focus on issues such as AIDS and "slum communities in the developing world," according to its literature. Seminars, which will be held at the America's Center and at some of the hotels surrounding it, will include "Sex-Trafficking, Child Prostitution and the Growing International Trade in Human Flesh," "Call of People of African Descent in the Missionary Enterprise," "How the World Views Americans" and "Theology Through the Lens of AIDS."