ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Attendants at Urbana 2006, one of the continent's largest student missions conferences, don’t need to be convinced that they can or should change the world. Rather, they sing, "We will change the world."
Some college students may be weary of being told that they can change the world, Sharon Cohn of International Justice Mission told the more than 22,000 Urbana students Friday night. Being in a transitional life stage, however, it's inevitable for many Christian students to keep asking themselves what God's calling for them is – a divine calling meant to change the world.
Today, there are some 400,000 missionaries in foreign missions; 166,000 people hear the gospel for the first time each day; 21 million new Christians and 50,000 new churches each year; and 169,000 Christians martyred for their faith each year, according to an InterVarsity video shown at Urbana.
"There is God who has given us a mandate," Brenda Salter McNeil, a leading advocate in racial and ethnic reconciliation, preached passionately to Urbana participants Thursday evening. "We have a calling."
This calling has a "different orientation," according to InterVarsity President Alec Hill, compared to that of the Boomer generation.
The first Urbana conference took place closely after the end of World War II. Missionaries at that time faced war-torn countries and populations left vulnerable. The situation isn't much different today with war ravaging nations and the HIV/AIDS pandemic leaving millions weakened or orphaned.
But attitudes have changed.
Rather than entering foreign mission fields to "fix" countries, students today are being told to strip off their dominant Western culture.
"That may be one of the changes in attitude over the first Urbana to this one – that we go as learners and that there's reciprocity," Hill told The Christian Post. "But that doesn't mean you have to be mute. It just means you have to be humble."
The new mission agenda may be there, but the roadmap to future missions isn't as clearly laid out for each student.
Thus, Urbana opened the doors to plug students in with over 200 mission agencies from around the world from the smaller mom and pop mission groups to widely established international organizations.
"College students ask what's their calling," said Hill.
"We will change the world," Urbana students musically echo.