ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The walls that divide Christians felt their foundations shake when students at one of the largest missions conferences joined their voices with hopes to declare unity.
"People tell us Christians can’t meet across denominational boundaries and [racial divisions], but this conference proves them wrong," exclaimed Urbana 2006 host Greg Jao to thousands of students as he opened the general session Saturday.
The Urbana convention, which marked its twenty-first triennial gathering in St. Louis, Mo., garnered over 20,000 students this past week, and some 220,000 students over the course of its sixty-year history. According to Jao, Urbana has witnessed more than 60,000 churches commit to this generation of students and recent graduates.
"This is truly a multicultural, multiethnic experience," said Daryl Black, a worship pastor at Grace Church in St. Louis and also the worship leader of Urbana 2006. Black told the Urbana newspaper that he wanted students to see unity connection beyond music as he performed with a band comprised of multiple ethnic backgrounds.
"We want people to walk away with a sense of Christian community-beyond the borders they have been," he said.
Earnest praises asking for unity filled the hall Saturday, echoing vibes that students would do whatever it takes to end disillusionment and sadness existing within churches.
Ashley Smith, a student rapper, stirred the crowd Saturday night as she showed no reluctance from speaking her mind. "How we seem to drift deeper into religion and further from relation," she rhymed expressing the hostilities that exist among Christians.
"There are a lot of things we are connected to but a lot of people who are older in churches don’t feel connected because they are kind of on their way out of life. They are not looking at trying to establish new changes now," commented Brent Hyden, a college and young singles ministry pastor who is currently working at three different churches affiliated with leading evangelical denominations in San Diego. “I think students have a huge opportunity to stand up for what is right and to love justice and to love mercy and to do what God tells us to do.”
Hyden further commented on the importance of churches having a mixture of older and younger generation for stability and balance. "There needs to be a bridge between this generation and the last generation," he said.
Best selling author Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., said he has committed his life to this next generation. "I am spending the rest of my life investing in this generation," he told The Christian Post Thursday, saying he had jumped into the chance of reaching out to students when Urbana sent out invitation.
"I’m so proud of you that you’re here when millions of young adults your age are really just living for themselves. It says in your heart you want to do the right thing," commended the megachurch pastor during his speech to students on Saturday.
Encouraging students to bring reformation to world mission, Warren challenged students to engage in missions the way Jesus did it.
Noting the desire for every generation to having a sign – whether it be surfers or hippies – the evangelical pastor formed a "W" with his fingers to the packed stadium, calling them the "reformation generation." He described the sign to signify the full consecration to Christ – "whatever, wherever, whenever" the calling.
"What I was experiencing – not even just at Urbana, but before Urbana – is the truth of the gospel … that the gospel is not limited," said Tamera Peth, 22, a student participant of Urbana 2006. "From what I see, I feel like there will be more and more change as time goes on – a revolution of people standing up for Jesus."