Urbana ’96 Challenges Youth
by Cadet Lisa Smith –
Fifty young Salvationists from all over the Western Territory joined more than 19,000 other Christian young adults for the Urbana ’96 Student Mission Convention held recently at the University of Illinois.
United by the theme, “You Are My Witnesses,” delegates were challenged from the book of the Acts of the Apostles to take seriously Jesus’ instructions to go into all the world with the Gospel, witnessing to what they have seen and heard.
The convention started off with an enthusiastic plenary session featuring George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization. Using humor and unusual antics, he challenged the young people to be Jesus-focused, grace-awakened, Spirit-filled witnesses. He urged the students to trust God and his plan to use them as his witnesses, in spite of the struggles and weaknesses they may sense in themselves. The Holy Spirit’s power at work in individual lives is the key. “Everyone should be filled with the Holy Spirit,” George stated, “That’s the normal Christian life. It’s not just for a few cuckoos who stay up late.”
With that dynamic beginning the convention continued, offering inspiring missionary and student testimonies, dramatic Scripture presentations, challenging preaching, and daily Biblical exposition on passages from the book of Acts. Delegates also chose from a list of seminars on topics ranging from missions issues to apologetics, college campus ministry, prayer and other spiritual disciplines.
Highlights for many were the times of corporate praise and worship. Julie McDougald, Pasadena Tabernacle Corps, says: “It was so cool to see so many believers worshipping the Lord together in one place, from so many different places and backgrounds, and yet I didn’t sense any boundaries of denomination or race. We were one united body of believers.”
The “Urbana experience,” in its immensity, has been likened to sipping water from a fire hose; but in spite of the overwhelming nature of the event, many delegates’ lives were touched as the Spirit of God spoke to them individually. “God showed me that the first thing that I should do to be an effective witness for him is to surrender all areas of my life to Jesus Christ’s Lordship,” says Ethan Bradley, Flagstaff, Ariz., corps, and recent graduate of Northern Arizona University. “I learned that when I have a reconciled and deep relationship with God, I don’t need to worry or know the how, where and when of serving him. Serving and mission are results of my relationship with God, not any action or desire on my part.”
During the convention, Salvationist delegates from the four USA territories and Canada took the opportunity to gather together for lunch and a time of sharing about their vision for the Army’s ministry in the 21st Century. Kathy Boswell, youth director at the Aurora, Colo., corps, found the Holy Spirit using this “kindred session” to encourage her to be more serious in her focus on Jesus and being his witness. “I was reminded that, as Salvationists, we’re soldiers in a war,” states Boswell. “We need to be fighting, not spending the majority of our efforts worrying about side issues that don’t matter in the eternal scheme of things.”
The convention culminated with a New Year’s Eve worship service that ushered in 1997 to the sound of 20,000 voices united in worship and commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ. Cadet Thomas Olsen states, “What a privilege to have been at Urbana ’96! Through this conference God affirmed in me his calling on my life for officership, and he challenged me to stretch my prayers to include other nations and peoples, not just myself, my friends and my own surroundings.”