When I attended my very first Urbana Missions Conference in 1996, as a college student, I had recently completed a summer internship in Bundibugyo, Uganda. I settled at the Serge booth (which that year had a large, comfy couch and a coffee pot.) I spent five days debriefing and healing, seeing God’s grace and gospel-perspective, and I am still a Serge loyalist 19 years later.
I am now enjoying my SIXTH Urbana Missions Conference. It is one of my favorite aspects of my work with Serge. I love working at the Serge booth at Urbana. I love talking with students who are praying and asking God about their vocational calling to missions.
Americans who become international missionaries often site one of two catalytic factors: experience on a short-term mission trip, or the Urbana Missions Conference. At Serge, we are involved with both of those aspects of equipping and encouraging people toward missions. All of the students who attend Urbana are excited about, deeply engaged with, and praying toward involvement in missions.
A lot of students who attend Urbana are also struggling with their own brokenness, are confused about God’s calling in their life, and are overwhelmed with the enormity of the decisions they will soon make. Not only do we encourage people toward missions, we are also concerned with the healing and equipping conversations that happen.
At the last Urbana, I had several conversations with a young woman who had a very bad short-term mission trip experience. She needed debriefing, encouragement, and grace. I spoke with another young woman who believed she was disqualified from mission work because of unresolved childhood sexual abuse. Another young man couldn’t envision how God could use his studies as a chiropractor on the international mission field, a film student wanted to tell the stories of the voiceless, and a dancer was praying God could use her gifts for building the Kingdom.
Just yesterday, I enjoyed hearing my former Serge team leaders speak to a packed room of students curious how they could use skills and careers in healthcare and medicine to most effectively serve the most underserved people in the world.
Serge’s presence at Urbana is not merely to recruit new summer interns, but to shepherd young people toward Jesus. Often that means leaning into the messy stories that drive us toward the cross, and reaching out to love others.
So I engage Urbana again, to engage a new generation with a vision for mission. I represent Serge as I seek to care for the whole person, hear the whole story and be the hands and feet of Christ even from an exhibition hall booth.