Monday, January 18, 2016

My Urbana15 Experience.

I would first like to thank those who supported me on my journey in getting to Urbana15. As you may or may not know, Urbana was held in St. Louis, Missouri - that's about 2,000 miles away from San Jose, which meant that I had to get on a flight to get to St. Louis. Not only that, because I signed up for the International Track, I had to stay in a specific hotel where most of the track events were held at. Lastly, I of course had to pay for the conference fees. When all of these costs were added up, it felt nearly impossible for me to be able to afford such an amount as an international student but I trusted that God would provide and He did! Together with your financial contributions, prayers, and a scholarship, I was able to make it to Urbana without having to worry about how I was going to afford it.

So, what is Urbana? Urbana is a missions conference organised by InterVarsity. It only happens once every three years and is catered mostly for college students. Held over a period of five days, Urbana is a unique opportunity for 16,000 students to come together and discover how our gifts, dreams and calling meets God's global mission. I wanted to go to Urbana because I felt that not only was it a unique experience, it could very well be my once in a lifetime opportunity to attend this conference as well. I mean, at this point in time, I'm not sure where I will be after I graduate. My other reason for wanting to go to Urbana was because I also wanted to see what it was that God had to speak to me as I learnt more about His call for the rest of my life in my relationships, in my future workplace, as well as in missions around the world.

Prior to Urbana, I had a few expectations. As someone who has a heart for worship, I was very excited to have a musical worship experience with 16,000 other people. Just the thought of hearing 16,000 voices sing in unison unto one God put a huge smile on my face. Another thing that I was expecting was to know what God was calling me towards for my future. Personally, I'm someone who is passionate about different things and I'm also serving in multiple areas. So, I was hoping that God would be able to give me a definite answer as to where He was calling me to specifically. Also, I was hoping that He'd make it clear to me if He intends for me to stay here in America after I graduate, or whether He is calling me back to Malaysia.

Honestly, my questions weren't answered. In fact, I actually felt more confused at the end of the conference. I remember desperately needing to speak to my staff leader on the last day of the conference because I felt so lost and frustrated. I wasn't getting answers to any of the questions that I had! As I'm writing this, a few weeks have passed since Urbana and now that I've had time to process things, I realised that I'm actually at peace with not getting the answers to the questions that I had. In fact, I'm kind of glad that God didn't give me the answers. Why? For one, I know that God will reveal His plans for my life when the time is right. I love this quote that someone shared with me during our last country prayer night, "The Lord is seldom early but never late." It comforts me and reminds me of how in the past, God made things fall into place according to His timing. Another reason why I'm at peace, is because I believe that God still wants me to grow in these different passions and areas that I'm involved in. By trying to figure out where my specific area of calling is, not only am I limiting God and the gifts that He has given me, but I'm also limiting myself from being fully used by God.

Aside from that frustration, I had an amazing time at the conference. Other than being able to experience this with friends from my campus' IV chapter, I also got to meet other Malaysians at the conference through the country prayer groups! There were about 15 of us that gathered every night to process through the day and to pray with one another. It felt so comforting just being able to meet people from back home who understood my Malaysian references! More than that, I felt a sense of togetherness and complete love for our country as we talked about and prayed for the different issues that were going on back home.

It would be hard for me to share every single thing that I experienced and learnt at Urbana with you through this blogpost. However, here are a few of my top moments and things that I learnt at Urbana15!

1. Singing Good Good Father with 16,000 people.
As I said, worship was something that I was really looking forward to at Urbana. The moment the worship session started, the atmosphere changed and you could just tell that God was moving so strongly. I myself felt deeply moved. But, it wasn't until we sang Good Good Father that I was a complete wreck.

During worship, I had a deep revelation that hit me as we sang the line, "I'm never alone." I realised that not only was God saying that I'm never alone because He is with me always, but I'm also never alone because He has surrounded me with such a loving community that is on this same journey with me as well! I mean, 16,000 of us gathered at Urbana because we all had the same purpose - to pursue God and His calling for us. It was in that moment that I felt a sense of unity with not only my own friends and other Urbana participants, but with the larger global church as well. We're all a part of His family and we're all in this journey together!

2. Worshiping in different languages with 16,000 people. 
I loved how the Urbana worship team made sure that worship was a cultural experience for everyone. What do I mean by that? Well, we sang songs in different languages and we worshiped in different cultural styles as well. From songs in Korean, to Arabic, and even Hawaiian Pidgin, we were constantly being invited into a different culture's story throughout the conference.

It's one thing to worship with 16,000 people but it's another thing to worship with 16,000 people in a completely different language that most of us did not understand. Seriously, I didn't know what I was singing, and I'm pretty sure that most of the other Urbana participants didn't either, but that didn't stop us from going all-out and immersing ourselves in a different culture as we worshipped the same God. It was such a beautiful experience. Again, the idea of unity under God's name was so apparent for me during these cultural worship moments. We may all come from different cultural backgrounds but the one thing in common that we all share is the fact that we are all singing and worshiping ONE GOD. How amazing is that?!

3. Awareness of the injustices that are going on around the world. 
Seeing as this was a missions conference, there were many speakers who spoke about different issues that were going on around the world. Topics like Black Lives Matter and the persecuted churches around the world were brought to light during this conference.

In all honesty, I'll admit that prior to Urbana, I've always turned a blind-eye towards the injustices that were going on around me. Sure, I'd see countless articles about racial issues on my newsfeed. I'd also see many hashtags that were meant to bring awareness and support for these issues but I never actually went deeper into them to find out more. I never really showed my support or compassion for these people. It's almost as if I deliberately chose to be oblivious to the things that were happening because I felt like there was nothing that I could do. Urbana changed that though. I realised that it was important to address these issues. Not only that, I could play my part by simply praying for these brothers and sisters of mine who were facing persecution for their faith.

4. My Story, My Role - I am an ambassador of my country and God can use me WITH my cultural differences.
As a part of the international track, we had several track sessions where the speakers would share on topics that we, the international students, could relate to. Ate Lisa's sermon was one that really stood out to me.

Ate Lisa was originally from the Philippines and was an international student herself, so she really loves to work with international students and understands us. My takeaway from her sermon titled "Your Story, Your Role," was this - despite being from a different background and culture, I am capable of using my differences to teach and challenge those of different backgrounds from my own. Instead of immersing myself fully in the American culture, I can actually use my differences to bring something different to the table. This is why I shouldn't lose myself while studying overseas because I AM AN AMBASSADOR OF MY COUNTRY.

5. Women are capable of going out into the missions field.
I attended a seminar entitled "Women in World Missions" during the conference. I'm not quite sure why I felt compelled to attend that seminar but I'm glad that I did even though I had to walk through the rain just to get to the hotel it was held in.

The speaker's goal for this seminar was to name 50 women who have gone out into the missions field. Why? It's because oftentimes, we don't really hear of many women in the missions field. Yes, there have been women who have gone out into the missions field but unfortunately, they've been subjected to patriarchy. My takeaway from this seminar was the realisation that I, as a woman, am also empowered by God to go out into the missions field. I am entrusted with the gospel and I am capable of sharing that gospel with those around me. I am not subjected to the ways of society that lessens women against men but instead, I am chosen by God because He can use anyone who is willing.

6. The way that I dress sends out a message. 
Another seminar that I attended during the conference was entitled "Leading like Jesus: The Intersection of Embodied Service and Power." This seminar was lead by MaryKate Morse who spoke about how we are image bearers of the Trinity and how wherever we go, we bear the image of God and His likeness. We should appreciate the authority in our body and pay attention to how we take care of our own body for God's kingdom.

Although she didn't mention this, I felt convicted to think about the way that I dressed. I already knew that the clothes that I wear on my body sends out a message to those around me. Despite this knowledge, however, I never really thought much about it. But MaryKate's constant repetition of our bodies being used as a means for God's mission caused me to question myself. Does the way that I dress glorify God? Does it cause others to stumble? As a women, this is really something to think about seeing as all the trends these days involve crop tops and super short shorts!

In conclusion, Urbana15 was truly an amazing experience for me. It was a great end to my 2015 and it was definitely an experience getting to usher in 2016 by praising Jesus and proclaiming "Yes Lord!" with a crazy bunch of Jesus-lovers! If anything, Urbana reaffirmed my commitment to doing God's Will as He spoke to me and revealed many things through the many worship sessions, sermons and seminars. Once again, I would like to thank those who supported me in getting to Urbana - be it through your contribution to my funds or even through prayer. I'm just very thankful for having gotten the opportunity to attend this conference!


P.S. I attempted to log at Urbana but gave up halfway. I was tired and it was hard to do so while trying to process everything. I did, however, get some pieces of footage and put it together into one video. Enjoy!

Love, Ainsley.