By Christine Jeske

Think Big, Little Earthlings

June 30, 2015, is the deadline for the reduced price for registering for Urbana 2015. We are featuring Chrissy Jeske's review of Urbana 2012 to give you a taste of the challenge and inspiration you can expect from Urbana 2015. If you are a graduate student or faculty member, see InterVarsity's Graduate Faculty Ministry's Urbana Facebook page and website

Urbana is BIG.  It’s the biggest student mission conference in the world.  Over sixteen thousand people attended this year.  As soon as the conference ends, people start plans for the next one three years later.  Over 260 organizations offer information in the exhibit hall.  Attendees swarm over a half dozen hotels and clog up lobbies with hour-long lines for registration and elevators.

But biggest of all is the call that resounds at Urbana.  It’s not a “Go out and do something nice this week” call. It’s a call to give your whole life and then some, to live for the highest of high aims, to let Jesus have every last cell and nanosecond of your being. 

And the call was not dressed up in soft fuzzy-sweater happy-glowy propaganda.  It was out there, harsh and hard. We heard about people getting fingernails ripped off, exiled from their country, raped, murdered, forced into abortions, and driven to hospitals in wheelbarrows.  All the dirt was on the table.  And still, we were asked to stand in the face of any or all of this and answer the call.

Tom Lin welcomed students to Urbana with a prompt to consider how God’s love extends further than we imagine. And the speakers to follow would draw out just how far the loving invitation of God extends.  (You can go here to watch many of the Urbana videos InterVarsity has made available.)

We heard Kenyan speaker Calisto Odede lament, “It’s amazing how many of us have a vision of Jesus that reduces him.” And he told the crowd poignantly, “This generation is so obsessed with partying... It is all plastic, it is all imitation, it is not real, it is not authentic, it is not genuine... When the real party that the Lord is offering them appears they will dismiss it and not even pay attention.” Calisto challenged instead, “Let God bring you to the heights.”

Sarah Breul of Brazil shook her dainty finger at the crowd and commanded, “Urbana, we can make some serious damage!” And speaker Ram Sridharan proclaimed, “We cannot control the great love and grace of God any more than we can control the ocean with a plastic funnel!  It surpasses the paltry attempts of our self-righteousness.”

We heard speaker David Platt insist, “We do not have time to waste our lives in casual comfortable Christianity… In Christ we have found someone who is worth losing everything for… Jesus is worthy of nothing less.”

At the end of such talks, twitter went wild with posts trying to quote every last bold and challenging word. On the day a woman shared about her husband being murdered after a lifelong commitment to global service, over four thousand students made that same lifetime commitment.  The speakers told of God’s big calling, and the students ate it up.

Why?  I believe we yearn for a calling that is big.  Too often we stumble through life in a daze, half alert to vague feelings that maybe our life is for something.  When somebody articulates the something life is for, it’s no wonder our hearts light up.  We long to be caught up in the incredibly awesome plans of God.  We were born for big things. 

The book my husband and I recently coauthored carries as its subtitle “Settling down without settling.”  That phrase names a fear that has haunted me for as long as I can remember: the fear that I will settle for less than the best.  At times this has been a damaging drive for the best when I define “the best” by the wrong standards.  Often I have caught myself defining “the best” as best in academics, in popularity, in adventure, in number of places traveled to, or number of friends made. 

But God has a definition of “best” that’s bigger than all our little aims.  When we catch a glimpse of that best, it will probably terrify us, but by his grace, it can also fill us with energy and a sense of belonging that no other pursuit offers. 

This week my seven-year-old son came home with a paper listing the letters of the Greek alphabet matched with their English equivalent.  Armed with this paper, he proudly announced he was going to teach himself Greek.  He had found a big goal, and what could be more exciting? Give us a goal worth pursuing, and it’s incredible what reserves of energy and determination we find.

At present, my son doesn’t have the tools at his disposal to accomplish his Greek learning goal.  But when God reveals to us how big his calling is for us, he also promises to give us every tool we need to walk in that calling. 

I encourage you to go to Urbana’s website and browse through videos of the talks.  Ask God to help you respond to his big calling for your life.  Look up, little earthling, and join something far bigger than you ever imagined. 

About the Author

Christine Jeske has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches anthropology at Wheaton College. She has lived in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa and authored two books, Into the Mud: True Stories from Africa and This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. She now lives in an old farmhouse named the Sanctuary, complete with a dozen chickens, three pigs, innumerable weeds, two children, and one wonderful husband.  

Comment via Facebook