USA (MNN) — As Urbana 09 came to an end at midnight last night, hundreds of students made commitments to live with and as the poor. These students have a long road ahead of them as they give all that they have for the sake of the Gospel.
At the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Urbana 09 missions conference this week, three seminar tracks focused specifically on poverty: the Domestic Poverty Track, the International Poverty Track, and the Advocacy Track. Students in these tracks learned about the cycle of poverty and God's heart for the poor, but they also thought hard about what an adequate response to the issue looks like.
About 1,300 students were involved in the International, Domestic and Advocacy Poverty Tracks at Urbana this year. Within the Advocacy Track, 127 students committed to conducting advocacy events in their communities. Over 3,000 post cards pleading for state representatives to speak out on behalf of children enslaved to poverty were also collected by members of this track. Students in the International and Domestic Poverty Tracks were challenged to consider moving into impoverished cities with the knowledge that Jesus Himself lived among the poor. Hundreds were up for the challenge.
"They're so interested in seeing something of what Jesus said coming into reality, the things that He talked about with regard to our living out the Kingdom, what the Kingdom of God is like," says Scott Bessenecker, director of InterVarsity's Global Projects and Global Urban Treks, as well as a key developer to the poverty tracks. "They want to see the "is like" happening — the fact that Jesus talked about it being Good News to a specific community: the poor. ‘How is it Good News to the poor? How am I involved in making it Good News to the poor?' Those are things that students are all about."
This certainly seemed to be the case as students who felt that God was calling them to go to the poor and destitute came face to face with the possibility of death, whether it be death to their own dreams, death to their desires, or physical death to their earthly lives.
"Calling students to die is a hard message to proclaim," says Bessenecker. "But students are so ready to be called to something that's going to cost them everything."
Bessenecker does not believe a call to live with the poor is for everyone, and he emphasized the fact that it was not a decision to be made on a spiritual mountaintop or a passionate whim. But he still had high hopes that the Lord would call many students to this difficult mission field.
"We're asking people to move into high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods in the Domestic Poverty Track. We're asking people in the International Poverty Track to move into corrugated tin sheds over sewage. That's a big call; that's a big commitment. You don't take that lightly."
It does not appear that any of these committed students has taken it lightly. Students in the poverty tracks appear to have strong compassion for the poor, commitment to the Gospel, and concern for God's call. At this point, "they're making some pretty critical, death-defying, risk-taking decisions."
Students found even greater comfort and encouragement in relocation as they watched Urbana director Jim Tebbe's example. Tebbe announced to all of Urbana that he would be stepping down from his position in order to move overseas to serve missionally in a school there. Tebbe is a living example of the decision so many students are facing, of how to give all they have in order to bring the Gospel to the destitute.
A new generation of missionaries is being sent out: a new generation of leaders, teachers and truth-speakers. Pray that the Lord would bless their endeavors and lead them in kingdom-building. Pray that the students who are committing themselves to years or a lifetime in mission and poverty would stay focused on the Lord and reach thousands with the love and Good News of Jesus Christ.