I had some pretty high expectations for Urbana 12.
A friend of mine had given a presentation on it during spring semester of my junior year, and immediately my two best friends and I were hooked. We knew that it was going to be an amazing, life-changing experience that we simply had to be part of. So we counted down from May to December, eagerly awaiting what Urbana had to offer.
Beauty and Reality at Urbana 12
Once at Urbana, I found myself overwhelmed with beauty, but also with reality. The reality of my life as a follower of Christ particularly struck me. At the time, I had known Christ for about a year and a half. I began to realize and understand that my life was meant for more than Bible studies and good sermons. The conference opened my eyes to what is going on all across the globe and to ways in which I can get involved.
I have a heart for international relations, so one of Calisto Odede’s statements has especially stuck with me. He said, “If it is not good enough for import, it is not good enough for export.” If I find that I am unable to share the gospel right where I’m at, I wondered, then how will I be able to do so abroad? I felt God saying in that moment that I needed to start at home before I could go any further.
On Campus, on Mission
During my last semester in college I found myself grappling with all the ideas and concepts Urbana had laid out. My best friends and I knew that God had taken us to the conference in order to call us to something higher but also to teach us how to better reach out to our present community on campus.
In those last months of college, I saw God at work in individual relationships that I began to pursue more deeply as well as in my prayer life. Rather than just praying for my needs and the needs of my friends, I began to pray for the campus as a whole. My friends and I began to hold biweekly prayer meetings to pray for the campus as well. In addition, one of my best friends began a Bible study based on the method used at Urbana. That Bible study started with five or six people and has grown to serve over fifty! Praise be to God for that!
On Mission with Mission Year
In March of my last semester of college I decided to apply with Mission Year for their yearlong urban service program that places groups of young adults in intentional community in under-resourced neighborhoods across the U.S. It was one of the organizations that exhibited at Urbana. Originally I had absolutely no interest in them, but as I began to pray for God’s direction post-college, he kept leading me back to the little Mission Year flyer sitting on my dorm room desk. I went through the application and interview processes and was accepted later that month.
Going into Mission Year, I knew from the application that I would be living and volunteering in an under-resourced community for a year with six others. I can say now from experience that that’s a pretty accurate description, but it by no means encompasses all that this year entails.
Currently I am living and serving in Houston’s Fifth Ward. Thirty-plus hours are spent working at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, filing, writing lesson plans and leading math and English tutorials twice a week for high school students in our leadership program, and teaching Bible lessons to children ages five to ten once a week.
Though the volunteer work is a major part of what we do here in Mission Year, the greater focus is to live intentionally. Some may wonder what this means. (I know I did for the first month of Mission Year!) I’ve come to understand it as living with purpose in each moment. Our goals are to join in solidarity with our neighbors, to strive for simplicity by relying on a communal grocery budget, public transportation, and support raising, as well as to build relationships that span racial, socioeconomic, and cultural differences. We strive for spiritual formation through daily devotions, prayer, and weekly citywide gatherings, and for social awareness through weekly curriculum discussions that touch on a variety of issues such as race, homelessness, welfare, and the exploration of arts and faith in an urban context.
My expectation for the year was that I would grow closer to God. I did not know what that would look like, but that was my desire. Since I’ve started, however, I have learned that this experience is about much more.
It’s about truly letting go of all I know and want in pursuit of God’s heart.
It’s about learning to tough it out when the going gets rough and continuing to pursue relationships when I don’t feel like it.
It’s about seeking the justice spoken of in the Bible.
But most importantly, it’s about allowing God’s love and grace to permeate all aspects of my life in order to live out the life he has called me to.
Kira Echeandia graduated from Lebanon Valley College (PA) in May 2013 with a B.A. in Music Business and a Spanish minor. She is currently serving with Mission Year and hopes to pursue her master’s degree in International Relations once her year in Houston is finished.
How has God changed your life through an Urbana Conference? Leave us a comment!
We are talking about Urbana for the next three days at the blog for the one-year anniversary of Urbana 12. Check out the posts from yesterday: