What comes to mind when you hear missions or missionary? Does it conjure up images of rural living in straw huts in underdeveloped Africa? Is it a life devoid of all knowledge of American pop culture, technology, and internet? I’m a missionary, and I live in Madison. I’m a missionary, and I have watched the latest episode of Community, know what occupy Wall Street is, and like to think I’m more bi-winning than Charlie Sheen. Kidding aside, I really am a missionary. I’m interning at InterVarsity’s twentyonehundred productions at the national office in Madison, Wisconsin. And it all started with Urbana 09.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved in ministry of some sort. When I was eight, I was determined to be a missionary to China and I was okay if I died for the sake of the gospel. As I grew older, my zeal to be a “traditional missionary” lessened, but I knew I wanted to be in ministry of some sort. In college I discovered my passion in the form of filmmaking. If I could just find a way to combine ministry and filmmaking, I’d have my dream job!
So there I was in 2009, a fourth year junior at the University of Georgia, watching a promotional video for the upcoming Urbana 09 at my region’s InterVarsity Fall Conference. Urbana is the largest missions conference in North America held every three years and co-hosted by InterVarsity, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of Canada, and Groupes Bilbiques Universitaires et Collegiaux du Canada. I remember thinking first that the promotional video was really well done. Second, I thought that Urbana looked cool. After all, it was a missions conference. I loved missions. And with a scholarship from my chapter, I felt God wanted me to go.
Real People, Real Community
Sitting in the dome with more than 15,000 other students worshipping God and listening to speakers with messages that compel my generation to give their whole lives to God’s global mission was beautiful. What I really got out of the main sessions was the incarnational message of Jesus: that Jesus was literally the gospel in flesh form. We are meant to use Jesus’ life as a model for ministry.
Urbana can be overwhelming (in a good sense), so after the evening sessions, we met in smaller Family Groups of three to six people, which was a great opportunity for me to make sense of everything I had been learning. One night, one of my friends from my InterVarsity chapter confided in our group her struggle with an eating disorder. I remember that it felt like a holy place, all of us together as she opened up to us about her struggle. I was connected to this Family Group as we encouraged and shared with each other, and I came to better understand the idea of community.
One afternoon, I attended the Urbana Film Festival. It was amazing to be around other filmmakers who were concerned with excellence in filmmaking. Oftentimes, Christian filmmakers or Christian films are synonymous with cheesiness. There was a forum to discuss this idea of excellence in films we produce. We watched film shorts produced by Christians that were inspiring and challenged my faith as well.
God's Heart Represented
What I was most excited about at Urbana was meeting with the hundreds of missions agencies at the conference. There were organizations that used a variety of passions and talents to meet different needs in the world. God’s heart is truly represented at Urbana. I wanted to meet with these agencies to discover if there was a place for filmmakers in their ministry. One such group was InterVarsity’s twentyonehundred productions, who create thoughtful, well-produced videos for InterVarsity purposes. I left hoping that I could one day work for twentyonehundred productions.
Urbana changed the way I see and understand Jesus. It challenged me to live my life intentionally using Jesus as the incarnational model for missions, and it revealed to me the importance of sharing in a Christian community. Not only did it change me spiritually, it got me connected with my current job at InterVarsity’s twentyonehundred productions, where I can create short films that show students living incarnationally on their campus. As I write this, I’m working on this year’s student promotional video for Urbana 12. It’s funny how life goes full circle like that.
I’m a missionary, but excuse me; I need to Hulu the latest episode of Community.