Three years ago, my wife Mary and I attended our first Urbana Student Mission Convention. We did not go as delegates, speakers, or guests. Rather, we went because I was to be interviewed for the presidency of InterVarsity.
As we boarded the plane in Seattle, I reflected on recent events. How had this come to pass? How had I, a contented business school dean, entered into a process that might lead to a major life change?
I remembered being in Lithuania leading a group of students when InterVarsity’s search consultant contacted me. How had they found me? I remembered how Mary and our two daughters, ages 15 and 13, flew to Madison in mid-December to check out schools and housing, only to be greeted by a foot of snow, and how upon returning to Seattle, they gave me a thumbs-up to continue in the process.
When Mary and I arrived in Chicago on December 27, we quietly waited our turn for the Urbana bus. Appreciating the anonymity of the moment, I was surprised to be hailed by name, “Hello Dr. Hill.” To my chagrin, a cadre of students from my university greeted us. I was delighted to see a good contingent from Seattle Pacific, but since my candidacy was not yet public, I nervously smiled and engaged in small talk, thankful when we finally boarded the bus.
The formal interview with the trustees lasted about two hours. Jointly answering questions with Mary was a great experience. I think that the board got a good feel for how we partner with and support each other.
If the formal aspect of the process was somewhat brief, the informal component covered the whole five days. One-to-one conversations with trustees, vice presidents, national field directors and others filled my time. Faces that are so familiar now were hard to read then.
As for the convention itself, we were thoroughly blown away. If the Fellowship had any intention of intimidating a candidate, it succeeded wildly! The worship was so alive and vibrant. We were also taken aback by the diversity of students and speakers. This was truly a Revelation 7 experience.
Over the five days, I began to grasp that the Lord might be fitting the pieces of my life together in a new mosaic. I saw how my five years with World Relief had equipped me to engage in crosscultural missions, to embrace issues of justice, and to partner with churches; how my three years with Young Life had taught me to pioneer a campus, to evangelize in the context of a witnessing community, and to revel in the joys/challenges of a truly multiethnic ministry; and how my sixteen years as an academic had given me a love for the university, a passion for international and graduate students, as well as a deep commitment to the discipleship of the mind. It dawned on me that perhaps God had been preparing me for this role all along.
It is difficult to believe that three years have passed. December 2000 doesn’t seem that long ago. On the other hand, I feel so deeply rooted in this Fellowship that it seems like I’ve been here longer. Suffice to say, I love our purpose, our staff, and our students.
My family is looking forward to Urbana 2003. This time all four of us will participate. For the sake of His kingdom, I pray that the Spirit will permeate every aspect of the convention. I suspect that my second Urbana experience will be every bit as rich as the first, but quite a bit different!