What happens when nearly 400 students and 350 staff gather for four days to dream about “reaching every corner of every campus” via planting new witnessing communities? Amazing stuff! First, they get fired up. Then they get equipped to put legs to their vision.
InterVarsity’s second Ambition Conference was hosted in Tampa last month. During worship on the first evening, I felt a tear involuntarily meander down my right cheek. Why? Because a decade ago, VP Jim Lundgren and I dreamed about a bolder and more missional Fellowship. But never in our wildest imaginations did we expect such energy and momentum, particularly amongst students.
The conference title comes from Romans 15. After planting in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, Paul declared his “ambition” to reach the other half - “to preach the gospel where Christ is not known.” His holy drive continues to inspire us today.
Shawn Young (left), our National Director of Chapter Planting, kicked off the conference by emphasizing student initiative: “students are seeds to be scattered, not sheep to be tended.” He called students to (a) identify unreached affinity groups on their campuses and (b) establish witnessing communities on campuses near their own. Click on this link, and others in this story, and you can see videos from Shawn and others from the Ambition conference posted on InterVarsity's twentyonehundred productions video channel.
Eric Rafferty then shared his story, a perfect illustration of Shawn’s vision. A few years ago, InterVarsity had no work in the state of Nebraska. Nada. Serving on staff in Los Angeles, Eric and his wife, Stacy (standing on the left, with some students in this photo), began to sense the Lord’s call. After much prayer, they took the plunge and moved half- way across the country.
Today, there are five chapters on three Nebraskan campuses. Students have started ministry amongst their circles of friends – including baseball players, Burmese, African Americans, Greeks, basketball players, Latinos and international students. Rather than simply adding one student at a time, the Raffertys’ emphasize multiplication – each student is a minister to his/her network of friends.
Other staff speakers included Kathy Haug and James Choung. These two can really bring it! Like other participants, I was deeply inspired by their call to bolder and broader campus outreach. I confess to being convicted of my own relative cowardice and left Tampa more motivated to reach my pre-believing friends.
And, of course, it is impossible not to mention 2100’s fabulous videos. My two favorites feature Abner Ramos who heads LaFe’s chapter planting efforts and Chizu Shimizu who obeyed God’s call to get in her car one night and drive two hours to an unreached campus. She became the answer to students' prayers, and as a result of her submission, two new chapters were born.
I had a great time hanging out with ministry partners who came to Ambition as our guests. Here I am with students and staff from Salem State (Massachusetts). It was a joy to watch the event through their eyes. Values we sometimes take for granted – such as student initiative, racial reconciliation and the interconnected-ness of proclamation/justice – they experienced as remarkable demonstrations of the Kingdom.
I left Tampa thankful to our Father, proud of our staff and excited about our students. May the Lord continue to send all of us to new places on campus.