InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s student mission convention, Urbana, has been held every three years since 1946. However, the most recent December convention made 2003 a milestone year.
This year’s delegation of InterVarsity students was the most ethnically diverse in the history of the convention. About 39 percent of the 19,000 students who attended the convention were of non-white descent, with Asian/Pacific heritage students comprising 30 percent of the delegation.
In addition, this year’s 1,074 African American students was the largest number for that group in Urbana history.
CBE President Mimi Haddad, who presented seven workshops at the convention, says she was amazed by the diversity.
“Urbana builds strategic bridges to the next generation of leaders by engaging their vision, talent and passion to meet the global challenges of the Gospel,” says Haddad. “One of the most priceless resources the church has is the sold-out dedication of the next generation of leaders. I am thankful for the multi-ethnic and gender-inclusive approach of Urbana, reflecting the biblical truth that the Gospel is indeed for all people, and that God gifts all Christians regardless of race, class or gender.”
But the ethnic diversity of the convention was not the only milestone. For the first time in Urbana history, a woman delivered biblical exposition on Sunday from the main platform. Lisa Espineli Chinn, an International Student Minis-tries Director for InterVarsity, taught from Luke during the morning general sessions.
Perhaps because of InterVarsity’s strong support for biblical equality, Espineli Chinn’s presentations seemed completely natural to most attendees.
“I don’t think there was a lot of attention paid to it and that’s the way it should be,” says Beth McGrew, a CBE staff member who managed a booth at the convention.
The acceptance of women in ministry was mirrored at CBE’s booth, says McGrew. The space CBE inhabited was almost constantly filled with students, most of whom thanked staff for attending Urbana. Only a few people expressed a negative attitude toward CBE, says McGrew. Some of these people were taken aback by the strong biblical foundation of CBE’s message.
“They would get really flustered when they realized I knew what I was talking about,” laughs McGrew. “They saw that being egalitarian doesn’t mean throwing out Scripture. I don’t really think I changed their minds, but I got them to think about the issue.”
During the six hours it was open, CBE’s booth was filled with students. Following Haddad’s workshops, students streamed into the booth looking for materials, says McGrew. Other speakers such as Jeanette Yep, a leader in InterVarsity and a CBE endorser, also directed students to CBE’s booth. Many female students approached McGrew hoping to talk about God’s call on their life.
“It was helpful for women who feel called and want to make sure it’s biblical,” says McGrew.
Gender is an issue for students
During the convention, CBE asked students to fill out survey forms that asked them various questions about gen- der. Every one of the 38 students who filled out the survey said that gender is an issue that needs to be addressed in the church.
“Many consider the debate about women in leadership to be over, decided in the 70s — but from what I hear and observe among my peers, the conflict is far from resolved,” wrote a student from Seattle. “The time has come again to affirm the leadership of women in the church.”
When asked what was more important in a leader, giftedness or gender, only one student indicated gender. Another student wrote that before the conference she would have said gender, but after one of Haddad’s lectures, her mind had changed.
“InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Urbana advances clarity both to the Scriptures as well as into the nature of God, who created a multi-cultural church to reach the diverse world with the Good News. It is an honor to be associated with such a vision,” says Haddad. “It is even more exciting to watch God empower the Church as we give ourselves to a thoughtful reading of the Scriptures.”