Randomness: The Ongoing Saga

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Library at Alexandria (81)

Urbana -- The Ripple Effect

At the beginning of November, I was standing in a kitchen at a retreat centre outside of Guelph talking with Rev. Michael Pountney. He was asking me many questions, including a CV of my life in ministry, where I see myself in ministry, where I want to be next year—that sort of thing. The next night, John Criswell, Director of Strategic Ministries for IVCF Canada; Navin Singh, Assistant Director of IV World Services (IVWS); and Nicky Laxton-Ward, staff with IVCF at University of Toronto had a conversation about where I might be living next year.

"Wow," you must be thinking, "that had absolutely no context. And what does that have to do with Urbana?"

Allow me to continue…

On December 8, three of my roommates and I sat in our living room, eating chocolate cookies and planning a semester of student ministry at the University of Ottawa. The Friday before that, I hung over 20 pretty, sparkly spirals from the ceiling of my church hall at 3:00 in the afternoon. I stayed there, got all suited up, and ate a potluck "banquet" which lasted until one o’clock in the morning.

The above are two examples of ministry. The former is ministry at its inception, ministry that has yet to coalesce, to form itself into an active, moving reality. The latter is ministry in action. One will send me away from home, the other happens in the midst of it all, 20 trips up and 20 trips down a ladder. Both are ministry, because both involve people and Gospel. And ministry occurs—or can occur—every time a Jesus Follower makes contact with another human. It can be "exotic"—overseas missions; or it can be "mundane"—setting up for a banquet. Both examples have another thing in common—Urbana.

When I went to Urbana, I had an idea in my mind that someday, I’d like to minister in Turkey. I had thought of Turkey when some missionaries to China spoke at the InterVarsity group here, Ottawa Christian Fellowship (OCF), said that we ought not to ask, "Should I go?" but instead, "Where should I go?" Turkey came to mind. As you may know, I am finishing up a degree in Classics right now, a degree in the Graeco-Roman world. My skills as a Classicist would be applicable in Turkey—Homer (not Simpson) was from Asian Minor, after all. And Istanbul, back when it was Constantinople, was the capital of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. Furthermore, it seems that the Holy Spirit has given me the gift of evangelism, and is that not what they so badly need in Islamic nations? I thought of this whole Turkey thing in my second year of university in the context of "after I graduate" or "maybe I’ll teach at a Turkish university someday." I had no clear idea for Turkey.

Going to a missions conference while toying with the idea of missions is dangerous. While at Urbana, we learned about all the pain in the world, about how Jesus sends us out, about why cross-cultural mission is important, about the furtherance of God’s kingdom. And then on December 30, Nairy Ohanian, an IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) staffworker from—you guessed it—Turkey spoke. She spoke about how God called her to do a difficult thing—as an Armenian, reach out to Turks. And about the difficult moments, yet how it is all made worthwhile to see God move in people’s lives. She also mentioned that they needed male staff in Turkey. I could see my friend Kyla turn around, looking directly at me. I did my best not to make eye contact with her. Hypothetically someday maybe going overseas is one thing—having the reality right before you is something completely different.

So I came back to Ottawa and got sucked back into my whirlwind life of school, dancing, church, Tetris, and socialisation. But Nairy and Urbana kept tugging at the back of my mind. One of the other things I received at Urbana was a package about IVWS. One day, sitting on my bed in Ottawa, I pulled it out, opened it up. Inside was information on summer Global Partnerships and IFES Year Teams. The Year Teams are for people recently graduated from university. They appealed to me, and I figured I could join one in Turkey.

This past summer, after a series of e-mails between me and Buff Cox, then Director of IVWS, I filled out an application form to go on an IFES Year Team. My intent was Turkey, but I was flexible. I determined that God wants me somewhere next year, and if I’d never thought of Turkey, I’d never have been led to join an IFES Year Team. If I’d never have gone to Urbana, I’d never know about Year Teams or the importance of cross-cultural mission.

Thus, from November 3 to 6, I found myself at a little retreat centre outside Guelph, Ontario, at the IVWS Fall Conference. There I met Michael Pountney, who prayed for God to bless and anoint my youthful energy. And I met Navin and John. The outcome of the discussion that night and subsequent e-mails is this: Cyprus is currently my most likely placement, although there a few options in Italy as well. Where I go, I will serve God, bringing the light of the Gospel of Grace to students.

Part of my Urbana experience was the Canadian Student Leaders Track (CSLT), designed specifically (as the name already gave away) for Canadians. This Track discussed issues specific to the Canadian context and the ways in which we go about proclaiming the Good News on Canadian campuses. As well, we CSLTers all ate together, were in small groups together, and slept in the same dormitory. We were able to process everything that was going on Canadianly. After Ray Aldred, my small group asked ourselves what Canada’s heart language was. We came up with no concrete answers, but to be able to wrestle with that question was very important. One of the CSLT discussions was about conversion models. The typical conversion model is like a Venn Diagram with two circles and a line between them. One circle is christian and the other is non-christian. In reality, though, conversion is a process within which God meets us to draw us to him and which will never end. Therefore, a continuum of closeness to God and direction of travel is more accurate. We were challenged at Urbana to build witnessing communities in Canada that draw people into deeper relationship with God, converting them to be like Jesus.

Five people from the University of Ottawa were part of CSLT. I knew that we had to impart this and other knowledge from Urbana to OCF and change the community in Ottawa in a big way. Because of the way things work here, only two of us were eligible to part of the executive team of OCF—and I knew that was where we’d have the most impact. But I had had a very discouraging time on the executive the previous year. There was no way I would do that to myself again. So that left Jane.

Everything from Urbana kept coming back to me over the next weeks—the wondrous cross, Ray Aldred, Turkey, Kingdom living, witnessing communities, worship and the arts, evangelism, the heart language of Canada, mission, idolatry, lordship, cross-cultural conversion, intentional friendship, conversion models. At the same time, the OCF Nomination Committee was doing interviews for the upcoming year’s executive. I remember telling my roommate Andrew that there was no way I would be on exec again, because that was one of the most frustrating times of my university career. Then I got a phone call, and I was accepting an interview, thinking, "Why not?" Soon it was time for the committee to make its choices. I had determined that being on exec was not such a bad thing—I could impart my wisdom from Urbana that way.

So one day, I got a phone call from Brian DeVisser, our volunteer staffworker at the time, and he wanted to know if I would be president. Overwhelmed, I stuttered and said, "Uh…sure…" or something equally eloquent (every once in a while—usually when important things are involved—I lose my verbosity). I got some time to think it through. I prayed about it, talked with some close friends about it, and determined that I would say yes.

Thus, just at the beginning of the exam period, I found myself in my living room with my roommates planning the OCF Friday night meetings for next semester. I chaired the meeting. The Friday before that, I hung Christmas decorations and partied until the cows came home. Why? Because I went to Urbana.

I shall feel the effects of Urbana for the rest of my life, I think. Because of Urbana, I became OCF President, so I had to cut some Highland dancing on Fridays. As president, I went to New Executive Weekend Training (NEWT) and learned how to run a Group Investigating God (GIG), of which I had heard at Urbana. I then led a GIG and shared the Gospel with two of my close friends. Because of Urbana, I ended up sharing the reality of the Gospel of Grace as it was revealed to me there with many friends. Because of Urbana, I am leaving Canada next year. As if I won’t feel the effects of that forever! At Urbana, I met some cool people who have helped guide me to where I stand now, on the cusp of Eternity, of something really Big.

Jason Miles, IVCF staffworker at University of Manitoba, said this to Buff Cox, "Thanks for wrecking my life." I say the same to Urbana, with deep gratitude and warm sincerity.

Christ’s Holy Blessings,

Matthew Hoskin

Copyright 2005, Matthew Hoskin

Annus Quinque
(Year Five)