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Urbana 2018: How to Change the World

Have you ever seen a black swan? No, I’m not talking about that Natalie Portman movie from 2010—I’m talking the bird, with, you know, feathers and stuff. No? Well neither had most of Europe until the 1800s.

Found almost exclusively in certain parts of Australia until they were introduced by humans into different settings, they are known as one of history’s most elusive creatures (except, I suppose, to their local Australians).

So why am I talking about birds all of a sudden? Don’t worry, this isn’t suddenly becoming some sort of ornithology blog—we don’t have the rights to Confessions from Cockatoos.

The thing with black swans is that, before Europeans were first introduced to these black-feathered friends, “black swan” was a metaphor for something that was so rare that it probably didn’t exist in the first place. That all changed when they realized that, well, they did exist. Now, if you were to call something a “black swan,” the meaning of the metaphor has completely changed—you’re talking about something that completely changed how we see the world.

I met a black swan a few weeks ago when I had the incredible opportunity to attend a student mission conference called Urbana in St. Louis, Missouri from December 27-31, 2018. A great way to end the year, eh?

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you probably understand just how much of a conference junkie I am. That being said, I promise you this won’t be like the serpent river blog where I wrote everything, I did each day and the blog that went on and on and wouldn’t stop. No, this time we’re going on a swan hunt, and we’re gonna catch a big one.

First though, I think I should give you a little bit of background on just what Urbana is.

As I already mentioned, Urbana is a student mission conference, and it takes place every three years. Likewise, on its website, it is described as “an eye-opening global missions conference, a sacred space for college and graduate students, faculty, and church leaders to hear God’s call,” that is “dedicated to calling whole-life, whole-world disciples.”

For the sake of this post, I want to focus on three of these descriptors: eye-opening, whole-life, and whole-world. Because, as you might have guessed, the black swan I met on this trip was Jesus. How could it not have been? Like the black swan, so much of what God taught me at Urbana was about how Jesus completely changes the way I look at different aspects of my life and can for you as well.

But let’s not get too ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

I had been given this opportunity by my mentors at St. Andrews Presbyterian and Youth Unlimited primarily because this year Urbana had a business track, and they felt that it would be the perfect opportunity for me; as you may know if you’ve read some of my other posts like “Money Freak,” I have a huge heart for business, but really want to find a way to combine, or at least reconcile, business and ministry.

As such, one of the first morning sessions were incredibly convicting for me. As opposed to what you might expect going into a youth conference—perhaps an inspirational, Steven Furtick-style reminder of God’s power and my salvation—this talk was about how we all contribute to things in the world that Christians say we’re against, primarily when it comes to “invisible” injustices such as sweat shop labour and child labour. Learning how much of our clothing, electronics, and other consumer items is made under dubious or downright bad circumstances was very eye-opening not only to me but everyone else I talked to at the conference. I don’t mean to suggest that salvation is earned by buying from ethical sources, but this talk did make me think about just what it means to be living what I consider the Christian life and still contributing to these things.

I don’t have a solution yet as to how to tackle problems like this, especially since these problems are often incredibly widespread and hard to avoid. Looking at systemic issues in the way our world works can often seem like facing down an ocean; we fear that we will have no power against the waves and will end up drowned by it all.

This however is where Jesus, the black swan, swoops into the equation. Urbana taught me that God doesn’t belittle our fear—He puts it in perspective.

In fact, He puts everything into perspective, or rather, He puts everything into the proper perspective. You learn to fear the waves less when you can feel the stone beneath your feet.

We often fall into situations that are new or uncomfortable—whether they be external like the massive injustices of our world, or internal like figuring out who we are, what we’re meant to be doing, dealing with personal weaknesses, or struggling with expectations we and others put on ourselves—and end up trying to white-knuckle our way through it. We hold desperately onto the things that make us feel comfortable, even when they stop being things that can help us.

In these situations, what we really need to do is fall into who God is, and what He has told us about His plan. God knows that our lives will be filled with fear and anxiety, because He knows the world is broken. He sent Jesus to fix it, and that’s something we can rely on. When you’ve got a hole in your boat, holding onto the boat will only drag you down faster. Faith is getting out and swimming for the lighthouse.

In all the winds and the waves, we are called to faithfulness; it is God who will handle fruitfulness. It may not seem as though I can do anything sometimes—maybe I don’t feel qualified, or the task is too big for me to even make a dent—but at the end of the day, to do the things that make a difference, it is Christ who qualifies us, and Christ who is bigger than any obstacle.

Ever since I became a Christian, there has been one obstacle that has always seemed too big for me to take on, but throughout Urbana, Jesus kept placing it on my heart. If I want to surrender my life to Him, I’ve got to tell my parent I’m a follower of Christ, because right now I’m living a life full of lies. I’m not living my full life to the Lord because some people I know don’t know I follow Jesus. How can I live a life dedicated to the Lord if some people don’t know who I am?

It’s scary, and if you’re reading this, I’d like to ask a favour. As I prepare in the upcoming months to tell my parents that I’m a follower of Christ, I would like you to ask God to provide me with wisdom, courage, strength, power, the right words to tell them, and the right time and place to tell them.

More than anything though, I am happy to be learning about just how much Jesus changes everything. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I don’t claim to be perfect, but I know that Jesus does, and Jesus is. Because I have seen Him, the whole world looks different, and if the whole world looks different, maybe it’s nothing to be scared of after all.


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Please be advised that this blog post may discuss topics related to suicidal ideation. If you feel that the content may affect your well-being, please proceed with caution. If you or someone you know

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