It's actually called Urbana, but ever since Elizabeth referred to it as Jesus Camp I have a hard time thinking of it differently. Besides, it was TOTALLY Jesus Camp. If Jesus Camp is not your thing you will not be interested in this post. If it IS your thing, I will write about specific parts of it, in more detail, on the churchy blog. If you're not SURE if it's your thing, like maybe you have no idea what I'm even talking about, but maybe you find it mildly intriguing, this post is for you. And Elizabeth. By which I mean, I plan to answer the questions she posed via gChat:
- like, what you do
- what it was like
- if it was what you thought it would be like
- if people were cool or weird
- what other people were doing
- what the point of it is
- what you got out of it
Oh wait. I'm going to start with a question she didn't ask and then go in an entirely different order. But you guys are smart, you'll play along. NOW are we ready?
WHAT IS URBANA?
Urbana is a ginormous national conference for students (17,000 this year) possibly interested in becoming missionaries when they grow up. It features big time speakers, seminars on all different topics and issues, morning bible studies, an exhibit hall full of missionary organizations, and myriad opportunities and ways to help you discover what God may be calling you to do with your life. It's sponsored by the group that sponsored my Faux Protestant years, the NDCF, and is mainly for college students involved in NDCF chapters, though anyone can attend.
THE POINT OF IT
The theme of the conference this year was "The Great Invitation". Chances are, if you are a Christian, there's a particular someone in your life who prodded you - invited you - into greater relationship with God. This conference is about why/when/how to become the person who prods.
WAS IT WHAT I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE LIKE
Yes, only better: not as scary/intimidating, more inspiring, WAY more restful.
WHAT I DID THERE
I was part of the Intercession Team. So. Every single NDCF employee is required to GO to Urbana and work a job there in order to pull it off. These jobs could be playing guitar on the worship team, organizing registration, showing people where to park, slapping wristbands on attendees, personal assistant to speakers, selling books at the bookstore, managing the exhibit hall, or handing out the daily Urbana newspaper etc. I mean, in addition to important and stressful jobs, there are a CRAPLOAD of CRAPPY JOBS at Urbana. It is COLD in St. Louis and I befriended someone whose job it was to stand outside on the corners of downtown St. Louis from 10pm to 1am, just to make sure there was a PRESENCE on the streets and students felt safe walking back to their hotels. THAT IS A CRAPPY JOB. I, on the other hand, had the best job at Urbana. My job was to spend three hours at a time in a little hotel suite with 6 other people praying for whatever it seemed that God wanted us to pray about. People were praying in that room 24/7 and sometimes our schedule had us praying in the middle of the night, sometimes first thing in the morning. Sometimes our team was "deployed" to a session or seminar or bible study, to pray in the background. Otherwise we explored the conference offerings, took naps, hung out with friends, ate junk food, ran to the Arch, took more naps, read books, and scoured the staff lounge for chocolate.
Sometimes, when people asked Pancakes and me what our job was, they'd make a Big Face and shudder and go, "UGH, there is NO. WAY. I could be an INTERCESSOR" but honestly, it was the best job at Urbana. Period. We can fight a duel on this if you like.
WHAT IT WAS LIKE
So I was super worried about how long I was going to be away from my kids and if Pancakes and I would still be friends after spending 6 days and nights constantly together and exactly how churchy these churchy people were going to be and how tired I would be... Turns out it was one of the most restful peaceful weeks I've had. I didn't miss my kids too much, probably because I was in an environment where I couldn't imagine them. It'd be one thing if I went to Disneyland without them, another to go to a huge grown ups-only conference in a hotel and convention center. I also had a LOT of free time. Hours and hours of free time. If I wasn't scheduled to pray I could do pretty much anything I wanted. Sometimes I attended a seminar, sometimes I went to one of the plenaries in the giant football stadium dome, sometimes I took a nap. I never take naps! But I took lots of naps at Urbana. I slept GREAT. Lots of people got sick, but Pancakes and I steered clear of germs. I had a great time hanging out with a few people there from my own NDCF days. And because Pancakes is Fancy and Important I got to hang out with lots of other Fancy and Important people and get a lot of backstage info, which, you agree, is always fun.
And when you're praying for three hours straight with other people who are made to pray, it's an amazing time and goes really quick. Really. You think praying is just sitting there in a circle sitting quietly for three hours trying not to fall asleep. No. NOOOOO. (More on that on the churchy blog. One day.)
Because I had the best job and also roomed with someone Fancy and Important, I got to stay at the Best and Closest Hotel, right across the street from the convention center and the dome. I did do my share of trekking around downtown St. Louis to various other locales and it was an odd sensation in that 99% of everyone you saw on the street was there because of Urbana. The convention center employees wore pins that said STL [HEART] URBANA. Awwww.
WHAT WERE OTHER PEOPLE DOING, AND WERE THEY COOL OR WEIRD?
Most everyone else was a college student and college students run the gamut from cool to weird. There were the normal people, then there were the ones wearing hot pink pants and neon orange running shoes standing in the middle of the convention center with signs around their necks that read FREE HUGS. Every ethnicity, many different languages.
The people I spent the most time with were NDCF staff. They were on the intercession team like me, or they were leading 500-person bible studies in hotel ballrooms, or orchestrating the production of 32,000 World Vision caregiver packages to ship to Swaziland, or giving the Thursday morning talk, or coordinating logistics. When they weren't doing that they were sitting around talking shop and office politics. I LOVE office politics!
One thing about hanging out with people who are in campus ministry (or, really, ANY ministry): it's sort of their JOB to be deep and engage you in Meaningful Conversation. It doesn't mean that everyone is a bore or intimidating or annoying, but it DOES mean that everyone knows what everyone else's Meyers Briggs or enneagram number is, and thinks a lot about how different people interact and when they ask you how you're doing it's not small talk. So, obvs, my kind of people. (Although campus ministry is not for me. NO SIRREE.)
For about a year now I've been volunteering at NDCF events (local ones) as an intercessor. When I introduced myself to people at Urbana I told them I was Pancakes's groupie, but for me, this was just a bigger opportunity to do what I think God calls ME to do, which is pray. I wasn't called to a mission field, but I have been called to intercede. It's a certain way of praying, where you "stand in the gap" between God and the thing or person you're praying for. I've known that I'm supposed to do this for YEEEEEARS, but it's only in the last year that I feel like I've had real opportunities to practice. I learned a ton this week and I hope to write more about THAT, later, on the other blog.
Any other questions? (Don't all raise your hands at once!)
P.S. I missed you!