Call Urbana 90 the Urbana with a beat. Gone from the platform of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s sixteenth triennial missions conference were the traditional Urbana hymnal, piano, organ, and songleader. In their place were contemporary worship choruses led by an 11-member band, which was greeted with hand-clapping enthusiasm by the 19,000 delegates whenever it picked up the tempo and turned up the volume.
“All hymns were new once,” said one staff member, responding to numerous questions, apparently from Urbana old-timers, about the new repertoire (which did include several classic hymns).
The conference, which drew students on their Christmas break from across North America and several countries to the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana, featured a strong heartbeat as well. Beginning with the opening sessions of the five-day gathering, speakers focused on brokenness and dysfunctionality in the lives of their young audience, and in their own. Telling of his once-troubled relationship with his missionary father, Urbana 90 director Dan Harrison urged students to seek healing from God for the hurts in their lives.
“Is there any hope for the broken, the dysfunctional?” Harrison asked. In answer, he turned to Scripture, quoting 2 Corinthians 12:18, among other passages: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”
In response to an invitation for prayer for emotional healing, 1,500 men and women came forward and lingered on the Assembly Hall floor for more than an hour after the opening morning session. Throughout the conference, speakers often referred to their own hurts and struggles, while prayer ministry seminars and intercessory prayer sessions drew standing-room-only crowds.1