This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.
He will also lift up a standard to the distant nation, And will whistle for it from the ends of the earth; And behold, it will come with speed swiftly. – Isaiah 5:26
Urbana is a Christian student missions conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It has been a major force in raising up missionaries for more than 70 years. The first Urbana was held in 1946 in Toronto. Jim Elliot, known for his missionary work and martyrdom in Ecuador, attended the second Urbana as a student. The slogan for that Urbana was “From Every Campus to Every Country.” Since that time, Urbana has generally been held every three years. And over those years, the list of speakers has been made up of giants in the modern movement to reach the unreached for Christ. From 1948–2003, Urbana took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
In the last week of December 1993, I was blessed to attend an Urbana conference with (then) Mars Hill videographer, Kevin Bryan. We had gone to document the conference for a video series we were making at the time, GENERATION. It was awesome to watch 17,000 students show up at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign campus in the dead of winter and pack the Assembly Hall (Arena) to capacity in order to learn about missions.
Two gymnasiums were filled with 93 exhibitors; large and small, well-known and relatively unknown, mission agencies working to reach the unreached around the world. After a day of interviewing exhibitors and students to learn about the perspective on and passion for, the Great Commission, we were exhausted. We decided to retreat to the bleachers for a break. As we looked down on the gym floor, I became very impressed by the diversity of the mission organizations represented, and yet collectively, it looked as though the whole world was covered; both geographically and culturally. I turned to Kevin and said, “Wow, I wonder who coordinated all this?” Kevin looked at me with an expression that seemed to say, “Really?” At that moment, I no longer expected a reply. It was obvious, only God could have coordinated this. To God be the glory!
After returning to Houston, I shared that “ah-ha” moment with one of my mentors. After a moment of celebrating God, he shared a thought. “If you think you can do it all yourself, then you may be deceived in one of two ways. Either you might be severely underestimating the job you’ve got to do, or you might have a grossly inflated opinion of your own capability.”
His insight has echoed in my ears many times since as I have listened to ministries promote the scope and potential of their work, rather than their part in the greater work. The more I have become involved in the Global Great Commission, the more I have come to appreciate that it is such an immense, and immensely complicated, challenge, that only the whole worldwide Body of Christ, empowered and coordinated by the Holy Spirit can complete it. And when God does what only God can do, He is glorified. Our part is simply to do our part.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida and the Louisiana coast creating a desperate situation for its people. Bill Whitehead, the father of one of our staff, ran a relief mission in a small town in north Texas. Bill had a conviction that God wanted him to help in the Andrew relief work. Reaching out to some of his contacts, God provided Bill with a large truck filled with bread. Bill drove the truck to Louisiana, not knowing exactly how or where God would use his cargo. Arriving in Hammond, Bill found his way to a parking lot of where hundreds of storm victims were gathered for relief assistance. Within minutes, another truck from another city pulled into the same parking lot. The driver had a story identical to Bill’s. This driver’s truck was filled with lunch meat. Immediately, sandwiches were being made to feed those without food.
This little story illustrates the kind of divine coordination we need to complete the Great Commission. An orchestra is made of many different musicians and instruments. But the conductor is the one who brings it all together to create a beautiful symphony. God is the conductor in this amazingly complex symphony we know as the Great Commission. To play it well to its conclusion, what is needed most are not the capabilities and strategies of man, but rather, the hand of God moving supernaturally through the Body of Christ. Our part is simply to do our part.