My experience at Urbana 12? Never have I cried so much in my life.
Every day I had a moment where I didn’t just tear up, but bawled like a baby. There were a lot of reasons for this snot-filled display of emotions but if I had to sum it up as God was doing significant work in me. I knew that being part of the worship team, God would work through me, but had no idea to what extent He wanted to work in me.
Here are five snapshots that I think incapsulate my Urbana 12 experience:
“The Deep,” the drama that opened the floodgates
This drama, so beautifully telling the story of Jesus calling the first disciples in Luke 5, broke me down starting on the very first morning of Urbana. It was a mix of the beautiful music, the colors, the creativity and the powerful way the passage came alive – I felt that Jesus was singing to me. The chorus echoed in my heart — “Leave your boats, drop your nets, come and follow me.”
My heart lept hearing those words and I wanted to say yes with all my heart and so I think crying was the only way I could respond. And it was a floodgate. And the craziest thing was that I was watching this drama and bawling while on stage getting ready to lead worship right after this.
Leading and teaching on Asian American Worship
After weeping on stage, it was my turn to lead worship. This particular morning, I was leading the conference into the Asian American experience of worship. The whole notion of Asian American worship is a challenging topic that I delve deeper into on the Urbana blog (Confessions of an Asian American Worship Leader).
But after struggling and praying with topic for over a year, my main purpose of the morning was to invite students into the experience I had growing up in my Korean immigrant church experience — the late night praise nights, the retreats where we would worship God with passion and emotion, offering our whole lives to Him. The songs we sang were simple ones I grew up with: “Come thou Fount,” “The Stand,” “From the Inside Out” but as I heard 16,000 voices rise up in the arena, my heart just about burst. Here I was, sharing the worship songs of my childhood with thousands of brothers and sisters, together pursuing God with all that we have. It was a beautiful worship experience that I will never forget.
The Join-in: Partnering with World Vision and Swaziland
Another tear-inducing moment was an evening where the whole conference, all 16,000 students, worked together to assemble 32,000 medical kits that will go to assist caregivers who are working among those stricken with HIV/AIDS in Swaziland. You can watch the summary video above or read this article for more background information.
I wept the hardest at two points 1) getting to meet two caregivers from Swaziland and 2) praying for the children orphans as a results of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Meeting caregivers Shorty and Faith, seeing their lives and how much they pour out their lives to love the sick, I really felt like I got to see Christ. And I realized that giving your life for God’s purposes is a wonderful and worthwhile thing and I longed to do that myself. And secondly, praying for the kids of Swaziland made me think of all the children in my life, my friends’ recently born babies, the children that I had taught in Lawndale, the children of my neighborhood.
Praying with platform team
Before every morning and evening session the whole platform team (worship, drama, dance and speakers) would come together and pray. In a sense, there was community that formed backstage. And in this setting, I learned to appreciate less the incredible eloquence and achievements of the speakers, but the prayerful, passionate heart that shone as they prayed for one another and us. One of the speakers, who I can’t mention by name because of her work in a sensitive region, had such a gentle spirit but she prayed with such spiritual authority that came from a lifetime of being faithful and being refined by God. And getting prayed over by our expositor, Calisto Odede, in his mother tongue was an awe-inspiring reminder that we really belong to a new, global family.
New Years Eve Worship With Family, Gangnam Style[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSQVEPjMHKE]
Many non-Urbana New Years I will spend with my family. We would take trip to a nearby tourist destination, usually somewhere in Wisconsin, and ring in the New Year in a hotel room together over champaign and sharing our hopes and dreams for the next year.
This past New Years I got to spend with a different family. First, the Urbana Worship Team family. Over the past year we had bonded and came together in really meaningful ways, we learned to not only make music together but to love and serve one another. And at Urbana, every worship session was a deep celebration. Because of the relationships that had formed over the year we were able to really worship God together in the deepest sense of the word: together in our music, in our relationships, in our dancing (though I was frequently off beat). And as an added treat to the students, after the clock struck midnight and the whole stadium was hugging and celebrating 2013, we threw in a popular dance song that you may recognize. =)
Secondly and most importantly, I got to worship with God’s family who is pursuing his calling, all 16,000 of us. And we rang in the New Year singing a Hindi song from Mumbai that proclaims: “Jesus Your Name is Higher.” And I think that represents my Urbana experience perfectly. All of God’s people being called out to all of God’s world. And that was the honor, privilege and deep joy that I got to experience at Urbana.