“One generation will commend your works to another.” These words from Psalm 145:4 hang from a sign inside the office of Jared Falkanger ‘13,’19 who directs the Office of Ministry and Evangelism (OME), in Lower Beamer. At the beginning of fall semester, Falkanger took Student Missionary Partners, Student Evangelism and World Christian Fellowship cabinets to the Billy Graham Center archives to see the generational history of campus ministries. For senior biblical and theological studies and communications major Claire Miller, the words ring true at Wheaton.
At the beginning of the 2022 fall semester, Miller was asked to help organize a group of Wheaton students to attend the Urbana Student Missions Conference.
The Urbana conference is hosted every three years by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a parachurch organization that sets up Bible study groups at secular universities around the world. From 1948 to 2003, the conference took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, thus adopting the name Urbana. The conference was supposed to take place in 2021, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was moved to 2022.
This year, the conference took place from Dec. 28 to Dec. 31 in downtown Indianapolis. Chaplain Angulus Wilson challenged Miller and the WCF cabinet to get 100 Wheaton students to go. Alexis Smith, a sophomore Applied Health Science major and member of the WCF cabinet, said she was amazed by the turnout, which met Wilson’s goal at the last minute.
“We thought that we would maybe get 30 students to come but Chaplain Wilson kept encouraging us to pray towards the goal of 100 students,” Smith said, “and the day-of, we had just over 100 students when it looked like we wouldn’t the entire time.”
The conference included multicultural worship sessions, over 150 group breakout sessions with a variety of topics about connecting one’s vocation to missions and testimonies about global church missions. Falkanger attended sessions about the vocation of law and the First Nations Bible translation process.
“It’s so cool to hear believers from different kinds of vocational spectrums talk about how they’re living out their faith and what they’re doing,” Falkanger said about the sessions.
Wheaton students were offered a discount rate to attend Urbana thanks to donations from alumni, some of whom were involved in WCF during their time on campus, and a scholarship fund from the Billy Graham Center.
Falkanger, who has been in his role full-time since 2020 said he returned to Wheaton with a sense that the conference was a “catalyst” to spark more involvement in off-campus ministry.
“Urbana was a catalyzing opportunity to help us not turn away from focusing on our community, but to re-remind people and students that part of your Wheaton experience is also how you engage off-campus,” Falkanger said. “I hope that the students coming back from Urbana are part of this catalyzing force of students re-engaging in the community around us in Chicago, in volunteering, service and in ministry.”
One of the featured speakers, Alejandra Ortiz, a missionary in Mexico who works on the regional staff of Urbana, came to Wheaton as a chapel speaker during Missions in Focus week, Feb. 22-24, speaking about what the kingdom of God looks like and how Christians can work for it. Falkanger said he hopes that conversations from Urbana will continue.
On Jan. 19, attendees met in the Chaplain’s Office and the OME to talk about what they learned at the conference. Miller described Urbana as a kind of “mountaintop experience.” After attending the Urbana conference in 2018 as a senior in high school, she said she felt affirmed that God was calling her to missions, specifically church planting in Europe.
Miller’s mother, Terry Miller ‘89, was on WCF cabinet and Missions in Focus cabinet, helping organize a group of students to attend Urbana when she was a student. Missions in Focus, formerly known as Missions Emphasis Week, was a three-day event that included a chapel series, worship nights, and a missions fair where students could meet various mission organizations. This year was the first time in ten years that Missions in Focus had come back to campus.
“Sometimes we just need to go up the mountain and look at the face of God and be reminded of who he is in a very intense and focused way,” Miller said. “And I know that being there and being reminded of the global vision of why we engage in missions, why we need the global church, who God is and his generosity in his glory and in his justice. And then you can come down the mountain and say, ‘Oh, I remember when I was there.’”