InterVarsity’s Twenty-First Student Missions Convention Highlights: Luke’s edition

Prompted, more or less, by my new housemate Chris and his blog, I will share the parts of InterVarsity’s Twenty-First Student Missions Convention that were most memorable to me. I echo all of the comments Chris made; his highlights were highlights for me as well, but I shall not be redundant.

Let me explain the daily schedule of the five-day convention. “Main sessions” were held on the morning and evening of each day; all convention delegates (approx. 22,000) gathered in the Edward Jones Dome (home field to the Saint Louis Rams) to worship, hear teaching, watch drama, and see video presentations. Late mornings were spent in large (approx. 1,000) group Bible studies. Each afternoon was devoted to smaller seminars; dozens were held at various locations near the dome. Convention delegates could choose which seminars (if any) to attend. I have divided my memories into three categories.

The Stunning

The drama team presented a play in several small scenes during the convention. The acting and writing were, in my opinion, fairly good. The two scenes shown on the morning of Dec. 28 were particularly powerful. The first was a dream sequence in which a student on a short term missions trip to Egypt encounters a group of African Christians about to embark on a trip to the United States.

Their leader states, in reference to the motto on US currency, “I believe America has forgotten how to trust God.” They explain that the war in Iraq “has made made things very difficult for some Muslims, and it makes relationships between Muslims and Christians over here very difficult.” “Your policies have made it very difficult for us, especially Christians, in our region.” They are preparing to “go in front of the government of the US to get them to change their policies for the sake of” their people. This scene ends with one of the Africans asking, “have you and your friends spoken to your government?”

The second scene is an frank conversation between two young men repairing their bicycles. One is a Christian. The other is homosexual; he asks, “Why do Christians hate gays?” The Christian says that “the Bible isn’t so much anti-gay as pro-sex.” They do not offer an easy resolution, but they do honestly address tough questions.

Several video presentations from 2100 Productions, which “is InterVarsity’s multimedia department,” were interspersed among the speakers, dramatic presentations, and songs at the main sessions of the convention. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the most stunning few minutes for me came during a video presentation about Christian Creation Care entitled “All Things.” It acknowledged the existence of global warming without question and quoted harsh words from Ezekiel against those who do not care for the Creation, and my jaw dropped in astonishment.

The Annoying

Unlike Chris, I will share some parts of this convention that I did not like. Most memorably, two of the speakers seemed to condone a dismissive attitude toward mathematics.

Lisa Chinn is an InterVarsity staff member; she spoke to the main session on the evening of Dec. 30 on the topic of cross cultural missions. While telling the story of her life, she said, “In college I chose to major in foreign service because I heard that it only had one required math course.”

Sharon Cohn, who is a lawyer for International Justice Mission, spoke to the main session on the evening of December 29. After telling the horrifying story of a girl named Elizabeth who was rescued from sexual slavery, she exhorted the delegates to “imaging what God might want” us to do about injustice. “Imagine how many more enemies injustice could have this evening.”

I support IJM financially and with my prayers. Ms. Cohn is doing extremely laudable work, but she irked me when she told the delegates not to let their perceived smallness keep them from bravely following God’s call for justice. She said, “Okay, so you don’t know exactly what to do. There is so much…27,000,000 slaves…You are so small. Also, you might be failing calculus, but so what?”

So, I passed calculus. I could not do the work I am doing in Physics without passing calculus. You cannot present credible Christian apologetics to people like Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins without passing calculus. You cannot achieve what Francis Collins has achieved if you choose a major because it has only one required math course. You cannot conceive, design, and build machines that use antimatter to kill cancer without passing calculus and many more advanced math courses. I wonder if you can be accepted into law school after failing calculus.

The Advertising

The convention partially compensated for the aforementioned negative attitudes towards mathematics by placing a greater emphasis on the value of a scholarly or professional calling than at the previous convention in 2003. One of the 16 seminar tracks was dedicated to “Academia & the Workplace.” I attended as many seminars in this track as I could, and they encouraged me to pursue my vocation as a Christian scholar.

Chris made an advertisement at the end of his highlights, and so shall I. The Emerging Scholars Network, which presented several of the seminars, “is called to identify, encourage, and support the next generation of Christian scholars, at all stages of their academic careers, who seek to be a redeeming influence within higher education.” Among other things, they want to encourage me and other Christians to pass calculus and our other required math courses on our way to becoming high-quality scholars and exemplary Christians. They support my vocation when many other Christian organizations and leaders do not. I am a member, and I ask all of the Christian scholars reading this to consider membership as well.

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5 Responses to InterVarsity’s Twenty-First Student Missions Convention Highlights: Luke’s edition

  1. Stina says:

    Hey Luke!

    Thanks for the update. Sounds like it was a good conference overall. We heard a bit about it from Candace this past weekend.

    I just had one comment on the bit about the war in Iraq. I am certainly not a war proponent, but from what I have heard, there are definitely two sides to the Christian issue there. Since Sadam has been removed from power, a large church has been able to be established openly in the middle of Bagdad. They have a large sign proclaiming “Jesus is the light of the world!” From what I have heard, they have been experiencing many open hearts towards the gospel…

    I don’t know what I think about how we should go forward in this “war” but I do know that some good has come from it…
    Just my thoughts…

    Love ya man!

  2. Steve Sekula says:

    Hey Luke,

    I got to this post from the link in your latest one, and I thought I’d mention one short anecdote that will put this math issue in real perspective. Certainly, I agree with your premise: somehow, math became the whipping boy when people want to find a nicer way to say, “Want to accomplish great things? Avoid math.” You can’t fault these people for their chosen work – certainly, both of the pursuits of those two speakers are noble. However, I agree that you can fault them for dissuading people from math, as if math and good works are incompatible (I like your cancer example).

    To really shock you, here is my anecdote. One of the most memorable occasions in high school happened while my pre-calculus teacher was at the board, working a problem. As usual, some wise-mouth student shot their hand in the air and asked, “Are we every going to have to use this for anything?” The teacher stopped, quiet for a moment, and then simply replied, “Well . . . no.” You want to know a fast way to make kids block out all math? That’s the way to do it.

  3. corwin says:


    You may be right; I praise God that the removal of a despot has allowed the Gospel to spread more easily. However, the dramatic presentaiton was about the effects of the war on Christians in the Middle East outside of Iraq.

    My thoughs on this war are documented elsewhere, but I am also unsure of how to go “forward” or whether forward is the correct direction.

  4. Pingback: Moving from California to Ohio Part 4: New Year’s Eve in Saint Louis – Great are the Works of the Lord

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