This talk was given by International Student Ministry director Lisa Espineli Chinn at Urbana 12.
I love those pictures of meals and dishes: the bulgogi, and the paratha, and all those things, but frankly I don’t cook. I am a very simple eater. People who know me know that I eat little. Whatever I eat at lunch I take home, half of it eaten, and then I eat it for dinner. With my family - (I come from a family of seven children), I come from Virginia where most of them live – whenever we have a party my older sisters would cook all kinds of different dishes and assign different people the different food they have to bring. Knowing that I don’t cook, I have one assignment – actually two – bring paper products (paper products means paper cups, paper plates) and drinks. Drinks and paper products. So I don’t have to cook anything! I just have to buy. That’s my level of expertise as far as food, but I think I have some spiritual food to share. That, I want to share. That, I want to bring in abundance. This afternoon I have some words to say. I want to kind of pull together what God is doing here at Urbana.
Urbana is a disruptive event. People who come here go home different. It challenges us, it inspires us. I’m always returning home from Urbana different. I return home encouraged that this Jesus whom I decided to serve when I was in high school in the Philippines is powerful, is good, is true, and is for all the world. I need to hear that. I need to hear it from other people.
When we were asked to respond this morning, my husband and I sat there and prayed that God’s message through our brother Ram would come through as people were invited to give their lives to Jesus. And then Tom Lin came up and said, “We want to invite you to offer your resources and treasure.” And my husband said, “Okay honey, it’s time to respond.” Okay. “What’s your number?” I said, “I have a number.” Okay, so I put out my number. And he said, “No.” So he went up. And I said, “No.” And I went up. And then we landed at a good, agreeable number for both of us. But you know, that was amazing! That’s a response we never have been able to do before. We’ve never decided in that kind of amount. Which, you know, we raise support, we have an excuse to say “Well we’re only poor missionaries so here’s ten cents” but missionaries are not exempt! We are all encouraged to obey God in every area of our lives.
Urbana is also – life transforming as I said – but it is also addicting. People come again and again as if they didn’t get the message three years before that! But others come because they want to give; they want to volunteer. My daughter is volunteering as a cashier; she sells the book of the day. So please buy the book of the day for the sake of my daughter who is doing this out there! She wants to serve. She wants to be able to give back, but at the same time I know she’s listening. And I’m listening! I’m asking God, “God, what do you want to do with my life? How can I serve you even more? How can I thank you for giving your life to me? What else is there for me to do? I am not done. I want my life to matter for this, King Jesus.”
So what is Urbana about? It is disruptive. Don’t go there. When you recruit for next year, next time, Urbana 15, make sure you tell people it is disruptive, it’s life changing, it is addictive, but they have no choice but they have to go. And we will provide scholarships again.
Four words that I’d like to leave with you. I talked about Urbana being disruptive. Peter had a change of career! He did not go to Urbana, he had something better. He met Jesus. Some people change their major because of Urbana. I meet students who were here at Urbana before and said, “Lisa, do you remember – I was head this way, now I’m going this way. I wasn’t thinking of going home, now I want to go home and serve my people.” Our worship leaders here, Ernest and Achlaï – it’s life changing! Because after everybody left the auditorium, Ernest (Kenneth) stood there and knelt before Achlaï with a ring! He proposed marriage! That’s how life changing it is! I think they’re selling some cheap engagement rings out there, so…That was ’06? ’09? ’06, okay.
Urbana is also about decisions. Once you are disrupted, you have to do something about it. So Urbana is about decisions. Last night someone decided to enter the kingdom of God. I was just in tears. This is about one o’clock in the morning, and we were gathered, and she was ready. And her words were, “The kingdom of God is beautiful. I want to enter that kingdom.” [read Rainbow’s story here] And I said to the people around, listening to this conversation, “Well, we would love to escort you to the kingdom of God.” We make decisions at Urbana, decisions that will be for a lifetime. Some people make decisions about habits in their lives. Decisions about who they will marry. Some people break up with their boyfriends or girlfriends as a result of something that God spoke to them at Urbana. So it’s about decisions. I have students from many years ago who said, “Urbana was the deciding place for me.” They were doing something different and God met them at Urbana and oops! – they were somewhere else. This is the place, and I want you to mark this place in your life and say, “It was Urbana 12 when I made this decision.”
But decisions are going to be a moment in time. Sometimes we are driven – just like when we saw certain things that move our emotions – we go with the crowd. But decisions have to last a long time. The third word I want to share is about devotion. You can make a decision here and forget about it by the time you get home. Or you make a decision here, and when you go back to your campus it doesn’t really follow through.
So what does it mean to have this kind of devotion? And the people I can think of, as far as devotion, are my parents. They were tailors in the Philippines and I was raised up with sewing machines. Not food – we didn’t have a lot – but we had several sewing machines. They sewed away. They paid for our tuition through sewing. But their life was disrupted one day when someone said, “Mr. Espinelli” –(my friend, they’re friends from hometown)- and he said, “Can you make me a new American suit? Because I want to look really sharp.” He was graduating from seminary. And so my father said, “Sure, I will make you a suit.” My father was the best tailor in town! He went to the right place. But it took three days to make that suit. And he sat there in patience, and guess what? Their life was disrupted because Pastor Santos shared the gospel of Jesus Christ to my parents as he sat there with my father sewing and with my mother sewing with her head down and they were a captive audience to the good news of Jesus Christ! They did not make a decision, however, they were Filipinos and they were polite. They said, “Oh thank you.” But Mr. Santos, Pastor Santos was smart. He went back to the church and said, “You’d better check out those Espinellis! They are open to the gospel. Especially the wife – I think she might be open to hear.” So they came and had evangelistic Bible studies (which you will find out how to share the gospel by using the book of Luke with your friends). They sat there –and I was a little kid, an infant, in fact – they sat there, and every time they came and opened the Word of God and my parents became followers of Jesus. And they devoted the rest of their lives. This is not deciding for Jesus for one week, this is not deciding for Jesus for two weeks, two years, twenty years, thirty years – they were followers of Jesus until they died! My mom was 94, my father was 92 and the words they had were, “Take care of that assistant at the hospital. He needs to know about Jesus.” To the very end they joked with each other, they would sing songs about Jesus, and they would look at each other and say, “We passed our expiration date.” They couldn’t believe they were still in their 90s and they were still strong and they’d look at each other – we are past our expiration date. “Praise God we’re still alive! We wanted to let people know about Jesus.” That’s what devotion is.
I hear about the dropout rate when you go back to your country. Jesus is no longer important. Our Japanese returnees, they experience this, this diminished love for Jesus. Our Chinese returnees experience this as well. My dear friends, I want you, when you decide for Jesus, when you ask Jesus to come into your life, when you say, “Jesus you are King and I will follow you wherever you go,” it is for the long haul. Meaning it’s for a lifetime. The best thing I hear is when students I work with are still following Jesus. Even better is they see me at Urbana and they tell me their children are here following Jesus because they themselves decided to carry on and continue to follow Jesus.
Devotion. It’s not about fancy things. When everything is said and done, when you are quiet in your dorm room, there are no more lights that are circling around. Right? No more big music. It’s quiet. But that is where the rubber meets the road. That is where Jesus wants to be king of your life – when daily you make decisions to follow Jesus. Daily you decide it’s Jesus first. My parents were married and they had this little cake for their reception. They didn’t even have a ring. I’m wearing the ring that my mother wore which was given to them on their 50th anniversary. This ring. The first jewelry they had. It’s not about fancy things; it’s about dedication, obedience, faithfulness, and walking daily to follow Jesus. That’s what devotion is.
So Urbana is about God and His kingdom. Urbana is disruptive. Urbana is a place for decisions. Urbana is also the beginning of making that devotion to Jesus for life. Lastly, I have dreams. I was an international student just like you. I had many dreams. I dreamt of being married – it took a long time. I thought God would never answer my prayers but I dreamt there would be this dashing, handsome man who would sweep my off my feet and kneel down with this ring…nah, that didn’t happen. I fell in love with this man and I got a fiancée visa to come to the United States to marry him and I got a phone call that said he wasn’t sure he loved me, and I said, “That jerk!” Oh – this is not recorded. What was that about? I thought I would make a great wife. What happened to him? Of course I was hurt! Of course I felt like this is a major disruption! My dream is not happening! How can God do this to me? I’m following him faithfully, daily! And he gives me this? But I want you to know that in the biggest disruptions are the biggest surprises. God is the greatest recycler. Our God is green! He will recycle our pain and our hurt in order to rearrange our lives so that Jesus is honored even more. So that whole engagement was off. I was brokenhearted and God said, “Just because a gift disappeared doesn’t mean the giver disappears.”
Just because a gift disappeared doesn’t mean the giver disappears! Because God took me to God’s Word and said
“Though the fig trees do not blossom and there’s no cattle in the stall yet will I trust in God.” [from Hab 3:17-18]
So I said, “God, you took him away. I’m going to trust you. I’m going to believe that you love me and you will provide this man but we will put that aside because I have important things to do and I want to follow Jesus. I want to go to campuses. I want to tell them about Jesus.” I went to different campuses in the Philippines and the United States but there was no man in view. I put it on hold over there, somewhere. And then one day I went to my mom and I said, “Mom, what do you pray for me?” And my mom was surprised. “Oh! You know the things I pray for you. I pray for your health” –because I almost died when I was eight months old and they didn’t know if I would survive so health is an issue- “I pray for protection, I pray for your students. Those three things, those are the important things! Anything more?” I said, “Nanai” –my mom, Nanai- I said, “Aren’t you praying for a husband for me?” Ooh, with this Asian face and glint in her eyes, she said, “Ooh, she has a secret she’s going to tell me now,” and she said, “Do you have a name?” I said, “No. No name, no man, just pray.” And God provided the man. He showed up out of the blue, and one thing – and I can still pull it from my journal – “God, I don’t want a long courtship, I don’t like years of writing, I don’t want all this long, drawn out relationship, I’m too old. I want someone who’ll just sweep me off my feet, get married, and move on!” And he showed up at a conference. So there are good things about conferences! And after meeting him, he said he saw me – and I saw somebody else, actually – but remember, my mother was praying! My mother was praying so that the last night of the conference he asked me to go for a ride with him, and we did, and he practically proposed. So six months later we were married. Yes. The dream, though, and three kids and one grandson later, we’re happily married. But my dream is not just about a husband. My dream is that every single international student finds a husband or a wife! No. Hey, just so you know, I pray. I pray for people. So catch me and I’ll pray for you. For free!
But let me tell you, just briefly as I end, my dream. My dream is that you international students will become the best missionaries here in the United States. That because you’ve met Jesus you cannot help but share Jesus with others. That other internationals will say, “I heard about Jesus because my Chinese friend said – and shared about Jesus. I met Jesus because my friend from Kenya loved me so much that he pursued me until I came to know Jesus.” That international students will share the gospel with each other. That’s my dream, that you will be bold. I don’t care how much English you have, God doesn’t have that as a qualification! He doesn’t say, “Pass your ESL.” He doesn’t say, “Get the highest mark in English!” He says, “Know my language and my language is Jesus.” Jesus is the language he wants us to master. If we can communicate Jesus, he is pleased and he will provide the courage. That’s my dream.
My second dream is that I want Americans to know about Jesus because an international student was brave enough to cross the culture. I want Americans to be surprised that someone who doesn’t speak English like he does, who comes from another country that seems to be poor and backward is telling him the richest riches of all – Jesus Christ. That’s my dream. I want to see campuses transformed. What’s happening on this campus? I don’t know, those international students are just – whoo! Don’t go there! I want to create a reputation about you. Those international students. Be careful. They’ll come after you. Be careful, there’s something infectious about them! Be careful. They will pray for you. Be careful. They will love you to the end. That’s my dream. That you will be the best evangelists. Too, that you will reach outside of what’s comfortable to you. Outside, just don’t stick around just Chinese with Chinese, just Koreans with Koreans, come on! Alright? Get out of that comfort zone! It will help you with your English!
And thirdly, my dream. My dream is about a message I heard. I was impressed with this one speaker. I never met her, she appeared and disappeared. I’m talking about Shortie. [View her message here] Shortie knew how to love her people. Shortie didn’t care if she had latex gloves. The first thing she cared for was that she could love in the way she could. We’re helping by giving all those things, but beyond that we’re just add-ons. God had already done his work of transforming the heart of Shortie in order to love her people so my question is, do you love your people? I was shocked when somebody said, “You know, actually, I don’t love my people. I don’t even want to be around them.” To be honest, there are people who feel that way. I pray that God will turn your heart around, that this is the place where your hearts will break for your people. And that you will be the people who will return as internationals who will say, “Jesus, I’m going back to my people. I’m going to start something for my people. I’m going to hand out the Injil. I’m going to be a pastor of that church, I’m going to be that professor in that university, I’m going to be the mother, the best mother of all, but I’m going to be back in my own country.” I’m not saying that that’s for you all. My dear friends, this God is a global God, is our global God, who is interested in the kingdom of God that is for everybody. And who else to be the best missionaries to do that but you? American missionaries are struggling with language, and you just – psh, Chinese, easy. Because you’re Chinese, of course! Japanese, Korean, whatever it is.
So, my dear friends, Urbana is God’s place. This is holy ground. This is not just a place in Illinois, this is a tradition of God showing up every three years to disrupt your lives, and my life. To force you to make decisions. To challenge you to be devoted for the rest of your lives. And four, so that you will dream dreams.