Urbana retrospect

The following is already printed in similar form in the newspaper published by the church we attend. Several others involved there were also at Urbana 06 in various capacities, often with even more exciting stories to tell.

The photo at right is, however, a jdata unblog exclusive. At an undisclosed location not far from our refrigerator, Dy roped Arey and me into helping enter some of the last batches of walk-ons. We were spurred on by the care of one staff director’s gift of malted milk balls (foreground – Dy was most encouraged; I ate the most).

Perhaps now that this chapter of our collective adventure is coming to a close, there will be more frequent and interesting posts from this household. I’ll let you know when my Urbana wristband finally comes off. – j

Our fall went into high gear in September when Dy signed on as Associate Registrar for Urbana. Doubling – and then tripling – her average weekly hours of work with InterVarsity was not a move we made lightly. Dy’s past experience managing events in partnership with teams converged with a strong sense of God’s calling to this crucial administrative ministry. As students and then staff, we’ve seen Urbanas since the 1980s grow many others’ awareness of and involvement in God’s mission.

Dy’s small team of Infoline assistants was stretched before Urbana 06 by the volume and variety of communication with attendees. Several local coworkers pitched in with advance tasks. Planning, adjusting and executing onsite check-in required flexibility to coordinate with a fluid online registration system under development. Most groups and individuals experienced prompt Urbana check-in at dozens of hotels and the America’s Center. The few lines that developed were shorter than expected and characterized by understanding. A larger than anticipated number of walk-ons was one of the more welcome problems Dy and her team addressed onsite.

John’s main role this Urbana was with the onsite “tech team.” He helped setup and support computers and connections used to manage check-in and accomplish necessary data entry. Later in the convention, he supported the scanning and tabulation of decision cards completed by the majority of attendees. As so often in the past, it was exciting to see what God can do with imperfect systems and highly motivated people.

This was Arey’s first Urbana – as a high school student. She volunteered in advance and as Dy’s assistant during check-in. She got to sample the exhibit hall (featuring hundreds of organizations), the bookstore and a few of the evening sessions. After experiencing this sliver of the event, she knows going as an attendee (in 2009?) will be very different. From her perspective, the overall experience of attendees was definitely positive, focused on the tracks, Bible study, worship and seminars more than logistical bumps. “Seeing students responding to everything made it feel great to have had even a small part in the preparation,” Arey says.

Atypical of past conventions and coworkers, we took our whole family to St. Louis Dec. 21st through the 31st. The first few days of setup involved all five of us, and the hotel was just across the street. The arrangement was made possible by a couple of friends who shared a suite with us and kept up with Tee and A.J. while the rest worked much of the convention. “They saw more of St. Louis than we did, and lots of the hotel pool!” John comments. “We all got to attend the evening session on the 30th and caught up with a few friends along the way.”

Urbana doesn’t feel entirely “over” to some, as Dy’s team continues to process financial details in the wake of the event. Recently, John, Dy and Arey spent an evening catching up odds and ends of data entry. We know God’s work of blessing the attendees (and the nations) through the content and challenges of Urbana will continue long after details wrap up in coming weeks. We’re returning to a more regular pace and balance, glad to have a part in Jesus’ use of Urbana 06.


Urbana transplants

That’s what we are – transplanted for these days to serve ~22,000 folk gathered between Christmas and New Year’s.

And Urbana itself has been transplanted, from its namesake city in Illinois to the larger urban center in the Show Me state.

So far, we’re doing well enough to call ourselves blessed. What with the craziness of check-in and subsequent recovery as a family, the following written late on Christmas Day (after a dinner overlooking the soaring arch) was stuck in the cache awaiting postage.

For content straight from the convention floor, don’t miss the delayed webcast.

Three energetic student sisters (right) volunteered for Lynn, hotels check-in coordinator – including removing the stabilizing plastic wrap from around all those boxes of bags. A.J. and Tee pitched in with a little help and creativity. What to do with yards and yards of leftover wrap? Dresses, neckties, headgear, kickballs, belly warmers…

This has been an unique and memorable Christmas! As our friends arrived to participate in Urbana and care for our kids, we both noted how little the day has felt like Christmas. Good thing the faith doesn’t rest solely on sentiments. It matters little what day of the year or even what exact year the Incarnation got into full swing. The fact remains (and I venture such a claim in view of the risks, known and unknown): ours is a visited planet.

As the registration check-in and other convention areas were taking shape, other advance staff kept arriving. Dy and teammate Sarah checked in the first wave during a Christmas Eve gathering – including Jim, Urbana 06 director.

These views can’t possibly contain the whole – but neither could the swaddling cloths, manger, stable cavern or heavens of old. Someone should write about the reentry of these elements into the story as strips of linen for wrapping, a wooden supporting structure, freshly carven tomb and obscured path of ascent.

A second unequivocal visitation has been promised once all the ethne (people groups, a.k.a. nations) of the earth receive news of the first (see, e.g., Mark 13:10). The date and hour remain unknown, along with plenty else we’d like to know.

Until then, A.J. keeps busy with Lego constructions and dreams of more. Here (right) a new and expanding battle group traverses the expanses of an America’s Center hall awaiting the vast friendly hordes of convention attendees.

"meet me in St. Louie"…for Urbana

2:25 PM+ No Wi-Fi signal strong enough here at the pool, so this will have to be posted later. A.J. and Tee are trading off being sharks and minnows while I enjoy the third-floor view of the America’s Center across the street. The big sign in front of the AC, where we spent most of the morning setting up for check-in, periodically welcomes “InterVarsity’s Urbana 06 Dec. 26-31.”

materials await distribution at check-in – and this is the minority of those stuffed by volunteers
Well, we’re finally here after months of preparation, a small part of the advance onsite team. Our lead time has been relatively short, since Dy joined the registration team in Sept. Others have been working ahead for more than two years. In spite of scale drawing the floor plan for check-in at the AC repeatedly, the rooms seem larger than the specifications. Plenty of room for pallets of materials for the minority of attendees checking in here; most will do so at the 36 hotels, if they used the online housing feature correctly.

the check-in area almost ready to be filled with those needing housing or making a final payment

The fun of roaming the sparsely tabled spaces quickly grew old for Tee and A.J., who spent the rest of the morning hitching rides on golf carts and playing marbles or Legos on the spacious carpeting. Arey has started her role as Dy’s “gopher” by helping adjust check-in furniture and distribute materials. She’s also photographically documenting our experience – some of which may end up here.

the kids play or help while we work with fellow staff and convention center personnel

I drove us through the fog yesterday afternoon into the early dark, while the kids listened to CDs and Dy plowed into some email offline. The first guy to meet us as we pulled up to the hotel turned out to be from Kenya and is registered for Urbana. We unloaded the van onto a pair of carts while Dy navigated the front desk’s hoops (hopefully being shortened for the hundreds to follow). I hope we meet up again.

The kids are familiar with hotel pools, considered a necessity. But none of the hotels we’ve visited as a family have displayed quite the opulence of this one. Before going to sleep last night, Tee confirmed, “We wouldn’t have gotten in here if it weren’t for Urbana, right?” Close enough. The brisk walk a few blocks to breakfast taught us that Panera’s began as the St. Louis Bread Company – mmmm!

one massive Christmas tree dominates the lobby of the hotel – no need for one at home

Time to wrap up the swimming. A.J. managed to hold his breath underwater for 25 seconds; Tee for 11. They chose to wait a few minutes for the beginning of mixed bathing, in deference to the conservative Jewish families gathered to celebrate the other festival of the season. We took the few minutes of male-only swimming to visit the lobby and explain why not everyone prefers mixed bathing. And why some call swimming bathing. And to test the wireless signal there. And to check if FedEx has delivered the third scanner with which we’ll continue to attempt onsite processing of Urbana decision cards in eight days. Weak Wi-Fi and no box yet, but the other items were addressed as far as interest held out.

the exhibit hall still being setup – what a great place for discovery and conversations!

Back in the room, A.J. just succeeded in landing an Amamiri model under power on the runway for the first time. Hopefully practice on the screen will translate into some real-time aerial skill when it comes to flying his recent $20 purchase by spring. He still prefers crashing the free planes into parts of the free landscapes. Now he’s up in a Fokker triplane. Time to go back across the street and be more directly useful. – j