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Highlights from Urbana 2003

First Nations leader Richard Twiss reports on a powerful Urbana conference he was part of in December.

Urbana is the largest missions conference in the world. It is convened every three years in Urbana, IL, on the campus of University of Illinois. It is a ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This past December, at Urbana 03, 19,000 mostly college aged, people attended.

The message by Ray Aldred, Cree pastor and ministry leader, was one of the most impacting I have ever heard. Likewise, the presence of the Lord that accompanied Mohawk musician, Jonathon Maracle and Broken Walls, as they led an hour of worship, joined by myself and eleven other dancers in full regalia on stage was amazing. (These can be seen and heard at

There were 1800 small groups that met every day. Lindsay Olesberg, the Urbana 03 Small Group Manager, sent me the following comments and testimonies of both small group leaders and students, in response to the First Nations presentation at Urbana.

“This was a powerful evening where God gave us an amazing gift through Ray Aldred and Jonathon Miracle. I appreciated the blessing that was given by the Native American community. Thank you for your risk and forgiveness of the church of North America.”

“This is my third Urbana, and there always seems to be one pivotal talk through which God speaks a prophetic word. I believe that Ray Aldred’s preaching was that prophetic word. As an educated white man, I’ve grown up with the lies of power and self–sufficiency. I’ve been taught and trained to view my culture as having everything of value that needs to be shared with all other ‘less fortunate’ people. The Holy Spirit spoke powerfully through Ray and reminded me that I am just as much in need of salvation (conversion) as every other person. Praise God!”

Several white and Asian–American students were struck by the idea of “white man’s gospel.” They said it made sense but that they had never realized that this was happening.

A young man from Minnesota shared that he was from a town that was surrounded by three Native American reservations. He said that racism was prevalent and he had seen misunderstandings, anger, and bitterness prevail between the races in that area. He shared that he was deeply moved by the experience of the Native American worship leader extending a welcome from First Nations people to the rest of the people groups at Urbana.

“I’m a white female staff worker who grew up in Southwestern Colorado, near the Navajo Reservation. I’ve begun to struggle through my own racism, and to understand the magnitude of the genocide committed against Native Americans. It was an inspiration to me as I struggle through racial reconciliation.”

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Category: Church History

About the Author: Richard L. Twiss, Tayoate Ob Najin “He Stands with his People” (1954-2013), D.Miss. (Asbury Theological Seminary), was a Lakota follower of the Jesus Way. In February 1997, Richard and his wife, Katherine, founded the non-profit ministry of Wiconi International. Through Wiconi, Richard and Katherine touched the lives of many thousands of people. Richard also co-founded NAIITS (North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies), he was chairman of the board for My People International, a member of the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association), and co-founder of Evangelicals4Justice. He was the author of One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You (Chosen, 2000), which the Lord continues to use to reach many people with the message of an inculturated faith in Jesus. Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way (IVP) was published posthumously in June 2015.

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