(Photo: InterVarsity USA/Matt Kirk)
ST. LOUIS — An emotionally charged evening at Urbana 12 that included the appearance of Shortie Khumalo, an AIDS victim caregiver from Swaziland, concluded with students in attendance assembling 32,000 caregiver kits ready to be shipped to Africa in about two hours.
The 16,000 youth at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's triennial student missions conference were given a chance Saturday evening to write a short letter of encouragement to a caregiver before joining others on the Edwards Jones Dome floor. Once there, students filled a World Vision bag with items such as latex gloves, soap, and water purifying tablets.
"We wanted to provide the opportunity for the Urbana delegates to make a tangible effort that would shift their perspective to identifying with those in the margins of our world," said Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Urbana's program director. Toyama-Szeto called the event "historic."
"In planning for this event, we were searching for the intersection between proclaiming the Gospel and demonstrating the Gospel. A gospel that is just proclaimed is only half the Gospel. And a gospel that is just demonstrated is only half a gospel," she said.
Volunteers who work with AIDS victims in Swaziland and other African countries will receive the caregiver kits. The kits include medical and hygiene items for the compassionate care of AIDS victims in a part of the world that has borne the brunt of what has been called the largest humanitarian crisis of all time, and where access to basic health care is greatly limited, say Urbana organizers.
"The caregiver kits provide practical materials which bring dignity and comfort to those living with AIDS," said Steve Haas, vice president of World Vision, which is partnering with InterVarsity on the project.
Items in the Caregiver Kits include antibacterial soap, antifungal cream, petroleum jelly, gauze pads, washcloths, and water purification sachets. The wholesale cost for the supplies in each kit totals about $10. After moving through the assembly line, each attendee took their assembled kits to a shipping container in the arena.
"Today's college students are service oriented and volunteer oriented," said Toyama-Szeto. "At Urbana 12 we are challenging them to move beyond charity to identification with the needy. We hope that the Caregiver project will help them to understand that the Gospel message needs to be both demonstrated and proclaimed in order to be effective."
A powerful video shown during the assembly featured Khumalo caring for one of her charges. On stage, Khumalo thanked everyone for their participation and invited everyone to "God's banquet feast."
InterVarsity's Urbana Student Missions Conference has been held every three years since 2006 in the Edward Jones Dome and the Americas Center in St. Louis. Before that it was held on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Urbana attendance since 1946 — when InterVarsity's first missions conference was held in Toronto — totals more than 250,000.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a campus ministry which has worked with students and faculty on U.S. campuses for more than 72 years. InterVarsity has almost 900 chapters active on 576 U.S. colleges and universities, from the Ivy League to community colleges.
Video of Shortie Khumalo, an AIDS victim caregiver from Swaziland, talking about her volunteer work