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Opportunity International at Urbana 2009

By Amy Carol Wolff

Hello from St. Louis! To create some context, on Sunday, the downtown area of St. Louis nearly doubled in size. And a couple of us from Opportunity International are spending this week with over 16,000 university and high school students from over 100 countries at Intervarsity’s conference- Urbana 2009. You can feel the energy when you walk the streets of downtown. It’s pretty radical.

As one of the exhibiting organizations, we have the awesome opportunity to interact with students interested in learning more about making significant global impact.  Today alone, Jonathan and I had in-depth conversations about Opportunity’s work with over 100 people. We spoke with students with backgrounds in business, journalism, music, theology, computer science, engineering, and social work. And the perspectives on microfinance were as different as their education backgrounds. Their questions and energy around the topic reminded me of how important it is that we continue to develop and offer products that best meet the needs of our clients. These students get Opportunity’s mission. It’s about the people we serve.

One of my favorite conversations happened today when I spoke with James. He came up to us yesterday, actually. It was hard to miss his smile and energy when he approached us. He gave us a brief introduction and exclaimed, “I’ll be back tomorrow!” And when he came back this afternoon, he asked us questions about technology, our focus on holistic transformation, and how a software developer, like himself, could get involved. That’s when Jonathan jumped in and I watched as two “computer nerds” engaged about a life-changing economic development tool.

The event includes two main sessions each day where all 16,000 students gather together to worship the same God in different languages, methods and art forms. We’re spending the time in the book of John chapters 1-4, studying how Jesus’ ministry transformed lives. Each of the teachings offer practical ways in which students can use their faith to serve others. Tonight, we were presented with the International Justice Mission effort to end human trafficking around the world. It is a privilege to partner with such a life changing group.

Throughout the afternoon, students have the chance to attend seminars on subjects such as international and domestic poverty, advocacy, business and poverty, and missions. The afternoon is also a chance for students to interact with the hundreds of organizations represented here. There are several missions, church planting, development and relief organizations that offer students opportunities to engage.

Tomorrow morning, I have the chance to meet with a couple of girls for coffee who are interested in our upcoming event- the Two Dollar Challenge. We spent the day asking people how much they spend per day on food and recording their responses. And when Megan heard about this way she could rally students on her campus around issues of poverty and actually make a tangible impact in our clients’ lives, she asked for more time. And I’m looking forward to meeting with her!

Being here reminds me even more of the importance the voice of those in the next generation. They are the upcoming leaders, the change-makers. What a privilege to hear their stories, see their passion, and provide them with ways to engage them in the fight to end poverty faster through our work.

You can follow what’s happening in the Urbana 2009 twitter stream by searching #urbana09! Stay tuned!

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