Waking up on a hard Korean mattress thousands of miles from home might seem like a nightmare, but for Sasha Shkut-a Russian college student-it's a thrill.
Leaving his room, Sasha waits for the hotel elevator that seems destined never to reach him on the 13th floor. But he doesn't mind. The 19-year-old passes the time by introducing himself to students from Guatemala and Zambia crammed into the waiting area with him.
Another student, Ese Obioma, a 24-year-old Nigerian, rides the subway three stops from her temporary home at the Info-Tech University, then watches for the "206" stop, since Korean subway station names appear as foreign to her as the country's spicy cabbage, kimchi.
Brazilian Heloísa Ladeia, also unaccustomed to the spicy food, eats the provided breakfast of a banana and kimbap, a triangular rice sandwich filled with tuna, wrapped in seaweed. The 21-year-old decides against the drink she nicknames "popcorn tea," grabs her book bag and shuts the door behind her. Like Sasha five floors above, she waits for the hotel elevator to usher her to the first floor. She is soon swept into the fast-moving river of people pouring into the BEXCO convention-center hallway.
Heloísa's brown eyes widen, taking in the vast range of skin tones-alabaster to midnight, a snapshot of the 121 countries represented. Each set of feet entering -- whether clad in homemade sandals, heels or athletic shoes -- adds to the squeaking din like thousands of players on a basketball court.
She glances down at her green wristband and zig-zags through the throng of people toward the door with a corresponding green banner over it, the color dictating which convention-hall section Heloísa sits in today.
This conference, called CM2007, or Campus Mission 2007, gathers 15,994 students and Cru staff members from around the world in the coastal city of Busan, South Korea. Aside from the sheer size and the vast number of nationalities represented, this conference hopes to accomplish something never done before.
The Vision of CM2007
In the late 1990s, Joon Gon Kim, the founder of Korea's Cru (KCCC), approached the global leadership of Cru with the vision for such a gathering. But it took until 2004, with a team representing 15 countries, to begin a three-year process of planning CM2007.
"History shows that college students have been at the center of change in the world's societies regardless of race or culture," says Park Sung Min, national director of KCCC. For example, history is marked by the student volunteer movement of the late 1800s, launching thousands of young men and women into various mission fields around the world.
From Russia to Korea
Sasha looks to be like one of those students. He placed his faith in Christ only last year, but the international economics major already desires for others to know God, too. On his journey from Russia, he began a journal about CM2007. "Twenty-sixth of June. Train. My experiences of a new event," he pens. "I'm absolutely sure that it will affect the rest of my life. Not just my life, but the lives of all the people who are taking part of this conference."
Sasha's university in Ekaterinburg is part of a Cru metro ministry, where 14 Cru staff members reach 20 different campuses in the area. Students learn early on that there aren't enough full-time missionaries to go around, so they must play a key role in telling their peers about Jesus. Sasha's plan is to write about his daily conference experience, type it up, include a personal note about how someone can know God personally, and give it to his non-Christian friends.
The animated student doesn't make it to bed until 3:00 a.m. one night because he spent hours in the packed hotel hallway with new Korean friends, praying for them in Russian and practicing some of the 10 Korean phrases he's taught himself. He gives them little pendants and old Russian coins. They part ways, agreeing to meet again late the next night to continue their discussion about what God is doing in their countries.
Up at 8:30 a.m., Sasha's hair points like a compass gone awry. One of his three roommates is in the shower, so he quickly tries to record a few thoughts into his audio journal about yesterday's evening session, only to realize his voice is gone. Grabbing his mentor, Chris Knutzen, an American staff member with Cru, Sasha heads downstairs, kicks off his sandals and, together, they run across the street through the onslaught of rain and arrive just in time for the 9:00 a.m. session at BEXCO.
A KCCC student greets them and points them to the "no photo" zone where many students gather from countries where it's not safe to be recognized as a Christian. Russia is not one of those countries, but it's simply a matter of finding a spot in one of the gray plastic chairs. The band roars to life, and Sasha feels the powerful energy of nearly 16,000 people singing, "How Great is Our God." Sasha finds his voice again.
Heloísa Takes Initiative
A few sections to Sasha's right, Brazilian Heloísa raises her hands and sings in her second language, English. She almost didn't come to the conference. At first, no one from Brazil planned to come to CM2007 because of other priorities. So Heloísa prayed and talked to Cru's national director for Brazil. He said that they wouldn't have a team, but that they could connect her with people from other Latin American countries with whom she could go.
Heloísa decided to keep praying and telling people about the conference. Then, she got the call: Brazil would send a group of 20. In the end, 30 Brazilians came.
She may be young, but Heloísa takes initiative as a recruiter. She works a shift serving Dixie-cup-sized coffee at the conference café and shamelessly hands a student a yellow card with a Web site about their ministry.
"Come to Brazil," she says, flashing a smile that could make anyone want to do just that.
From Korea to the World
CM2007 challenged Heloísa's generation to not simply consider telling people about Christ in their own country, but to go to campuses where there is not currently a Christian presence or influence. That is the most remarkable thing about this conference. It's not simply a time of spiritual growth or gaining an international pen pal. As the name reveals, there's a mission.
KCCC raised $4 million to cover all the in-country expenses for conferees like Heloísa to come, receive training and leave with practical ways to tell students about God on the 6,000 most unreached campuses in the world.
"An unreached campus," CM2007 co-director Tom Gooldy clarifies, "means a place where there is no vital, dynamic, evangelical witness for Christ on that campus."
That's a God-sized undertaking.
One afternoon, Heloísa gave a Korean student a beaded Brazilian bracelet. He responded with a smile, slipped on the gift, then grabbed her hand and prayed for her passionately in Korean. Even though unable to understand him, Heloísa gains encouragement by remembering that the same God who changed the spiritual tone of Korea in the recent past can change her nation too.
"I want to see a real movement of God in my country," she explains. "I want to put what I see here into practice."
Hope in Nigeria
Ese (pronounced "Essay"), the Nigerian, also wants to put what she's experienced into practice, making a difference back home.
"The problem I've discovered about Nigerians," she says with the fervor of a 65-year- old preacher, "is that we are very religious but it doesn't go deep. God is looking for people who want to impact lives, who are passionate about God, who want to leave a legacy."
On the first day, a conference speaker said, "You are the future for tomorrow. You are the hope of the world." Ese's friend said something similar to her before Ese flew to the conference: "Whenever I see you, I see hope."
And without hesitation, the geography major humbly believes it. The only Nigerian student granted a visa from her region to come to CM2007, Ese believes God had a reason for her to come.
"One thing God's taught me," Ese says, "is that, no matter how excited I am about doing anything, I have to hear from Him before I move. Throughout the conference I keep challenging God, 'God, what are You saying to me?'"
Story of the Soul
Martin Boulanger, a 23-year-old French student, also asks God to speak to him. He's looking for creative ideas about how to talk with students about Jesus in his spiritually cold country, and he finds a good option, called Story of the Soul, during an afternoon of seminars. This seminar, one of 26 offered during the conference, gives students like Martin practical teachings in areas such as evangelism, leadership and overcoming cultural hurdles.
"The purpose is to share the gospel directly," the new graduate says, "and in France it's not easy to find something like this that they won't reject."
As the students consider next steps, it's daunting but exciting. "It's amazing how God has used college students to change history," Heloísa says, recalling a conference video that showed Martin Luther and John Wesley in their youth. "In the same way God used these people, He can use me."
Sent to Unreached Campuses
It's the last morning of the conference and volunteers hand out a piece of paper to each student. Instead of an evaluation of the conference, CM2007 asks the students to go to one of the 6,000 unreached campuses around the world. It's a huge opportunity to trust God, and will take even more faith than getting to the conference.
But as students gather with others from their regions of the world that afternoon, more than half of them make commitments to go to those campuses. The final results are not yet clear, but the students already feel a mission is about to be accomplished.