When thousands of college students come together in a gymnasium, it is usually to cheer for their team. But last month about 20,000 Christian students from universities around the world gathered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s basketball court for a different reason — to share their faith experiences.

Participants in the Urbana Conference, including more than a dozen student members of the Yale Christian Fellowship (YCF), enjoyed group worship services as well as seminars on topics including Bible translation, urban ministry and racial reconciliation. The conference, which was held from Dec. 27 through Dec. 31, also focused on spreading news of international mission work and enlisting new volunteers for such programs.

“Urbana is InterVarsity’s triennial missions conference that brings 20,000 students together in Urbana, Illinois for five days to catch a vision for what God is doing around the world,” YCF faculty leader Tom Sharp said.

One of the main features of the conference was a twice-daily 18,000-person worship service held at the University of Illinois basketball court. YCF member Martin Toomajian ’06, who attended the conference, said the event’s size was intimidating at first.

Rachel Brown ’06, who is also a YCF member and joined Toomajian at the conference, said she viewed the size as a positive aspect of the worship service once she learned to cope with it.

“When I first got there, I was so overwhelmed,” Brown said. “[But] after a few days, you realize everyone there is doing what you are. It just comes across really successfully in the end.”

Toomajian said it was this sense of Christian community that was important to him personally.

“My spiritual life had been sort of unsteady last semester and being in such an environment with other Christians reaffirmed my faith,” Toomajian said.

YCF member Catherine Dolan ’06 said she enjoyed the focus on multi-ethnic worship. Although the conference was dominated by a large Protestant influence, she said, most Christian denominations were represented.

“There were speakers that presented worship from many denominations,” Dolan said. “It is really interesting to see the different cultural perspectives on God.”

Brown said the conference included worship services ranging from Native American to Latino to Gospel to hymnal traditions.

Toomajian said the YCF recreates the Christian diversity of the conference here at Yale, drawing members from around the world.

“With the Yale Christian Fellowship, I get the sense of the international every time we meet,” Toomajian said.

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