Dick Ackley was only 11 years old when he first felt “called” into missions. A young missionary kid, unsure of what his own life was supposed to look like, Dick sat at the spiritual life conference held at his boarding school in Ethiopia in 1964 and listened to the story of a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. Corrie Ten Boom, imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp for her faith, looked out into the crowd that day and said, “God has a plan and a purpose for your life.” And for the first time, Dick really believed it.
Fast forward in Dick’s life eight years, and we find him sleeping in his car in the dead of winter in Urbana, IL or, if he got lucky, he’d slip into the lobby of the dorms without being noticed. Dick couldn’t afford the full registration cost of the Urbana Conference but he knew there were sessions he wanted to attend. (Not to mention that his fiancée, Meg, was attending the conference that year, too!) Born in Sudan, his parents serving there and Liberia and Dick attending school in Ethiopia and Nigeria, Dick confesses he knew Africa much better than America back then. Yet despite the cold temperatures of Christmas in Illinois, the chance of being caught sleeping on dorm couches and the unfamiliar culture he was now living in, Dick still enjoyed his time at the conference and says his greatest take away of Urbana 73 was the affirmation of the call he heard in Africa almost a decade earlier.
Today Dick well remembers the words from speakers such as Paul Little and Ralph Winters, and would highly recommend Urbana to others. When asked why, Dick spoke about who has come out of Urbana; people like Louie Giglio, David Platt, and Matt Chandler; pastors who have gotten fired up for the gospel at Urbana Conference. Dick also concluded that he believes the common person in a church pew today is more aware of missions than people were in the 1980s because of events and conferences like Urbana.
During our interview I stopped to share some thoughts with Dick based on all he had told me so far. Dick agreed with me when I said, “These past few weeks as I’ve learned more about Urbana and talked to people who attended Urbana. While it is wonderful in and of itself, the Urbana conference has a massive legacy that not a lot of people know about. You named all these pastors who I know for a fact brought some of my friends to the Lord, and those pastors were the ones who once went to Urbana. I think it speaks very highly of what the Lord is doing through this conference and I’m just sensing this very strong current of a legacy of the gospel that’s coming out of Urbana.”
Dick went on to list more of Urbana’s legacy; events like the Passion Conference, and even the reach it has had in his own life. While Dick’s calling into missions was not produced at Urbana, he believes the Lord used the conference to affirm what he had known for years. “I give Urbana credit for God using it to motivate me to keep going. You know those are important years. You’re about to go to college, maybe get married, and you’re thinking ‘what is the next step?’ That’s when you’re making all these big life-long decisions and Urbana was instrumental [to me] in that.”
Dick is now the missionary Appointee Coordinator for SIM USA out of Charlotte, NC. He and his wife, Meg, lived and worked with SIM in Nigeria for 13 years before settling in the States as Regional Directors with SIM. After all of his time overseas, growing up and now working in missions, I asked Dick what advice he would give to those considering cross-cultural missions today. This is what he said, “If you’re considering it, that means God is speaking. And if you’re considering it, it’s not normal. It’s not normal for an American young person to be a missionary because it’s not the American Dream. So if God is giving you the inclination, then recognize it as from Him and act on it. Because it’s not normal. Don’t think that everybody has those inclinations. You’re a minority. There’s not that many of you out there that God is moving in that direction. And beware because once you start moving in that direction, the devil really gets busy. That’s why I believe the numbers are they way they are; out of every 100 people who begin their journey into missions, only one makes it. So persevere and refuse discouragement. Because ‘the one who calls you is faithful and He will do it.’ (1Thess 5:24). What is God’s Will takes care of itself when you are obedient and in fellowship with Him.”
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