This past semester during Missions Conference 2023, I saw the best of Gen Z. After attending most of the main sessions and talking to our undergrads in between, my confidence in and hope for this generation is rising.
Students filled the gymnasium and venues for our 93rd Missions Conference, unlike any I’ve experienced in my 16 years at Biola. Extended worship continued for hours. Scores of midnight baptisms happened spontaneously in Talbot East’s pool. Prayer gatherings ended at sunrise. Worship leaders, preachers, students and leaders were on their knees.
Speakers like David Platt, Lisa Pak, Francis Chan and Rachel Cross were united around their pleas for students to seek holiness, forgiveness and righteousness and to respond through radical lives of faith. Relational breaches were mended. Students were healed. Commitments to Christ were made. Lives were emboldened. Scripture’s authority and trustworthiness came through loud and clear, as did the deep and powerful work of the Holy Spirit. It was full of both Spirit and Truth.
I shared with our community at the start of the 2023 Missions Conference about the student-led Haystack prayer revival at William College in 1806 that resulted in a global missions movement. This began what was known as the Student Volunteer Movement, instilling in college students a passion for their lives to be lived for one mission: to advance the gospel to the nations. I reminded the full gym of people that March 2023 morning about how shortly after Biola was established in 1908, our students began the Student Missionary Union and the annual Missions Conference. This student-led organization and annual gathering — going on now for nearly 100 years — was a direct descendant of the 1806 Haystack prayer vigils where students pled for God to send them to the harvest fields. Over two centuries later, this passion for the Great Commandment and the Great Commission is alive in the rising generation. Ask our students, who experienced the power of God’s presence this semester. Ask the Asbury University students and Wilmore’s thousands of visitors — including a delegation from Biola — if God is not calling this generation to a deeper pursuit of him.
As we began this past semester in January, I gave a convocation address from the Gospel of Matthew: When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send you into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:36–38).
If you look at this Matthew passage in light of the verses preceding it, Jesus is getting across the idea of being sent to the “fields” is not about distance but it is about presence. It’s about seeing those around you who are lost, alone, invisible, broken, harassed, helpless, confused, sick and tormented.
Two months after I gave this talk, I saw many of our students rise to the occasion and say, in the words of Isaiah, “Here I am, send me.”
The harvest fields our students are graduating into are fields of healthcare and research and public policy and commerce and media and the arts and family and neighborhoods and the local church. My prayer for our students is that God releases in them the gifts they have, amazing gifts, to live this gospel way in the places to which they are sent and in the vocations to which they’ve been called.
Biola students and countless in their generation are rising to the moment of what God is doing, and this gives me hope. What I saw this spring at our 93rd Missions Conference was not a moment. It was a continuum of what God has been up to for millennia, calling and sending those who yearn to see his glory through their lives.
I am filled with joy and hope for how this generation will rise to greater heights than previous generations as they live fully into truth and grace. And I believe God’s goodness and greatness will be long evident in our graduates from seeds planted during their years at Biola.
Barry H. Corey is the eighth president of Biola University. Visit his office online at biola.edu/president. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/presidentcorey, on Instagram @presidentbarrycorey and on Twitter @presidentcorey.