Our church is very missions-minded; our "slogan" is "Equipping Locally to Impact Globally". We have several missionary families who have gone out from our church to serve as missionaries all over the world, and there are several who work in full-time missions locally. Each year our church hosts a 10-day Missions Conference and many of the missionaries our church supports come together to share with us what is going on in their work.
The 10 days are packed with various activities:
*small group dinners hosting missionary families;
*the International Missions Dinner, where each adult Sunday school class hosts a table featuring foods and decor from various countries;
*the Men's Breakfast at a local park, where they eat and listen to a missionary share what they do;
*the Women's Missions Brunch (This year one of our church families involved in Young Life shared what all is involved in their ministry.);
*guest missionary speakers in Sunday school and church for two Sundays; and
*the Harvest Festival, where every church member gets to participate in reaching out to our community.
Billy attended the Men's Breakfast for the third or fourth year in a row. It's something he always looks forward to. This year he saw how truly small the world is: Ryan, a Campus Crusade missionary bound for Hungary, mentioned a friend of his who works for Campus Crusade in Albania - someone Billy met and stayed with when he was in Albania this summer!
The International Missions Dinner was a lot of fun. Our class hosted an Italian table, so I took my homemade lasagna. There was also a green salad, a pasta salad, chicken tetrazzini, spaghetti, manicotti, stuffed shells, a veggie lasagna, and lots of garlic bread. (I think we had the most food at our table.) The table was decorated with various uncooked pastas and bunches of black, red, and green grapes, and opera music was playing quietly in the background.
Other countries represented were China, the Bahamas, Mexico, and New Zealand, where our pastor's wife is from. (That class won the food/decor contest and was awarded $200 to give to the missionary family of their choice.)
After everyone had gotten their plates and were seated in the sanctuary to eat, the program began. This year, Eastern Europe was the focus. Some missionaries from there weren't able to come for the conference, so they updated us through videos they had made. The ones present spoke about what is going on with their work or what they will be doing when they get there. Marlin and his family (from Kazakhstan) are here while he attends Dallas Theological Seminary; he shared what he will be doing with his church when he returns in a few years. Andrey and his family (also from Kazakhstan) are in the states for the second time. He came to DTS several years ago for his Masters in Christian Education, then returned three years ago to complete a Masters in Theology. He graduated last May and is currently working on his doctorate, which will take another four years or so. The Kazakhstan government is cracking down on Christians/missionaries there and is trying to pass laws that will make it very hard for Christians to spread their faith, even through the church.
Ryan told more about what his family will be doing in Hungary with Campus Crusade, working with both high school and college students. Apparently there's a high suicide rate there, and the government is welcoming Christians into the country in hopes that it will help the youth. The program with high school students is actually sponsored by the government.
Tim, whose wife is from the Republic of Georgia, shared how our church's donations helped a church there reach out to its local citizens who weren't able to leave the country when the fighting with Russia broke out. He and his family will be moving to the Middle East sometime in the next year, I believe. He's an ophthalmologist and will be working as a missionary in that capacity.
It was so interesting to hear how differently the countries react to Christianity, how one is trying to stop it and another is encouraging it.
On Saturday night, our small group hosted a dinner for Andrey and his family. (Jacob has also chosen them as his missionary family for AWANA. He has known their 4-year-old son since they came back to our church three years ago.) They shared with us what it was like living in Kazakhstan and showed us pictures of the city they're from. It was interesting hearing how they became Christians - after the fall of the Soviet Union and Communism. When they return in a few years, Andrey will go back to pastoring his church there, as well as do some teaching and training of pastors in a seminary there. (I think that's the same place our pastor goes to teach for a few weeks each year...)
Yesterday morning's worship service speaker was a missionary pediatrician in Ecuador. He and his family were part of our church for five years before they left for Ecuador two-and-a-half years ago. He mostly preached a sermon on how everyone plays a significant role in missions, whether they think they do or not. It was a bit long; I would've much rather heard details about how he's reaching children and their parents through his work.
Our Sunday school speaker was raised in a Christian family in India. When he was 17, he left India to get away from his family, their Christian beliefs, and his country. He told us that as his plane was taking off from Bombay, he waved to his country and said, "I'll never come back!" After coming to the U.S., he ended up enrolling in a Bible college, finding salvation through Jesus Christ, and eventually returning to India to serve as a missionary for several years. He and his family are now serving in the Philippines, where they have been for the last two-and-a half years. Next summer he and his family will be on furlough, but they're undecided on where they'll spend the majority of their time: his oldest sons (twins) will be starting college somewhere in the U.S.; his wife is from Mississippi and her mother there is dying of cancer. They hope to spend at least part of their time at our church, their home church. He shared so much information with us, that it's impossible for me to remember it all. There is one thing that he talked about, though, that really touched me. I'll share it in a later post.
Last night's Harvest Festival marked the end of the Missions Conference. It's just one of several ways our church reaches out to our local community each year. Throughout the conference, church members are encouraged to donate candy for the festival, as well as sign up to work the different booths. It's a way we can be missionaries to the people in our church's backyard - people we only see a few times each year through our outreach programs. I worked a 30-minute slot at the Cubbies'-sponsored booth, handing out candy to the kids after they played our ping-pong drop game. Probably half the kids I saw at our booth were not from our church. Maybe I'll start seeing them there one day.