By Doug Priest
Bored with writing her term paper, “Contemporary Worship Styles,” Johnson Bible College student Cindy Lebett turned and asked, “Hey roomie, want to go to Indianapolis this weekend?”
“What for?” replied LaQuanda.
“There’s this missions convention going on—it’s called the National Missionary Convention—and thousands of people are coming. Lots of kids are going to be there from more than a dozen different colleges. And besides, classes are canceled to encourage as many of us to go as possible. We can leave in a school van on Thursday and get back Sunday evening. They’ve arranged some churches and even a camp where we can sleep practically free. We just take sleeping bags. Do you wanna go?”
“Sure. I need a break, and it sounds fun.”
Three days later, Cindy stood at the registration counter at the Indianapolis Convention Center. After paying the modest student fee and getting her name badge, she walked to the display area.
You’ve got to be kidding, she thought to herself upon seeing aisles and aisles of booths. I could spend hours in here. There must be over 300 or 400 displays! All around her people milled: reading, talking, walking. She stopped at a booth with a lot of other college students.
A guy looked at her and said, “Hi, Cindy. Long time, no see.”
“Hello. Do I know you?”
“Uh, no. I just read your name tag. I’m Brian. We’re from Truman State University and we’re here because we want to go on a mission trip next summer, and this mission group leads trips to Central America.”
“Cool. Have you seen any displays about worship in other cultures? That’s what interests me.”
“There are 660 booths in here. You ought to be able to find something. I know a group called Good News that does a lot with media. Maybe they can help you. Next aisle over, almost to the end,” he said. “Plus, there must be a workshop on that since there are 260 workshops this week. They are all listed in the back of your convention program. Good luck. Maybe I’ll see you at the college session tonight in the ballroom.”
Later, over a cup of gourmet coffee, Cindy read through the afternoon workshop offerings. Here’s one that sounds interesting. She read the title and the description: “Church Planting Strategies for Oral Cultures. More than one-third of the people in the world receive information only in oral form. This workshop will review differences between oral and literate culture.” I’m sure worship will be talked about in that one, she thought. In a few minutes she found the workshop and joined 32 other people in the room. Tim Brown led the workshop. During the discussion time, Cindy asked if an oral culture has a different worship style from a literate culture. Some of the people in the room served as missionaries in tribal societies, and she found their comments helpful.
Cindy located LaQuanda and they went to the evening session together. The speaker for the evening was convention president Curt Nordhielm. After a time of praise and prayer, he talked about the theme of the convention: “Neighbors and Nations: Every One, Every Place, Every Moment.” He talked about proclaiming the gospel, or as he called it, gossiping. He also talked about discipleship and the financial needs in sending.
What really touched the girls were his illustrations of the nameless missionaries serving in limited-access countries. Nordhielm spoke about a woman engineer working at a factory in China who led Bible studies at the facility. Another couple operates a small-scale paper products business while evangelizing coworkers in a Muslim country. These stories excited the girls, since they had previously thought all missionaries were preachers and teachers. No wonder there are so many college students here from universities like Truman State, Ball State, and Purdue, Cindy thought. They can use their degrees and their professions to get into places others can’t go.
After spending the night at Chapel Rock Christian Church with 100 other college students, Cindy headed back to the convention center. She stopped at the information booth and asked a man named Nick how many people were attending the convention. “We’re breaking more records than Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison do through those glass doors over there,” he said, motioning toward the RCA Dome. “Last night we had a total attendance of somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 people, which for the National Missionary Convention is over 2,000 more than ever before!
“You’ve seen all the kids in the halls and over there pounding the nails and making houses? Well, there are nearly 4,000 teens here as part of the Teen Convention. The workshops are averaging 2,100 people in attendance, another record for the convention. And don’t ask me about how many times I’ve been asked where the bathrooms are because I haven’t kept track of that!”
Cindy asked, “Why is the convention so big this year?”
Nick replied, “Just a minute. Let’s ask Iva Lou Birney. She is one of the directors of the convention, and knows just about everything about everything.”
“I see you’re from Johnson Bible College,” said Iva Lou. “Did you know that 174 students are here from Johnson? I imagine that some of the 59 people who made decisions for missionary service were your classmates. The convention has really been growing over the past few years, and I think that’s because God is doing a wonderful thing in his church. He’s convincing people that missions is the lifeblood of the church. They just know the world needs Jesus, and they want to be involved in that. People come because they get to focus on all God is doing in the world today and want to explore how God can use them too.”
Iva Lou continued, “Do you see that woman in the wheelchair over there? She’s been a missionary for decades in an Indian orphanage. We had a man leading a workshop who told about having been a missionary for 57 years. At the same time most of the college students who are here have been on short-term mission trips.
“There are a lot of people from the churches here too. Some of the best-attended workshops are the ones about how the church can be a good partner in mission work.”
The days and hours went by quickly. Soon it was Sunday morning. In the worship service, speaker Ben Cachiaras showed a movie clip about endurance, and concluded by challenging everybody to stick with their calling and not give up.
Cindy and LaQuanda were on cloud nine as they said good-bye to all their new friends and made their way back to the school van. Even though everyone was tired, they talked about the convention till sleep overtook them.
Back in her dorm room, dead tired, but with some new ideas about what to do after college, Cindy stared at her partially written “Contemporary Worship Styles” term paper. Then it hit her. She could write about the world music she’d learned about. And the words came pouring out.
Doug Priest is executive director of Christian Missionary Fellowship.
The National Missionary Convention at a glance (2006 facts and figures)
The National Missionary Convention Web site, www.nmc-windows.org/adult/